Is there any food more representative of American cuisine than fried chicken? It has deep and meaningful roots in the nation’s history, distinct regional preparations across the country (from skillet-fried to cornmeal-crusted), and it has inspired food lovers emigrating here from other nations to create their own versions of it (Korean fried chicken is particularly popular right now, but there are plenty of other varieties to speak of).
So in honor of National Fried Chicken Day, coming up Friday, July 6, here is a thoughtfully curated, comprehensive guide to the best fried chicken this country has to offer.
Fried chicken has its roots in country kitchens of the South, soaked in buttermilk, shaken in a brown paper bag with seasoned flour, and prepared in a cast-iron skillet filled with bubbling liquid lard. The oldest fried chicken recipe on record is published in The Virginia House-Wife, written by Mary Randolph in 1828. Since then the American classic has been prepared in countless ways — from soaked in a spicy vinegar-based marinade and deep-fried, Peruvian-style to served upscale in four-star restaurants with maple-honey butter or other accoutrements.
For the purposes of creating this list, The Daily Meal called on its network of contributors and experts across the country, who know their local food scenes like the back of their hands, to weigh in on the issue. We also did intensive national research and looked at reference guides and literature written on the state of fried chicken in America. The result is a guide organized by city, listing the leading fried-chicken establishment in the area followed by honorable mentions in many cases. The cities range from New York City to Seattle to Birmingham, Ala., and many places in between.
So which establishments made the list? There’s President Obama’s favorite Chicago spot, Harold’s Chicken Shack, known for serving up the star of the show with no frills, just white bread and hot sauce. The fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House was a no-brainer, and the James Beard Foundation agrees — they named it an "American Classic" in 2005. And the list wouldn't be complete without Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Mason, Tenn., which has been delighting locals and visitors alike with crispy, juicy chicken for decades.
Considering how seriously many food lovers take their favorite fried chicken, there are bound to be some disagreements. Please comment below if one of your cherished standbys didn’t make the cut.
Click below to enlarge The Great American Fried Chicken Roadmap and print out a version for yourself.
Additional reporting contributed by Maggie Gorman, Zanny Allport, Mackenzie Barth, Ellandrea McKissack, and Chrissy Harris.