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Pecking order 

I once had a boyfriend who could do the most amazing thing—he could put an entire piece of fried chicken in his mouth and then pull out the stripped bone. Now, who could ask for anything more in a mate? Well, the boyfriend’s gone, but my love affair with fried chicken is still going strong. My first choice for chicken is KFC (or “Dirty Bird,” as we affectionately call it), but with the outlet nearest me having closed, I’ve been forced to check out other sources for my cholesterol-laden guilty pleasure. But can you really find better chicken than the Dirty Bird? Is there even a comparable alternative? Are my own perceptions coloured by the memory of that talented beau?

I decide that it is time for some formal comparisons and put together a panel of unbiased tasters, chicken lovers all. We’re going to sample take-out chicken from KFC, Pizza Girls and the once popular but now in decline Mary Brown’s, as well as grocery store offerings from Superstore and Sobeys. Each outlet is represented by a wing, a leg and a side, and all of the chicken was served hot.

The Superstore chicken looks promising—plump pieces, crisp-looking skin flecked with spices, golden brown. But looks can be deceiving—a disappointed panel judges the Superstore chicken the worst; although the tasters agree it “looks the best,” they also say it’s “very dry,” “not as well seasoned as it looks,” and has a “funny aftertaste.”

Sobeys fares a little better. The pieces are the largest and look paler than the chicken from the other outlets. Though not as dry as the Superstore chicken, it has the tasters reaching for water, prompting one to lament “You’re so dry, Mr. Chicken.” Overall, we agree it has the most pronounced chicken flavour, so if you’re not a fan of spicy chicken, Sobeys might be your first choice.

All three of the take-out chickens best the grocery store brands.

The Mary Brown’s entry is very greasy, and while it tastes fine, the panel recommends with reservations because of the excess oil. “If you blot off the oil, it’s not too bad,” and “Seasoning is better than the supermarket blandies,” were some of the comments. (The side-dish taters, however, were a huge hit).

The Pizza Girls chicken is moist and flavourful with a crispy skin. Some tasters found it saltier than any of the other chicken we taste-tested, but other than that it did well for appearance and taste. In fact, tasters rated it almost as high as the winner. “Great taste, not too greasy,” was the consensus. Not bad for a pizza joint. As I mentioned in a review of Pizza Girls, this chicken is not made at the store, it’s a convenience product. For those in Dartmouth, the chicken at the Chicago-Way Pizzeria in Eastern Passage tastes much the same as the Pizza Girls.

Six sets of taste buds later, we all come to the same conclusion: Dirty Bird reigns supreme. The Colonel’s Eleven Secret Herbs and Spices make the KFC offering the wings-down winner. Comments ranged from “Less about the chicken, more about the batter and spices,” to “Well, that IS their specialty,” to “For taste and satisfaction, you’ve got to go with the KFC.” And for those who give a cluck, that’s the bottom line.

Liz Feltham certainly Gives a cluck. Read more reviews online at: www.foodcritic.ca

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