Grocery and convenience store fried chicken

Albertsons

Various locations in Central Oregon

albertsons.com

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Circle K — Krispy Krunchy

Stores in Bend, Sunriver and Madras

krispykrunchy.com

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ERICKSON’S THRIFTWAY

Stores in Prineville and Madras

ericksonsthriftway.com

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Fred Meyer

Stores in Bend and Redmond

fredmeyer.com

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Logan’s Market and True Value

900 SW 23rd St., Redmond

541-548-5070

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Market of Choice

115 NW Sisemore St., Bend

541-382-5828

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Powell Butte Country Store

13673 state Highway 126, Powell Butte

541-548-4328

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Ray’s Food Place

Stores in La Pine, Prineville and Sisters

gorays.com

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Safeway

Various locations in Central Oregon

safeway.com

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Wagner’s Market Fresh IGA

930 N. Main St., Prineville

541-447-2600

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Walmart

Stores in Bend and Redmond

walmart.com

Just when features writers at The Bulletin were seeing results from their respective diets (necessitated by previous chili, pizza and mac and cheese taste tests), our merciless editor, Jody Lawrence-Turner, commanded the features staff’s sights and taste buds to fried chicken. Admittedly, the protest was not too loud or for too long. Like pros, the seasoned group of food testers loosened their belts, put on their critic hats and embraced gluttony in the name of journalism.

This taste test focused on classic, bone-in fried chicken from Central Oregon grocery and convenience stores. You know — the places you go when you’re craving that crispy, juicy chickeny goodness, but cooking is out of the question and eating fried chicken at a sit-down restaurant just seems weird.

The protocol

The team of five fried chicken aficionados, plus three guest critics, sampled breast and thigh pieces from 10 local outlets: Safeway, Albertsons, Market of Choice, Fred Meyer, Ray’s Food Place, Walmart, Circle K — Krispy Krunchy, Wagner’s Market Fresh IGA in Prineville, Logan’s Market and True Value in Redmond, and the Powell Butte Country Store. Some other grocery and convenience stores occasionally serve bone-in fried chicken, but because you never know when that fried chicken craving may strike, we limited this comparison to the locations that carry it daily.

For each batch of chicken, the critics assessed appearance, aroma, crispness, the flavor of the breading and the flavor and succulence of the meat.

Top dog ... err ... bird

Many of our previous taste tests exposed a variety of opinions and personal preferences that made it hard to find clear consensus on “the best” in a category. Not this time! The fried chicken from the Powell Butte Country Store was the finger lickin’ winner.

Two of our guest tasters, Sophie Wilkins and Andrew Wilson of Bend, put this fried chicken on our radar. The aroma was mouth-watering and the slight orange tint hinted at the mildly spicy flavor of the extra-crispy batter. It remained one of the crunchiest coatings we sampled, even after a 45 minute trip from the store to the newsroom. The meat itself was moist and flavorful and wasn’t overwhelmed by the batter. They got the balance just right.

Owners Ron and Mindy Sloper settled on their current flour and seasoning mixture (which they purchase pre-made) after experimenting with several different options over the years. Each piece of chicken is brined and then coated twice in the flour mixture.

Mindy said brining (soaking the meat in salty or seasoned cold water) is the secret to keeping the meat moist. She also credits their use of high quality oil, which they filter daily and replace completely each week. This prevents the chicken from smelling or tasting greasy, and lets the flavors of the seasoning and the meat shine.

“Our chicken is a little more expensive than some, but we’re concerned with the quality,” Sloper said.

Customers can call ahead to have their chicken cooked to order if they want a larger quantity or to ensure availability.

Cost: $2.59 for a breast; $2 for a thigh.

Best batter and breading

Whether you call it batter or breading, the coating on fried chicken is a critical component. No one wants fried chicken that’s soggy, mealy or too greasy. Getting the ratio of breading to meat just right is also important. Too little, and you’re left wanting more. Too much, and it obscures the flavor of the meat.

Our critics loved the spicier Cajun flavor of the Krispy Krunchy brand chicken sold at four Circle K convenience stores in Central Oregon. The pieces we tried from the College Way location in Bend definitely lived up to their name — they were crispy, crunchy and delicious.

Louisiana-based Krispy Krunchy provides fresh (not frozen), pre-marinated, flavor-injected chicken to its 2,300 franchisees across the U.S. The chicken is then breaded and cooked on site using a proprietary seasoning mix.

The golden color and savory aroma of the Krispy Krunchy chicken was enticing, and its extra seasoning set it apart. It managed to be spicy without being too hot. I wanted more batter on each piece, since it was so yummy. The thigh piece was a little juicier than the breast, although the latter was still moist and tasty.

Cost: $3.49 for a breast; $1.99 for a thigh or $4.99 for mixed two-piece meal with a honey biscuit.

Runner-up

The chicken from Market of Choice in Bend also stood out from most of the others due to its darker color and breadcrumb-style coating, rather than batter. This chicken had the aroma of fresh baked bread with a good crunch and a little residual heat. But the breading tended to fall off the meat as it was handled. The meat was adequately moist, but didn’t have any particularly noteworthy flavor.

Cost: $3.49 for a breast; $2.20 for a thigh.

Honorable mention

If you ever need to buy fried chicken and some home improvement supplies at the same time, Logan’s Market and True Value is a one-stop shop. While we can’t vouch for its hammers, the chicken at Logan’s was excellent. The batter had good flavor and was applied a little more liberally than some, which might account for the excess oil it left on the plate. Logan’s deli staff said they double batter the chicken before frying. The coating was crisp, although not the crispest the features staff tried. It probably suffered somewhat from being transported for 30 minutes in a plastic bag back to the newsroom. Both the white and dark meat were juicy and enjoyable and the price made it one of the better values in the group. As one of our tasters remarked, “There’s nothing foul about this fowl.”

Cost: $1.99 for a breast; $1.29 for a thigh.

The meat also matters

Ray’s Food Place has locations in Sisters, Prineville and La Pine, and we visited the latter store to try the fried chicken. Guest critic, David Turner, enjoyed the traditional flavor and “crispy yummy” crunch of the batter. However, the flavor and succulence of the meat was what really impressed — it was deemed the juiciest of all the chicken we tried. The meat was enhanced with a slightly peppery flavor that added to the overall quality of this fried chicken.

Surprisingly, the moistness of the meat isn’t a result of brining. Bakery and deli manager Sarena Kooker said they use Gold ’n Plump brand chicken, which arrives frozen and is defrosted before being dipped in a wet seasoning, followed by seasoned flour. This process is repeated before the meat is fried. Cost: $2.29 for a breast; $1.89 for a thigh.

Runner-up

We tried the fried chicken from Albertsons on S. U.S. Highway 97 in Bend. It also drew high marks from our judges for the quality of its meat, which was more flavorful and moist than many other contenders. The aroma of the chicken was appetizing, but the crust was too salty for several of our tasters.

Cost: $2.29 for a breast. $1.59 for a thigh.

Other chicken bits

Wagner’s Market in Prineville offered a fried chicken with a breaded coating, rather than battered, which gave it a lovely aroma. The buttery and salty flavors of the breading took precedence over the meat, but it tended to fall off the chicken as it was being eaten. The meat, particularly the thigh piece, was a little greasy. While tasty, the critics felt this chicken skewed more toward generic fast food chicken.

Cost: $1.98 for a breast; $1.28 for a thigh.

Although owned by the same parent company as Albertsons, we also tried the fried chicken from Safeway, visiting the Century Drive location in Bend. This chicken looked and smelled good, with a little darker color than most, although that could have been a cooking variation for this batch. The batter was crisp, salty and had a hint of spice from the onion and garlic powder used. The meat was moist, if unremarkable in terms of flavor.

Cost: $2.29 for a breast; $1.59 for a thigh.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walmart offered the best value for individual pieces of fried chicken, among all the options we sampled. The chicken from the Bend store looked good, but the only aroma was that of a deep fryer. It was the most heavily battered chicken we tried and very crunchy. But like the aroma, the strongest (perhaps only) flavor was grease. The meat was surprisingly moist and the pieces were very large, making this a real bargain, based on portion size and price.

Cost: $1.48 for a breast; 98 cents for a thigh.

Fred Meyer also provided safe, if uninspiring fried chicken from its Bend store. Like Walmart, this batter maintained its crunch, but the primary aroma and flavor was that of grease. This had the driest meat among the 11 options we tried. It was tasty but scored the lowest overall in our rankings. On the plus side, the breast piece we purchased was very large.

Cost: $2.29 for a breast. $1.49 for a thigh.

So while turkey might be the bird getting all the attention this time of year, feel free to buck that trend and enjoy some fried chicken.

EDITORS NOTE: Erickson’s Thriftway stores in Prineville and Madras also serve bone-in fried chicken until 8 p.m. daily and were unintentionally omitted from this taste test. Cost is $1.99 for a breast and $1.59 for a thigh. The Bulletin regrets the error.

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