How to Make One of the West Coast’s Most Beloved Chicken Sandwiches at Home

The Bay Area’s top pitmaster shares his superior fried chicken sandwich

Matt Horn's Southern Bird

By Diane Rommel

If 2022 has gotten off to a wobbly start, credit Matt Horn for putting some points in the win column: The Bay Area’s top pitmaster (and Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient for Horn Barbecue) just opened Kowbird, his second Oakland restaurant, and given cause for celebration to anyone who loves his justly renowned “West Coast-style” barbecue. 

Obviously, the best way to mark the occasion would be to go get dinner at Kowbird, which serves four different takes on the Southern-style fried chicken sandwich, along with a vegan version with crispy fried oyster mushrooms and plant-based aioli. Come by on Sundays for the fried catfish sandwich, served in the original version or Nashville hot. If, though, you’d prefer to try your hand at recreating Horn’s big hit, he’s graciously shared his recipe for the Southern Bird, served on a potato bun with bread and butter pickles (the recipe for that is below, too). 

It looks straightforward, but the art is in the nuance — to master that, we asked Horn for some tips.

“One of my top tips when making fried chicken is to brine it,” he tells us. “By brining your chicken, you are incorporating more moisture into the meat. It’s an often overlooked, but very important step!”

He also advises us to use “a good peanut oil or canola oil (especially if you have a nut allergy)” and not to get distracted while frying the chicken. “It’s incredibly important to keep a close eye on the chicken as it fries,” he says. “You’ll typically fry your chicken segments for approximately 8 to 10 minutes — once you hit that 8- to 10-minute mark, you should start to see a nice golden brown color. As soon as you get that nice golden brown color, pull the chicken from the oil. Check the temperature with a thermometer — you want it to be 165 degrees or slightly over.”

And the final detail: “I always love to finish my fried chicken with a sprinkling of salt.” 

Kowbird

Matt Horn’s Southern Bird Sandwich

Yields 8-10 chicken thighs

Bird rub 

Seasoned flour 

Buttermilk brine 

Brine chicken thighs in buttermilk for two nights. 

Place chicken on baking sheet and allow moisture to flash off slightly so the dredge may adhere. Add flour to chicken and press to evenly coat. 

Fry for 11 minutes at 300 F in canola or peanut oil. 

Toast a potato bun. Add “good” mayo. Place pickles on top of thigh. 

Enjoy.

Bread and Butter Pickles 

Liquid 

Toast mustard seeds until aromatic. Add liquids, then all other ingredients to a small pot. Bring the liquid to a low boil and make sure everything is dissolved. Next, pour the liquid, while still hot, over cucumbers. Let that sit until cool.