Whenever McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, or any other fast food stalwart releases a new menu item to much fanfare, the people only want to know one thing: is it worth my money? Here at The Takeout, our Taste Tests aim to answer that question by equipping you with as much information as we can, for better or for worse. In 2021, there were many exciting releases to review from all the major fast food chains, but these 10 Taste Tests were the ones most widely read and shared by our audience.
10. Chipotle Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice
In theory, Chipotle’s new Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice sounded like a good idea: a carb-free alternative that aligns with many trendy diets of the moment, such as Whole30 and Keto. Here’s the problem: when it sits in a steamer tray, cauliflower rice becomes far too soft and waterlogged to mimic the sturdy starches of actual grains of rice. So while we’re sure many curious customers opted for this new menu item in 2021, we doubt many of them will order it again.
9. Popeyes Chicken Nuggets
When we heard Popeyes was adding Chicken Nuggets to the menu, we were surprised they hadn’t played around with nuggets very much in the past. The chain wanted to emphasize juicy protein and crispy breading, and on these fronts, the product succeeds. You probably won’t be blown away, but that’s mostly because nuggets aren’t really designed to blow us away—they’re made to get the job done.
8. Wendy’s new french fries
When Wendy’s new fries made their debut in September, designed to withstand delivery windows without getting too soggy, it seemed like a confirmation that fast food delivery will be the way of the future. But these fries? Maybe not so much. Just because a fry is crisp doesn’t mean it’s good, and the formula adaptations that were made to maintain crispness make each fry taste too engineered. We’ll stick to ordering at the drive-thru and eating the whole order of fries in the car on the way home.
7. McDonald’s BTS Meal
Celebrity meals took center stage at McDonald’s this year, and the BTS Meal was an exciting addition to the lineup. Featuring two new dipping sauces inspired by Korean flavors (in celebration of BTS’ brand of K-pop), the meal keeps its core elements simple in order to highlight the fun new condiments. Readers were excited to learn more about the BTS Meal, which means McDonald’s will likely keep the celebrity collaborations coming for the next several months, if not years.
6. Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich
In a fast food landscape where everyone was trying to mimic the 2019 release of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, Wendy’s went a different route: it created a sandwich that you’d never mistake for a Popeyes imitator. The Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich was sensory overload, containing a jalapeño cream cheese, bacon, cheddar cheese sauce, and jalapeño slices, not to mention the chicken itself, which was also covered in spicy breading. It’s a little bit extra in every way, which is probably why readers were so eager to learn more about it.
5. Burger King Ch’King Sandwich
Yes, more chicken! Burger King promised its chicken sandwich, the Ch’King, would rival any of the competitors that came before it. In a way, the chain was right: this sandwich stands out from the pack, though perhaps not for being a higher quality than Popeyes or KFC—just by being different enough to be remarkable. The sauce is sweet and smoky and the level of variety between the Spicy and the Deluxe will keep you from getting bored. But will it become your new go-to? That’s a whole other consideration entirely.
4. Popeyes Cajun Flounder Sandwich
After the earth-shattering success of the 2019 Popeyes chicken sandwich, Popeyes could have rested on whatever the fast-food equivalent of laurels are. Instead, it tried shifting gears to another protein entirely, and the Cajun Flounder Sandwich was born. It kept things simple: just a brioche bun, tartar sauce, pickles, and fish. It might not be a picture-perfect sandwich, but it gets the job done and offers an unforeseen level of spice and crunch.
3. Pizza Hut’s Detroit Double Pepperoni Pizza
Pizza, as beloved as it is, can be a divisive thing, and the Pizza Hut Detroit Double Pepperoni Pizza was no exception. We approached this menu item with exacting precision, having eaten a number of Detroit-style pies in our day and understanding what to look for. Did Pizza Hut hit all the high notes? Not quite, but the attempt was admirable and the execution was still tasty.
2. KFC Chicken Sandwich
The KFC Chicken Sandwich was a menu item quick on its feet, bursting onto the scene in early 2021 while many chains were still working out the kinks in their chicken sandwich marketing and rollout. This sizable chicken breast is nonetheless juicy throughout, and the substantial breading was both a blessing and a curse. Ultimately, this sandwich was well-received by the masses, and continues to be an example of how keeping things simple often reaps rewards.
1. McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich
You all wanted to know: Did McDonald’s make a chicken sandwich to end all chicken sandwiches with its brand-new Crispy Chicken Sandwich, released in February of this year? Well, let’s just say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The spicy sauce actually provided some halfway decent burn, by fast food standards, and those who don’t like spice can opt for a Classic or Deluxe sandwich—a level of customization we appreciate. But we noted some downsides with this sandwich, too, and readers were eager to pick apart both the pros and cons of McDonald’s biggest new menu item of the year.