Southern cooks will argue about the techniques of making the best fried chicken with as much passion as they debate barbecue styles. But with our recent triple-digit Florida weather, who really wants to kick up a pot of vegetable oil to 350F?
That's especially true when local restaurants and markets can do the work for you.
From fast-food chains — KFC, Zaxby's and Popeye's — to small independent eateries — Osteen Diner, Oviedo's Townhouse and Orlando's Dixie Belle's Café — there's fried chicken to suit any palate.
The day after my doctor told me my cholesterol levels were good, I set off on the Central Florida fried-chicken trail. From Osceola to Lake County, I found a lot of great food.
Among the chains, Lee's Famous Recipe in Sanford was tops, but didn't make the overall Top 10 list. Founded by Lee Cummings, nephew of KFC's Colonel Harland Sanders, Lee's chicken has a buttery crust. Another chain contender, Crown's in Kissimmee, also didn't crack the Top 10, even though the poultry is tender and juicy.
Crispy chicken with juicy meat is an art form at the following 10 places that serve the best fried chicken in Central Florida. These are the kind of places where you swear the owner swiped your mother's recipe. Grab a napkin and dig in.
The Mason Jar
Hands down the fried chicken at this Lake County restaurant is the best I found. Fans stream in for the all-you-can-eat fried chicken on Sunday and you'll find single plates on the Thursday menu, too.
The lowdown: Consistent golden color, not too greasy with sweet and juicy meat. This is how my grandmother's fried chicken tasted.
Where: 37534 U.S. Highway 19, Umatilla (Dona Vista)
This is my Aunt Betty's fried chicken. Not my mom's. Not my grandmother's. Still trying to figure out when Shantell Williams was in Aunt Betty's Greenwood, Ind., kitchen!
The lowdown: The crackly skin has a thin coating of lightly seasoned batter. The meat is tender and juicy.
Where: 406 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford
Contact: 407-732-7728; shantellscafe.com
Bonnie Lee's Fried Chicken
This unpretentious cafe is an Osceola County favorite. Dave and Jan Smith have owned the restaurant since 1983. It is named after the couple's daughter.
The lowdown: The chicken has a nice rumpled coating of crispy batter and the meat is juicy through and through.
Where: 900 13th St., St. Cloud
Contact: 407-892-8318 and Facebook
Cask & Larder
Chef-owners James and Julie Petrakis have taken everything we know and love about Southern cookery and elevated it to a new level. The fried chicken is now only a special, but we always yearn for what we can't have.
The lowdown: If you want a hint of how creative the culinary team can be with fried chicken, order the hot Nashville chicken. Brined thighs are smoked, dredged in a coating and then fried. Before it comes to the table on a sandwich or with waffles, the poultry is tossed with a spicy rub.
Where: 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
Contact: 321-280-4200; caskandlarder.com
Owner John Rivers, founder of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, set out to develop a restaurant that reminded him of the food he grew up eating, with Southern influences from the Carolina low country along the Atlantic Ocean to where Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana meet the Gulf of Mexico.
The lowdown: The thin batter has nice herbal notes. After the restaurant opened in April the chicken faltered a bit, but now it's back on track.
Where: 610 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park
Contact: 407-843-2667; asouthernaffair.com
Angel's Soul Food
The original restaurant is a Sanford icon with killer food, but it is small, has limited hours and offers counter service only. There's a larger Angel's spinoff in Mount Dora.
The lowdown: The thin batter has a nice snap that tastes as if it came out of a cast-iron skillet. This is comfort food at its best and reminds me of my mom's fried chicken.
Where: 2785 W. Old U.S. Highway 441, Mount Dora (between Eudora Road and Poinsettia Drive)
Contact: 352-385-0227; angelssoulfood.com
Hash House A Go Go
The founders of this restaurant chain specialize in "twisted farm food," which translates into over-the-top portions and presentations that require a cardiologist on speed dial and superior skill level at Jenga.
The lowdown: At lunch the sage fried chicken is stacked with bacon-laced waffles, crowned with fried leeks and served with a warm maple caramel reduction. A wooden skewer and a plume of fresh rosemary hold the two pieces of fried chicken in place. The meat is juicy and the batter has a nice crunch.
Where: 5350 International Drive, Orlando (between Municipal Drive and Del Verde Way)
Contact: 407-370-4646 and hashhouseagogo.com
Nikki's Place has been the beacon of authentic soul food in Orlando's Parramore community since 1999, but the restaurant and its chef's roots reach much deeper. The small, neighborhood eatery opened in 1949 and was known as Roser's Restaurant.
The lowdown: The hand-battered fried chicken, one of several revolving daily specials, may be the finest pieces of poultry to ever take a long bath in hot bubbling oil. The meat is juicy and the crisp coating is what all fried chicken aspires to be.
Where: 742 Carter St., Orlando
Contact: 407-425-5301 and nikkisplace.net
Formerly known as Queen Bee's Soul Food Restaurant, this family owned eatery in the Washington Shores community is a local fave.
The lowdown: This is one of the best places for fried chicken and waffles in Orlando. Don't expect an assortment of pieces; this is wing country.
Where: 3214 Orange Center Blvd., Orlando
Contact: 407-826-1731; chefeddies.com
Publix was founded by George W. Jenkins in 1930 in Winter Haven. Today there are groceries in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.
The lowdown: When I told friends, family and colleagues I was compiling a list of the best fried chicken in Central Florida, every person asked if I was including Publix. The supermarket excels at the double-battered crunch. The pieces are large and the meat-to-bone ratio rocks.
Where: Various locations including 2100 Winter Springs Blvd., Tuskawilla Bend Shopping Center, in Oviedo
Contact: 407-366-9740; publix.com
Shantell Williams demonstrates how she fries chicken at her Sanford restaurant, and Sentinel food editor Heather McPherson offers tips for the home cook. OrlandoSentinel.com