For our Fried Chicken Bucket List we turned to real professionals—seventy-some people who truly know fried chicken, from chefs with their own famous recipes to seasoned food and travel writers and G&G contributors. Alongside staples like Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, in Memphis, chains proved surprisingly popular—both Popeyes and Publix earned high praise from a dozen different sources. Altogether, eleven regional and national chains stood out. Check the list below, and let us know what great chains we missed on Twitter.
Tar Heel pride is on the menu at this drive-through joint, based in Greensboro.
“Fresh-fried, honey-drizzled chicken, on quality biscuits made from scratch every fifteen minutes, available at fast-food prices from a drive-thru window. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? For the millions of lucky people who live near this mini-chain’s fifty-four locations, it’s just a fact of life. Try the pork chop biscuit, too.” —Jed Portman (Garden & Gun)
Who doesn’t love this Charlotte, North Carolina, fast food titan’s biscuits?
“I grew up eating Bojangles’ Cajun Filet Biscuits. Today, they’re a perfect pick-me-up after a night of heavy imbibing—and our favorite thing to see at 4 a.m. when we’re cooking a hog.” —Joe Kwon (The Avett Brothers)
Although this growing chain began in Busan, South Korea, its first stateside location was in Annandale, Virginia.
“This is deep-fried perfection. I go with the half-and-half soy garlic and spicy combination. The pickled daikon radish is my favorite part.” —Erik Bruner-Yang (Maketto, Washington, D.C.)
Atlanta’s hometown fast food joint now has locations in forty-six states.
“That bun-pickle-fried chicken combo is right on.” —Linton Hopkins (Resurgens Hospitality Group, Atlanta)
Since 1976, this operation from Elvis’s hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi, has been putting down roots in gas stations across America.
“This is a heavy nostalgia pick. Their chicken is what you’d expect—with a greasy, craggy coating that gives way easily, heavy on the salt. It’s a great option for a day on the lake or an after-church gathering at the house.” —Brooks Reitz (Neighbourhood, Charleston, South Carolina)
Chicken fingers are the house specialty at this Auburn–based joint.
“After a night of typical college partying, this was the place to sober up. Thickly breaded and fried, it hit the spot with its black pepper finish and red mayonnaise dipping sauce.” —Edouardo Jordan (Salare, Seattle)
This chain—from Greenville, North Carolina—pioneered the fast food breakfast biscuit.
“I know it’s not cool, but I have a special place in my heart for Hardees fried chicken.” —Vivian Howard (Chef & the Farmer, Kinston, North Carolina)
It began in a Lafayette, Louisiana, convenience store. Now it’s nationwide.
“Lucky for me, these are becoming pretty ubiquitous in gas stations down here. The smell is enough to lure even the most determined late-night partiers. Don’t think a lot about how the chicken came to be, just order the twelve-piece piece leg and wing mix and move on.” —Daniel Serfer (Blue Collar and Mignonette, Miami)
Founded in Guatemala in 1971, Pollo Campero now has fifty locations in the United States.
“They marinate their chicken in citrus and herbs before they fry it.” —Eddie Hernandez (Taqueria del Sol, Atlanta)
It opened in suburban New Orleans in 1972 as spiced-up competition for KFC.
“You can’t go wrong with the spicy if you need a quick fix when you’re traveling. The fried chicken I served at Blackberry Farm was the love child of John Fleer’s and Popeyes.” —Joseph Lenn (J.C. Holdway, Knoxville)
The pride of Lakeland, Florida.
“This chicken tastes like home, and not just because it’s always been there for us after church and football practice. The celery seed in the breading gives this steamy supermarket bird the comforting character of chicken and vegetable soup simmering away on the stove. Psst: If you prefer to fry your own, you can buy that breading at the deli counter for $2.49 a pound.” —Jed Portman (Garden & Gun)
See more of the South’s best fried chicken in our state-by-state guide.