Fast food chicken chains, ranked worst to best

Americans have an ever-growing and insatiable love affair with chicken. When it comes to fashionable fast food options, boring burgers and fries are out, while chicken sandwiches, chicken wings, and other yummy chicken dishes are in.

Before the 1990s, Americans ate more beef and pork than chicken. But these days, chicken is far and away the most consumed meat in the United States. The 2020 forecast projects that the average American will eat 99 pounds of chicken for the year, which is far higher than beef (57 pounds) or pork (53 pounds).

KFC, the granddaddy of fast food chicken, was born in 1930 in, of course, Kentucky. In the 90 years since, hundreds of other chicken chains have joined the flock. However, you don't need to go out and try each restaurant. Instead, dig in to this finger-licking good ranking of the most popular fast food chicken chains, ordered from the worst to the best.

Champs Chicken

You can find Champs Chicken in gas stations and convenience stores in more than 1,500 locations spread across more than 40 states. The fact that Champs Chicken may call a grungy gas station home doesn't automatically make it a restaurant to thumb your nose at. Even KFC started in a gas station and there are other worthy chicken chains that operate out of gas stations and convenience stores. What makes Champs Chicken bad is the fact that they have terrible chicken.

First of all, Champs Chicken apparently hunts down the scrawniest chickens available. Then they manage to simultaneously undercook the skin while overcooking the meat. The result is mealy and fatty skin wrapped around tasteless slivers of meat. Order a drumstick and you'll feel like you're gnawing on a sandy shoe.

Champs Chicken exists because it's conveniently located and inexpensive. If you actually care about what your chicken tastes like, you'd go an extra couple miles and spend a little bit more money to find an alternative worth eating. This joint should be a hard pass.

Boston Market

Boston Market has been known for their homestyle meals and amazing rotisserie chicken for decades. However, in recent years, the quality of their chicken has drastically declined. What used to be a dependable spot to find juicy, tender chicken and other delicious offerings is now an inconsistent eatery where the chicken is often more rubbery than juicy, and the seasoning is more bland than ever.

In 2019, the chain closed 45 more locations in the U.S., including the last two that were remaining in Boston. But it's not just the quality of the chicken that seems to be causing the demise of Boston Market, it's the fact that you can find rotisserie chicken in almost every grocery store these days. When you can get a perfectly cooked bird at Costco for $4.99, why would you venture to Boston Market for a more expensive and less appetizing meal?

Unless Boston Market revamps their menu, upgrades their chicken quality, and launches an impossible-to-ignore advertising blitz, you'd have to imagine more and more locations will be shuttered in the months and years to come.

Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits

We wanted to like Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits just because of its catchy name. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be. Bojangles' chicken on the bone is beyond greasy. The flavor of the chicken might be good, but you'll be so distracted by the amount of grease that you would never know it.

If you're a boneless chicken fan and order their Supremes instead, you'll be disappointed in a totally different way. From the outside, these tenders look like they'd be good, but the coating is not as crunchy as it should be, and the meat itself is far too dry. Bojangles offers a variety of other things on their menu, including sandwiches, bowls, salads, and their iconic biscuits. However, nothing is good enough to make up for their subpar chicken.

If you do happen to stop by one of Bojangles' 740-plus locations, just grab a cup of Sweet Tea or Patio Red Cherry and get out as quickly as possible before you end up with a pile of grease-soaked napkins and an overall feeling of regret.

KFC

KFC used to be the go-to chicken place for just about everybody in the county. But over the years, their inconsistency has made many people turn to other alternatives. Sometimes, you'll hit the jackpot and the chicken will be perfect, but those times are few and far between these days, unfortunately.

The breading on their Original Recipe is usually peppery and flavorful, but the chicken meat itself is typically greasy. If you bow out of the Original Recipe and opt for Extra Crispy instead, it's almost always too crispy. Though you want to feel the crunch, chicken shouldn't be difficult to bite into. Sometimes it's so overcooked that the chicken meat inside has practically turned into dust.

What KFC still does right is their mashed potatoes and gravy, and their buttery, flaky biscuits. So, if you want to grab your sides at KFC and get your chicken elsewhere, that's perfectly acceptable.

Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken

Even if you've never visited one of the many Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken locations scattered around the Midwest and South (and Canada!) you've probably tried that famous recipe... well, kinda. The Lee in Lee's Famous is one Lee Cummings. If that doesn't sound famous to you, maybe his uncle's name has a bit more gravitas; Harland Sanders... as in Colonel Sanders... yes, Colonel Sanders of KFC

The story goes that Cummings had access to that Sanders family spice mix, as he was the one who helped Sanders sell his chicken in the early days — not long before developing his own "famous recipe." Of course, many surmise that Lee's Famous Recipe is the famous recipe — the 11 herbs and spices one. Or at least something very similar.

Lee's is definitely in the KFC range of flavors. In fact, it might be blasphemous to say, but it may actually be better. Lee's packs a bit more pepper than KFC, and the chicken is much more consistent than KFC. It's cooked fresh, never frozen, and holds a more succulent flavor than KFC. The breading really shines on the breast strips. 

Lee's is good. It's the sort of place that you'd try for the novelty of the KFC comparison, and find yourself pleasantly surprised with the flavor to the point of frequenting again.

Raising Cane's

Raising Cane's is one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in America, and not just chicken restaurants but all restaurants. In fact, back in 2016, it was the fastest, increasing sales by nearly 26 percent for the year. But does Raising Cane's serve the best chicken? Not even close.

How many types of chicken does Raising Cane's offer? Just one: chicken fingers. Sure, you can have them in different size combos or laying across a kaiser roll in their sandwich, but it's just chicken fingers and not even great chicken fingers. In other words, they're a one-trick pony with a trick that isn't even that impressive.

The basic problem with Raising Cane's food is it's bland, very bland. The chicken itself is generally juicy enough, but they forgot the seasoning. To really enjoy these chicken fingers, you have to load them up with sauce, and not just their Cane's sauce either. You need something like Tabasco or Frank's RedHot sauce to add some oomph to these otherwise boring fingers. Unless your love of chicken is all about chicken fingers and you enjoy a bland diet, you should head somewhere else.

Zaxby's

When it comes to chicken restaurants, Zaxby's is firmly in the middle of the pack. While the chicken quality is outstanding at some Zaxby locations, others fail with tough meat that just tastes, well, old. It truly depends on the location and the time of day.

At Zaxby's, if you're in the mood for a sandwich, stay away from their Chicken Fingers Sandwich. It just doesn't work. Instead, go for their Kickin' Chicken on Texas Toast. The use of ranch dressing and their Tongue Torch sauce truly delivers a memorable flavor combination.

While they have a lot to offer on their menu, including Zalads, Zappetizers, and Sides (why not Zides?), their traditional bone-in wings are their only other chicken offering worthy of a hearty recommendation. You can choose from their original sauce (which is a buffalo sauce that isn't overwhelming), something more mild (their Wimpy sauce), or one of their extremely hot yet flavorful sauces with appropriate names like Insane or Nuclear.

Church's Chicken

When it comes to the breading on fried chicken, Church's Chicken delivers some of the best. The crispness, the seasoning ... everything is just perfect. But then when you take a giant bite, your mouth quickly fills with disappointment. The chicken quality just isn't there. While sometimes you can luck out and get a fresh piece of chicken, most visits to Church's Chicken result in the feeling that this chicken meat sat a day or two too long in the freezer (or maybe under the heat lamp).

Where Church's redeems themselves is with their biscuits. If you haven't had Church's biscuits, you have been deprived. These biscuits are buttery and flaky, and glazed in sticky honey butter heaven. Does the bliss of these biscuits make up for their iffy chicken? Almost, but not quite. The best recommendation is to drive-thru your nearest Church's Chicken and just order the biscuits — and maybe some corn on the cob. Then, venture out to one of the other restaurants further down on this list to get your chicken.

TKK Fried Chicken

Unless you live on the East Coast, in Michigan, or in Texas, you probably haven't heard of TKK Fried Chicken. However, they've been around since 1974 when they opened their first restaurant in Taiwan. TKK offers three fried chicken flavors: Original, Crispy Mild, and Crispy Spicy. And while the Original is juicy good, for a true treat you should really go for one of the crispy versions — they offer the crunch you really crave in fried chicken. At TKK, chicken always tastes fresh, and you can order fried chicken, wings, tenders, or sandwiches. 

One of the best things about TKK is the sides. Sure, you can get standards like coleslaw, curly fries, or mashed potatoes, but they also sell unique options like blistered shishito peppers, charred corn, and sweet potato frie. The peppers are the perfect complement to their crispy chicken. When it comes to washing it down, skip the sodas and order one of their available teas — or even buy a beer at TKK. Hopefully this restaurant will be expanding and spreading their chicken goodness across America to bless the rest of the county with their yummy offerings.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken

If you like spicy, flavorful chicken, you'll love Krispy Krunchy Chicken (KKC). Like Champs, KKC is often found in convenience stores and gas stations. But unlike Champs, KKC is scrumptious. Founded in Lafayette, Louisiana, this chain has over 2,000 locations around the country. KKC offers crispy bone-in chicken, juicy tenders, and delicious sandwiches, as well as an array of sides including fries, honey butter biscuits, jambalaya, mac and cheese, red beans and rice, and several others.

When visiting, your best bet is to keep things simple and load up on the chicken and biscuits, as none of the sides are a true standout. The chicken is meaty, never stringy or dry, and the crispy Cajun coating is what you'd expect to find in a Southern food joint. So, next time you are in a gas station or convenience store, make sure to look around to see if they have a KKC counter. You won't be disappointed.

Jollibee

Started in the Philippines, this chicken restaurant came stateside in 1998 and now has over 1,300 worldwide locations — but only 37 in the U.S. Jollibee offers a wide variety of dishes on their menu, from their Jolly Spaghetti in its sweet sauce made from banana ketchup (yes, that's a thing) to their Halo-Halo dessert, which is surprisingly good even though its made with beans. But, let's talk about the star of the show at Jollibee: the chicken.

Whether you're having the breakfast chicken sandwich, the boneless chicken dippers, or their bone-in Chickenjoy, this fried chicken is exactly what it should be. With a crunchy outside and juicy inside, you can sit down to a bucket of Chickenjoy and not stop until you're ready to explode. It's well-seasoned and never dry. Also, the skin of the chicken is perfectly cooked — always crunchy, never rubbery. It's what most fried chicken is striving to be. So, why isn't Jollibee higher on the list? Simply because there are not enough of these restaurants in America.

Bonchon

If it's chicken wings you crave, look for the nearest Bonchon. However, don't expect to find traditional wings when you peruse their menu. Bonchon is very different, but very good. Their perfectly seasoned chicken is deep fried twice to deliver crunchy, juicy wings that are some of the best you'll ever have. You don't have a lot of flavor choices at Bonchon. It's either Soy Garlic, Spicy, or Half N' Half. And, honestly, the Half N' Half is your best bet because they are both so good.

Bonchon wings may be a little more pricey than those from the mainstream wing chains, but you do get a free side — which ranges from fries to rice to pickled radishes. This chain launched in South Korea in 2002 and came to America four years later. To date, Bonchon has over 300 locations and they are gaining quite a following of fans around the globe — and rightfully so.

El Pollo Loco

If you aren't out West, you might not be familiar with El Pollo Loco. This chicken restaurant chain features locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. You won't find fried chicken at El Pollo Loco, but instead citrus-marinated, fire-grilled, super-yummy chicken. You can get whole pieces of chicken served with your choice of sides and tortillas — or burritos, bowls, quesadillas, and other specials. Your best bet is to stick with their two-piece, three-piece, or five-piece meals with chicken and your choice of two sides. Though these combinations are simple, they are anything but basic.

What makes El Pollo Loco chicken special is it is extremely tender and juicy, but never too soft or slimy. The skin is never rubbery or burnt. It's amazing that they can cook it so quickly, yet so perfectly. A word of warning: stick with beans and rice as your sides. Their mac and cheese is not flavorful and often a little runny, while their mashed potatoes and gravy don't mesh well with the citrus flavor of their chicken. And don't forget to add their salsa to kick things up a notch.

Wingstop

Bonchon wings are great, but the champion chicken wing chain is undoubtedly Wingstop. Whether you prefer bone-in or boneless, Wingstop's wings are always plump, fresh, and juicy. You'll never feel like you're getting short-changed when it comes to the meat. The true joy of these perfect wings, however, comes from the flavor options.

If you want to bring on the heat, their Atomic wings deliver. That said, you'll want to have a pitcher of beer (or water) next to you when devouring a platter of these wings, although somehow the heat doesn't overpower the flavor. Mango Habanero is another spicy flavor that Wingstop has perfected. However, if you're a bit of a coward when it comes to spicy foods, don't worry, you have plenty of delicious choices at Wingstop, too. From the Mild flavor (a toned-down version of their Original Hot), to their amazingly buttery Garlic Parmesan, to their sweet yet tangy Hawaiian, there's something for everyone at Wingstop.

PDQ

If you live in Florida, then you know PDQ is where you can find some of the best fast food chicken in the country. With over 50 locations in the Sunshine State, and more than a dozen more across New Jersey, New York, and the Carolinas, PDQ is serious about their chicken quality. In fact, PDQ stands for People Dedicated to Quality, though their service is also Pretty Darn Quick. Their 100 percent natural chicken is hormone-free, steroid-free, and never frozen — and all of that makes a huge difference in the taste. They don't serve bone-in chicken, instead focusing on nuggets, salads, sandwiches, and tenders.

Their Honey Butter Chicken Sandwich is absolutely delicious. The crispy chicken is dipped in homemade honey butter and served on a toasted brioche bun with crunchy pickle slices. The freshness doesn't end with their chicken. They also craft all their sauces and salad dressings every day. Not bad for a fast food place! They offer nine tantalizing sauces for their juicy chicken, but their Buffalo Bleu and Sweet Sriracha deliver big, bold flavor that shouldn't be missed. If PDQ begins expanding across the country, they'll give the top chains a run for their money.

Chick-fil-A

Year after year, Chick-fil-A tops the American Customer Service Index to be named the nation's best fast food restaurant. People can't get enough of their chicken, and everything else on their menu. No one knows why their original chicken sandwich is so good — it just is. The chicken is fried perfection, the bun is buttery good, and the pickle is the ideal complement to the simplicity of it all.

Chick-fil-A's nuggets are also a tasty fast food delicacy, especially when dipped into their magically sweet Polynesian sauce. Chicken isn't the only thing on the menu at Chick-fil-A, but it's all equally delicious, from the milkshakes to their waffle fries.

Another thing that catapults Chick-fil-A to the top is their cleanliness and service. You can be assured that your shoes will never stick to the floor in this restaurant's bathroom. Even if you don't agree with the political and religious leanings of the founders, you can't disagree that Chick-fil-A offers some of the best fast food available.

Popeyes

Don't worry, Chick-fil-A fans, there's no need for angry letters. Popeyes and Chick-fil-A are basically tied, as both restaurants have mastered the art of the chicken. While Popeyes comes out on top, it's by the slimmest of margins. In truth, they are both the reigning fast food chicken champions. That said, if you love spicy fried chicken, Popeyes is your place. Their chicken is superbly crunchy on the outside and exquisitely juicy on the inside. Bite after bite, location after location, the excellence is consistent. 

And though Popeyes has always been known for their bone-in fried chicken, in 2019 they turned the chicken world on its head with the release of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich.

Instantly, this sandwich became a viral sensation and it sold out all over the country. It wasn't complicated — simply a crispy chicken breast topped with pickles on a brioche bun slathered in your choice of mayo or Cajun sauce. But it was absolutely one of the best chicken sandwiches ever made

After it quickly sold out, the coveted sandwich didn't return until two months later and the frenzy continued with people across the country waiting in long lines. Things took a deadly turn when a man was stabbed to death after allegedly cutting in line at a Maryland Popeyes. Dead over a chicken sandwich. We know it's good, but it's not to die for. Then again, after you try Popeyes for the first time, you might actually disagree with that statement.