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The 7 best fried chicken dishes in the South

It's National Fried Chicken Day and everybody's celebrating. And because there are so many regional options for one of America's most universally loved dishes, we picked seven spots offering some of the best fried yard bird you'll find in the South.

If you were to ask a group of people to name one dish that epitomizes Southern cuisine, there is a high likelihood a majority would answer fried chicken. Popular throughout all regions of the South, fried chicken carries a universal appeal that allows it to find a place on dinner tables and picnic blankets from state to state.

No matter where you live, you don’t have to drive very far to find a great plate of fried chicken, but with so many options out there we figured narrowing your search down a bit would be the hospitably crispy thing to do.

Old Country Store - Lorman, Miss.
Old Country Store owner Arthur Davis (aka Mr. D.) won’t share the recipe for his secret spice “shake” with anyone, and with good reason. An application before and after the frying process ensures that salt and spices permeate the chicken with incredible flavor. From what I could gather, the chicken gets a substantial coating with spices and yellow mustard before being dredged in flour. The result is, hands down, the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. While their buffet offers plenty of delicious options, the fried chicken is the unequivocal star, prompting diners to drive from hours away to sample the goods.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans, La.
A stalwart in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, Willie Mae’s boasts a line that frequently extends beyond the back of the building. My last visit saw me sharing conversation and laughs with tourists, locals, a bachelor party and some of the country’s most renowned chefs, all patiently waiting for a chance to tear into some of the best fried chicken in the region. The crisp-yet-smooth exterior gives the appearance of a wet batter, and the deliciously salty-to-the-bone chicken seems evident of a brine; however, no one on staff would confirm or deny my theories. Confirmation or not, the crispy fried chicken with a side of butter beans over rice and a tall glass of sweet tea was simply soul food nirvana.

Gwen & Franny’s Fried Chicken – Hardeeville, S.C.
If you ever find yourself traveling from Savannah to Hilton Head Island, take a brief detour off I-95 to Gwen & Franny’s Fried Chicken. Served on Styrofoam plates in a humble dining room, the little details of the expertly fried bird shine through. Having the crust and the skin become one is arguably the hallmark of amazing fried chicken, and Gwen & Franny’s absolutely nails it. No one spice is more discernable than the others; rather the balance of salt and spices yields a result that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Husk Nashville – Nashville, Tenn.
After considerable time spent in research and development, celebrated Southern chef Sean Brock unleashed fried chicken on the lunch menu at the Nashville outpost of Husk. Brock’s chicken is part-gas-station and part-Nashville-hot-chicken, with a sprinkling of The Colonel thrown in. Pre-breading the chicken allows the skin to absorb some of the flour and results in a hefty crunch. Also contributing to the crust and flavor is the signature Husk five fat method, which involves frying the chicken in a combination of butter, canola oil, lard, chicken fat and bacon fat. Are you hungry yet?

Table & Main – Roswell, Ga.
Chef Woody Back’s Kentucky roots and impressive culinary pedigree (he's had lengthy stints under chefs Tom Colicchio and Linton Hopkins) give way to some impressive eats at Table & Main, his seasonal suburban Georgia kitchen. Taking a simple yet thoughtful approach, Back focuses on sourcing quality ingredients (such as Springer Mountain Farms chicken, King Arthur Flour and buttermilk with live cultures) to produce some of the tastiest fried chicken in the Atlanta area. After a brine and buttermilk bath, Back fries the chicken until the crust is golden brown and ready to crackle under the first bite.

Price’s Chicken Coop – Charlotte, N.C.
Charlotte is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with a rapidly emerging culinary scene, yet somehow a no-frills takeout joint like Price’s Chicken Coop fits in nicely. If I were to plan a picnic in the Queen City, I would base my entire menu of sides around the crispy, flavorful, addictive fried chicken from Price’s. Like other places on this list, the good people at Price’s were mum on sharing their secrets of the trade, but the real beauty clearly lies in the simplicity of well-seasoned, hot and crispy chicken. Call ahead to pre-order, and keep in mind it's a cash-only establishment.

Pies ‘n’ Thighs – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Cue the line from those incredulous cowboys in that famous salsa commercial: “New York City?!?” As much as I would love to take a parochial point of view to assert that you cannot find good fried chicken above the Mason-Dixon Line, this unassuming Williamsburg joint nails the vibe and the heart of a classic comfort food eatery. Offering humanely raised, hormone free birds, Pies ‘n’ Thighs brings a contemporary philosophy to the traditional flavors of fried chicken. Biting into a juicy drumstick with a perfect balance of salt and black pepper made me feel like I was only a short saunter from the Mississippi River, instead of the nearby East River.   

Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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