6 Fried Chicken Chains Where Chefs Actually Eat – There’s no doubt about it—fried chicken is as tasty as it is comforting. When prepared with a crispy coating and the perfect amount of spice, this classic dish always seems to hit the spot. Plus, when it’s served with sides like creamy mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and homemade cornbread or buttermilk biscuits, you have a meal you’ll be thinking about for days. Thankfully, there are fried chicken chains all over the country that make some stellar chicken.

While you could make fried chicken yourself, it’s a time-consuming dish, even for professionals. Chefs are strapped for time in their private lives, just like us, and don’t have time to whip up a perfect seasoning blend or double-bread a few drumsticks and wings on the fly. So you’ll often find them picking up a bucket or two at their local fried chicken spots.

From classic fried chicken restaurants with over 25,000 locations worldwide to smaller family-owned chains serving grandma’s old-school recipes, here are seven fried chicken chains recommended by chefs.

popeyes chicken sandwich combo
Bill G./ Yelp

We couldn’t put together a list of the best chef-approved fried chicken places without including one of the most popular chains out there. Founded in Louisiana, Popeyes has been frying up delicious juicy chicken since the 1970s. The famous spot, which currently has over 3,700 locations, is known for its large selection of fried chicken offerings, which include wings, sandwiches, family meals, and much more.

A fan of the famous fried chicken joint, Ajai Sharma, sous chef at The Resident in New York City and former chef de partie at Altro Paradiso in New York City, says that Popeyes’ Cajun-inspired fried chicken has a loyal following for good reason. He loves the chicken’s “bold and flavorful seasoning” and its “crispy and well-seasoned skin.” He also points out that the buttermilk batter and spicy flavor options are a nice plus.

Other chefs also love the chain’s delicious fried chicken. Beth Raynock, the chef and owner of Local Mama Catering in Bethlehem, Pa., and working with local Lehigh Valley eateries, including Ashley’s, Kome, and Riegelsville Inn, also enjoys Popeyes. “My grandmother requests fried chicken for our picnics all the time!” she says. “Their slaw is the best.”

Chef Quinnton Austin aka Chef Q, the culinary director for Grind & Prosper Hospitality’s six establishments, which include Miss B’s Coconut Club, Louisiana Purchase, Coco Maya, and more, hails from Louisiana and shares that he was a huge fan of Popeyes, too, when he lived there.

KFC chicken bucket
Shutterstock

Since the 1950s, Kentucky Fried Chicken has been feeding tasty fried chicken to people worldwide. Founded in Kentucky, the iconic restaurant is known for using a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices to give its chicken the undeniably delicious taste (there are plenty of KFC dupe recipes out there if you feel like making your own batch of fried chicken at home). “Kentucky Fried Chicken—that’s what I grew up with,” says Raynock.

We can’t mention KFC without sharing just how many locations there are in the world—prepared to have your mind blown. As of today, there are over 25,000 (yes, you read that number right) KFC restaurants in over 145 countries and territories worldwide. According to statistics, it’s one of the largest fast-food restaurant chains in the world. Pretty impressive.

shake shack chicken sandwiches
Shake Shack / Twitter

Shake Shack may be known for its burgers and fries, but it also makes some pretty good fried chicken. “While primarily known for their burgers, Shake Shack has gained a reputation for their delicious fried chicken,” says Sharma. He points out that the high quality of the chicken, which is all-natural and antibiotic-free, is appreciated. He also likes that it’s cooked to order, and the taste and texture are just excellent. “The chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.”

If you’ve never had Shake Shack’s fried chicken before, you are missing out. The next time you are near one (there are over 250 locations throughout the United States), be sure to pick up one of their Chicken Shack sandwiches, which is a tasty sandwich piled high with white-meat chicken breast, lettuce, pickles, and buttermilk herb mayo, or their crispy chicken bites which are served with a side of honey mustard or barbecue sauce.

chick fil a chicken nuggets
Ann Marie Langrehr/Eat This, Not That!

Are you surprised that chefs also love hitting up Chick-fil-A for fried chicken? Neither are we. With over 2,600 locations, the chain is considered one of the best spots, even by the experts, to get your fried chicken fix.

“Chick-fil-A has a strong reputation for its fried chicken sandwiches,” says Sharma. He notes that the chain’s chicken is top-notch quality, and its flavor, a combination of spices and peanut oil, is unique.

If you’re not yet familiar with Chick-Fil-A’s menu, you might first want to start with their classic chicken sandwich, which comes with a white bun and pickles and can be easily customized if you’d like to add something like cheese, sauce, or lettuce and tomatoes to it. For those looking for something a little more out of the box, you can’t go wrong with the spicy deluxe sandwich with pepper jack, which has a special kick.

Harold's Chicken
Chris L. / Yelp

Although Chef Q lived in Louisiana and cites Popeyes as one of his favorites while living there, he mentions that Harold’s Chicken is also a must-try. After moving away from his home state, he discovered a newfound love for the fried chicken chain, which originated in Chicago but now has locations in Los Angeles and Phoenix, too.

Started in the 1950s by entrepreneur Harold Pierce, Harold’s Chicken is known for its delicious fried chicken options, including wings, combo dinners, family-style buckets, fried chicken breasts, and much more. Chef Q shares that he loves to drive North and visit the Los Angeles location for the chicken that he says is “always hot and fresh.” He recommends anyone visiting to get their meal Chicago-style!

Babe's Chicken Dinner House
Babe’s Chicken Dinner House / Facebook

Chef Emerio Viramontes, the executive chef at Chef’s Palette at CANVAS Hotel in Dallas, loves Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in Texas for fried chicken. “My favorite place for fried chicken is Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, a Texas chain with 10 locations,” Viramontes points out. The family-owned chain started in 1993 and serves up some of the best mouth-watering fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, creamy mashed potatoes, and banana pudding around.

“My go-to order is the chicken tenders,” he says, “because they have the perfect balance of crunch and flavor. I also appreciate that they do family-style servings for their sides!”

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