SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — “Dishing” Siouxland features a single dish from locally-owned restaurants in the Siouxland area. These dishes can be the signature item on the menu, the most popular dish, or the dish the restaurant is known for. This week, KCAU 9 explored the reason behind the seasoning of Sneaky’s Chicken.
The family-owned buffet and restaurant has been serving chicken to Siouxland for more than 40 years and continues to provide residents with 4,000 to 7,000 pounds of chicken a week.
Dave Ferris, owner of Sneaky’s, said the restaurant got its start downtown where it would serve 400 pounds of chicken a week. Ferris said the restaurant started as more of a bar, but he and his brother wanted to turn it into a restaurant that was known for its chicken.
“Chicken has been our main feature for 42 years,” said Ferris, “We get in two semi loads a week, anywhere from 80 to 120 cases of chicken, depending on the time of year, then we start preparing it.”
Ferris said they start preparing the chicken by marinating it for 24 hours in a “special marination.” When the 24 hours are complete, the chicken gets battered before it is left to set before it’s ready to be fried.
“Everybody has their own recipe, we like our recipe, we like our cookers that we use,” said Ferris, “You will never walk into our restaurant and smell that old shortening smell that you’ll sometimes get when you walk in places. We change our shortening regularly, we filter it at least twice a day, sometimes three times a day, and we’re one of the largest users of shortening in the Midwest area.”
The smell of the chicken will be the first sign that the chicken was cooked to perfection, according to Ferris. He indicated that smell usually gets the appetite going then the second sign of a well-made chicken will be the golden-brown color of each piece. Ferris specified that one of the biggest factors to a good-tasting chicken is the quality of the product that’s used.
“I tell people that when you’re finished eating a piece of chicken if you look at the bone and the bone is black, you know your chickens been frozen,” said Ferris, “If it’s not black then you know you’ve had a fresh piece of chicken. We’ve never used frozen chicken and we won’t despite, I’ll tell you, in today’s world it’s difficult to even get product anymore so this is a whole new experience for all of us, but we’ve never used a frozen chicken, it’s always fresh, and I think that’s part of the reason for the quality.”
Ferris added that how the chicken is cooked will affect the flavor. He said while it might seem customary to cook chicken at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, Sneaky’s cooks at higher temperatures for a crispier texture.
“[The chicken] is never dry,” Ferris said, “The way we cook it, it pressurizes it, and cooking it under pressure seals in the juices.”
Ferris said they’re always cooking different amounts of chicken, so they use appliances that are designed to compensate for the amount of chicken that is being fried at once. He specified that when the temperature lowers due to the higher amount of chicken, the cookers will lengthen the time it needs to cook automatically to ensure the chicken is cooked properly.
The hardest part about making the chicken is breading it because they do a large amount at one time, according to Ferris. He said they work on 700 pounds of chicken at once, so it can become very physically demanding.
“It’s a lot of bending over until you get through it,” said Ferris, “So, we have a lot of people that pitch in and help do it which kind of takes the pressure off and we can do it in 20 minutes now.”
Ferris said that aside from eating it, cooking the chicken is the easiest part of the process because all of the hard work has been completed.
Sanitizing and regular cleaning play a huge role in ensuring a quality product, according to Ferris. He said that Sneaky’s team is always cautious of cross-contamination, and they ensure that all chicken is cooked to a safe temperature.
“Chicken is one of the most transferrable pieces of food product, you know,’ explained Ferris, “We wash our hands more than anybody I know which is all the time. Every board that’s used, every counter that’s used is always freshly cleaned and sanitized.”
Ferris specified that while the chicken is always checked before being served, ensuring that the chicken is cooked at the proper temperature largely contributes to consistently producing food that is safe for consumption.
Ferris added that while some might think the pieces of white meat are the most popular, he has found that he continues to sell an even amount of white meat and dark meat.
“You know, 20 years ago I would have told you that 80 to 85% of people like white meat,” said Ferris, “and I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”
Over the years the Sneaky’s family has made changes to better suit the needs of Siouxland’s demand for their signature dish. Ferris said that they started with a walk-in cooler that was 5 feet by 4 feet and could only fit one person inside. They have since turned the cooler into their office, and they now have a cooler that is 10 feet wide and 32 feet long and can hold thousands of pounds of chicken at once.
“It’s just interesting to see where we’ve gone and where we started,” Ferris said, “You know, we had one big Broaster and one tiny Broaster and now we have a total of 16, not all in-house, we have the catering trucks and everything. So, everything’s changed, our technology has changed and how we cook it and it’s just interesting to see the entire transition.”
Ferris said he’s branched out with several locations, including a collaboration with Coney Island.
“Clear back in the early 80s we opened a restaurant called Sneaky’s and Coney’s and it was out by the North Sioux dog track, and we were out there for about 2 years.”
In addition to the location on Gordon Drive, at one time Sneaky’s could be found in Okoboji, Sioux Falls, and even on Hamilton Boulevard from 1984 to 1988.
“We had a ColdStone creamery for a few years,” said Ferris, “So, yeah, we’ve ventured out, but this has always been home, and we’ve been able to do some amazing things.”
Ferris said Sneaky’s has been involved in raising money for various charities over the years, including Make-a-Wish, visiting the warming shelter, and Hope Street. He indicated that being active in the community is part of what makes the business of serving chicken fun.
Know a locally-owned restaurant with a famous delicious dish? Email your idea to Ariel Pokett at firstname.lastname@example.org.