No disrespect intended, sir. We love you, we do. We fully appreciate your contributions to the southern fried world, but sometimes we need more.
While fried chicken may border on a Southern stereotype, it’s also one of the foods we might just be the pickiest about. If a place claims to have the “best fried chicken south of the Mason-Dixon Line,” they better deliver. Thankfully, many chefs and cooks all over the South deliver big-time. Be it their blend of secret spices, their grandmother’s tried and true recipe, an unexpected addition, or just a new twist on an old favorite, they make our mouths water far before that first crisp bite.
No, Colonel, you didn’t make our list. But we sincerely hope you would approve of our roundup (in no particular order, of course) of some of the best fried chicken in the South.
- Husk—Charleston, South Carolina Husk owner/chef Sean Brock has been causing quite the stir in the culinary world for his fresh take on traditional Southern food and ingredients
Sure, Sean Brock gets a lot of attention for what he’s done for southern cuisine, but every bit of it is well deserved. And we aren’t sure you’ll find a better piece of fried chicken anywhere than at Husk. Why? The secret’s in the fat.
That’s right, the fat. Really, it’s no secret, but it is brilliant. Each batch of Husk’s chicken is fried in a combination of bacon fat, chicken fat, and country ham fat, with a good dollop of butter thrown in for good measure. When Brock first served fried chicken at Husk, he was so concerned over perfecting each piece that all orders had to be placed forty-eight hours in advance. And all orders had to be placed with the chef himself. Lucky for us, the fried chicken is now rotated on the menu. Table reservations are recommended, but no need to call Brock to reserve a plate of the best fried chicken around.
- Arnold’s Country Kitchen—Nashville, TennesseeThis Nashville “Meat-and-three” fave, Arnold’s Country Kitchen, has drawn plenty of attention for its cafeteria-style food, including the coveted James Beard American Classics AwardAmong Nashville’s “meat-and-three” spots, stands a concrete brick building painted bright red with a line of customers-to-be making its way well out the door. This cafeteria-style, lunch-only restaurant is a local favorite, drawing attention from across the country, along with a highly coveted James Beard American Classics Award. And they serve up the best fried chicken in Nashville, and just maybe all of Tennessee.The Arnold family has perfected their technique of frying the beloved poultry (along with so many other Southern favorites) from the wash made complete with hot sauce down to the dredge that any true Southern cook knows is made best with White Lily Flour. Come early if you expect to get a plate of it, and call ahead because it isn’t available every day. But good things come to those who wait.
- Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken—Mason, TennesseeWhile there are currently thirteen locations for Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, the original and home to the secret recipe is the small town of Mason, Tennessee
While thirteen locations of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken dot the Southern U.S. and one up into Chicago, the original location in Mason, Tennessee is the only location that holds the secret ingredient and runs the place like family. Because they are.
“Gus,” as he was known, was the son of the owners of Maggie’s Short Orders, a small establishment in Mason that made the best fried chicken in the area. His father created the secret recipe that Gus’s still uses today, but now the tradition is carried on by his children. Gus passed away in 2007. His family is as tight-lipped about the recipe as the generations before them, but one things for sure – it’s pure southern fried goodness right down to the bone. Part of what make’s Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, well, so famous is the perfect amount of warmth out of every bite. Some days more so than others, this isn’t an exact science here, people. We might not get to glimpse the recipe, but the cayenne kick is unmistakable. It’s also well worth the wait. Gus’s isn’t fast food and the taste and juiciness of the chicken reflect that.
- Willie Mae’s Scotch House—New Orleans, Louisiana When Hurricane Katrina destroyed Willie Mae’s Scotch House, the Southern Foodways Alliance, along with other notable NOLA foodies, came together to rebuild the home of the most famous chicken in New Orleans
Willie Mae Seaton was a beautician until she turned her beauty shop into a bar in 1957. Her house specialty? A cocktail of scotch and milk. When her regulars found out she could cook one heck of a batch of fried chicken, she expanded her business into a restaurant. The chicken was fried after taking a dip in a wet batter, different from the traditional flour dredge, but so juicy and crispy her patrons couldn’t get enough. The chicken everyone raved about, of course, would make her famous.
But that isn’t how she wanted it. She didn’t want fame and wasn’t seeking a fortune. She just wanted to cook and serve up drinks to the neighborhood patrons that kept her running. But with chicken this good, word was going to get out. In 2005, she was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation, and when later that year Hurricane Katrina destroyed her restaurant, the foodies of the city, led by the Southern Foodways Alliance, rebuilt the restaurant. Willie Mae died last fall, after plenty of time spent at the fryer feeding the NOLA locale. Thankfully for us, her great-granddaughter learned well, taking over the business and ensuring Willie Mae’s fried chicken would be around for years to come.
- Mary Mac’s Tea Room—Atlanta, GeorgiaMary Mac’s Tea Room is the last of sixteen tea rooms that once served Atlanta, and they have been serving up crisp fried chicken since 1945 (photo courtesy of Mary Mac’s Tea Room)This Atlanta favorite for traditional southern cuisine has been frying chicken since 1945. Started in an era where women just weren’t supposed to be restaurant owners, they called their establishments “tea rooms” and drew the customers in. Atlanta had several that had become neighborhood staples, but Mary Mac’s Tea Room is the last of its kind. One taste of the fried chicken and you’ll know why.Part of the secret to Atlanta’s favorite chicken takes place a full day before it ever hits a plate (and quite a plate it is, packed with a breast, wing, leg, and thigh). The chicken sits in a brine for twenty-four hours before it is ever dredged in a simple mix of flour with salt and pepper. The long brine allows for a quicker cooking time, holding all the wonderful juices in until that first crisp bite. If it’s your first visit to Mary Mac’s make sure to ask for your complementary bowl of pot likker.
SEE MORE “BEST FRIED CHICKEN IN THE SOUTH” PHOTOS HERE