To us, the Holy Grail of fast food items has to be fried chicken. That crispy skin with the tender, delicious meat inside is hard to resist, no matter what chain you go to. Everybody’s got their own form of how they prepare the juicy and crispy pieces of fried bird, and some definitely do it better than others. Based on the travels of the FoodBeast crew, national impact, and overall quality of fried chicken, we’ve come up with this list of the 10 tastiest fried chicken fast food chains you can find in the country.
To be clear about this list: no chicken nuggets or chicken fries were considered, so sorry to McDonald’s and Wendy’s fans (Wendy’s fans especially, since you know how much we all miss those spicy nuggets). Also, we’re sticking to chains with 20 or more restaurants, so to you fans of hyper-local fast food fried chicken (aka Kokio’s and Flyrite out in Texas), we apologize. With that said, let’s sink our teeth into some tasty fast food fried chicken, shall we?
Let’s start off by saying that putting KFC at the bottom spot isn’t meant to be negative. KFC is like the McDonald’s of fried chicken. They do a decent job on the quality, and they keep the flavor train rolling with Nashville Hot, Georgia Gold, and whatever other fried chicken trends they’re monitoring. However, every other single chain on this list was designed to be better than the finger lickin’ good poultry you can get from KFC.
That being said, KFC definitely deserves the fried chicken love ’cause they still make some pretty darn good chicken.
If you’re not from the Southeastern United States, you probably haven’t heard of this place. However, their influence on the fingers and wings game in their part of the country is strong. Zaxby’s specializes in original and Buffalo-flavored chicken that inches above KFC’s poultry. Hopefully, they’ll sprout more locations across the United States so more of us can get a taste of this growing chicken chain.
Bojangles actually opened up shop 40 years ago to this glorious fried chicken day. They celebrate their fried chicken in the simplest way possible: by pairing it with warm, airy biscuits. This tried-and-true combination is oft repeated, but Bojangles knows how to do their basics right.
7. Raising Cane’s
What sets Raising Cane’s above and beyond is their legendary Cane Sauce. To quote Guy Fieri, “You could put it on a flip-flop and it would taste amazing.” If you’re not down with eating footwear, though, at least grab some of Raising Cane’s chicken fingers and fries to dunk into their creamy next-level sauce. That pairing is an absolute winner, and it’s why so many Instagrammers flock to this place to get pictures of their chicken. Raising Cane’s has the popularity and flavor to set it up above the others on this list so far.
6. Shake Shack
Shake Shack is known for their burgers, but you gotta respect their fried chicken game as well. The Chicken Shack, which is the chain’s signature fried chicken sandwich, is a mouthwatering combination of fried chicken, buttermilk mayo, pickles, and lettuce. No faffs, no frills, just a down-home good chicken sandwich that will almost make you forget what the joint is known for. The fact that a well-known burger joint is nonchalantly making this amazing chicken sandwich gives it a deserving spot in the middle of this list. It doesn’t have the breadth of the top 5 spots, but definitely matches them in terms of tastiness.
We’ve honestly never had a wing flavor at Wingstop we didn’t like. Whether it be classic Buffalo, tangy and fiery Brazilian, or even mouth-puckering lemon pepper, Wingstop knows how to put some wild flavor on a consistently high-performing wing. We’d love to see them put the flavors on other sections of a chicken, but what Wingstop’s got so far is enough to elevate them as America’s best fast food wing joint. Adding their flavors to breasts, thighs, and legs would take it to legendary levels.
4. Church’s Chicken
Church’s knows how to do hand-battered, deep-fried chicken right. They’re well-known throughout the entire country, and have never been one to skimp on flavor. Church’s is essentially the KFC of gourmet fried chicken, since they’ve got the national reach of KFC but elevate every aspect of their chicken to a level out of Colonel Sanders’ reach. They’re simplistic, sure, but you can’t deny how good their chicken is.
Jollibee is the Filipino fast food chain that’s gonna take over the United States because of their BOMB fried chicken. They keep it simple like Church’s, and you can get it in tender form or in varied piece buckets. What makes it stand out beyond the rest, however, is a gravy packed with flavors of onion and celery that is absolutely ethereal. You almost want a whole bucket of the gravy just to dip into the chicken, it’s that good. The unique savory notes of that gravy compliment fried chicken in a way that no other fast food chain on this list can replicate, and it’s why Jollibee deserves such a high spot on this list.
America’s favorite fast food joint deserves to be near the top of the list. Their chicken is quintessential, but what we especially enjoy about Chick-fil-A is that they’ve turned fried chicken and breakfast into an art. Most other places don’t even serve fried chicken in the morning, but at Chick-fil-A, it’s all the rage and the perfect way to start your day. And while it’s lack of traditional pieces of fried chicken keeps it out of the top position, the Chick-fil-A mantra of great service and highly appetizing food is unmatched by anyone else in the nation… save for one.
Oh man, do we love that chicken from Popeye’s. The Louisiana-style chicken is the best rendition you’re gonna find at any fast food joint. Their restaurants feel more like a traditional fried chicken shack than any other chain. With all of the classic Southern sides and the levels of TLC that go into each piece of bird, you’re almost transported to a mom-and-pop fried chicken spot at any of their thousands of locations. Nobody else has yet to fully replicate the cultural resonance of fried chicken the way Popeye’s has, and it’s why they take the top spot on our fast food list.
If you agree or disagree with our choices, definitely let us know. If you’ve never heard of some of these spots, check them out and see why they’re all dropping fire with their poultry. Fried chicken is a beloved and sacred food in this country, and it’s great to have so many delectable options for a comforting, on-the-go meal.