Fried chicken is an art—an unhealthy, possibly cholesterol-charged art, that is. It's not just a matter of eating any bucket of fried chicken and hoping for the best. Here at TheRecipe, we take our fast-food restaurants seriously, and we rank them depending on various factors such as price, quality, flavor, and the like. Fried chicken calls for its own grading scale based on the ultimate Fried Chicken Trifecta: crunchiness, juiciness, and seasoning...ness.
Nostalgia may have been a contributing factor for those who call KFC the superior brand, so we'll try to be as unbiased as possible for each one of these incoming reviews. We gathered some of the most common fried chicken fast-food restaurants, then ranked them accordingly to the Fried Chicken Trifecta on the noble quest for the very best. Whether you agree or disagree, we'd like to know. It's time to check out the definitive 25 best and worst fried chicken restaurants in North America. Let the games begin!
While other fast-food chains boast about how they feed only the best types of seeds to their hormone-free, steroid-free, and GMO-free chickens, Zaxby's never mentions much about their chickens. We're slightly skeptical about that detail, but it's reflected in the food; their fried chicken is plain and mushy and oftentimes tastes too much like fowl.
Perhaps the problem is in the too-extensive menu that takes away focus from getting an amazing few signature dishes and instead opts for a dozen or so average-flavored meals.
24 Pollo Campero
A Guatemala-based fast-food chain, the issue with Pollo Campero can be summed up in a simple factor: its geographic position. Their presence in Central America have made them practically a household name, and their food is said to be fresher than those of their counterparts in North America, which frankly makes sense.
We have yet to visit Guatemala and try a batch of their original fried chicken, but the one here unfortunately leaves much to be desired with its questionably soft outer crust and flavorless meat.
Kentucky Fried Chicken will always live in our hearts as the treat our parents took us out for on special weekends. Nostalgia wins when it comes to this chain, but their fried chicken has a tendency to be tough and stringy, particularly when it's left to rest at room temperature.
When one takes a bite from a drumstick, there ends up being a higher percentage of greasy crust slipping right off than actual meat. We'll give KFC a break due to the fact that it's successfully thrived all of these years and the flavors work even if the textures don’t. However, we do wish these quality standards weren't compromised for the sake of efficiency.
Biscuitville does get extra points for its freshly baked, handmade biscuits, scrumptious giant blueberry muffins, and affiliation to one of the oldest coffee-roasting companies in the United States.
The fried chicken does complete the requirements for crispiness but not the ones for tenderness. Even though the poultry they raise have no steroids, no hormones, and no antibiotics, the meat used for the fried chicken biscuit is quite dry and bland in comparison to other meals on the menu. We'll eat their biscuits any day of the week. Dry chicken? Not so much.
21 Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken
Established in 1966, Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken found its spunk with the help of KFC founder, Colonel Sanders. Both chains go hand in hand, yet Lee's has a sense of homeyness KFC might envy from time to time. Is the fried chicken crispy? Yes, it sure is. Is the flavor profile something you'd remember a few weeks after you had it? Eh.
When the only difference between the spicy fried chicken and the regular one is black pepper, you know your fast-food chain has to try harder.
Featuring smaller chicken fingers in comparison to Cane's, slightly burnt pieces of toast, and thick breading with uneven degrees of toughness, we're not too impressed with Guthrie's. Their fries and coleslaw—and possibly their chicken as well—are fresh. Yet, something funky happens in the temperature of the oil where their fries and their chicken are perhaps reheated too many times.
It could also be a matter of proportions; there's too much crust and not nearly enough chicken meat inside. Whatever the root of the problem may be, the fried chicken is best received with a grain of salt–literally, a single grain of salt seems to be what was used for the meat.
19 Golden Skillet
Decorated with a teaspoon of nostalgia that's added to their food, the Golden Skillet holds its own in a couple of admirable ways. Their chicken meat is seasoned very well, and a hot plate of six pieces sets comfortably in our stomachs. We just wish we could've seen more of that seasoning action on the breading as well instead of a greasy aftertaste.
Second point: fried chicken is meant to be oily, as oil and grease are kind of self-implied. That's understandable and most welcome. We're not nit-picky enough to complain about that detail. Nonetheless, when there's more of an oil taste than a seasoning or a breading taste, we're bound to raise a couple of eyebrows.
18 Raising Cane's
It's time for chicken fingers. With competitive prices, Cane's quickly rose to fame in the last couple of years, so now is the time to wonder why it was placed so low in the scale. The employees use fresh chicken meat, which is a detail we'll always appreciate without fail.
When it comes to the trifecta of crunch, flavor, and juiciness, the main–but certainly not the only–qualm we have is the breading. It's oily, not too crispy, and the meat itself cries out to the heavens for a bit of salt and pepper. We're aware chicken fingers are meant to be dipped in a flavorful sauce, but to that, we answer: fried chicken should always be great on its own.
What Jollibee's fried chicken lacks in seasoning and crackling crunch for its breading, it makes up for with its exemplary tender chicken meat. But what's tenderness without personality?
It's similar to finding a brownie that looks fudgy and jam-packed with chocolate from the outside but after one bite, we realize–all too late–that it's missing any real chocolate and was flavored using Crisco and unsweetened cocoa powder. If you've never gone through this moment, you may never know the bitter taste of unfulfilled expectations and disappointment.
16 Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits
The chicken sets well at room temperature, so there are no cons involving it losing flavor or texture if there's a short gap between ordering it and later on sitting down to have a meal. Of course, it won't be as hot as it ought to be, but sometimes, cold fried chicken is just as worthwhile as when it's right out of the fryer.
Onto the review: the breaded crust stays in its place and has a noteworthy buttery undertone; it's not as crispy as we'd like our fried chicken to be and edges more toward sogginess. There are foods meant to be soggy; then, there are those meant to be crunchy, and when they're switched around with each other, there may not always be a shining result.
15 Mary Brown's Famous Chicken & Taters
Hurray for a crispy crust and larger individual portions of fried chicken and...And that's about it.
The breading crackles, but for the most part, it doesn't taste like much other than the oil it was cooked in. As for the chicken meat, it just feels like it desperately needs a drink of water after roaming around in the desert for 40 years. Mary Brown's deserves another opportunity since anyone is allowed to have an off-day, of course. But when it comes to large chains, consistency in your products is key to keeping customers wanting more food, not necessarily wanting more another icy drink.
Moist, check. Tender, check. Potentially flavored with celery salt, check. Delectable breading? Missed opportunity.
The meat doesn't get to shine nearly as much as it ought to when it's wrapped in an insipid crust. Trust us—we do know there's a fine line between unflavored and delicate, and Church’s falls way too closely into the unflavored category. They do offer a satisfying meal, but we keep wishing the crust had that extra 'oomph' in its texture and its flavor profile.
13 Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken
Grease. Lots of it. Not enough napkins. Alright, we don't particularly get a kick out of overly greasy chicken, regardless of how tasty the meat itself might be. Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is admittedly appetizing, and it does Southern cooking justice, for the most part.
However, leaving so much oil on the batch does overpower the taste of both the breading and the meat, leaving an unpleasantly slick sensation in one's mouth. We crave juicy chicken as much as the next person, but we cannot confuse juicy for oily and call it a flawless meal.
12 Brown's Chicken and Pasta
Now, who doesn't love a good ol' plate of pasta plopped next to their fried chicken? Perhaps the answer to that question is: depends on the pasta. We find that to be the conundrum with Brown's. Their chicken is excellent, for the most part (the earlier one gets it, the better, otherwise it is stale), but the sides they try to pair it to just don't complement the meat.
The mashed potatoes are grainy, similar to the type you might heat up in your microwave, and their coleslaw has a strangely tangy aftertaste that probably shouldn't be there in the first place. With that said, Brown's is a place for fried chicken—and fried chicken alone.
The tender chicken strips are seasoned almost to perfection, and the batter has a delicate array of spices we just cannot get enough of.
Yet, there are two issues here: the meat comes only in a boneless format, and we can physically see the irregular ground-up pattern (which remind us of an oversized nugget). In conclusion, we'd much rather prefer considering Chick-fil-A as one of the best places for a chicken sandwich but not the absolute best for fried bits of goodness.
10 Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken
Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken earns 10th place simply because it's hardly memorable. There's nothing wrong with it other than the occasional excess of grease from being fried for too long. Actually, it's almost as though there isn't enough wrong with it to categorize it as problematic. If you have a craving and don't live close to any of the previously named chains or even KFC, we suppose Louisiana's fried chicken will do the job just fine.
Also with roots in south Korea, it appears as though BonChon and Kyochon are at a tie, depending on the time of the day. Visiting Bonchon in the morning is far better than visiting it in the evening, which is the complete opposite way Kyochon works.
Bonchon is closer to the classic interpretation of a plate of Southern fried chicken, just with a tad more garlic (which is never an issue so long as we have our mints prepared in our pockets) and salt. Juicy, deeply satisfying, and with crispy chicken skin—the chicken meat here hits the mark.
It's more on the expensive side of the spectrum, but it's downright delicious. Originating in South Korea and available in California (Los Angeles) and New York, Kyochon offers dishes of garlic-infused fried chicken coated in sweet honey, red pepper, or garlic-and-soy combinations of sauces.
We can certainly appreciate how the restaurant dips fresh, high-quality pieces of poultry in rice flour before frying them, which not only leads to a lighter and thinner breaded crust but also achieves that special extra-crunch factor.
7 Publix Hot Chicken
If you ever are close to a Publix Food & Pharmacy, please remember to visit the deli section. Why you may ask? Brine. Specifically, brine-soaked chicken and thick, peppery breading. The pieces may not hold their own as much as Dodge's, and should, therefore, be eaten as soon as possible—unless you're a fan of soggy fried chicken.
At the moment, Publix stores are available in the U.S. states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Dodge's is one of the few providers of fried chicken that lies hidden away in a gas station. Yes, we were also concerned about the quality. The first thing we imagined is that we were dealing with a slab of poorly breaded chicken that had spent all day turning and turning in the display section of a gas station. We thought this would be as dry as a hot summer day in Arizona.
Yet, much to our enjoyment, we were absolutely wrong. This chicken holds its structure, moisture (without getting soggy), and flavor wonderfully well even after 20 minutes of being on the road back home after picking it up. Recommended for long road trips, we could never dodge Dodge's Fried Chicken.
5 TKK Fried Chicken
Back in 1974, TKK was first founded in Taiwan and began its expansion after 1974. They stand out from other fried chicken chains because of one tasty addition to their menu: flavored bubble tea.
Any plate of fried chicken served at TKK will always consist of extremely moist meat and well-spiced, crunchy, flavorful batter for the coating. Their prices are great, and their biscuits are said to compare closely to the likes of Popeyes. If there's a single issue, it would be how the sides taste sweeter than they probably ought to in order to counter the hot sauces used on the chicken, but other than that, this is hands-down a bucket-list location.
4 Krispy Krunchy Chicken
If you've ever craved fried chicken at bizarre hours of the night or the early morning, you've got to give Krispy Krunchy Chicken a go. Born from the idea of making fried chicken available to anyone at any hour, KKC made its first modest appearance in a convenience store back in 1989.
After that point, the business partnered with other gas stations and corner stores across the United States, giving passersby and truck and taxi drivers, as well as other workers with tight schedules a chance to eat a high-quality, juicy, hot Cajun-style meal with zero trans fat oil.
Waffles and fried chicken are one of the few physical representations of complete and utter true love. This is a fantastic option for those self-proclaimed messy eaters out there, as there are no forks and little more to work with than a napkin.
If you want an explosion of flavor, crispy outer skin in each individual piece of fried chicken, a crunchy waffle, and sauces that will have you believe in fate, visit Chick'nCone as soon as you possibly can.
2 Shake Shack
Known for its burgers and hand-spun milkshakes, the Shake Shack has a special surprise waiting for you. Its buttermilk fried chicken is worthy of competing in the big leagues with its mega-chain counterparts. A combination of shallots, garlic, celery salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper creates a light, buttery crust and tender, flavorful meat in every single bite.
If there's a Shake Shack near you, go try their well-renowned black-and-white shake and a Chick’n Shack with a side of fries for a comfortably filling experience. If your favorite four-legged pup is accompanying you, there's a menu specifically designed for dogs that includes dog biscuits and vanilla custard.
1 Popeyes Louisiana Chicken
True-to-Louisiana Cajun cooking, Popeyes won our hearts and our taste buds since day one. With a lightly spiced light crust that audibly pops and crackles as we bite through it and a succulent mouthful of chicken meat so amazingly cooked that it falls right off the bone, this establishment takes the trophy for another year.
Their buttermilk biscuits are fluffy, crumbly, and a fantastic delightful companion to the chicken. Popeyes simply has the best combination of elements to form the superior Southern-style fried chicken fast-food chain.