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Ranking the South’s Finest Fried Chicken

Ranking the South’s Finest Fried Chicken: Photo Illustration by Sean Noyce

Photo Illustration by Sean Noyce

From the gas station to that hip new restaurant downtown; at breakfast, lunch or dinner; no food is as versatile and American as fried chicken. And no place takes their chicken as serious as the South. Long a staple of Southern hospitality and the family picnic, every part of Dixie has developed their own unique recipes and styles. While originally brought to the United States by the Scottish, it was slaves on plantations that were responsible for turning fried chicken into such an integral part of Southern culture. Able to raise chickens for their personal use they combined the meat with the spices of their homelands to create the dish we know and love today. These are the best places to find mouth-watering chicken in Dixieland.


Photo courtesy of Little Donkey

Photo courtesy of Little Donkey

10. LITTLE DONKEY
Homewood, AL
“Hecho en Homewood” isn’t something that you would traditionally look for when it comes to Southern-style dining. When you break it down though Mexican and Southern foods are both about using local ingredients to create simple comfort foods. Little Donkey brines their chicken overnight with a blend of chili peppers for the perfect amount of punch. Order it with a side of elote & Chipotle slaw for the perfect Soul-Mex meal.

Photo courtesy of King of Louisville

Photo courtesy of King of Louisville

9. CHICKEN KING
Louisville, KY
It may be Kentucky but the King rules over the Colonel. Moist and tender, go with the spicy fried chicken at Chicken King for a bit more flavor. While not too spicy, the added pepper blend gives the thicker batter a more flavorful kick. Pull up to the drive-thru in your favorite pickup truck and then head down to the river for a tailgate picnic. Make sure to grab an order of the breaded potato wedges as well as the peach cobbler for dessert.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Denning Jr.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Denning Jr.

8. BEASLEY’S CHICKEN + HONEY
Raleigh, NC
Americans have a long history of food combinations. Hamburger and French fries. Spaghetti and meatballs. Peanut butter and jelly. And maybe the best of all: Chicken and waffles. Traditionally a soul food staple, chicken and waffles has moved more towards the mainstream as trendy restaurants add it to their menus. And in Raleigh, NC you won’t find a better pairing than the one at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. Crispy chicken on top of a light and moist waffle only gets better when one drizzles honey over the top of both.

Photo courtesy of Tyler Lund

Photo courtesy of Tyler Lund

7. MRS. WILKES DINING ROOM
Savannah, GA
Step into Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room and be transported back to a time of true Southern hospitality. Boarding house traditions abound, you’ll discover that there is no menu. Guests are seated communal style while dishes are passed around the table. If you’re not there with family you soon will be. Just don’t expect much chatter after introductions. You’ll be too busy stuffing food in your face with chicken straight out of the deep fryer after a simple seasoning of salt and pepper. Mrs. Wilkes’ secret was small fresh pieces of chicken. No large breasts here. The way all family meals should be. Cash only, lunch only.

Photo courtesy of Agfisher

Photo courtesy of Agfisher

6. MARTHA LOU’S KITCHEN
Charleston, SC
Pink is normally not something you want to associate with fried chicken but next time you’re in Charleston seek out the little pink building that is home to Martha Lou’s. For more than 30 years Martha Lou Gadsden has been serving up Southern hospitality and some of the best fried chicken in South Carolina. This isn’t fast food so expect a wait as Martha Lou herself fries every piece of chicken to order. When it arrives you’ll be treated to the freshest, crispiest chicken around. Deep-fried with a touch of sweetness to the batter, a trait that carries over to the tea and the ladies waiting on you.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Barbre

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Barbre

5. PRINCE’S HOT CHICKEN SHACK
Nashville, TN
Fried chicken has a reputation in Music City. A much spicier one. Allegedly created as a punishment for the womanizing owner of Prince’s, Nashville hot chicken gets a coating of cayenne pepper based paste after frying. Expect a wait no matter the time of day, but hot chicken is best enjoyed after a night out. Any local will be happy to direct your to their favorite shack, but it doesn’t get much better than the originator’s four levels of heat. Just avoid touching any delicate areas after an order of the extra hot.

Photo courtesy of Vicki A

Photo courtesy of Vicki A

4. HATTIE B’S
Nashville, TN
While Prince’s might be the original, Hattie B’s just might be the new king of Nashville hot chicken. Since opening in 2012 this hip fried chicken joint has taken the city by storm. Don’t let the modern look and trendiness of the place fool you, Hattie’s produces chicken that you will not be able to “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” about.

Photo courtesy of Uncle Lou

Photo courtesy of Uncle Lou’s

3. UNCLE LOU’S
Memphis, TN
The moment you walk into Uncle Lou’s you can feel the love, the sweet spicy love. From the employees to the food, this Southern kitchen is all about making you feel special. Lou Martin’s family recipe comes in both mild and hot varieties. The hot is the perfect blend of spice and nice, a honey based glaze over the top of a cayenne based seasoning mix. Consume this sweet mess with two or three of Lou’s honey buttered biscuits.

Photo courtesy of Dallas Heltz

Photo courtesy of Dallas Heltz

2. OLD COUNTRY STORE
Lorman, MS
Just off the Natchez Trace in the tiny town of Lorman, MS sits a clapboard building that has housed a variety of businesses. It wasn’t until Mr. Arthur Davis started frying chicken in the back that it became a true destination. Seven days a week, Mr. D. serves up an incredibly affordable all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Greens, beans, ribs, slaw, all the fixins of a Southern dinner but the star of the show is the fried chicken that Alton Brown once described as “the end of the road.” Prepare yourself for some of the largest breasts you’ll ever put your lips on. Slightly salty, the batter finishes perfectly crispy and flaky.

Photo courtesy of Don V.

Photo courtesy of Don V.

1. WILLIE MAE’S SCOTCH HOUSE
New Orleans, LA
Treme doesn’t seem like a place where you would find a James Beard award winning restaurant but this is New Orleans; a city where you should always expect the unexpected. On the corner of Tonti and St. Ann streets you’ll find the little building that is home to Willie Mae’s Scotch House and “America’s Best Fried Chicken” as the menu humbly states. Willie Mae Seaton started serving her wet-battered chicken here over 30 years ago, seasoning it with only salt and pepper. This technique keeps the skin crispy and the meat juicy, something the James Beard Foundation no doubt noticed when they awarded Willie Mae’s an “America’s Classic” award in 2005. Open only from 10:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M. six days a week, get there early to hopefully avoid a wait.


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