Life

The Best Fast Food Fried Chicken Preparations, Ranked On Flavor Alone

We’ve been on a major quest this year to rank all of the best fast food your money can buy. If you’re looking for the best chicken sandwich, we’ve got you. The most decadent burger? We’ve had it. We have big opinions on the best milkshakes to chill with and even hit salads for the health nuts out there. But in my mad rush to cover fast food, I neglected my first love — fried chicken. When I was a picky child, I exclusively wanted to eat these three things: pancakes, cereal, and, above all else, bone-in fried chicken. Considering pancakes and fried chicken are incredibly close to waffles and fried chicken, I’d say young Dane was on to something!

So when the time finally came to try all the fast food fried chicken chains, I was hyped. There was no eye-rolling this time around. And luckily for all of us, it’s pretty hard to f*ck up fried chicken — so even though I think there is a hierarchy of chicken chains and preparations, these chains are all winners in my book. That’s a rarity in fast food, though it could be because Sonic, Dairy Queen, or Burger King don’t do fried chicken.

For this ranking, we’ve specifically focused on non-processed fried chicken which, in all but one occasion, had us focusing on bone-in birds. Because I’m based on the West Coast, I wasn’t able to include a few regional chicken chains like Zaxby’s (which everyone loves) and Bojangles (which everyone hates). At each chain, I enjoyed multiple trips in order to sample both white and dark meat, and alternate varieties like spicy, mild, or extra crispy. For different variations, I think an individual ranking is fair, but in terms of white vs dark meat, we’re just going to say go ahead and pick your poison (I’m a breast and thigh guy, personally).

Let’s eat some bird!

10. KFC — Extra Crispy Style

Fried Chicken Ranking
KFC

Extra Crispy style has to be the biggest waste of menu space in the entire fast food universe. I get that KFC’s Original Recipe chicken leaves a lot of crunch to be desired (I’ll get to this soon) but that doesn’t mean we need a bland Extra Crispy version to make up for it. Original Recipe is delicious, Extra Crispy just tastes like crunchy salt. Those interesting 11 herbs and spices that KFC prides itself with aren’t here. I don’t know why the spices had to go in order to make a crunchier batter but I hate it.

Think about what this chicken is taking the place of! We could have a KFC spicy style or 11 different herbs and spices! Instead, we have this flavorless bird. The bland batter puts the quality of KFC’s chicken in the spotlight, and it’s not great.

Bottom Line

The meat is juicy but unless you like the taste of pure chicken, the batter just isn’t packing enough flavor here.

Find your nearest KFC here.

9. Church’s — Original Chicken

Fried Chicken Ranking
Church

I really want to like Church’s Chicken because it seems like the underdog brand in the chicken space but for the most part, this chicken just misses the mark in too many key areas. The texture of the breading is absolutely on point, it’s crispy and craggy, and crunches like auditory ecstasy, but doesn’t taste very flavorful outside of the crunch, and the chicken inside is often very dry and tough.

In my experience, sometimes a layer of wet batter will lurk between the crispy skin and the chicken. Biting into a piece of fried chicken and tasting moisture before you actually reach the meat is alarming. I’ve never felt as paranoid as when I’m eating this chicken. I’m constantly questioning things between bites, Is it cooked, did I get a bad piece? It’s too much to handle.

The Bottom Line

Church’s has good biscuits and a pretty decent chicken sandwich. Order those instead of the bone-in chicken and you won’t be disappointed.

Find your nearest Church’s here.

8. Church’s — Spicy Chicken

The spicy version of Church’s chicken has almost all of the same qualities as the Original recipe version, but with an added cayenne pepper kick. The use of cayenne gives this bird an overall drier texture and flavor, so skip the white meat if you’re grabbing the Spicy bird over the Original.

If I’m being generous, I’d say that Church’s best feature is the texture of the batter, adding cayenne pepper to it adds the flavor that the Original Recipe bird is sorely missing, ultimately leading to a better experience.

The Bottom Line

Similar to Church’s Original Recipe but slightly better because the cayenne pepper adds some flavor to this otherwise bland chicken.

Find your nearest Church’s here.

7. Wingstop — Lemon Pepper

Fried Chicken Ranking
WingStop

When it came time to rank Wingstop I hit a bit of a roadblock. Do we actually go about ranking all eleven flavors? That seemed crazy, but choosing a flavor as simple as Original Buffalo seemed unfair. Of course a piece of fried chicken doused with sauce is going to taste superior to a dry piece of fried chicken! So, in an effort to keep things fair, I decided to rank both of the chain’s dry-rubbed flavors. I figure that’s not a far cry from something like KFC’s 11 herbs and spices, so it feels fair.

First up is Lemon Pepper. The flavor here is your typical citrus-infused salt and pepper blend, but depending on who tossed your wings (or thighs, Wingstop also does fried chicken thighs and they’re delicious) things can get overwhelmingly zesty. The meat of both the thighs and wings is incredibly juicy, falling off the bone in tender bite-sized pieces, and this is one of the few flavors at Wingstop that won’t have you burping fire hours after your meal.

Since Lemon Pepper is a dry rub, your order won’t get overly soggy, offering up a nice crispy skin that is freshly seasoned and full of flavor.

The Bottom Line

If you’re not looking to make a mess on your hands, Wingstop’s dry rub Lemon Pepper is a great flavor that dances on the palate and keeps your focus on the juicy chicken on the inside, instead of masking it with heavy sauces like your typical wing.

Find your nearest Wingstop here.

6. Jollibee — Chicken Joy

Fried Chicken Ranking
Jollibee

Yeah yeah yeah, the West Coast doesn’t have Zaxby’s or Bojangles, but we have Filipino chicken chain Jollibee, and I’ll take that over Bojangles any day of the week! Jollibee’s Chicken Joy features a light and flakey cornstarch-based batter that is always perfectly crispy and houses juicy bites of dark meat chicken. The batter tastes like it’s flavored with salt, white pepper, garlic powder, five-spice, and the always sumptuous MSG. I know it’s MSG because only MSG makes my mouth water the way fresh Chicken Joy does.

I wish the chain offered breasts and wings but what it lacks in variety, it makes up for in flavor. Plus this is the only chain where you can order a piece of fried chicken with a side of spaghetti and a peach mango pie, and even though this is a ranking about chicken, that’s going to earn it some points in our book.

The Bottom Line

If you’re all about crispy but light batter and juicy dark meat, Jollibee is the move.

Find your nearest Jollibee here.

5. KFC — Original Recipe

Fried Chicken Ranking
KFC

This might be nostalgia speaking — I think my very first taste of fried chicken was a KFC Original Recipe chicken breast — but I love KFC’s famed blend of 11 herbs and spices. Yes, the chicken isn’t nearly as crispy as it should be, the breading has a softness to it that absorbs grease so powerfully that after eating a piece your hands will straight up be wet, but the flavor is so damn mouthwateringly good.

Garlic colliding with onion, pepper, celery salt, paprika, ginger, oregano, basil, celery salt — I think I even taste some dried mustard in there — it’s an assault of flavor and I love it, lack of crispiness be damned!

The Bottom Line:

KFC’s Original Recipe is an absolute classic. If you love crispy chicken, look elsewhere, but if you’re big on flavor just a handful of chicken spots beat this beauty.

Find your nearest KFC here.

4. Wingstop — Louisiana Rub

Fried Chicken Ranking
WingStop

As much as I love KFC’s Original Recipe, Wingstop’s Louisiana Rub packs way more flavor. So much so that you won’t even miss skipping out on the heavily saucey flavors Wingstop offers. Featuring a blend of Cajun-inspired spices, Louisiana Rub combines cayenne pepper with garlic and onion powder, paprika, thyme, and basil. It’s slightly spicy and sports an earthy flavor of herbs that makes us question why KFC needs 11 to do what they do when Wingstop is working with just a handful and producing something that tastes this good.

It’s full of depth with the right balance of saltiness, heat, and sweetness.

The Bottom Line

So good that you won’t miss the heavy buffalo sauce with a subtle spicy kick that keeps the mouth-watering. Take it to the next level by ordering thighs instead of wings.

Find your nearest Wingstop here.

3. Popeyes — Spicy Chicken

It shouldn’t surprise you to see Popeyes placed so highly in this roundup but you might be shocked to see the Spicy variety absent from the top two. I’m just going to go ahead and say it, Popeyes Spicy chicken is the lesser of the two flavors offered by the chain.

Featuring Popeyes’ delicious crispy batter, which is breaded so haphazardly that you almost always get these delicious long tendrils of fried batter streaming from your chicken, Popeyes Spicy chicken adds a cayenne pepper kick to their usual seasoning and it makes the chicken taste drier than its mild counterpart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very delicious, but if you taste the two flavors side by side you’ll pick up on a distinct dryness from the spicier blend.

It’s not enough to cause this chicken to rank any lower but it’s keeping it from true greatness. Please don’t think I’m afraid of spice or can’t handle it, I love food so hot that eating it feels like a challenge, but I have to speak truth here — Popeyes Mild for the win!

The Bottom Line

It’s delicious but if you want the best tasting chicken from Popeyes you’ll order our next entry.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

2. Popeyes — Mild Chicken

Popeyes Mild chicken is the stuff of dreams. Under layers of crispy batter awaits juicy and tender bites of meat that never taste dry or overcooked, even after they’ve been sitting under a heat lamp or in the box for a few minutes. The breading is seasoned with a blend of garlic and onion flavors and the right balance of salt and pepper that results in a mildly sweet aftertaste that pairs perfectly with a hint of honey or hot sauce.

If Popeyes made chicken and waffles, they would end the fast food game forever. We would tear down all of the competition just to make space to build more Popeyes. Order the Mild chicken instead of the crowd favorite Spicy variety — this is literally why people keep hot sauce in the car.

The Bottom Line

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

1. Raising Cane’s — Chicken Tenders

Fried Chicken Ranking
Raising Canes

This is a controversial pick for the number one spot, we get that. Allow us to explain. Every fast food name on this list has had one thing in common: they sell bone-in fried chicken. Raising Canes does not, they exclusively sell chicken tenders, so if we’re going to include chicken tenders you can argue that we should include chains like Burger King, Carl’s Jr, Chick-fil-A, and any other fast food chain that has fried chicken tenders on their menu. To include Raising Cane’s in this list, let alone give the chain the number one spot, seems like an insult to the entire concept of the article!

But hear us out! Raising Cane’s is different!

What makes this chicken chain different from Burger King, Carl’s Jr, and the like, is that its chicken tenders are actual chicken tenders, not processed meat that is formed into the shape of a chicken strip. These are real tenders, and actual cuts of chicken. Cane’s chicken is never frozen, marinated, and fried to order. It’s also the only thing the chain sells aside from a few sides, so you can’t say that Raising Cane’s doesn’t sell fried chicken — they are keeping the same practices as the other chicken chains on this list, and are arguably going a step further by not freezing their meat.

They just have a specialty, like Jollibee or Wingstop. Only in this case it’s the tender. Which I’d say is the better move.

By focusing on a single specialty, Raising Cane’s has perfected fast food fried chicken. The meat is without fail juicy and tender (obviously), with a craggy hand-breading that seems designed to perfectly absorb the chain’s in-house Cane’s sauce. This is the sort of chicken chain A-listers like Snoop Dogg or Justin Bieber cater their parties with, it’s easily the best tasting fast food chicken you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating. Sure, every time you approach the drive-thru line you’ll second guess even bothering to wait in the long snake-like lines that are always weaving through mini-mall parking lots. Do it, it’s worth it and absolutely lives up to the hype.

The Bottom Line:

There aren’t any bones here, but if you’re on the hunt for the best tasting fried chicken in the fast food universe, form factor be damned, it’s Raising Cane’s. No doubt.

Find your nearest Raising Cane’s here.

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