We set out to find the best bucket of bird.
Nothing beats a pan of golden brown fried chicken, still warm from the pan. But sometimes shortcuts are necessary if you’re feeding a large crowd or have a sudden, all-consuming chicken craving. Associate editor Hannah Hayes and I sampled four different types of Southern store-bought fried chicken in a blind taste test to find out which brands we liked the best. Read on to find out where you should pick up a bucket or bag of fried chicken.
Even though we weren’t able to name all 11 herbs and spices, we knew right away that this flavorful chicken came from the Colonel. Black pepper, the most prominent seasoning, was a dead giveaway. (Allegedly, the recipe is made with black and white pepper, although the company remains mum.) KFC’s chicken has the thinnest coating of breading of the bunch, which made for a less greasy mouth feel.
Related: Our Favorite Fried Chicken Recipes
Bojangles’ breading wasn’t as crisp, but unlike some of the other brands, it doesn’t separate from the meat as easily. We found that it had a rich, buttery flavor, perhaps from the type of oil it is fried in—possibly a combination of oil and beef fat. This lightly spiced chicken would be our pick for pleasing a big crowd with different tastes, like a family reunion or picnic. It’s not spicy, but it’s also not bland. And the meat is juicy and tender, even at room temperature.
Is your favorite part of fried chicken the crispy, crunchy breading? Then you’ll love Publix’s fried chicken chicken. Each golden piece has a thick coating of seasoned—not spicy—breading. We detected a hint of celery salt in there. The meat is moist, a tad on the salty side (most likely because the chicken is brined) and not overly greasy.
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We thought Popeyes was the best fried chicken of the bunch. It has a distinctive look from thick, craggy breading that stays crisp, even when the chicken isn’t fresh from the fryer. This is the spiciest chicken of the bunch—the seasoned breading and meat has a nice kick, most likely from a combination of hot sauce and cayenne pepper.