I tried 8 kinds of fried chicken and this was the best – don’t eat this

Despite supply chain problems and shortages of products and labor, the chicken sandwich wars continue to rage. The demand for America’s favorite bird hasn’t diminished, and new variations on the wildly popular spicy chicken sandwich are still actively entering the fray.

But as we embrace the boneless breast, we seem to have been ignoring the OG – aka fried chicken on the bone. This is what we light up today with our high wattage heat lamp.

In the south, in particular, the cooking methodology is different, and spice blends are closely guarded. What makes an excellent fried chicken is as much a debated topic as the oil cooked in it. But the fast-food chains that have really mastered the dish seem to have at least one thing in common: They all call it “the hard way.”

Seasoned, hand-baked secret recipes—these are some of the buzzwords you’ll find in descriptions of fried chicken offerings at your favorite places. But which ones really offer? Is it better to use spices or the original? These are some of the questions I tried to answer as I accepted the delicious challenge of trying every popular national chain serving chicken on the bone in Metro Atlanta. Read on to find out once and for all which fried chicken dish rules the roost.

methodology

Due to the aforementioned imperfection, comparing side by side – sometimes even within the same restaurant – was difficult. Instead of a side-by-side taste test, I took detailed notes to score the ratings. In each series, I ordered a leg, thigh, and breast, and judged the chicken based on taste, texture, and overall quality. These are the five brands and eight variations I’ve tried:

  • Bojangles
  • Church: original and hot
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: Original and extra crunchy
  • Pollo Cambero: Fried
  • Popeyes: mild and hot

Categories

Courtesy of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Bourbon, horseshoes, fried chicken—these are the things that really bind me to Kentucky. But unfortunately, KFC does not offer a reputation for KY Chicken with its original recipe.

I generally prefer crunchy foods and therefore tend to choose the extra crunchy version of anything if available. So it’s been my lifetime since I got the original fried chicken that laid the foundation for KFC’s fried chicken empire. However, this taste test led me to wonder how I built an entire empire on this recipe in the first place.

Those famous eleven herbs and spices were present, but they were overshadowed by an excess of salt. Even if the proportions are better balanced, they cannot make up for the moist, flabby skin of the chicken. Unevenly baked, sticky looking, and shedding bits of gray flour shaken and rolled seven times, I was initially worried it wasn’t cooked through all the time. Since it was prepared in a pressure cooker, it was moist and served at a safe temperature. However, it’s possible that cooking on a low heat is what causes it to retain a large amount of the oil, resulting in a moist experience. While the leftovers were certainly improved by reheating in a toaster oven, in the end, I found the Colonel’s original, unfortunately, not to be worthy of salutations.

Church chicken
Courtesy of the Church

Founded in San Antonio and based in Atlanta, I had high hopes for the quality of Southern Fried Church. What a blow to the heart that the My Town chain proved to be a church that does not inspire worship.

The predominant flavor in this inconsistently marinated chicken was oil. There was a slight rancidity in the crunchy mixture, which gave it a pungent, burnt flavour. This much smoke would have been tolerated if the chicken-to-coating ratio had been 1:1, but unfortunately, not a single piece of this chicken was the size of Texas. The drumstick was slightly larger than the wing drum, but most horrible, the breast seemed to have been cut in half or even a third, even from the thigh.

Of course, quantity is not everything, but sometimes it can make up for the lack of quality. This time, neither of them came. The white meat was tender outside the shell, and had a slight home-fried taste – there wasn’t much depth even in the surface seasoning. The dark meat was more juicy and salty, but it was also stringy. The only boon to this meal was the premium honey butter biscuit, which was crumbly and baked well on the outside and tasted like real honey.

Spicy church chicken
Church / Facebook

I went back to Church’s another day to try the spicy version and luckily found it to be much better. Although it still had the slightly burnt harshness of the poorly drained and frequently abused frying oil, it earned points for flavor thanks to a sharp, firm blast of pepper that pronounced itself instantly. The heat in the marinade, and the gentle smoke of the forward-facing pepper makes the burning taste of the oil seem more intentional.

But it was far from perfect. The amount of meat was almost too small to be funny, and again, there was more bread than chicken. That crack of chicken breasts I was In my chest it was drier than the bone it was on, and so was the wing (they were thighs on my visit). This was even more of a shame, because the hot marinade was soaked even deeper into the dark flesh of the young leg.

Then again, it’s probably not the worst that the portions are restricted. Between the grease and seasoning, it’s wise to have an antacid ready for this one.

comparison: The original church chest opposite Bojangles’ breast

Chicken Bojangles
Courtesy of Bojangles

A lesser known name than Popeyes (also known as Champion Chicken Sandwich), the similar “seasoned Cajun” chicken Bojangles had my hopes up. I’ve seen it at airports, and the big chunks of chicken and crackers the size of a hockey puck have always intrigued me. Was it as bold a flavor as the other Louisiana brand?

The short answer is: No. While you can savor a bit of seasoning in the big, thick cuts of high-quality meat, I found each cut unusual—which may be why every order comes with a handful of spicy Texas Pete sauce.

The flavor could be diluted due to the size; Sure enough, the marinade has a much greater permeate density than many competitors. It was three times the size of a church breast and contained rib meat. Besides, the crust of the flour was much heavier and more solid – the thickest, most flaky, and most flaky layer of all. Each bite was evenly coated with a hard crunch that wasn’t spoiled by the grease. So, while the flavors weren’t assertive, the texture – from the silky chicken itself to the large chunks covering it – was as big as its physical dimensions.

Polo Campero
Courtesy of Polo Campero

While the Guatemala-based, Texas-based chain’s chicken was topped with fluffy crumbs and lightly fried, it comes to you with a juicy, flavorful side profile that starts at the surface and extends deep to the bones.

This competitor was unique in every sense of the word. The seasoned chicken featured a final Latin-style, smoked paprika with chiles, and garlic, with distinct hints of celery or spiced salt, curry, and ginger. And she laid herself bare, too, with no extra layers of flour to fill in any illusion of extra volume. Instead, it was placed directly with a light hand over the seemingly uncut chicken pieces before being lightly fried.

This paint restriction led to an inconsistent crunch that soon fell into KFC’s Original’s trap. The lack of a buffer also caused the white meat to dry out a bit, especially since it required more time to cook due to its adequate and satisfying size. The dark meat remained very juicy. Had she been more fragile, she would have broken the tie. However, the seasoning was solid as it was, and the Latin-inspired sides (hello, yuca fries and platanos!) convinced me that the citrus grilled Polo Cambero chicken might be worth another trip.

moderate poppies
Courtesy of Popeyes

Popeyes brought it down. While I find the brand’s chicken overly salty, it is consistent and seasoned all the way through. Every piece is delicious, crunchy and good. The mixture sticks tightly to the chicken and the skin crust is just perfect.

In fact, this brand is the most crunchy among them all, with the best mixture to chicken ratio. Its soaring tops were perfect for holding the depths of chicken breasts – places the marinade couldn’t penetrate. The reason may be that the large chicken breasts skew a little on the dry side due to strong frying. The rocky crust holds small pools of oil in its valleys, making it fatter than its geographical cousin, the Bojangles.

If we’re really awkward here (what’s the point, right?), he loses points for this minor offense. I also bring up the fact that sitting oil has its own distinct flavor that comes through stronger than chicken, in which salt is the strongest note. However, despite having a larger roof area, with more gradation, it still tastes less than its Texas rival.

Kentucky Fried Chicken Extra
Courtesy of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Where KFC’s Original failed, Extra Crispy Chicken excelled. Although it is not actually the most fragile of the bunch, it definitely meets the bare minimum, putting it at the top of the list.

These big brown, bolder cuts are hand-roasted and open-fried rather than pressure-cooked, creating the scallops I love in good fried chicken. However, different cooking methods also have a chemical effect on the spice, which is part of the reason the spice blend is so remarkably different from the traditional—though discreet, and perhaps tastier, because it holds relics of my memories so much—that Roy Rogers missed.

The flavored flour mixture is seasoned well, and the chicken follows. When the chicken is too thick to absorb the marinade, as in a large breast, the crackers are prepared from it. And these are plentiful, because the disadvantage of this chicken is that the mixture flakes off quite easily. I found myself eating very cautiously, protecting its brittle shards and dreading losing these tasty morsels. I resorted to stealing from my legs and thighs, which were hot, silky, and tasty enough to withstand the loss.

In general, this is a chicken that is pleasant to the public, balanced and neutral, which has many positive points from competing brands without losing its distinctiveness.

Related: Best fried chicken in every state

hot poppies
Popeyes / Facebook

Once again, Popeyes takes the crown for fried chicken, even when it’s not in sandwich form.

Under an armor of crunchy bread, generous crackling without overcooking, and an extra layer of unabashedly red Cajun seasoning with a quick-building heat, these moist, big chunks of chicken were just a treat to eat.

The 12-hour-long seasoning and peppering spark that put Arabie, Louisiana—the original location of Popeyes—on the map in 1972 sparkles in nearly every bite. However, on the immediate surface, the crunchy batter is so well seasoned that it doesn’t matter even if the meat doesn’t explode. No need for that.

Although it’s not the most perfect fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life, it was a special place in the fast food fried chicken market. It was hard to narrow down the first three choices, but in the end, the deep flavour, very crunchy texture, consistency and quantity of batter, and the quality of the chicken itself were enough to make this the best choice for me – despite that distinct oily taste and residual grease.

After all, it’s fried chicken. what are you expecting?

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