The Sad Way KFC Lost Its 'Perfect' Original Gravy Recipe

When you eat at KFC, the fried chicken you taste is the same one that founder Harland Sanders created in 1939, back when there was just one location called Sanders Cafe. Its main selling point was the Colonel's fried chicken, made with a "secret recipe of 11 different herbs and spices." That very recipe, which was accidentally revealed in 2016 by Sanders' nephew, has kept KFC in business for several decades.

The chain's original gravy, however, didn't stand the test of time like the fried chicken did. The one used in restaurants today isn't the same as the one that Sanders originally came up with, and the recipe for it was never publicly revealed. One thing we do know about it is that Sanders produced gravy that was as "finger lickin' good" as the fried chicken, despite KFC's decision to replace it with a subpar version.

Why did KFC change its original gravy recipe?

Like any fast food restaurant, KFC had to streamline the cooking process in order to get orders out as efficiently as possible. The chain has always fried its chicken in a pressure cooker for fast and delicious results, but the original gravy served underwent a much slower cooking process.

As business grew, and more and more locations opened, Sanders's gravy recipe proved to be entirely unsustainable for fast food service. "Let's face it, the Colonel's gravy was fantastic, but you had to be a Rhodes Scholar to cook it," a KFC spokesperson told The New Yorker in 1970. "It involved too much time, it left too much room for human error, and it was too expensive."

However, Sanders himself wasn't a fan of how the new gravy tasted, publicly calling it "sludge" in The New York Times. But there was nothing he could do to change it, as he had already sold the company, only remaining on the board of directors.

What is KFC's current gravy recipe?

Though Sanders didn't take a liking to the modernized gravy recipe, many customers do. It's popular enough that a copycat version went viral. This recipe is made with a base of chicken and beef bouillon, butter, and flour, then seasoned with garlic powder, black pepper, and sage. And although people were impressed by its similar taste, as it turns out KFC's gravy is made very differently.


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♬ The Chicken Wing Beat – Ricky Desktop

As a self-identified KFC employee revealed in a TikTok, KFC's gravy is made of chicken cracklings, not bouillon, as the copycat recipe suggests. Technically chicken cracklings are made from chicken fat trimmings that are purposely fried, but according to the video, KFC's cracklings consist of the debris that falls to the bottom of the fryer. The cracklings are combined with water and powdered gravy mix, whisked, then heated in a microwave oven before being served alongside orders of fried chicken.