The only issue with this piece of viral internet content: Fried chicken has no alignment that is not good. Even Church’s, which any sane person has to admit is just unsalted chicken cracklings clinging to chickens recently dead of starvation, has its place and is beloved by someone. Deranged, tastebud-impaired someones, but still a definite set of someones.
Otherwise it’s a fine jumping off point for discussing the whys and wherefores of the most universally good fast-food item and iconic food on the planet.
Chick-fil-A: The lawful part is super accurate. It’s chicken-based fascism of the cuddliest kind, and no one is immune to it. It is just science that going to a Chick-fil-A for fifteen minutes raises serotonin levels off the organizational power alone, and in the sixteenth starts to get Disney-level uncomfortable because how can anyone be that cheerful for that long without some element of coercion.
Still, a Chick-Fil-A is brightly lit, generally super clean, the employees all love Jesus and their general manager, they do little extra things for children and old ladies, and generally swoosh the customer along like a well-breaded, tender piece of meat. On a bad enough day, we’d let them tuck us between two buns and stuff us into a foil-lined insulated bag, too.
There’s only one problem: Chick-fil-A isn’t exactly what we think of when we think of fried chicken? Not that we definitely need to leave a carcass after eating fried chicken, but we definitely need something not based on the almighty sandwich concept. Their chicken fingers, bless their hearts, suck. The breading doesn’t stick or crisp up real well, and everything that seems to go right with the sandwich cutlet goes sideways with the fingers. The nuggets are not food, they are a drug. We are going to get some immediately after finishing this.
Another problem is the relative lack of shame. It’s good and can be great, but no one ever looks up and thinks MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE after eating Chick-fil-a, or needed to lie down for several days afterwards. That seems against the spirit of fast-food fried chicken altogether.
Cane’s: Anyone who likes Cane’s will tell the uninitiated that no one should eat chicken tenders without sauce, and that the sauce is the savior. In that case, go to Cane’s, get a bunch of the sauce, and then drive over to Popeyes and get the tenders. Shame is the biggest obstacle to you living your best life, and we’re here to get all of you over that hurdle. (Obviously.)
In short: Cane’s chicken fingers are basically unseasoned, and any argument for really liking them leans on “This thing is good, but only when accompanied by this.” If you’re the kind of person who only hangs out with someone when they’re good and drunk, but never when they’re sober, by all means: Cane’s is for you. If not, come to Death Row, and join us in the club of people unafraid to make two fast food stops in the same day as adults.
The other version of this switch, taught to us by Aunt Stabby herself: go to In-N-Out for the hamburger, and then if possible hit the nearest Fatburger for the fries, thus completing the real L.A. Double-Double. It is completely worth it, provided everyone is comfortable with a receipt detailing one person traveling to both Fatburger and In-N-Out in the same day.
Popeyes: We have covered this before, but basically perfect even in its imperfections, even its dry-ass biscuits. Fact: put a Popeyes biscuit next to a fully cooked ham in a drying rack, place a box fan in front of it, and come back a week later to a perfectly cured dry Spanish jamon.
Zaxby’s. The chicken tenders are good, but again: Not sold by the piece so it’s already on the edge of well-defined fast-food fried chicken. Is it bad if their salads are good? That seems like a liability in this category, as anything too healthy should be viewed with immense suspicion. Another problem: When in doubt, Zaxby’s just hammers everything with a pound of salt and calls it seasoned. We’re sorry, Karen, let us try this again : I meant, “ooh, this chicken is spicy! Look out!”
They do have the multi-flavor Coca-Cola machines with pebble ice, which are a joy because of the pebble ice, and a sorrow if you’ve ever watched someone attempt to use one for the first time. Watching someone take ten minutes to get a caffeine free diet lime coke can break a man, especially if that man is standing behind them already mad that the only dining option is a place that tries to make you say the word “zalad”.
Bojangles. Can you tell what the meat is in a Bojangles breakfast biscuit, really? How do you know it’s not pork. It could be, which is the point, because generally when Bojangles partisans defend the place, they point to breakfast and the biscuits. That would be fine if the chicken in the biscuits were not first pounded into oblivion, and then deep-fried into a well-seasoned but dry shingle slammed between halves of a crumbly biscuit.
The chicken is good, but usually a little greasier than it even has to be on the already oleaginous scale of fast-food fried chicken. Bojangles is always a second option, and even when it is the only fried chicken around it feels like a second option, aka The Burger King effect, where you feel like you’re settling even if you wanted to eat at Bojangles in the first place.
P.S. For those of you eating like three pieces of chicken AND getting a couple of Boberry biscuits slathered with icing: You are not afraid to die, and we respect that.
That McD’s/Wendy’s/Burger King box: Nah, just a whole lot of nah, though we will admit to two things. One, the Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich is super serviceable because Wendy’s whole brand is “we’re here, and it’s better than you thought it was going to be.” Two, the bizarre chicken sandwich at Burger King is one of the most confusing legendary fast food items ever: A plank of what was at one point chicken, and is now a board of reconstituted poultry served on a sub bun at a temperature that, even when fresh out of the fryer, seems somewhere between “warm and unsafe.” We get one once a year just to remember the mistakes of our ancestors, and why we’re still fond of them despite their folly.
KFC: The hottest take we have is that KFC, in the right place and time, has a definite right place and time. That time is not often. That place is China, because we swear to everyone reading this that KFC in China is actually good, and something better than American KFC. Do we want to know the reasons for this, which might include carcinogenic ingredients banned by the FDA, the delicious additive effects of local pollutants, or maybe just KFC knowing that they have to try in a new market, while assuming Americans will show up like hogs to the trough for a low-effort product? No, we don’t want to know any of this. It’s just better and we will accept that.
Also Chris Brown insists there’s one in Louisville that services spicy. We are INTRIGUED.
Krispy Krunchy. OKAY SO: We vowed to eat at more gas stations this year, and fortunately for us almost all Krispy Krunchy Chicken locations are attached to convenience stores and/or gas stations. The one in Atlanta closest to us is on Moreland Avenue inside a Chevron, and it’s easily found as long as you find the “PACKAGE STORE” sign. All of this is already insanely promising.
We tried it and, put as eloquently as we want to put it here: It’s good as hell. Spicy, definitely heavy on the batter, Krispy Krunchy’s wake is one of mild indigestion, shame, and yet zero regrets. Like, the batter is so good it cooks up well on a thigh, which usually only comes out half-right. The drumsticks are pure heart-clogging crack. A whole meal of those would not be a bad idea, like, at all.
We could eat this chicken drunk off sixteen beers at 3 a.m. and it would proactively cancel a hangover the next day. We probably will do this, because it’s chicken sold in a gas station, an intangible making it already twice as good by default as any other fried chicken. In sum: Easily the second best chicken in this entire discussion, and maybe the best if Popeyes’ whirling vortex of disorderly Popeyesness isn’t your thing.
Church’s: Oily despair.