This is a big week for cookouts, picnics, fireworks, and lots of good ol’ Americana – and what’s more Americana than fried chicken?!

In fact, this Friday, July 6th is National Fried Chicken Day. I love traditional crispy fried chicken as much as anybody, especially this tried-and-true Picnic Fried Chicken recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, but I don’t love the large pot of oil that’s required. Before you pull out your FryDaddy, or head to KFC, consider this 4th-of-July-inspired recipe for Firecracker Fried Chicken Fingers. Less oil, quicker cooking, and big flavor – sounds like the perfect solution! As a bonus, you probably already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. There’s nothing better than a pantry-friendly recipe for a quick and delicious dish to add to your holiday BBQ spread.

Despite the three different kinds of heat in the coating – cayenne, mustard powder, and hot sauce – these crispy chicken fingers won’t set your mouth on fire. The amounts are small enough to create just the right explosion of flavor, without singeing your eyebrows. Stirring some wet ingredients into the otherwise dry coating creates that craggy, crunchy texture we all crave in fried chicken. It’s best to work the liquids in with your fingers if you’re not concerned about getting a little hot sauce on them (just don’t rub your eyes).

Firecracker chicken is often drenched in a sticky, spicy sauce, but I didn’t want to negate the crispy coating on my chicken so I reserved the sauce for dipping. This sauce is also built with three kinds of heat: chili pepper/capsaicin, nasal-clearing Dijon, and piquant hot sauce. Balanced out by the sugar in the jelly and the vinegar in the hot sauce, these three flavors combine to create a sauce that’s as multi-dimensional as fireworks themselves. It may seem basic, but to quote one of my tasters, “I can’t stop eating this. I want to put it on everything.”

Cook these up for your 4th of July gathering, or in honor of National Fried Chicken Day, and you’ll probably get a lot of requests for a repeat performance all year long.

Firecracker Fried Chicken Fingers with Dipping Sauce
Serves 4


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons hot sauce, divided (such as Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 1/2 cup pepper jelly
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


1. Beat eggs in wide shallow bowl. In a second large, shallow bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, salt, cayenne, mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and baking powder. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce and 2 tablespoons of the oil until mixture forms crumbly, wet sand texture. Dip chicken in egg, then dredge in flour mixture, pressing to adhere.
2. Heat remaining 1 cup oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook half of chicken in oil until golden brown and crispy, and chicken registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, turning halfway through cooking, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to paper towel-lined plate and repeat with remaining chicken.
3. Whisk together pepper jelly, Dijon mustard, and remaining 2 teaspoons hot sauce in a medium bowl and serve as dipping sauce for chicken.

Note: This recipe is easily scaled up if you’re serving a crowd. You can even use the same cup of oil to fry twice as much chicken – just add a little extra as needed if it no longer comes halfway up the chicken fingers in the pan. If you can’t find chicken tenderloins, you can cut breasts lengthwise into long, thin strips.