Beer seems like the best pairing here, but in my humble opinion, wine is better. Yes, beer, like fried chicken, is democratic, but it’s also bloating. Wine’s acidity keeps your palate refreshed so you’ll want to take another bite.
Champagne/sparkling wine. With a whole restaurant devoted to this pairing, the match-up of Champagne and fried chicken is a modern-day classic. If you can splurge on the real deal, do so. Champagne often walks the perfect line between rich and refreshing, which is exactly what you want with fatty, crisp chicken. If you don’t want to spend so much, look for other sparkling wines from France, known as crémant, or bubbly wines from the US. birdsandbubbles.com
Lightly off-dry Riesling. Lemonade is delicious with fried chicken. What’s the wine equivalent? Riesling. Well, kind of. Many German Rieslings balance acidity and sweetness, much like lemonade, but the flavors tend to gear more toward limes and apples than lemons. No matter. The pairing still works. Look for Kabinett-style Riesling from Germany and avoid any that say “trocken,” which means dry; in this case, a little sugar is a good thing.
Lambrusco. Maybe this is cheating because Lambrusco is a sparkling wine, but since it’s so different from Champagne (It’s Italian! And usually red!), I think it deserves its own category. The acid and tannins in Lambrusco are terrific with anything fatty, like sausage and, of course, fried chicken. Seek out styles that are dry, or the tiniest bit sweet, and not overly austere. (These wines can get very savory-tasting and brooding—delicious but necessary with this pairing). Producers to look for include Fattoria Moretto and Francesco Vezzelli.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and author of the forthcoming The Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter, 2016). She is also the cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.