Deep frying pretty much any food guarantees that it will be crave-worthy and delicious. However, there's something especially magical about what happens to chicken when you drop it into some bubbling oil. When executed just right, the poultry emerges juicy and flavorful on the inside and golden brown and crispy on the outside. Let's face it: few dishes scream "comfort food" quite as loudly.
While chicken sandwiches and other boneless varieties have been having a moment in recent years, classic bone-in fried chicken is still a mainstay at America's two largest chicken chains not named Chick-fil-A: KFC and Popeyes. But, which of those chains serves up the better bone-in bucket? I recently set out to answer that question by sampling both in an epic fried chicken showdown.
Like with any taste test, my main criteria in judging these chains' bone-in fried chicken were flavor and texture. When we're talking taste, I want fried chicken to not only boast a salty and flavorful coating, but also be well seasoned all the way through. As for texture, my ideal fried chicken is super moist and juicy on the inside while staying as crispy as possible on the outside.
Because a bone-in fried chicken bucket or meal typically comes with several different parts of the bird, I made sure to order a combo from both KFC and Popeyes that included a leg, breast, thigh, and wing. The size and type of chicken (i.e. white versus dark meat) varies between each piece, so I wanted to see if KFC and Popeyes could achieve a consistent flavor and texture throughout the whole meal.
Here's what I thought of each chain's chicken, followed by my verdict on the the winner!
Popeyes' signature fried chicken is marinated for 12 hours in the chain's Louisiana-style herbs and seasonings then battered in a crunchy southern coating and fried until golden brown. A four-piece dinner, which comes with a side and a biscuit, cost me $14.65.
The look: Every chicken item I've ever eaten from Popeyes has boasted this delightful golden brown coating with a super craggy texture. I could tell the breading would be super crispy just by looking at it.
The taste: Savory, rich, and super comforting. Popeyes' chicken was right on the nose in terms of flavor. Each piece of chicken was perfectly salted from the breading to the bone, and that blend of Louisiana spices gave the flavor a really pleasant depth and savoriness. The breading was also remarkably crispy, even an hour after I picked up my order. Meanwhile, the interior of all the chicken pieces were juicy and perfectly cooked. I had trouble finding any fault with this delightful poultry.
KFC's Original Recipe fried chicken is made with the chain's secret seasoning blend of 11 herbs and spices. A four-piece combo meal, which comes with a side, biscuit, and medium drink, cost me $17.05.
The look: All of the pieces were around the same size as the pieces from Popeyes, but that's where the similarities ended. I loved the deep brown color on the KFC chicken, but the breading layer wasn't as thick and I could tell they were already getting soggy just a few minutes after I picked them up.
The taste: Pretty tasty, but far from perfect. The KFC chicken had more of a homemade feel to it than the Popeyes chicken. But, even though the KFC chicken has significantly more sodium, the flavor of the Popeyes chicken was much more powerful and well rounded. I tasted lots of black pepper in the KFC spice blend, but honestly not much else. There were also some glaring issues with KFC's texture. The inside of the chicken wasn't necessarily dry, but still not as juicy as I wanted. The coating also wasn't crispy in the slightest. In fact, it was so soggy in some places that the breading fell off when I picked up the chicken.
There were things I enjoyed about the chicken from both chains, but only one blew me away in terms of both taste and texture: Popeyes. For me, crispy breading is essential for great fried chicken and the KFC chicken completely failed to meet that criteria. The actual taste was fine, but it wasn't so good that I wanted to keep going back for more bites.
Meanwhile, Popeyes' bone-in chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and flavorful all the way through. Popeyes' wildly popular chicken sandwich has been my go-to order for years, but this taste test proved to me that the famous sandwich isn't the only Popeyes menu item worth my time.