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Chef Will Made It - Southern Comfort Dishes with a Healthy Twist

Feeding your spirit some delicious cooking should go hand in hand with good nutrition. Here's Chef Will Made It’s healthier twist on 3 Southern favorites
Chef Will

Down South, folks know a thing or two about the magic of wonderful food and family to heal weary hearts. You may call it comfort food, but Mammas and Grannies from the Tennessee panhandle to the Carolina coast know it goes much deeper. 

Those wise women know every bowl of creamy macaroni, every bite of luscious Memphis BBQ or smoky good chili carries an extra special secret ingredient: it's that same love you put into your own family every day.

Feeding your spirit some delicious cooking should go hand in hand with good nutrition. Here's Chef Will Made It’s healthier twist on 3 Southern favorites: healthier Southern fried chicken, chili con carne, and pork BBQ recipes that keep that "oh, my Lord!" flavor while enhancing healthy nutrition in each dish. According to Chef Will Made It, simply add your love, serve it up, and enjoy the applause. 

Air Fried Chicken

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Fried chicken is, arguably, the most popular Southern comfort food in the U.S.A. Thanks to the KFC Colonel, it’s gaining popularity overseas too. Creating that delicious crunchy coating while making it healthier and keeping the meat tender and juicy takes some effort, but the results are worth the work. Now air frying lets you capture the crunch and juicy tenderness of southern fried chicken without the extra fat and calories.

First, healthier brining and breading ideas.

Brine Ingredients: 

  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsps onion powder
  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsps cumin 

Rinse one whole cut up frying chicken. Mix brine ingredients together in a lidded container. Place chicken into brine, cover and let sit refrigerated for 1 to 4 hours. After brining, remove chicken, rinse and pat dry with paper towels.

Place chicken into a large storage bag with one quart of buttermilk. Squeeze and move the chicken about to cover thoroughly with buttermilk. Marinate under refrigeration for at least one hour. You can brine the chicken and marinate in buttermilk the day before cooking. It will be fine letting it marinate overnight. 


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups toasted bread crumbs 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp dried ginger
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp dried mustard
  • 2 tsps garlic powder
  • 2tsps smoky paprika 
  • ½ tsp Italian seasoning

Bread the chicken using the wet hand dry hand method. First, place a wire rack (a cooling racks work fine) down over a sheet pan or towel. This is where you'll place the breaded chicken to rest before air frying. 

Containers needed for breading:

  1. 2 cups flour
  2. 2 beaten eggs
  3. Seasoned breadcrumbs (sub 2 cups flour if you don't like crumb coating)

Chef Will Made It suggests putting spices and herbs in a food processor or mortar and powder as this will evenly season the breading for consistent flavor in the finished product. Mix seasonings and flour or breadcrumbs together in bowl number 3. 

Lightly dredge buttermilk marinated chicken in the flour. Then dip in the beaten egg before dredging through the seasoned breading mix. Repeat with the rest of the chicken and let the breaded chicken rest on the wire rack for 5 to10 minutes before cooking. This lets the coating firm up and stay on the meat while cooking.

Chef Will Made It iterates the importance of following the instructions for your particular air fryer for cooking. Preheat to 360F and bake the chicken 25 to 30 minutes. The crust should be golden brown and internal temperature should reach 165F. Remove the meat from the cooker and let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Healthy Chili

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Chef Will Made It urges that chili is a healthier adaptation of an old recipe. This one works well in your slow cooker or instant pot, and you'll find this recipe lends itself easily to hiding healthy extras like diced carrots and dried spinach flakes. This version contains lower amounts of harmful fats because you are substituting extra lean beef and using olive oil to saute meats and vegetables.

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  • ½ pound extra lean ground beef
  • 16 ounce carne picada beef
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cans diced tomato
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • Medium-sized red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • Large yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 16-ounce cans red beans
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans
  • 1 can Del Monte Fire Roasted Corn
  • 2 tbsps dark ancho chili powder
  • 2 tbsps cumin
  • 2 tsps dried basil
  • 3 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • (optional) ¼ cup dried shredded carrots
  • (optional) 2 tbsps dried spinach flakes
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbsps cornstarch


  1. In a large preheated skillet, pour two tbsps olive oil. Brown carne picada beef and lean ground beef.
  2. Add onion and red pepper to the meat, and cook over medium heat until onions are soft. Stir in diced tomatoes and green chiles and pour the mixture into your slow cooker or instant pot cooker.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients except cornstarch and water to the cooker and stir.
  4. Slow cooker instructions: cook chili on high setting for 4 ½ hours. Mix cornstarch and water together and slowly stir into hot chili to thicken.
  5. For instant pots: close the lid and set the relief valve to seal. Use the soup/stew setting and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Allow the steam pressure to release on its own. Then open the valve and thicken the chili with cornstarch slurry.

Healthy BBQ

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This is a super simple way to enjoy the smoky rich flavors so common to great Southern BBQ without all the extra fat and calories. According to Chef Will Made It, the key is cooking lean pork or chicken instead of high fat cuts like pork butts, shoulders or chicken leg quarters. Your crock pot or instant pot will really shine for cooking this one.

Chef Will Made It shares his simple recipes for both pulled pork and chicken BBQ. Serve them as a standalone dish or piled high on onion or kaiser rolls. Down South, folks like BBQ with fresh hot slaw and slow-cooked baked beans. Either way, it's a healthy and delicious comfort food your family will ask for over and over. 

Pulled Pork BBQ

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  • One unseasoned pork tenderloin (2 to 3 pounds)
  • 1 12 ounce bottle apple cider
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • One small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 2 tbsps liquid smoke 

Rub mix:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsps garlic powder
  • 2 tsps onion powder
  1. Open tenderloin and pat dry with paper towels. Combine rub ingredients together and rub onto outside of the meat. Coat evenly for consistent flavor. Cover with foil and let rest for one hour in the fridge.
  2. Heat a medium skillet on high (cast iron works best).
  3. Add olive oil and sear outside of the tenderloin.
  4. Place meat and onion slices into a slow cooker or instant pot. Pour cider, broth and liquid smoke flavoring over the meat. 
  5. Close the lid and slow cook on low setting for 7 to 8 hours. The pork will fall apart, tender and ready for your favorite sauce and side dishes. 

For pulled chicken, substitute boneless and skinless chicken and omit searing the meat. These dishes are an excellent opportunity to flex your creative muscles and experiment with new and exciting rubs and sauces. 

You have taken a quick look at some great traditional foods. Try adapting your favorites for better nutrition. Maybe you can create low fat pepperoni pizza or extra nutritious chicken and waffles. There are dozens of comfort foods that you can enhance without sacrificing the feel-good factor. Chef Will Made It suggests having some fun and enjoy the mad dash as your family races to the dinner table.

About Chef Will Made It

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Chef Will Made It is a friendly, enthusiastic Chef with 15 years of specialization in high volume fine dining and a lifetime of experience making delicious home cooked meals. He loves how cooking enables him to express himself and has become a well recognized figure in the culinary world with over 20,000,000 views on Youtube and 3 highly-anticipated cookbooks in production.

Chef Will Made It provides his private chef services to a-list celebrity families, famous athletes, and movie stars in Southern California and around the world. He loves taking pleasure in the smiles and happiness of people enjoying the meals he has created. As a natural leader, Chef Will Made It is a reliable team player and has a proven track record of making great food that entices his diners and leaves them wanting more.

Nathalie Nicole Smith states that working hard and staying true to yourself are sure ways to win in life.

For more information, follow Chef Will Made It on social media via the links below or join his growing fan club family for sneak peaks of his favorite seasonal and holiday recipes and for more updates.