We know, we know. You think your mom makes the best fried chicken period. Nostalgia and hometown bias aside, though, many of us are also very opinionated about our favorite fried chicken joints outside of our own childhood kitchens.
Fried chicken is a quintessential American dish, along with hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie, barbecue, peanut butter, and casseroles. It’s cheap, relatively easy to prepare (although some obviously do it better than others), and a great equalizer: no matter who you are or where you’re from, you’re expected to eat it with your hands.
Fried chicken may have a particularly strong association with the Southeast, but its roots belong to many immigrant populations who settled in all corners of the country. West African, European, and Asian cultures can all take some credit for both introducing and continuing the fried chicken tradition stateside. And just how important is this dish to Americans today? Well, it has its own national holiday: July 6.
Last year, we brought you an extensive roadmap of the country’s best places for fried chicken. This year, however, we decided to put together a list of the best spots for fried chicken across America (which you can certainly make into a road trip if you'd like!). So, how did we develop this year's list? We considered reader feedback while also consulting our staff and several national experts. Along with some necessary Midwest mentions (such as a couple of infamous dueling restaurants in Pittsburg, Kan.), we’ve included a unique venue that feeds its scraps to local raccoons, as well as a North Carolina church kitchen turned popular local restaurant.
Flour, water, salt, chicken, and lard are just the beginning when it comes to fried chicken. These basic ingredients lay the foundation for customization, whether it’s a vinegar-based marinade, cayenne, or even maple-honey butter. The possibilities are endless. Everyone’s got their favorite, so if your preferred establishment didn’t make this year’s cut, let us know by leaving a comment or tweeting @TheDailyMeal.
In ranking our list for the best fried chicken spots in America, we considered, of course, the taste and quality of the fried chicken (as reported by customer reviews, critics, and firsthand knowledge), any awards or accolades the venue has received, any awards or accolades the dish itself has received, the décor and atmosphere, and the price for the meal as well as the overall ratings by diners across the States.
We’ve listed the best of the best here, so be sure to consult our slideshow the next time you stray from your mom’s recipe.
50. Hill Country Fried Chicken: New York City
Marc Glosserman and Elizabeth Karmel had already done more than anyone could have imagined for New York City’s barbecue scene by launching Hill Country, so any other culinary accomplishments would be above and beyond. But that’s just what they’ve done with Hill Country Chicken: standardize New Yorkers’ understanding of what a well-done Southern staple should be. Hill Country Chicken celebrates the home-style cooking of Glosserman’s grandmothers, Elsia and Betty (Elsia was the buttermilk-brined chicken expert, and Betty knew pies). And when you bite into that crispy crust… well, don’t take our word for it; just try it.
49. Charles’ Country Pan Fried Country: New York City
Charles Gabriel of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Country in Harlem, New York, has been pan-frying chicken since he was a kid growing up just outside of Raleigh. Using nothing but a couple of pans and his mother’s recipe (which calls for the chicken to be turned and flipped over frequently), Gabriel has made his shop a New York institution; this no-frills joint serves some of the best fried chicken in the city.
Alexandra E. Petri is the travel editor at The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @writewayaround. Contributions to this article were also made by Arthur Bovino.