Benny Blanco single-handedly owned the pop radio landscape in the 2010s, soundtracking wild nights for a whole generation. In constant demand, even his non-album solo single “Eastside” — featuring Halsey and Khalid — went 6x platinum. But despite an absurd number of plaques over the past 17 years, Blanco’s latest release is a new entry for him. It’s literary — a cookbook titled Open Wide, which acts as the star’s love letter to food and, more specifically, hosting dinner parties.

Sprinkled with pinches and dollops of minutiae and personal anecdotes, Open Wide reads as much like an engrossing coffee table book as a cookbook. It’s chock full of Blanco’s hilarious musings (as well as featured guests like Eric Andre and Lil Dicky) and serves as a resource for dinner parties of your own. The book holds nearly 100 recipes and it should be no surprise that Blanco is beyond jazzed about every little detail.

We caught up with Blanco to get the detailed rundown on one of his favorites from Open Wide, the crowd-pleasing, Pop’s Chicken — which he describes as the perfect fried chicken recipe, originating from Benny’s friend Pop, who is known for cooking soul food at his house every Sunday. (Side note: We all need friends like that.) Blanco also gave us the rundown on the one dining spot we have to try in Virginia, what’s on his rider, his ability to be DJ-like in taking cooking requests in the studio, and where his dream first food pop-up would be (sorry Angelenos, it’s not LA).

We also got personal and asked Benny about the origins of the “Chuck” bit from “Dave,” learned about the time he shaved his Unibrow way too much (haven’t we all?), and how that led to his commitment to his trademark look.

What’s the first step in getting started with Pop’s Chicken? Let’s start with picking out a chicken?

First of all, you need to get the freshest ingredients, so you want to get the freshest, fucking most delicious chicken. I would go to your local butcher because you don’t want something that’s been sitting there for days. By the time you get them, they’re three, four days old. You want a chicken that’s fresh, you want to be able to see little feathers that were just plucked off of it.

And then, as far as breaking down a chicken, let’s say you’re in a hurry, don’t even worry about it, just ask the butcher. You ask your butcher, you’re like, “Yo, can I break this down? Can you give me the breast meat? Can you give me the legs separate?” And they’ll do all the dirty work for you. They’ll even do it at most supermarkets too, if you ask.

That’s a good tip. I noticed Pop’s Chicken involves an extensive list of different spices and seasonings. Where are you getting your spices and seasonings? Is there anywhere you really recommend? And then are there any specific brands that people should be checking for?

I think even more so than brands and where I’m getting them from, I think the most important thing to know is that spices go bad after a little while. They don’t go bad in the sense that you’re going to get sick from eating them. When you first get them, they’re like a fucking line of cocaine, but after they’ve been sitting there for six months, they might not hit the same way.

So where are you getting these fresh spices from?

I really like a place called SOS Chefs in New York. I like another place called Sahadi’s in New York. If I’m in LA I go to Farmer’s Markets. In the Grove (in LA), they’ll have a lot of stuff in there from farmer’s markets. Specialty international stores have really good spices as well. Usually, when you go to an international store, they’re going to have really fresh spices and ingredients.

And is there any specific brand that you’re kind of partial to or is it just kind of spice by spice, you get what goes best?

I’m always looking at the color. You want it to be bright, vibrant. You don’t want it to look like fucking sawdust that’s been sitting there for a while. You know what I’m saying?

Yep, so after you get your chicken and your spices, your recipe calls for eggs. You mentioned that egg whites are a really important part of the recipe, so how are you picking out your eggs and where are you getting your eggs from?

I really like to go to the farmer’s market and get my eggs. Again, I know this sounds crazy, but you want look and see if there’s a little bit of chicken poop on the side, a little bit of a feather, because it’s really going to ensure the freshness of your eggs. If you’re getting your eggs at a farmer’s market, you never have to put them in the fridge.

Putting your eggs in the fridge is like a Western thing, they don’t do that in most other countries, eggs do not stay in the fridge. This is some weird thing that America did. And if I am going to a grocery store, there is a brand in LA and on the West Coast, I’m not sure if it’s on the East Coast yet, but it’s called Happy Eggs, they’re like these really good farm fresh eggs.

Basically, you want the freshies, you want the big brown boys. Don’t ever buy the white eggs, unless you’re buying from a farmer’s market. I know the eggs are going to be good when they’re a little bit different shapes and sizes and colors. And although we’re not using yolk in this egg (for Pop’s Chicken), you want your yolk to be like radioactive orange. Yellow yolks are a thing that also doesn’t exist in a lot of other parts of the world. You go to Europe and you go to Italy, the yolks are like fucking ORANGE, they’re like radioactive orange yolks.

And so the reason we use the whites because it makes the bite. You know how when you bite fried chicken and you take off all the skin and it’s not with the chicken and it’s a little bit thick and crumbly; it just doesn’t hold to the chicken? The egg white helps it hold to the chicken so much better, it’s not like slipping around and sliding off the meat. When I’m at the last bite of my fried chicken, I still want it to taste like the first bite. You know what I mean?

The egg white helps you do that. And it gets it airy and crispy and crunchy.

What’s the first step once you get home? What’s next?

Another important thing is you need the perfect amount of time for buttermilk. And you don’t want too much time or then your chicken’s going to taste weird and sour and it messes with the science behind the chicken, and it’s mushy — you want your chicken to have bounce. And you want your fried chicken, when you bite into it, you don’t want some dry ass shit, you want that shit to be juicing out, like somebody injected water into the chicken.

If you’re going to be frying for a bunch of people, you can pre-dredge and flour your chicken and put it on a tray, (because) this batter and everything, it all holds pretty well. If you have people coming over, you can just prep it a little bit. If you want to do it 30 minutes or an hour before, that’s fine.

Tell us a little bit about the brining process, because it seems like you would be doing that before the dredging.

There’s so many ways to brine a chicken. For Pop’s Chicken, I put sugar and rosemary or some spices, I do it a little different every time. You can also totally brine in sweet tea, basically you just need the sugar and the salt to break down the chicken. A combination of salt and sugar always works, and water, because it’s going to help make the chicken juicier. I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but it’s really going to fuck it up if you don’t do this stuff. If I put a chicken that’s brined next to a chicken that is not brined, I can keep my eyes closed, you’re going to taste the difference.

So brine your chicken, it’s very important. And then for me, the dry rub is so important because you want your chicken to be seasoned. A lot of times when you bite a chicken, just the breading is seasoned a little bit, but you want it to penetrate and give the chicken the flavoring of the seasoning. It doesn’t need to be insane, but it’s just another layer; you’re just building layers of flavor.

What are some of your tips for creating and executing the dry rub?

Pat your chicken dry. I know it sounds like so stupid and that everyone’s like, “yeah, of course I do”, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to. And then if you don’t pat your chicken dry, you’re going to have a loose wet batter and it’s not going to hit the same way. You need it to really stick to that chicken.

I really love to use Bell’s Seasoning, it’s just like an old seasoning blend, it’s good. Poultry Magic is also such a good one to use. These are just staples, they’re in every supermarket and you’re going to be like, “oh, okay. I know that’s at least the right one”; they’ve been around for hundreds of years.

Once you got your dry rub going, what sort of hardware do you need in your kitchen to take the next steps? What are some things that you need?

You can fry in an industrial fryer, you can fry in a cast iron. Fuck, I’ve literally fried chicken in a bucket. Literally a trash can that we just poured (chicken) in and then put it on top of an induction burner and did it because we needed a bigger surface. You just need anything that can hold heat and just be big enough to put your chicken in.

You don’t want your chicken clumpy, you need your chicken to be spread out. You don’t want it to be too close together, you don’t want it to get attached, (the chicken) needs a little room to breathe, and you’re going to be flipping it and shit.

What are some tips on the dredging process? I know you said pat for the dry rub, but as far as doing the actual dredging, what’s the lay of the land there?

For my dredge, I need something tangy. I do stuff different all the time, but there’s always the three things I put in a dredge.

I don’t have the recipe in front of me, but I can tell you for sure I don’t even need to look – 1) I always put some sort of pickle juice in. 2) I’ll always put some sort of hot sauce. I like Crystal or Louisiana, anything that’s based out of Louisiana. 3) I’ll always put mustard, and I’m talking like shitty French’s Mustard, because there’s something with the tang, and that’s going to just give you another fucking flavor bomb.

Once you’re done dredging, what are some tips for the actual frying, and how do you know when your chicken’s done?

A lot of people fry their chickens and the outside will get done before their chicken’s ready. Don’t fry it too hot. Whatever you’re doing, always watch your temperature. Because when you put the chicken in, the heat’s going to go down. There’s so many different things, there’s so many different barriers.

So stay calm, always stay calm and make sure to just take your time. It’s not a battle, you’re not fighting to see who gets the best time. You’re making fried chicken, have fun, go talk to your friends, drink a beer.

How do you know when the chicken’s ready to go? What’s the telltale sign to be like, “okay, it’s good”?

After making it so much, I know the color and feel of it, but if you don’t know it, pull a piece out, put a little thermometer in the side and it’s going to help you (figure it out). Don’t be afraid to use tools to help you.

It’s going to take a while before you can really know. Also, always know, when you pull your chicken out, it’s going to get a little bit darker once it’s come out. So you have to just know that as it cools, it kind of browns up a little bit more.

With Pop’s Chicken what’s the biggest challenge or the easiest thing to mess up that takes a while to master?

Not taking your time. Some people skip steps and they’re like, ah, I don’t need to brine the chicken, oh, I don’t need to do this. Always, always, always lay your chicken on a wire rack when it comes out. If you lay it just on something flat that’s not porous, it’s going to steam the chicken more and then the bottom of your chicken’s going to get soft. You want to keep this crispy.

Afterwards I’m done frying, I put it in an oven at 150 or 200, just so it’s holding heat inside. It’s not going to cook anymore. If you’re making chicken for a bunch of people, sometimes I’m doing this for 30, 40 people, and you just want to put the chicken on a wire baking sheet and throw it back in the oven to hold the temp.

A lot of people are scared to fry things. They’ve never done it at their house, they’re frightened, they think it’s going to take over their house, burn their whole house down. It’s not, you’re going to be fine, just take your time. And don’t be afraid when you’re first starting, to pull a piece of chicken out, check it. Check it with the thermometer.

So in this food series that we’ve been doing, we ask a lot of musicians about their eating habits. We all know that musicians often have very unhealthy eating lifestyles just because of the nature of the times that you’re working and things like that. So first question is, when you’re performing what’s on your rider? Food, drinks and snacks.

I actually try to keep it healthy, you know what I mean? I actually don’t eat a lot before I’m filming or doing a show, it’s usually afterwards. Before, I’m probably just having carrots and dip and a coconut water or something, it’s not as exciting as it seems.

I usually have to take a shit right before I do anything, too. The nerves just come in and you’re like, uppp.

What about when you’re in the studio? What type of food or snacks do you like to have on deck?

I want to say I’m eating healthy because I don’t want to fall asleep while I’m working. But in reality, I mean sometimes you get nought, sometimes it’s who knows. Sometimes you open up, sometimes it starts with one skittle and then before you know it, I’m covered in crumbs and glazed doughnuts. I don’t even know.

So there’s nothing specific that is a go-to, you kind of just go with the flow?

No, I’m cooking a lot for people in the studio, so it’s like people’s favorite. I mean people want fucking banana pudding, lasagna, spicy rigatoni.

Oh, so you’re taking requests?

Oh yeah, I take requests, I’m like a DJ for food.

What are some foods that people might find gross or nasty but you think are amazing?

Sea urchin. Uni, it scares people. And caviar, I love.

And then what’s a snack or a food that most people like that you find unappetizing?

I don’t eat pork, so pork rinds maybe.

If you could own or operate any franchise of restaurant or food related business, what would it be?

You know what I would do? You know when you go to a basketball game or you go to a football game or a baseball game, I feel like we’re so slacking on the culinary experience at those.

I know they’re trying to get better, but I feel like if somebody just gave me one to take over, I feel like I could make it so much more special than what it already is. We’re so blinded, even having food at any game, we’re like, “whoa, we got nachos”, and you’re so stoked. But imagine if it was actually fire food.

So where are you popping up? Are you popping up at Dodger Stadium? Are we at the Staples Center? What are we doing?

I think I’d have to move back to New York just to… I feel like it’s got to be New York, we got to be at MSG or something.

And you’re selling Pop’s Chicken or what are we selling?

I don’t know what we’re selling. I mean, I’d have to get high and think up the whole little menu rollout.

And then being from Virginia, are there any foods native to Virginia, or restaurants, that people must try?

There’s these things that I’ve noticed I don’t see a lot on the West Coast, it’s kind of like a Southern thing. They have these things, they’re called Kitchens, there’s one, Virginia Kitchen, and basically you go in and it’s just the most delicious kind of diner, but it’s like soul food too. There’s biscuits and grits and gravy.

On the West Coast, the breakfast out here is so mid. There’s just no diners out here. So Virginia, I don’t know, Virginia has these really good, they’re almost like buffets, it’s hard to explain.

Can you name one that the people should visit?

I don’t know if it’s still there because I haven’t lived there in a very long time, but I always loved Virginia Kitchen when I was younger.

I have to ask you a question about “Dave” and the “Chuck” greeting that you guys do. Did you guys get that from Peanuts and Charlie Brown?

No. We literally saw Peanuts, honestly like a week ago. We’ve been calling each other that for years, it has nothing to do with it. It started out because we used to call each other Buck, and then it was Suck, then it was Sook, then it was Book, then it was like Chuck, Chuck really kind of stuck. But we’ve had a like a million nicknames that evolved into Chuck, and it’s like we saw the Peanuts thing and we lost our mind.

Yeah, isn’t that weird?

I know. It’s so strange. There’s also, back when we used to call each other Buck, there’s also a thing called, there was a movie that Michael White made called Buck and Buck and we were like, “what the fuck?” It was crazy.

I was going to ask about your unibrow, but we can save that for another time.

I have a unibrow, you do not.

I used to though. In high school I started grooming my brows because I was very self-conscious about it. I’m probably 10 or more years older than you, so it was like a faux pas, and so I felt-

How old are you?

I’m 41. And I felt Like I had to, and so I started –

I’m 36. When I was younger, I used to do the same thing, I used to shave it. One time I messed up and I accidentally shaved my eyebrows so far to each side that it looked like I had two Hitler eyebrows, it was crazy. Because I kept trying to go more and more and it just…

Yeah, too much. So at what point did you settle into it and be like, “you know what? I’m just going to rock this unibrow for life”?

I think I was like 17 or 18, and I was like, “oh, this is me.”

Posted in: Pop