Fried chicken nuggets on a yellow background

Vegans and vegetarians aside, who doesn’t like fried chicken? There’s so much to love, from the crispy fried crunch of the crust to the juicy, tender chicken inside. Despite being a delicious mainstay, marinating and frying at home can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. If you live in a small apartment with limited counter space, cooking anything — let alone marinating, coating, and deep frying chicken — can be a challenge. Don’t even get us started on how to properly dispose of frying oil after we’re done cooking. Despite all this, who doesn’t want to eat fried chicken? Enter, restaurants.

While fried chicken was originally a Sunday celebration feast according to the BBC, it’s now an anytime meal, perfect for a quick fast-food lunch on the run or a hearty family dinner. While it may seem counterintuitive, occasionally dining on fried chicken isn’t even that bad for your health. According to The Atlantic, eating fried foods in moderation isn’t necessarily a fast pass to heart disease as long as we follow a balanced diet, but we probably shouldn’t pile our plates with fried chicken every day. If you’re going to answer the siren song of fried chicken, it’s key to make it count.

Initially, it might seem simple to place an order for fried chicken and walk away satisfied, but there are perils and pitfalls to even the simplest choice. Don’t fret — we’re here to help you make the most of it when your cravings clamor for the best fried chicken you can find.

Sticking to one type

Multiple types of fried chicken

Everyone has their favorite type of fried chicken and we know it’s hard to stray from your tried-and-true order to venture into the unknown. If you want to experience the full range of fried chicken options, you’re going to have to mix things up. Rather than exclusively opting for wings, give tenders a try. Made from succulent chicken breast, these are a great option if you’re not keen to gnaw on a bone (in which case you might want to skip the wings).

If you’re looking for a perfectly-proportioned bite, give popcorn chicken a try. Like the buttery movie theater snack they’re named after, eating just one piece of popcorn chicken is pretty impossible. If you’re not afraid of a spicy kick, give Korean fried chicken a try. Marinated in chili sauce before they’re fried, these fried chicken pieces are so packed with flavor that you might not even need that dipping sauce.

Ordering at the wrong place

KFC restaurant exterior

You wouldn’t try to order tacos at an Italian restaurant, so why would you go for fried chicken at a burger joint? Sure, fast food spots tend to have multiple items on the menu and it probably won’t be that bad, but if you’re craving the crispiest fried chicken, don’t compromise on what’s easy. Check out what’s in your area by completing a quick online search for fried chicken.

Looking for simple cues such as restaurants that mention their fried chicken on their landing page or even have chicken in their name will set you on the right path, but don’t forget to read the reviews. While there are always grumpy people leaving a one-star reviews and wild rants, those are often outnumbered by glowing reviews if the restaurant is any good. Looking for specific mentions of their fried chicken can help seal the deal and break the monotony of ordering fried chicken at the same old spots.

Ordering too little

chicken salad

Ordering too little when you’re getting your fried chicken fix is a problem, but no one is suggesting you eat it all in one sitting. The meat sweats are real, and red meat isn’t the only protein to watch out for when meal planning. Don’t be shy when you’re placing your order, because ordering too much fried chicken is a blessing in disguise. Up there with cold pizza, fried chicken makes for the perfect leftover meal.

You can eat your chicken cold after spending the night in the fridge or reheat your leftovers in the oven to recapture the joy of your original feast. If you don’t have enough fried chicken left over to make protein the main element on your plate, improvise by chopping your fried chicken pieces and tossing the bite-sized bits into a green salad. Balance out the salty crunch of the fried chicken with fresh vegetables and a tangy vinaigrette.

Ordering delivery

Picking up your delivery order

When the chicken cravings hit and you’re cozy on the couch with the latest Netflix release queued up, the last thing you want to do is grab your own grub. However, do yourself a favor and skip the delivery. While your laziest self might thrill to the idea of fried chicken arriving straight to your door, your dinner might be cold or soggy by the time it arrives. Piping hot fried chicken trapped in a to-go box will lose its crisp fast — especially as your order might be one of many stops on a delivery route.

The best way to ensure the crispiest fried chicken and avoid a soggy surprise is to order to eat at the restaurant. If you must order your fried chicken to-go, pick it up yourself. You can easily ventilate the box on the way home by perforating the lid with a fork without losing too much heat and still enjoy your fried chicken in front of the latest binge-worthy series.

Skipping dipping sauces

Several types of dipping sauces

When it comes to sauces, the more the merrier. While you don’t want to dunk your chicken in so much sauce that you can’t taste the salty goodness beneath, the right sauce can enhance the flavor of your fried chicken. While buttermilk ranch dressing or old-fashioned ketchup are traditional choices for dipping sauce, smoky BBQ, honey mustard, tangy sweet-and-sour chili, and hot sauce are nothing to sneeze at — especially if you want to add some variety to each bite.

If adding extra sauces is possible free of charge when placing your order, experiment freely with what’s available, but you’ll probably be forced to choose. One cup of dipping sauce is rarely enough to make it through the entire meal, though, so you might want to add a second sauce even if there’s a small up-charge. You might discover a taste profile that rivals your usual dipping sauce. If you want to expand your horizons past the usual offerings, stock up in advance by buying bottles of fun sauces like Adobo or Gochujang to keep at home.

Only ordering at fast food chains

Server preparing takeout boxes

Sticking to fast food chains might guarantee a quick fried chicken fix, but there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal. Even if you’re longing for the comfort of homemade fried chicken, you might not be in the mood to wait hours for the buttermilk marinade or feel like pulling out your deep fryer. Checking out small businesses in your area might be just as soothing. Unlike chains, which industrialize their process and cut corners to save time, Mom and Pops serve up fried chicken made with care. The recipe might even be passed down from generation to generation, adding an origin story to your new favorite fried chicken.

Every region has amazing fried chicken waiting to be discovered. Check out Honey’s Kettle in Los Angeles, for example, where chef Vincent Williams has been perfecting his fried chicken technique for almost 50 years — growing his business from its original Compton test kitchen to two locations in DTLA and Culver City in the process.

Forgetting the napkins

A woman's hand on a stack of napkins

If you’re ordering fried chicken, you probably know what you’re in for — a perfect symphony of salt, fat, and crunch. However, whether you like it or not, fried food can be pretty greasy and grabbing extra napkins is always a good idea. If you think you need one, you’ll probably wish you’d grabbed three. Grease comes with the territory, considering that the addictive crunch you’re after is created by frying breaded chicken in hot oil. That said, overly oily fingers and greasy chicken tenders aren’t exactly appetizing. Not to be that person, but you might want to dab off some of the grease.

Patting down your chicken pieces with a napkin before dunking them in your favorite dipping sauce might make the meal more appetizing. While only a marginal amount of the frying oil will be removed, it might make a world of difference when it comes to the taste of your chicken. Even if you don’t manage to make it through all of the extra napkins, you’re already set for the next time you tuck into your favorite fried chicken.

Glossing over the meal’s roots

Fried chicken and dipping sauce

Fried chicken may now have a global reach from the Southern U.S. to Japan, but its origins lie in the enslaved West African diaspora. But wait — it gets more complicated than that. According to the BBC, "Some culinary experts linked [fried chicken] expertise to West Africa where, for several centuries prior to European contact, local populations ate chicken and deep fried their food."

The style of fried chicken we’re most familiar with today is closest to the meals fried up in the American South by enslaved people. During the 19th century, perfecting the dish was also a route to financial emancipation, the BBC reports. During the Civil War era, not all trains boasted dining cars and many Black chefs who mastered the art of the perfect fried chicken were able to sell their wares to hungry travelers, earning enough to build their own homes, according to a book by Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson.

Forgetting about sides

Colesaw in a bowl

Fried chicken is pretty tasty, but don’t forget about the rest of the food pyramid. If you’re looking to limit the amount of chicken you’re chowing down on, even adding a side salad can help fill you up and avoid the meat sweats. Depending on whether you’re going the fast-food route or grabbing a table to eat at your local restaurant, sides come with the territory. Truly, there are a wealth of options when it comes to side dishes for fried chicken, and you’d be remiss to skim past the rest of the menu.

There’s more than just chicken out there, even if it feels like sacrilege to say so. Balance out the salty crunch of your main with a light side like coleslaw, double down on the fried goodness with waffle fries, or indulge in a rich and creamy mac and cheese. Our recommendation? Add a fresh side like a salad or a tangy coleslaw to add contrast to your favorite fried chicken.

Sticking to just chicken

Fried chicken sandwich

With so many different ways to enjoy fried chicken, you might be tempted to stick to your favorite type, whether it’s extra crispy wings, buttermilk tenders, or perfectly seasoned popcorn chicken. Don’t forget about fried chicken sandwiches, though. They’re like a burger, but better. Whether you’re ordering at a hipster café or your favorite fast food chain, there are a few key things to look for in the perfect fried chicken sandwich.

While every spot will have its own recipe, top favorite fried chicken sandwiches balance out the saltiness of the crispy chicken with the sweet tang of bread and butter pickles, fresh lettuce, and creamy sauce on a fluffy brioche bun. If you’re looking for an affordable fast food fix, Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich is just that — all for $3.99. Looking for a little bit of spice? Keep an eye out for spicy sauce blends with a kick of sriracha instead of mayo.

Forgetting about buttermilk

Two glasses of buttermilk

If you’re looking for the best fried chicken, check the menu to see if it mentions a buttermilk marinade. Fried chicken and buttermilk are closely associated — and for good reason. What’s buttermilk? Despite its name, there’s actually no butter involved. Traditionally, buttermilk was made from the leftover milk once fresh butter was churned. After being left out for several hours, fermentation transforms milk sugars into a lactic acid that gives this milk its tangy taste.

While that may sound gross, fried chicken that begins its crispy journey with a buttermilk marinade is ten times tastier. The lactic acid in the buttermilk marinade slowly tenderizes the chicken without making it tough, ensuring a juicy, succulent bite underneath its crunchy, fried crust. Additionally, the marinade process can take anywhere from four hours to an overnight soak. If the restaurant boasts a buttermilk marinade on the menu, you know you’re dealing with a chef who is serious about their chicken.

Being too lazy to DIY your own chicken

Emptying fried foods from a frying basket

Ordering out is great, but why not try to perfect a new meal? If you have a little time on your hands, whip out your mom’s recipe book or take to the internet to perfect your new signature dish. If you want to guarantee your chicken is tender and juicy, you’ll want to start with a buttermilk marinade. While some recipes say you can marinate your chicken in as little as four hours, most recommend an overnight soak for optimum results.

Before frying, mix up your batter using a mix of salt, pepper, and flour. For an extra kick, don’t forget to add a dash of powdered chili and garlic. When you’re ready to start frying, you’ll want to dry your chicken on a metal rack, rather than resting on a bed of paper towels. This ensures that any excess grease drips off your chicken, rather than soaking in and detracting from your desired crunch.