Boston Market enters the fried chicken sandwich wars, might want to rethink that decision

hand holding chicken sandwich
The Nashville hot breaded chicken sandwich from Boston Market
Photo: Dennis Lee

The other day we learned that Boston Market is making a comeback and is on pace to open two new locations per week in 2021. Along with that interesting bit of information, we also learned that it would be joining the fried chicken sandwich brawl by releasing a Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich of its own. The chain’s owner, Jay Pandya, made a bold statement, saying, “We are not in the chicken sandwich wars anymore after you eat our sandwich. It is phenomenal.”

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Right out the gate, there’s a big issue: Boston Market isn’t known for fried food. It’s known for rotisserie chicken, oven-roasted with no fryers involved. In fact, the new sandwich patties are partially fried before they’re shipped to each location, where they’re finished in a convection oven. So in my mind, this is an air fried chicken sandwich. You can indeed achieve crispy results in an air fryer with frozen chicken patties, but it’s easy to tell they aren’t really fried.

It had been years since I’d been to a Boston Market. I have good memories of the place, before so many locations closed. I remember the classic rotisserie chicken as good, along with the mac and cheese, creamed spinach, and cornbread (if you can even call it that; it was so sweet it practically tasted like cake). But man, did it fall off. At some point Boston Market became irrelevant. Still, we’ve had one here on Chicago’s north side that’s hung on all these years. So I went to try the new sandwich. I was weirdly excited to go back.

I know, lid-off photos of sandwiches are always sort of gross, but it’s part of the job.
I know, lid-off photos of sandwiches are always sort of gross, but it’s part of the job.
Photo: Dennis Lee

That was before the sticker shock. I paid $9.29 for this sandwich before tax. A Popeyes fried chicken sandwich is $3.99. [Editor’s Note: while our sandwich cost $9.29, readers have pointed out that the Boston Market website lists the sandwich at a price of $6.99. Whether our pricier sandwich was a register error is unclear; all we can confirm is that it’s more expensive than the Popeyes, KFC, and Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches.] The Popeyes chicken sandwich is currently my personal gold standard for fast-food fried chicken sandwiches, so we were already off to kind of a lousy start.

In terms of size, the Boston Market sandwich is larger in circumference than most fast food chicken sandwiches I’ve seen, and the brioche bun is picture perfect. It’s easily the sturdiest fast food sandwich bun I’ve ever had, and I say that admiringly. There was zero risk of it falling apart at any point while I was eating it. Unfortunately, things sort of go downhill from there.

I’m not sure what they’re going for at Boston Market, but it certainly didn’t hit the Nashville hot chicken standard. Rather than dredging the chicken in the seasoning mixture like authentic Nashville chicken places do, Boston Market just drizzles a spoonful of spicy sauce on top. And as you can see from the pictures, the exterior of the chicken patty is pale and soggy with zero crunch.

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The chicken itself is very tender, almost mushy, and it’s moist but not overtly flavorful on its own. There’s a slight bit of heat from the attempt at Nashville-style seasoning, but nothing punishing, and the ranch dressing is watery and just sort of there. But I must offer a shout-out to the thin but mighty pickles, which had a good amount of flavor; I could eat a whole jar of those, easily. It’s been a while since a fast food pickle really stood out to me.

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In the future, I’ll take a hard pass on this sandwich, especially when an entire Boston Market rotisserie chicken goes for just a few dollars more, at $11.99. And even that’s super expensive for rotisserie chicken; you can get a big-ass one from Costco for $4.99 if you’ve got a membership, and most local grocery store chains sell them for $6-$7.

rotisserie chicken in container
Still as good as I remember, at least!
Photo: Dennis Lee
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While I was at Boston Market, I got a rotisserie chicken meal for dinner, for old time’s sake (the one for three people costs $30.49 for a whole chicken, three sides, and three pieces of cornbread, which is still expensive for the quantity of food received). That made me happy, because it was as good as I remembered. The chicken, while slightly small, is tender, moist all the way through, especially the white meat, and it’s seasoned well with particularly flavorful skin. The mac and cheese, creamed spinach, and cornbread haven’t changed a bit. It was worth the nostalgia, at least, for one trip.

Beyond that one trip, a grocery store rotisserie chicken will do nicely, and if you’re craving a fried chicken sandwich, maybe treat yourself to 1.75 chicken sandwiches from Popeye’s for the same price. It’s the better meal.

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Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

DISCUSSION

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PedanticEditorType

It’s $9 for ONE chicken sandwich? At a fast food restaurant? Hellz no. I’d pay that for a good quality sandwich and a side at a sit-down place but definitely not for a fast food sandwich alone when I could go to Popeye’s just as easily and spend like $15 for the two of us for dinner. How on earth did they come up with that price??