The tasters were greased out.
Nine plates piled high with fried chicken make an inviting taste test, but after all was said and eaten, The Washington Post's blind tasting of fast-food fried chicken proved that none compares to homemade and that chain restaurant chicken can be pretty greasy stuff.
Eight tasters, blacks and whites -- three from the newspaper's Food section, two reporters, a telephone operator, a secretary and a courier -- tasted chicken samples designated only by number, and scored them on the basis of appearance, texture, flavor, greasiness and overall satisfaction.
The range of scores was narrow: none was great, none close to inedible. In fact, on a 10-point scale, the spread was from 4 1/4 to 6 3/4, and most tasters rated all the chicken within four points of each other.
Still, there always has to be a winner, and this time it was clearly Chicken George, 3821 Minnesota Ave. SE. Half the tasters gave it first place, complimenting it on its garlic flavor and golden color. Several tasters found it particularly greasy (which was not clearly and regularly considered a flaw by the tasters). Its price is the highest, $10.65 for a 15-piece bucket, though individual pieces, ranging from 50 cents to $1.05, are merely average prices.
Bojangles, 22nd and Alabama Ave. SE, came in second, with half the tasters rating it among the top two. Its meat was moist and its surface crusty (one taster found the crust reminiscent of corn flakes). But it had been slathered with red pepper before dipping in batter, so the division was along the lines of some liking it hot. It was a jolt. Cayenne must be considered a valuable commodity; Bojangles' chicken was the most expensive by the piece and among the highest three by the bucket, 16 pieces for $9.92.
Several tasters found the chicken from Golden Skillet, 1375 K St. NW, the best, though it was faulted for being bland (its fans obviously were the tasters who didn't favor Bojangles), and its crust didn't hold well on the meat. It was at least a relief from the four or more that were quite salty (Kentucky Fried, Holly Farms, Popeye's, Pappy Parker's). Golden Skillet is a good buy, one of the two lowest-priced.
And Holly Farms, 3943 Minnesota Ave. NE, showed well, with a majority of tasters placing it in the top three. It was liberally peppered, crisp, but among the greasy ones.
Kentucky Fried, 3465 Benning Rd. NE, and Pappy Parker's (Roy Rogers), 317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, were middling, their scores equal, followed closely by Church's, 1635 Benning Rd. NE. Three tasters liked Kentucky Fried best or one of the best, particularly for its spiciness. Half the tasters named it the worst, especially disliking its saltiness and a pronounced off-flavor in the meat. Prices were also middling.
Popeye's, 2301 Benning Rd. NE, should stick to spinach; its rating was low and it suffered from blandness. (A spiced version is available but was not tasted in this survey.) Its crunchy crust drew some admiration but that was balanced by complaints of unattractive appearance and greasiness -- none of which stopped it from being among the more expensive ones.
"Ooh, it's got hair on it," exclaimed one taster when confronted by the poorly plucked chicken from Wings & Things, 1932 14th St. NW. Just wings and legs, no breasts or thighs, this chicken was the cheapest but with several good reasons: the pieces were skimpy, there was hardly any crust, and an aftertaste hinted at having been hanging around too long. Only two tasters found it acceptable; most voted it the worst.
Another test put to these chicken vendors was to have them suggest what size bucket is necessary to serve five people. Most recommended 15 to 16 pieces. But Roy Rogers' salesperson said eight was sufficient and Golden Skillet's suggested nine. Sounded like a banquet for dieters. Wings & Things would sell 24 pieces for five people, but they are small pieces; still, that assumes those five people are going to like them a lot. Risky assumption, according to The Post's tasters.