10 major fried chicken chains in the US, ranked by popularity

Love ’em or hate ’em, you’ve definitely seen them: fried chicken chains are everywhere.

The food tops comfort food lists across the United States. The dish as Americans know it has its roots in the Southern states. Over the 17th and 18th centuries, Southerners borrowed, tweaked, and morphed traditional recipes from West African people who were enslaved to produce what would become the Kentucky-fried variety—and it is thought that Scottish immigrants played a heavy role in its inception as well. The first popular recipe appeared in an 1824 cookbook from Virginia.

Many regions across the U.S. put their unique spins on the versatile dish, be it the classic chicken and waffles, a fried chicken doughnut in Texas, or even a matzo-coated fried chicken in New York. It is also a cheap dish to produce that can be sold at a premium, making it a favorite staple for restaurant menus.

Despite fried chicken being widely viewed as an all-American staple, however, it’s actually a multicultural dish. Different variations can turn fried chicken into citrusy Guatemalan fried chicken, soy-sauced and potato-starched Japanese tatsuta-age, Italian pollo frito beaten with eggs and seasoned with salt and pepper, or twice-fried Korean fried chicken coated in gochujang, all by tweaking a few spices and pastes. Overall, fried chicken dishes appear in menus all over the world, tweaked in surprising, tastebud-pleasing ways.

Stacker looked at data from YouGov on 272 dining brands in America, isolated the 10 fried chicken chains included, and ranked them by popularity, with supporting data on fame. For the sake of the survey, “popularity” is defined as the percentage of people who have a positive opinion of the chain, and “fame” is defined as the percentage of people who have heard of it.

A large corner building with red facade, yellow awnings and yellow sign above the main entrance that says Golden Chick.
Shutterstock // Brett Hondow

#10. Golden Chick

– Popularity: 28%
– Fame: 40%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #231

Golden Chick got its start after one employee of another popular chicken franchise jumped ship and decided to use their talents to start a franchise. The original flagship in Texas opened in the 1960s, and has grown to encompass over 200 locations today.

The franchise is currently rapidly expanding with new stores, with much of its popularity due to its longevity. Its hand-breaded Big & Golden boasts of being 20% bigger than before, a draw for those looking to get the most bite for their buck. According to their director of marketing, the legacy menu leads to customers trusting that they can expect “the same experience every single time.”

One story, gray building facade with large windows and a large Slim Chickens logo above the entrance. The logo features a chicken holding a red drumstick. There is a fence around the patio in the front with outdoor seating.
Shutterstock // Jonathan Weiss

#9. Slim Chickens

– Popularity: 32%
– Fame: 47%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #184

Slim Chickens has witnessed a huge jump in popularity despite only existing for two decades: The first restaurant opened in 2003 in Fayetteville, Alabama, after three friends experimented with recipes by using a turkey fryer and testing sauces in their garage.

Despite its presence being largely concentrated east of the Rocky Mountains, the brand has an impressive number of international locations, including 11 restaurants across the U.K. The brand’s popularity is largely thanks to it staying true to cooking everything to order: All chicken items, salads, and even sauces are made fresh from scratch, one-upping their frozen fast-food competitors.

A red brick building with orange slanted overhang and large windows. There is a large sign above the entrance that says Bojangles' in yellow lettering.
Shutterstock // Bruce VanLoon

#8. Bojangles

– Popularity: 38%
– Fame: 69%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #123

The first Bojangles opened in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and experienced a huge leap in popularity when co-founder Jack Fulk introduced biscuits to its menu, resulting in a 60% increase in sales. The brand gained popularity for offering a spicier version of fried chicken than its competitors, which it is still known for today.

The Southern-concentrated franchise will soon be available for West Coasters to taste, too, with 30 restaurants planned to open in western locations, mostly Las Vegas.

One story yellow and brown building with blue centered sign that says Zaxby's.
Shutterstock // Bruce VanLoon

#7. Zaxby’s

– Popularity: 41%
– Fame: 67%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #111

The original Zaxby’s was called ZAX and opened in 1990 in Statesboro, Georgia, the joint efforts of two childhood friends, one of whom was, indeed, named Zach. Their famous Zax sauce was so coveted that the very co-founder made the sauce at home and delivered it to locations personally, to ensure no one would be able to uncover and steal the recipe.

To date, the company maintains that the sauce is still manufactured in secrecy, and no single person knows the entire recipe.

One story, large, brick building with a large door and windows on the right side. The neon sign above the door says Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers.
Shutterstock // JHVEPhoto

#6. Raising Cane’s

– Popularity: 47%
– Fame: 75%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #74

Besides chickens, Raising Cane’s has a soft spot for one other animal: dogs. The brand was named for founder Todd Grave’s dog, and today, multiple successors are trained to serve as both the Raising Cane’s mascot and an active therapy dog for hospitals.

From its 1996 founding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it has now expanded to over 780 restaurants nationwide and internationally.

One story building with yellow bricks at the bottom, large windows, yellow and red slanted roof with the sign in the middle that says Church's chicken.
Shutterstock // Eric Glenn

#5. Church’s Chicken

– Popularity: 48%
– Fame: 82%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #67

The first Church’s Fried Chicken opened in Texas in 1952, when the main menu staple—two fried chicken pieces and a roll—cost only 49 cents. To create a sense of transparency and trust with customers, founder George W. Church Sr. designed the drive-thru so that customers could see their food being prepared.

In 1969, the brand became the first Texas chain to spread nationally, gaining popularity by establishing restaurants in low-income urban neighborhoods where competitor KFC would not operate.

A brown and yellow building with black awnings over windows. A large Buffalo Wild Wings logo is mounted above the entrance. The logo features the text Buffalo Wild Wings in white lettering.
Shutterstock // Susan Montgomery

#4. Buffalo Wild Wings

– Popularity: 59%
– Fame: 97%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #36

Buffalo Wild Wings was founded in 1982 when two friends in Ohio faced a conundrum: They craved wings made in the famous style of Buffalo, New York, but couldn’t find any. Today, there are over 1,000 locations both nationally and internationally.

Its huge popularity is in part due to its distinct atmosphere—the hectic interiors often host multiple sports broadcasts, trivia, and other bar games, all at once—and sheer selection of more than 20 sauces and rubs.

A close up of a red, large Chick-fil-A logo on the facade of modern glass exterior of the building.
Shutterstock // JHVEPhoto

#3. Chick-fil-A

– Popularity: 64%
– Fame: 98%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #18

The first Chick-fil-A dates all the way back to 1946, when founder Truett Cathy opened a diner outside of Atlanta. Good business led Cathy to open the first Chick-fil-A inside the Greenbriar Shopping Center in 1967. However, the first stand-alone restaurant (as opposed to being part of mall food courts) didn’t come to be until 1986. By 2006, the company had earned over $2 billion off of its relatively simple menu of chicken sandwiches, nuggets, and fries.

So how do so few menu items net such a whopping profit, all while remaining closed on a weekend day every week? Many say it’s the unique chicken sandwich recipe, which many other brands have tried, and failed, to top.

Two hands reaching for fries and chicken out of the KFC bucket filled with fried chicken and french fries.
Shuterstock // Pavlovska Yevheniia

#2. KFC

– Popularity: 64%
– Fame: 99%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #17

Colonel Sanders isn’t just KFC’s mascot: He’s the company’s actual founder, who got his start serving homemade chicken out of a roadside motel during the Great Depression. In 1939, Sanders invented the brand’s 11-spice blend, which is still used today and accounts for a large part of its unique taste and popularity.

Another KFC original that has kept customers coming back is its trademark bucket of chicken, which offers up to 16 pieces piled high to take home.

A large golden yellow building with red trim and red awnings over the windows. There is a large white Popeyes logo and Louisiana Kitchen written underneath it.
Shuterstock // Jonathan Weiss

#1. Popeyes

– Popularity: 64%
– Fame: 96%
– Overall rank among dining brands: #16

When it first opened in New Orleans in 1972, Popeyes was known as “Chicken on the Run”—and sales were less than dazzling. Adding some distinct spices to its recipe helped the brand stand out and gain traction, and today it is known as a fast-casual chain that is able to uniquely earn positive reviews from food critics.

The moistness of the chicken has won the chain praise, as well as their wildly popular new crispy chicken sandwich, which some say rivals Chick-fil-A’s.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Lois Hince.

Provided by Stacker

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