Zehnder’s Chicken Recipe

Zehnder's fried chicken on a plate

Why is Zehnder’s Chicken so popular?

When visiting Frankenmuth, MI, it’s almost a requirement to have a family style chicken dinner. Chicken dinners have been a mainstay in Frankenmuth since the Union House (now the Bavarian Inn) opened in the 1880s.  Why are they famous for a common chicken dinner? Prior to the rationing of World War II, chicken was less mass produced and usually a more expensive meat.  It was a special occasion to have a Sunday Night Chicken Dinner. That started Frankenmuth chicken dinners as special and meaningful.  Generations of Michiganders have passed the tradition down. I’m proud to say this Zehnder’s Chicken Recipe does the real thing justice.

Zehnder's fried chicken with buttered noodles gravy and cranberry relish

Visiting Frankenmuth

Recently, we drove out to Frankenmuth to hit the outlet mall and have dinner.  We had a wonderful time walking around the town, and of course having dinner at the Bavarian Inn.  You can read more about our Frankenmuth experience.  If you want to get a full Frankenmuth dinner experience, also try your hand at my Frankenmuth cranberry relish recipe and my Bavarian Inn Buttered Noodle Recipe.

the Bavarian inn entrance

Choosing the best chicken for Zehnder’s Chicken

To best replicate the classic Zehnder’s Chicken recipe, you must use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. If you’re well practiced, you can buy a whole chicken and separate it into pieces. You could also check your grocery store for something called a “chicken pinwheel” – which is a whole chicken already separated into individual pieces. Since I haven’t seen a chicken pinwheel in stores for a while, I bought one package of thighs and one of drumsticks.

The reason it’s so important to buy bone-in, skin-on chicken is that this chicken is essentially cooked twice. First, you’ll steam the chicken until it reaches 165F. Then you’ll deep fry it for 3-6 minutes more. The bone and skin both help to keep the chicken moist, which is important when cooking twice. That goes double for chicken breast, which is more likely to dry out during cooking.

I actually tested steaming and frying a boneless skinless breast, and those were the only pieces to come out incredibly dry. 

On the topic of chicken breasts, I noticed when eating at the Bavarian Inn that they had cut their chicken breasts in half before cooking, such that each breast was 2 pieces. I believe the purpose behind that was to make the chicken breast cook faster, both in the steamer and in the fryer. Separating the chicken breast makes a smaller piece with more surface area, and will allow more steam (and later oil) flow around the piece, cooking it more effectively.

Steaming: The secret to delicious fried chicken

Before working on this recipe, I avoided frying bone-chicken.  The pieces either came out undercooked or with burnt breading.  It wasn’t until I read this article about the Bavarian Inn’s cooking process that I found the answer. Steaming the chicken means that when it hits the deep fryer, your only have to worry about the breading.

Steaming may sound like a tall order, but I found it relatively easy to do once set up, and better yet, relatively fool proof. To steam the chicken, I started with one of my large stock pots with a metal steamer tray at the bottom. On top of that I added my green steamer basket, the same one I use to make my Spanish Vegetable Side Dish, and I set my chicken pieces in that. It fit 5-6 pieces of chicken.

With the chicken placed, I added water to the pot. I added 6 cups of water, which was enough to fill the pot about an inch while not touching the chicken. To start the chicken steaming, I turned the burner on to medium-high heat and covered it with the lid. As the water is coming to a boil, steam is being produced and the chicken starts to cook. Once the water boiling, I reduced the heat to medium to maintain a strong simmer, meaning a constant steam.

I checked the chicken with an instant read thermometer every 15 minutes until it reached 130F. Then I started checking every 10 minutes until it reached 155F. Once it reached 155F, I checked every 3-5 minutes, at which point the chicken was usually ready. A benefit to using dark meat wings and thighs is that they are very hard to overcook. Even if they end up closer to 170F or 180F, they will still fry up deliciously.

steamed chicken before frying

Suggestions for frying chicken

Deep frying is the only way to make this Zehnder’s Chicken recipe as close to the Bavarian Inn’s as possible. The best temperature for deep frying chicken is 350F. The oil also needs to be deep enough to fully submerge the chicken. Keep this in mind and fry the chicken in batches to give each piece the best opportunity to crisp up.

Also critical to chicken deep frying is the breading.  A good breading starts with making sure it can stick to the chicken. I use beaten eggs for this purpose, and I used 2 to accommodate the differently sized chicken pieces in my bowl. I found that I had to use my hands a bit to fully cover the the drumsticks in egg, but once covered in egg, the breading stuck well to every part of the drumstick.

For the breading itself, I combined flour, chicken seasoning, and a sprinkle of black pepper. I think it was a close approximation to the Bavarian Inn’s. Since the breading is such an important part of fried chicken, I have a couple tips to make it your own.

Chicken Breading Tips

  • Tip 1: If the flour isn’t sticking well to your chicken pieces, try giving them a second dip in the eggs and flouring again. This is a common method to get an extra crispy breading and will only make your chicken better.
  • Tip 2: If you’re looking for more texture or flavor in the breading, try adding ¼ – ½ cup of breadcrumbs (Italian for flavor or regular for texture) to the flour. 
  • Tip 3: I used the chicken seasoning sold by the Bavarian Inn, but you can find generic chicken seasoning in the spice aisle of your grocery story.
  • Tip 4: Let the steamed chicken cool a bit before breading.  It will get hot again while frying, and and this way you won’t burn yourself breading hot chicken.  Mine came out perfect, even after given the steamed chicken time to cool.
steam fried chicken on a plate with buttered noodles and cranberry relish

How to make Zehnder's Chicken Recipe

Zehnder's fried chicken with buttered noodles gravy and cranberry relish

Zehnder's Chicken Recipe

The perfect fried chicken that Frankenmuth is famous for.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people
Calories 170 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 Deep fryer
  • 1 steamer basket

Ingredients
  

  • 4 lb Bone-in, skin-on chicken peices drumsticks, thighs, breasts, wings
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 1 tsp Chicken Seasoning Mine was Bavarian Inn branded

Instructions
 

To steam the chicken

  • Lay out the chicken pieces and sprinkle with chicken seasoning and black pepper.
  • In a large stock pot, set up your steaming tray or basket. Add as much water as you can while keeping the water level below the top of the steaming tray, I was able to add 6 cups.
  • Arrange the chicken on the steaming tray in a single layer. If not all of the chicken will fit, put another steaming tray on top of the first layer and add the rest of the chicken there.
  • Cover the pot with a lid and heat over medium-high heat until the water boils. Reduce to a fast simmer and keep the lid on. Set a timer for 15 minutes
  • After 15 minutes, use an instant read thermometer to check the chicken’s temperature. If you have 2 layers of chicken, only check the top. If the temperature is less than 130F, set another timer for 15 minutes. If the temperature is above 130F, set the timer for 10 minutes. The top layer will cook faster than the lower layer.
  • After the next timer, check the chicken’s temperature again. Remove any pieces that read 165F or higher. Set another timer for 5 minutes.
  • Every 5 minutes, check each piece’s temperature and remove once they read 165F. Also keep an eye on the water level, and add more hot water if all of the water has evaporated. Starting with 6 cups of water, I did not have to add any additional water.

To fry the chicken

  • Heat a deep fryer of canola oil to 350F.
  • Add the eggs in a bowl and whisk until well combined and smooth.
  • On a plate, add the flour, chicken seasoning, and black pepper. Stir carefully with a fork or your finger until combined.
  • Dip each piece of steamed chicken into the eggs to coat. Then dredge the chicken pieces in flour, using your hands to thoroughly coat.
  • Fry the chicken pieces in batches until the coating is crisp and has darkened, about 3-6 minutes.
  • Remove the finished chicken pieces to a plate lined with a paper towel.
  • Serve immediately with Bavarian Inn Buttered Noodles and Frankenmuth Cranberry Relish.

Nutrition

Serving: 1legCalories: 170kcalProtein: 14gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 460mgFiber: 1g
Keyword chicken, fried chicken, German
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Nutrition Facts
Zehnder's Chicken Recipe
Serving Size
 
1 leg
Amount per Serving
Calories
170
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
9
g
14
%
Saturated Fat
 
4
g
25
%
Cholesterol
 
40
mg
13
%
Sodium
 
460
mg
20
%
Fiber
 
1
g
4
%
Protein
 
14
g
28
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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