Debatable: Is Shake Shack Really Fast Food?!?
At the top of just about any Tennessee fried chicken list, alphabetically or qualitatively, Arnold’s only serves their hot sauce-brined, double-battered, perfectly fried chicken on Mondays, and the crowds gather early to get a bite of the bird. The crunch of the batter is just the harbinger of an ultimately revelatory experience.
Even though Gus’s has franchised all over the country, the first location in tiny Mason is still the OG of piquant chicken. Not as infernally spiced as its Nashville hot chicken cousin, Gus’s offers a fantastic balance between salty batter and peppery meat.
Public House features all the benefits of a fancy restaurant with none of the snootiness, as the attention that the staff pays to their fried chicken would befit a dish at a Michelin-starred spot. Brined in sweet tea, fried, and served with a house-made pepper sauce on the side, it’s “hot cuisine” at its finest.
This nondescript Knoxville soul food cafeteria serves up huge portions of fried chicken, heavily battered and fried hard to create the optical illusion that you might be eating a drumstick from an ostrich. Discovering that much of the bulk comes from the spicy, crunchy crust is not a disappointment.
Husk Executive Chef/mad scientist Sean Brock spent years perfecting his fried chicken recipe before settling on a combination of five of his favorite versions of the dish. We don’t care if it’s a recipe from Mars crossed with some secret KFC spices -- it’s damned delicious and one of the best you’ll ever taste.
This luxury resort is known for its unrivaled service, enormous wine collection, and upscale Appalachian cuisine, but it’s the humble fried chicken that lingers in the dreams of past guests. Soaked in very strong tea for two days to add a bit of acid and sweetness to the meat, the chicken is fried in a batter that includes spices like Old Bay Crab Boil Seasoning. The result is worthy of the resort’s esteemed reputation.
Get in line. Grab a tray. Point to the fried chicken. Receive chicken gratefully. Dig in. Anything else you do is pretty much superfluous at this iconic soul food cafeteria.
In a town like Memphis where you can find great fried chicken in gas stations, it’s a big deal to be known as a citywide favorite. But that’s the reputation for Jack Pirtle’s chain of chicken joints, famous for boxes ranging from two to 16 pieces of dark and/or white meat. They also serve up some mean fried livers ‘n’ gizzards, if that’s your thing.
You’ll notice that there are no dedicated Nashville hot chicken joints on this list, because that fiery fowl already gets plenty of time in the spotlight. Not receiving enough attention is this tiny strip mall eatery run by a pair of Chilean brothers who have quietly built up a rabid following for dishes like their chicken sandwich, which balances the hot crust with creamy avocado, a cooling aioli, and crunchy Asian slaw.
Tucked way up in the northwest corner of the state on the banks of scenic Reelfoot Lake, Boyette’s is an institution known for its all-you-can-eat plate dinners. You can choose up to three meats from a list of country ham, catfish fillets, catfish steak, and fried chicken. The fish is fine, but there’s no shame in just asking for platter after platter of their golden chicken.
Located just across the town square from the Jack Daniel’s visitor center, Miss Mary Bobo’s is a mandatory stop on any visit to the tiny town of Lynchburg. Once an actual boarding house where the distillery’s guests would eat and sleep, it’s now a quaint tea room where local ladies serve as hostesses at communal tables to make sure nobody hogs all the fried chicken from the passed platters served family style. Don’t worry about them running out -- there’s always more to come.
Although it’s a bit of a schlep out of town, tourists and locals alike make the trip out to the famous Loveless Cafe, primarily for its legendary biscuits and fried chicken. Don’t worry about having to choose -- these items are a package deal.
While the provenance of chicken and waffles is still a source of debate between those who claim it was born in Harlem, Atlanta, or LA, Miss Polly’s in Memphis can certainly boast that it makes some of the best. And because it’s located smack dab in the middle of Beale Street, the main party strip of Memphis, it’s always waiting to help soak up some of that sin for you.
In a moment of supreme truthfulness, many Southerners will admit that an eight-piece box of this supermarket chain chicken is one of their top-five favorite fried delights. Crispy and flavorful, inexpensive and ultimately convenient, Publix is the centerpiece of many a Tennessee picnic. C’mon, Kroger -- up your chicken game already!