You can make the brine up to 3 days ahead of time. If you already have pre-made or store-bought sweet tea, use 6 cups of it in place of the brine listed below. Just add the 1/4 cup of salt to the sweet tea and stir vigorously to make sure it is completely dissolved before submerging the chicken in the brine.
For the brine:
- 6 cups water
- 8 bags black tea
- 1 cup (200 g) white sugar
- 1/4 cup (75 g) kosher salt
For the chicken:
- 5 chicken legs, skin on
- 5 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce, optional but recommended
- 3 cups (420 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (160 g) cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 3 cups vegetable oil (corn, avocado, or peanut)
- Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
1 Make the tea brine: Bring the water to boil in a large stockpot. When it boils, remove from heat and add the tea bags, cover, and steep for 20 minutes.
Gently squeeze the bags to extract as much flavor as possible and remove them. Stir in the sugar and salt until they have dissolved. Leave uncovered for an hour or until it reaches room temperature.
2 Brine the chicken: Place a gallon freezer-style resealable bag in a large bowl and open it up. Carefully pour the room temperature tea brine into the bag, holding onto the sides to minimize spilling (or just simply place it in a large bowl).
Place the chicken into the bag, and seal it, trying to squeeze out as much as air as possible. Refrigerate overnight (minimum 8 hours) or up to 24 hours.
3 Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
4 Coat the chicken in breading: Combine the buttermilk and the hot sauce, if using, in a medium bowl. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, and paprika in a separate large bowl.
Remove one piece of chicken from the brine and dunk it in the buttermilk, turning the piece to coat it. Then coat the chicken in the flour mix, turning to coat completely. Move to a rimmed baking sheet and repeat with the remaining chicken. Discard the brine when done.
5 Heat the oil: Pour the oil into an 11-inch cast iron skillet, straight sided sauté pan, or Dutch oven. Heat the oil to 375°F.
If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a 1-inch cube of bread into the oil. The bread should brown in about 60 seconds. If it browns too fast, the oil is too hot. If the bread takes longer than a minute to brown, it isn’t hot enough.
6 Fry the chicken legs: Once the oil is at the right temperature, use tongs to carefully move the chicken legs to the pan, one at a time, making sure part of the chicken is submerged before letting go—this minimizes splashing. (Do not drop the chicken pieces in the oil; it will splatter and possibly burn you.)
Fry the chicken on one side for 4 to 5 minutes or until the bottom part of the chicken is golden brown. Flip the chicken with the tongs and cook the other side for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Move the legs to the baking sheet with the wire rack.
7 Fry the chicken thighs: Repeat the process with the chicken thighs, this time frying each side 5 to 6 minutes. Move the thighs to the baking sheet along with the legs.
8 Bake until cooked through: Move the entire sheet with chicken into the oven. Bake for an additional 15 to 18 minutes, or until the thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs reads 165°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, pierce the thigh with a sharp knife. The liquid that comes out should run clear and not look red.
9 Serve: Move to a serving platter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve immediately.
Leftover fried chicken can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and is great cold. But if you want to reheat it, bring the chicken back to room temperature (about 30 minutes on your counter) while you preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the chicken on a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet and reheat for about 8 to 12 minutes.