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The Search for the Perfect Fried Chicken : Bird in a Bucket

This is probably not the best idea I’ve ever had. But a fast-food fried chicken taste-off seemed like a good idea at the time, and my friends were enthusiastic when I suggested that they join me. They were still enthusiastic when they walked into my kitchen and found fried chicken from seven different take-out joints resting regally on platters. (One person had taken the chicken out of its boxes and put it on plates marked only with numbers so that the rest of us wouldn’t know what we were tasting.) There was a lot of joking and laughing as we sat down to do some serious chicken eating.

The laughter died quickly. My obsession with fried chicken died too. Maybe you’ve got to be a kid to want to eat fried chicken every night. Although I wasn’t thrilled with any of the fried chicken we tasted that night (all of it was salty and most of it was awful), I’ve listed the chickens in my own personal order of preference.

Popeye’s Spicy: The kind of fried chicken that looks like it’s been rolled in cornflakes, this was greasy but not dry with a vague flavor of chicken. What I liked best was that it was spicy enough to actually give the effect of crunchy heat. (10-piece bucket, $8.99.)

Louisiana Fried Chicken: The only other chicken we tasted that had some character to the spicing. The batter was very thick, crinkly, almost orange, with a strong flavor of both garlic and oregano; underneath was a chicken with a certain amount of character. (8-piece bucket with fries and rolls, $6.99.)

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Golden Bird: Greasy, but almost pleasantly so, with a certain amount of chicken flavor hiding beneath a dark coating that had a flavor one taster likened to “Chinese egg roll from a divey restaurant.” (8-piece bucket, $7.87.)

Lucky: I bought a bag of fried chicken at the supermarket Deli just to see how it would compare with the others. This one turned out to be significantly tougher than the other chickens, but also tastier than most. (8-piece bucket, $3.69.)

Kentucky Fried Chicken Crispy: “Not bad for fast food,” wrote one taster. “I’d eat it in a pinch,” wrote another.” (10-piece bucket, with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw and biscuits, $10.99.)

Kentucky Fried Chicken Original Recipe:Virtually all of the tasters who were allowed to eat fried chicken as children instantly recognized this as KFC. “A taste from the past,” wrote one. I was actually glad it wasn’t a taste from my past. (Prices above.)

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Popeye’s Regular: Clearly fried in a different batch than the spicy stuff, this was unpleasantly greasy, overcooked and the meat was fairly dense. “Like a TV dinner” wrote one taster; I thought he was being kind.

Church’s: Some people swear by this stuff, but I can’t imagine why. It was salty, greasy and had a flavor one taster described as “old bird.” (8-piece bucket with cole slaw, mashed potatoes and rolls, $5.99.)

Pioneer: Bright orange and so greasy it left a ring around your mouth. One taster said he, “wouldn’t take another bite for money.” Neither would I. (8-piece bucket, $7.59.)


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