Bojangles vs. Beasley’s: Who won the golden fried chicken crown? Here’s the winner

By a margin as thin as a crispy chicken skin, voters have named the Triangle’s best fried chicken.

In the final, fried chicken giant Bojangles, with more than two dozen locations in the Triangle, faced off against Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, the ode to all things crispy chicken from chef Ashley Christensen.

After two weeks of voting, Triangle diners have declared the most popular fried chicken is the one in the yellow box.

With 54 percent of the vote, Bojangles has been crowned the top local fried chicken, coming from behind in the last hour to flip a 30 vote deficit. This marks the second bracket win for Bojangles, which also took the Biscuit Bracket in 2022, surely prevailing for its numerous locations and embedded culture built over generations of chicken eaters.

“It’s just exciting for us and the company to get this kind of recognition,” said Kenny Avery, COO of Tri-Arc Foods, the local franchisee of Bojangles. “To put our chicken up against a chef’s vision of fried chicken is really pretty special.”

The iconic fast-food chain Bojangles, based in Charlotte, is known for its chicken sandwiches and biscuits. Pictured are a cajun fillet biscuit (left), a country ham biscuit (right), and a plain made-from-scratch biscuit (bottom)
The iconic fast-food chain Bojangles, based in Charlotte, is known for its chicken sandwiches and biscuits. Pictured are a cajun fillet biscuit (left), a country ham biscuit (right), and a plain made-from-scratch biscuit (bottom)

There’s kind of a chicken or the egg question at Bojangles when it comes to the fried chicken and the biscuits. Avery said originally the famous biscuit was meant to be an accompaniment to the chicken, but that now they hold equal prominence.

“I don’t know that you can talk about one without the other,” Avery said.

The fried chicken at Bojangles undergoes about a 12 hour process, where the chicken is tumbled and seasoned and marinated before frying. Despite the enormous volume of a fast food chain, Avery said the chicken is never made from frozen pieces.

That chicken has become a staple at tailgates and picnics, where big yellow Bo Boxes are the life of the party. Avery said that while fried chicken is a beloved meal, it can be labor-intensive to make at home.

“We are in the South and fried chicken is a staple,” Avery said. “Tri-Arc has been in this market for 43 years and our customers find us for our consistent product and value. Fried chicken is not all that easy to do at home, it can be messy. And that’s why (Bojangles) is so popular. People love fried chicken but don’t want the hassle.”

The chicken at Bojangles stands out in the fast food crowd for a bit more aggressive seasoning than the norm. Sure you can get spicy chicken at Popeyes or apply your own dashes of Texas Pete, but Bojangles serves a spiced chicken that has a peppery warmth fried into the crust. If you can’t handle a mild tingle, it might not be the chicken for you.

“Our founder (the late Jack Fulk) had really good recipes and he knew your run of the mill chicken isn’t anything all that special,” Avery said. “Having the flavor we have, it doesn’t give you the heat, but you do get the warmth, the spice flavor. We don’t do Nashvile hot chicken, there’s a big difference between that and our chicken. We say ours is flavorful, not spicy. It’s that really good sweet spot.”

Runner-Up: Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

In 2011, when chef Ashley Christensen could have done just about anything as a follow-up to Poole’s Diner, she launched Beasley’s Chicken + Honey on Wilmington Street in Downtown Raleigh. The restaurant was part of a trio of openings, including the former burger shop Chuck’s and the newly reopened cocktail bar Fox Liquor Bar.

Immediately, Beasley’s offered an idealized view of fried chicken, deeply browned and crunchy and drizzled with honey for a salty, sweet bite.

Christensen said she grew up eating the chicken of her Memphis-born mother, who would marinate pieces in buttermilk and season them in a paper grocery bag, shaking on the seasoned flour before frying.

“She always cooked the chicken first and let it rest while she finished all of the other dishes,” Christensen said. “It was served barely warm, rested, and crispy. I still love the smells and the sounds of it.”

The honey came from her father, who kept bees in the family’s backyard.

“I think it’s akin to why we love buttery salty popcorn and chocolate at the movie theatre, or bacon dipped in our maple syrup,” Christensen said.

At Beasley’s the chicken is brined, then dredged and finally fried in a pressure fryer. Each piece is then fried a second time before its served.

“The result is a super-crispy piece of chicken that is also juicy and rested at the bone,” Christensen said. “The goal of this is to have the experience of biting into a hot and crispy, crunchy piece of chicken without all of the juices rushing out of the meat… instead that juice stays put for the next bite.”

One of North Carolina’s fried chicken crown jewels, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh, of course has a killer chicken sandwich. (2017)
One of North Carolina’s fried chicken crown jewels, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh, of course has a killer chicken sandwich. (2017)

The chicken is at the center of Beasley’s, but the restaurant is hardly a chicken shack. It’s closer to a Southern meat n’ three, where you’ll find upwards of a dozen different sides and entrees like meatloaf and pot pie and catfish.

Beasley’s showcases different sides of chicken, from its namesake bone-in with honey, to smoked wings and a searingly hot but irresistible Nashville Hot version on white bread. And the pairings go well beyond sweet tea — the Champagne list is longer than the beer list, including a few stunners.

In its decade in Raleigh, Beasley’s has evolved into one of the downtown mainstays.

“I love that it has been so embraced by the community,” Christensen said. “It’s the extension of an experience beloved to me, but that so many people feel connected with in so many different ways. We wanted to take a simple idea and work everyday to tweak it and make our offering of it delicious, and hopefully more delicious than the day before.

“It’s never been about elevating it, but instead being dedicated to its simplicity and approachability, and wrapping it in hospitality. Ten years ago, or today…I love walking in and seeing folks enjoying it together.”