Our fast food chicken sandwich rankings, so far

Our fast food chicken sandwich rankings, so far

Every chain restaurant now has a fried chicken sandwich. But which ones are worth your money?

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Grid of Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, Burger King Ch'King, McDonald's Crispy Chicken, and more
Image: McDonald’s, Popeyes, Burger King, Photo: Dennis Lee, Marnie Shure, Kevin Pang, Allison Robicelli

The Popeyes chicken sandwich exploded onto the scene in the middle of 2019, toppling the longtime supremacy of Chick-fil-A. Since then, every other major chain in America has been scrambling to release its own version of the popular menu item—to varying degrees of success.

To be clear, most fast food and fast casual joints have been offering chicken-based sandwiches for decades, but many have stepped up their game since 2019 by focusing on four basic components: thick and juicy breaded chicken breast, pickles, mayo and/or spicy sauce, and a pillowy brioche bun. Judging on those attributes, The Takeout has reviewed the major players’ new chicken sandwiches one by one. Here are the rankings so far, from worst to best.

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2 / 13

11. Boston Market’s Nashville Hot Breaded Chicken Sandwich

11. Boston Market’s Nashville Hot Breaded Chicken Sandwich

Boston Market’s Nashville Hot Breaded Chicken Sandwich
Boston Market’s Nashville Hot Breaded Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Dennis Lee

We’ve got to give Boston Market credit for a few things: first, the pickles in this thing were surprisingly great, with a nice burst of flavor where the rest of the sandwich lacked it. Secondly, the bun was sturdy enough to make this an easy sandwich to eat on the go. Things go downhill from there, but honestly, good for Boston Market for attempting something as fickle as a spicy chicken sandwich in the first place. No one expected the chain to pull one of these out of its hat, did they? Read the full review here.

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3 / 13

10. Portillo’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich

10. Portillo’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Portillo’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Portillo’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Dennis Lee

Portillo’s is a Chicago institution, and we never miss an opportunity to sing its praises. It’s known for hot dogs, Italian beef, and cake shakes, and while this new chicken sandwich released in early 2021 won’t be joining those items in the pantheon of great Portillo’s offerings, it’s still a perfectly respectable addition to the menu. This sandwich uses Hot Giardiniera Sauce as its mayo equivalent (how very Chicagoan!), an idea that is more exciting in theory than in execution. But the chicken stays impressively crispy, and the overall result is a solid, middle-of-the-road option in the chicken sandwich landscape. Read the full review here. 

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4 / 13

9. Chili’s Chicken Sandwich

9. Chili’s Chicken Sandwich

Chili's Chicken Sandwich
Chili’s Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Dennis Lee

We understand that Chili’s is more of a fast-casual sit-down restaurant than a fast food chain, but it designed this sandwich specifically to compete with the Popeyes imitators of the world, heralding this new offering as one that would put all others “to shame.” It’s an attractive sandwich—shredded lettuce, tomato, and red onion, all on a brioche bun—but its defining feature is the new secret sauce, which has smoky and sweet notes, sort of like if you mixed mayonnaise with Sweet Baby Ray’s. All in all, satisfactory, but the sauce is doing most of the heavy lifting. The sandwich was part of a summer promotion, but with all the work Chili’s put into it, we’d expect this item to pop back up on menus in the future. Read the full review here.

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5 / 13

8. Taco Bell’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco

8. Taco Bell’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco

Taco Bell's Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco sitting on wrapper
The Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco
Photo: Marnie Shure

Is it a taco, or is it a sandwich? This was the question that Taco Bell’s marketing department wanted all of us to ponder when the chain released its long-awaited entry in the chicken sandwich canon. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco features a puffy bread folded around a spicy chicken tender with creamy chipotle sauce and jalapeno slices. It earned high marks from us in terms of flavor, texture, and originality, but that originality actually prevents Taco Bell from sitting higher in our chicken sandwich rankings. Because when you have a craving for a Southern-style chicken sandwich—fluffy brioche bun, sour pickles, craggy fried chicken breast—then this “taco” won’t be what you reach for. Still, you have to applaud the ingenuity. Read the full review here.

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6 / 13

7. KFC Chicken Sandwich

7. KFC Chicken Sandwich

KFC Chicken Sandwich
KFC Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Marnie Shure

While every fast food joint was looking to Popeyes for inspiration, KFC arguably had even more of a reason to do so, as a fellow fried-chicken-focused establishment. That focus on poultry ends up being this sandwich’s strength: the chicken breast is ultra-thick, juicy, tender, and flavorful even without the assistance of breading and toppings. In fact, it’s that breading and toppings that bog this one down a bit. The skin separates from the chicken a little too easily, making it a mess (albeit a tasty one) to eat. If you’re really, truly in it for the breast meat, then this is the sandwich for you. Read the full review here.

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7 / 13

6. Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich

6. Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich

Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich
Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich
Photo: Aimee Levitt

Unlike all the other fast food joints, Zaxby’s, available almost exclusively below the Mason-Dixon line, has decided to forge its own path when it comes to the fried chicken sandwich. Yes, it uses breast meat. Yes, there are pickles. But instead of brioche, Zaxby’s has a potato bun, and most crucially, it substitutes its own signature Zax Sauce for the usual mayo. This, unfortunately, is a mistake. Every other component of the sandwich is excellent. The bun is soft. The pickles are tart. The chicken is both crispy and juicy. But the Zax Sauce, a species of fast food salmon-colored sauce, lets it down. It’s grainy, not creamy, and it lacks the cooling effect of the mayonnaise. Read the full review here.

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8 / 13

5. McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich

5. McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich
McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Allison Robicelli

The fast food juggernaut released its chicken sandwich in three different forms: Regular (pickles), Spicy (pickles and spicy pepper sauce), and Deluxe (lettuce, tomato, mayo). The spicy pepper sauce is satisfyingly PG-13 in its burn levels, but it’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation: too much hot sauce drowns out the other components. The bun is a winner, and McDonald’s mayo has always scored high, so the Deluxe is a decent option for chicken sandwich lovers out there. But you’ll want to make sure to get some pickles on that thing. Read the full review here. 

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9 / 13

4. Burger King’s Ch’King Sandwich

4. Burger King’s Ch’King Sandwich

Burger King’s Spicy Ch'King Sandwich
Burger King’s Spicy Ch’King Sandwich
Photo: Marnie Shure

The relatively late release of this sandwich was baked into its marketing: Burger King declared its chicken sandwich to be “worth the wait.” We must say we agree. The sauce on the Spicy version is sweet without ever being cloying; it’s got nice heat and sweet cinnamon notes, but it doesn’t stray too far into syrupy territory, like a cheap barbecue sauce might. You leave with the heat, not the sweet. The Classic version, with just lettuce/tomato/mayo, was nothing to write home about, but in both cases the breading was thick, ultra-crispy, and satisfying. Read the full review here.

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10 / 13

3. Jollibee’s Chicken Sandwich

3. Jollibee’s Chicken Sandwich

Jollibee's Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich and Original Chicken Sandwich
Jollibee’s Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich and Original Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Dennis Lee

Filipino fast food chain Jollibee has been steadily growing its presence in the U.S., and its chicken sandwich offerings match those big ambitions. While many chicken sandwiches try to distract you with their bells and whistles, the three sandwiches in the Jollibee lineup—Original Chicken, Spicy Chicken, and Spicy Chicken Deluxe—all feature a chicken breast that nails the basics. More importantly, each one sits at the right price point, which starts at $3.99. In a crowded field of crispy poultry, this is one of the few sandwiches that is compelling enough to become your regular order every time you visit this chain. Read the full review here.

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11 / 13

2. Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich

2. Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich

Hardee's Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich
Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Allison Robicelli

The presentation as a whole might not look like anything special, but the chicken in Hardee’s new sandwich (released in May 2021) is surprisingly juicy on the inside, and it manages to keep every last bit of its crispy crunch while in transit. The potato bun, meanwhile, did exactly what it was supposed to do: held things together, tasted great without being too distracting, and provided a pillowy balance to the chicken’s deafening crunch. Taken together, these elements would be a touch too bland, but the pickles save the say in the end. The sandwich really only loses marks because not enough pickles are involved, but this could easily be solved by ordering extra. A strong contender, to be sure. Read the full review here.

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12 / 13

1. Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

1. Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich
Popeyes Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Kevin Pang

Surpriiiise. Sorry to end on a predictable note, folks, but after eating our way through all the major competitors, we are forced to conclude that, for now, the Popeyes chicken sandwich is still the one to beat. The textural satisfaction of both its breading and its juiciness stand apart, perhaps because, as a chicken joint, Popeyes was focused on such details long before its chicken ever got slapped onto a bun and smothered with sauce. Whatever the case, it’s still undefeated in the fast food chicken sandwich arena. Read the full review here.

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13 / 13