By Mike Thayer
There's been a chicken sandwich war going on in fast food, it started in 2019 and it's still going on today.
Shots fired! Chick-fil-A made headlines in 2019 becoming the third largest fast food chain, led with their classic chicken sandwich. Popeyes reacted by putting a new chicken sandwich on the menu and consumers went crazy over it, so crazy in fact, Popeyes ran out of ammo. Already armed with a spicy chicken sandwich, Wendy's entered the battlefield that year by bringing back their spicy chicken nuggets, fans of the item went in a Twitter frenzy.
Popeye's Chicken Sandwich has been so popular, it is now considered THE gold standard for a chicken sandwich. So how do all the other fast food joints stack up? In the name of 'food science' (cough), I aimed to find out.
In this Bachelor on the Cheap Chicken Sandwich War Challenge, sandwiches were evaluated and scored on the following criteria: Visual appeal, the meat, bun, meat to bun ratio, crunch factor, the pickle/mayo and of course, overall taste. There are 1-9 points available for each category for a total possible total score of 63. I went through a restaurant list of national chains in my neck of the woods, tallied scores on a spreadsheet, one meal at a time, sampling chicken sandwiches. I sampled the classic versions, not the spicy or kicked up offerings, those are next.
Here is "The List" of fast food joints I visited and evaluated - a total of 14 - during the course of this challenge:
Done in the name of "food science".... From Worst to First:
#14 Dairy Queen: Scoring just 39 out of a possible 63 points, DQ makes THE WORST Chicken Sandwich in fast food. And what? No pickle? Every good chicken sandwich comes with pickles! And check out the thin chicken breast fillet, the SMALLEST portion of chicken of any sandwich sampled in this challenge. The chicken also lacked flavor, it was under-seasoned and it shouldn't be called a 'Crispy' Chicken Sandwich because the crunch factor was missing. The lettuce, tomato and bun were all fine, but all rather ordinary and there was a bit of mayo overkill. This wasn't a balanced sandwich either, there wasn't tomato in every bite, there wasn't lettuce in every bite. Overall, an under-seasoned chicken breast and no pickles makes for a rather boring sandwich.
#13 Burger King: The chicken was over-fried and I'm thinking the fryer temp was not where it needed to be (not hot enough) because the breast was NOT crispy, it was chewy. The meat itself was dry and stringy. The chicken portion was also a bit small compared to the competition - especially Popeyes - with the chicken breast failing to really reach beyond the borders of the bun, a sub-par meat to bun ratio. The bun itself was quite nice and the deli pickles and savory mayo were spot on, in fact, the bun, pickles and mayo were the best parts of this sandwich and that's a sad statement. A chicken sandwich that fails to highlight the main ingredient.... The Burger King Hand Breaded Crispy Chicken Sandwich scored 44 out of 63 points.
#12 Hardee's: For a "New" sandwich in this Chicken Sandwich War, Hardee's needs a new weapon. This sandwich just doesn't get the job done. There's TOO MUCH BUN! The meat to bun ratio is not good, the chicken was NOT crispy at all, a bit dry and under-spectacular in the seasoning department. The mayo was average and the only thing giving this sandwich some life were the pickles, which in typical fast food fashion were applied in a very sloppy, uncaring way, all centered together and not providing pickle in every bite. The bun was good, but IT WAS TOO MUCH! The chicken, which SHOULD have been the star, was not. Score: 44 out of 63 points.
#11 Slim Chickens: SALTY!!! Three exclamation points SALTY.... Slim Chickens might as well call this a salt lick sandwich! I've never eaten at a Slim Chickens before and the visual appeal of the sandwich had me licking my chops, but my first bite into this sandwich was a big salt lick disappointment. The breading on the chicken fell apart and lacked crunch. And while the ranch mayo, pickle and toasted bun were all on point, that overdose of salt just overpowered anything that was good about this sandwich. Slim's 'Crispy' Chicken Sandwich scored 45 out of a possible 63 points.
#10 McDonald's: The 'New' McDonald's Crispy Chicken Sandwich has a typical fast food preparation 'appeal' - slapped together - with more thought going into the packaging than the sandwich. There wasn't much of a crunch in the chicken and the pickles were 'eh'. The bun, a potato roll, was dry, there's no mayo on this sandwich and the buttering of the bun didn't register. McDonald's has missed the mark with this latest attempt to compete with Chick-fil-A and Popeye's and only scored 45 points of a possible 63.
#9 Sonic: Sonic's sandwich is a pea shooter in the Chicken Sandwich War. The sandwich had a decent visual appeal and I was looking forward to that first bite but in taking it, I was like, "Looks better than it tastes." The chicken was kind of boring, the breading was under-seasoned, although the meat itself was juicy. The biggest downer was the lack of crunch. The Brioche bun was nice, providing that desired 'pillowy' element to the sandwich and the meat to bun ratio was slider ration good. But in continuing the lack of flavor, the mayo and pickles were unspectacular. In the overall taste factor, this was a very average chicken sandwich. Score: 46 points out of a possible 63.
#8 Wendy's: This is a good sandwich, but not great. It had a decent visual appeal aside from the oversized leaf of lettuce, the chicken breast was a good size but thick on one end, kind of thin on the other. With that in mind the meat to bun ratio was OK but the crunch just wasn't there despite the nice visual. And the sandwich was over dressed. There was too much mayo, with the lettuce and tomato not really adding much to the sandwich, in fact, they took away from the tartness of a good pickle, which in writing, Wendy's needs a better pickle. Overall, not a bad chicken sandwich, but there's better out there. Score: 51 points out of 63.
#7 Arby's: Not bad! The sandwich had pretty good visual appeal, there was a nice crunch to the breading, the chicken was seasoned well and juicy, the meat to bun ratio was on point but the sandwich was missing the tartness of pickle. Arby's puts lettuce, tomato and mayo (not enough mayo either) on their sandwich, which is a classic alternative to a chicken sandwich with mayo and pickle, but in my humble foodie opinion, chicken sandwiches are SO much better with pickle! The Arby's Classic Chicken Sandwich scored 52 out of 63 possible points.
#6 Freddy's: Freddy's makes good burgers, a good fish sandwich and their Crispy Chicken Sandwich does not disappoint! The sandwich scored well in all categories, juicy, nicely seasoned chicken, crunch in the breading, good meat to bun ratio, nicely toasted bun and pickle in every bite! Score: 53 out of 63 possible points.
#5 Chick-fil-A: Two things that make this sandwich work are that the chicken is seasoned well and the meat to bun ratio is spot on. Two things that need work: You don't get pickle in every bite and you have to order mayo or sauce, this sandwich comes 'naked' otherwise. Overall, it's a good sandwich, but not a great sandwich. It's prepared efficiently, chicken is juicy, tender, but there's no 'WOW' factor to it. Let me put it this way, if the state fair had a chicken sandwich contest, Chick-fil-A would not earn a blue ribbon. What makes Chick-fil-A THE top chicken restaurant in fast food, is their customer service and I will say this was the best seasoned chicken in the challenge. Score: 53 out of 63 possible points.
#4 A&W: In taking that first bite I was hit with how juicy the chicken was and coupled with the tartness of the pickle it was a splash of flavor in the mouth! The crunch however, was missing. The chicken was nicely seasoned, but the lack of crunch in the breading was a downer. The slider buns were 'pillowy' and dressed nicely with mayo. The meat to bun ratio - excellent. These are good sliders, but they would be great with some crunch! I will say these were the best pickles of the challenge. Score: The A&W Chicken Sliders scored 55 out of 63 possible points and kicks Sonic's slider offering butt.
#3 KFC: The KFC Chicken Sandwich has a nice visual appeal with that 1/4 pound chicken breast fillet breaking the borders of the bun which was a standard bun by the way, NOT brioche. The pickles are nice and thick, a perfectly tart element to compliment that extra crispy chicken. And the sandwich isn't over dressed, the amount of mayo was just right. KFC may have entered the sandwich war late, but they did their sandwich right. The KFC Chicken Sandwich scored 55 out of a possible 63 points.
#2 Church's: Church's puts a big dent in Popeye's armor! Church's has put together a very fine sandwich, it's got excellent visual appeal, the chicken was juicy, tender and had a nice crunch. The meat to bun ratio was good, there was pickle in every bite and that bun!.... The brioche bun brushed with Church's honey butter makes this sandwich bun the best of the challenge. Church's Chicken sandwich scored 60 out of 63 possible points. That chicken, the honey buttered bun, it was another does of YUM!
And THE best fried chicken sandwich in fast food at #1 is..... (drum roll).... Popeye's: This sandwich flat out ROCKS! It had a great visual appeal, just look at the size of that chicken breast! The meat was crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside and seasoned perfectly. Wrapped up in that puffy Brioche bun and complimented by tart pickle and creamy mayo, this sandwich combination is genius in it's simplicity and packs all that flavor in just a few ingredients..... And it's only $3.99! The Popeye's Chicken Sandwich scored a perfect 63 out of 63 points! If you're going to have a fried chicken sandwich, this should be your go-to, it's the best in the business.