Chick-fil-A, one of the country’s fastest-growing fast-food chains, will open the first of four free-standing stores in the Twin Cities next week, part of the company’s expansion beyond its Southern stronghold.

The largest U.S. fast-food chicken purveyor aside from KFC, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A plans to eventually have 10 new stores in Minnesota within three to five years, mostly in the Twin Cities metro area. “We hope it becomes a big [market] for us,” said Don Crocker, Chick-fil-A’s senior director for real estate.

Chick-fil-A outlets are scheduled to open Thursday at 11820 Fountains Way in Maple Grove and 3590 River Rapids Drive NW in Coon Rapids. Restaurants in Apple Valley and Bloomington are slated to launch Nov. 7.

Chick-fil-A is known for its chicken sandwiches; there’s hardly any meat on its menu that’s not poultry. The family-owned company was founded in 1967 and today has about 1,740 restaurants in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

Every year or so, Chick-fil-A adds a new state or metro area, and it’s aiming for a complete national presence, Crocker said. In recent years, it has expanded to Chicago, Phoenix and Southern California. In 2014, the Boston area will be on tap, Crocker said.

Chick-fil-A has three outlets in Minnesota: one each at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State University, Mankato and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. But the four new restaurants are full-scale and free-standing, not small scale or food-court-type outlets aimed at a niche audience.

Beyond those four, “we are working on a number of projects as we speak,” Crocker said. Locations in the east metro are on Chick-fil-A’s agenda. “We definitely have our sights set on St. Paul; we just haven’t found the right opportunity.” The company’s long-term plans call for possibly expanding to Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester.

Chick-fil-A is running almost neck and neck with KFC as the nation’s fast-food chicken king, albeit with different approaches to serving the bird. Chick-fil-A had $4.6 billion in sales last year; KFC $4.7 billion in U.S. sales. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which has made a big push into the Twin Cities in 2013, had $2 billion in sales last year.

Chick-fil-A forgoes one day of sales each week. Its outlets are closed on Sundays in accordance with the religious beliefs of its owners. Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s president and son of its founder, caused a stir in the nation’s culture wars last year when he made comments — based on his religious views — opposing gay marriage.

On the restaurant front, it’s hard to beat Chick-fil-A on several key measurements, said Dennis Lombardi, an industry consultant with WD Partners. The company has a “core menu that resonates well with consumers. It also has excellent quality and customer service that also resonates with consumers.”

Chick-fil-A will hold its “First 100” event at the grand openings of each new store.

The first 100 adults, ages 18 and older with identification, who are in line when the doors open at each restaurant about 6 a.m. on Thursday will each win a one-year supply of free Chick-fil-A meals — 52 coupons, each consisting of its standard chicken sandwich, medium waffle potato fries and a medium drink.

Here’s the drill: Participants can officially start lining up at 6 a.m. Wednesday. If more than 100 people are at each location at that time, the 100 spots will be determined by a drawing and those chosen must camp out over the next 24 hours to secure their spots.