We love chicken in America. According to the National Chicken Council, our per capita consumption of the bird in various forms reached 96.5 pounds last year — up from 80 pounds just 10 years earlier. The USDA’s Economic Research Service has projected that the number will grow to 98.5 pounds by 2021.
Just how much of the chicken we eat is fried, of course, is difficult to determine. One of the great things about chicken is how versatile it is. It can be baked, roasted, grilled, fried, stewed, and more, and is common to almost all of the world’s major cuisines. As an example of the possibilities, consider this ranking of the best chicken dishes in America.
Statista, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Simmons National Consumer Survey, has given us some idea of fried chicken’s popularity, however, by calculating that an estimated 175.25 million Americans — more than half the population — ate frozen fried chicken (nuggets, wings, etc.) last year. And the analytics and data firm Market Research Future predicts that by 2025, we’ll spend more than $2.56 billion on fried chicken from fast food outlets like KFC, Popeyes, Bojangles, etc. (These are the top 10 chicken chains in America.)
In earlier times, “fried chicken” used to mean assorted pieces — breast, thigh, leg, wing — breaded or battered, deep-fat- or pan-fried, and served with such traditional accompaniments as mashed potatoes and gravy and biscuits. That genre of fried chicken is still popular around the country, but the scene has changed in recent years.
Fried chicken sandwiches have been around for a long time, but their popularity soared in 2019, with the so-called “chicken sandwich wars” that began as a rivalry between Chick-fil-A and Popeyes and quickly pulled McDonald’s, KFC, Shake Shack, and other chains into the fray. Now they’re likely to be found on menus everywhere, from takeout stands to sit-down restaurants.
Then there’s Nashville-style hot (read “very spicy”) chicken, which was invented in the 1930s in Tennessee but began attracting widespread attention only in 2007. Now this style is imitated in every corner of the country. Another variation on the theme that’s increasingly popular is Korean fried chicken, with a coating so crisp that it’s almost brittle.
And of course there are deep-fried wings, first popularized as a stand-alone treat by the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, back in 1964. Today, wings — whether Buffalo-style or served with other sauces — are ubiquitous. Some restaurants specialize in nothing but or serve nothing but wings and boneless tenders.
When 24/7 Tempo sought out the 30 best fried chicken places around the country according to Yelp reviewers, a surprising number focused their efforts on hot chicken, Korean chicken, or wings. Old-fashioned Southern-style fried chicken is still a thing, to be sure, but it doesn’t seem to please diners as much today as these newly popular variations.
Whatever the style and whatever the part of the bird, however, a large portion of the country apparently agrees that fried chicken is simply one of the best dishes in the world. These 30 establishments do it particularly well.