7 Fried Chicken Chains Chefs Actually Eat At

Fried chicken is one of those foods that always tastes good. From fast food to fine dining, there isn't that much of a difference, because, at its core, fried chicken is simple, delicious comfort food. Maybe it isn't a surprise, then, that fine dining chefs have been trying their hands at fried chicken businesses for a chance at something new.

At the end of the day, however, fried chicken is something that isn't necessarily better in a fine dining setting. Fast food businesses especially have a handle on fried chicken — they've figured out how to successfully mass produce a product that is as delicious as it is cheap. That is why fried chicken is such a beloved menu item at dozens of different fast food chains. Fast food chicken is such a great success that even some of the best chefs in the world will head to their fast food joint of choice to get their fill of fried chicken. We have put together a list of seven fast food chains that fine dining chefs love to eat at.

1. KFC

When you think of fast food fried chicken, you think of KFC. Whether or not KFC is your favorite place for a quick bite, it is inarguable that this chain is a fried chicken Goliath of the fast food world. And KFC's reputation is for good reason; it makes great fried chicken, as evidenced by all of the gourmet chefs who love to eat there.

Chef Carl Yeh of Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, in Maui, Hawaii told Business Insider that KFC was the "only fried chicken I knew growing up in Pennsylvania." Yeh also spoke as to why he loves the chain so much, calling it "good old-fashioned comfort food." The KFC fan club has even traveled internationally; Michelin-starred chef Karam Sethi told the Financial Review that he loves KFC for one specific meal: "I only go for the Zinger Tower Burger." Speaking of the fried fried chicken sandwich, he said "The chicken is always juicy."

Chef Justin Sutherland, the celebrity chef behind TruTV's Fast Foodies, is also a lover of the franchise. Sutherland posted a picture to Instagram of himself wearing KFC-themed crocs. His caption read "When fried chicken is life #shoegame @kfc X @crocs." He also spent an episode of his show recreating KFC fried chicken, which he promoted by posting clips of the show to his Instagram. Whether they enjoy it privately or publicly, chefs flock to KFC to get their fried chicken fix.

2. Popeyes

Popeyes is another chain that is absolutely legendary when it comes to fried chicken. Loved by chefs like Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, and Hugh Acheson, Popeyes has solidified itself as the cream of the crop of fast food chicken establishments. Even among Michelin-starred chefs, Popeyes is its own category. The flesh is tender and moist, the crust is perfectly crunchy, and the seasonings are irreplicable.

"Popeyes has great fried chicken," James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen told Vice. Christensen went on, saying, "I like the level of salt ... They push it just enough. It's got a touch of spice to it. The meat is super juicy." Christensen isn't the only chef to feel this way; J. Kenji López-Alt is another Beard Award-winner who just loves Popeyes. "They have the crust down perfect," López-Alt told Vice, continuing, "The right level of craggliness. Very salty. High surface area. They get crispy all over. There aren't any soggy spots."

Popeyes has its fried chicken down to a science. As a giant chain, it has to be super-specific about its methods if it wants to produce high-quality, but still mass-produced, food. "They have a very strict limit on the size of the chickens," López-Alt told Vice. "They'll reject any chickens that aren't in that range." This is just one of many strategies to keep the taste, size, and look of the fried chicken consistent across locations. Whatever Popeys is doing, it is obviously working, because thee chain remains a fan-favorite.

3. Raising Cane's

Raising Cane's, while not as widespread as KFC or Popeyes, is a beloved Southern fast food chain long serving up delicious fried chicken. From its founding in 1996 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Raising Cane's has expanded to hundreds of different locations all throughout the United States. One of the things that makes this chain so special is that its limited menu boasts one singular specialty: chicken fingers. Cane's has other things on the menu, but chicken fingers are what it is all about.

Raising Cane's has not gone unnoticed by fried-chicken-loving chefs. Executive Chef Rafael Gonzalez told Eat This, Not That! that Raising Cane's is "the best chicken tender restaurant! I love the four-piece meal ... The chicken tenders are huge and tender."

Another chef who absolutely adores Raising Cane's is Andrew Zimmern. This James-Beard Award-winning chef and television personality spoke to Tasting Table about his love of the chain, saying, "All they do is serve chicken tenders ... [and] they do them really well." He likes Raising Cane's so much that he isn't convinced that it counts as fast food. "I like Cane's, and people tell me that's fast food," he said.

4. Shake Shack

Shake Shack may not be the first thing you think of when you think of fried chicken, but it has, in recent years, gained a reputation for its excellent chicken sandwich. Ajai Sharma, a sous-chef at The Resident in New York City, told Eat This, Not That!, "The chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside." Shake Shack's chicken sandwich is made with a buttermilk marinated chicken breast, which is then fried until nice and crunchy. The crucial finishing touch is Shake Shack's special herb mayo.

Sharma is not the only chef to feel this way about Shake Shack. Celebrity chef and beloved host of the show "The Barefoot Contessa," Ina Garten, loves the chain. "I just adore it," Garten said of Shake Shack's chicken sandwich on "The Drew Barrymore Show." "Actually, the recipe is in one of my books," the chef continued. Garten went on to share an anecdote about how one of her many dinner guests told the chef that the Shake Shack chicken was the best dinner she had ever made.

Together with Barrymore, Garten and a representative from Shake Shack made Shake Shack's classic sauce. They then pulled out the chicken sandwiches and dug in, with Garten saying, "So good, it's my favorite." The chef couldn't stop praising the sandwich, asking Barrymore, "Isn't that fabulous!?" while Barrymore nodded in agreement.

5. Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A is synonymous with chicken. The establishment even has a whole ad campaign centered around cows telling consumers to "Eat mor chikin." This wildly popular restaurant chain boasts a menu based exclusively around chicken, so it would make sense that its chicken is pretty good. Ajai Sharma, the sous chef at The Resident in New York City, told Eat This, Not That!, "Chick-fil-A has a strong reputation for its fried chicken sandwiches." Sharma also spoke about how the high quality, flavor, and the fact that the chain fries its chicken in peanut oil all add up to create a unique, tender piece of fried chicken.

Celebrity chef Carl Ruiz did his own YouTube review of Chick-fil-A, aiming to determine once and for all what is worth it at the chain and what isn't. While he wasn't a huge fan of the grilled chicken club, the fried chicken fared better in the chef's eyes. Of the spicy chicken sandwich, Ruiz reflected that everything was nicely balanced, saying, "For the money, you're getting a great hot chicken sandwich." Ruiz also tasted the classic fried chicken sandwich, commenting about how good the batter in particular looked. The chef was a huge fan of both fried chicken sandwiches, saying of the classic version, "That's an honest-to-goodness chicken sandwich." Just to make sure you understood what he meant, he also repeated multiple times that the sandwich was "very good."

6. Harold's Chicken

It's not only the massive chains that have great fast food chicken. Harold's Chicken started as a Chicago fried chicken staple and has since expanded all across the United States. Founded in 1950 by Harold and Helga Pierce, Harold's Chicken is famous for its tender chicken fried with super crispy skin. The proof that Harold's has maintained its iconic status lies in the fact that multiple gourmet chefs flock to the small chain to get their fried chicken fix. Culinary director and Chef Quinnton Austin spoke to Eat This, Not That! about the chain, recommending the Chicago-style meal and emphasizing that the food at Harold's Chicken Shack is "always hot and fresh."

Another chef who loves Harold's Chicken is Chef Dame Cooks, a private chef who is based out of Arizona. Cooks spoke to Arizona Foothills Magazine about his favorite spots and listed Harold's as one of his go-tos. Internet chefs happen to love Harold's too; Chef Meka, who runs the YouTube channel "Cooking with Meka" posted a video of herself eating Harold's in her car, telling her audience, "Harold's is fire." The Chicago local emphasized that the chicken is "fried to order," and that it is "scrumptious!"

7. Hattie B's

Hattie B's is another smaller chicken chain that has its roots in Nashville, Tennessee. The chain started as a restaurant called Bishop's Meat & 3 in 2006. Eventually, the father-son owners nailed down a phenomenal chicken recipe and opened up a new shop called Hattie B's in 2012. Since then, the project has expanded to a dozen different restaurants across five states. 

Hattie B's is the chicken joint of choice of chef and Food Network personality, Maneet Chauhan. Chauhan is the chef and owner of multiple restaurants in the Nashville area, but when she needs her fried chicken fix, she heads to Hattie B's. "I'm obsessed with the hot chicken at Hattie B's," Chauhan told Restaurant Business online. "The kitchen has figured out the unicorn of this iconic dish." The chef emphasized that Hattie B's does spicy chicken especially well. "It's hot enough to make you sweat but not cry, and the meat is always succulent and not dry. I order it with medium heat; the 'get the cluck out' version is too hot," she said.

This place is a certified Southern chicken joint. Executive Chef of Hattie B's, John Lasater, told the Tennessean that his favorite sides to eat with an order of fried chicken are "pimento mac and cheese, Southern greens and black-eyed pea salad." If that doesn't scream Southern comfort food, then what does?