Chicken sandwich war, what is it good for? Definitely not my waistline.
Diets be damned, the chicken sandwich war is back on. Years after Popeyes clucked — sorry, shocked — the world with its chicken sandwich in the summer of 2019, McDonald’s ended the saucy ceasefire by launching a new chicken sandwich of its own last month. Mickey D’s is just one of many fast-food chains to update their take on the dish recently.
It’s World Chicken Sandwich War II.
Back in 2019, I judged the new Popeyes sandwich against the tried and true Chick-fil-A sandwich. In 2021, I I have an even more onerous task — ranking every fast-food chicken sandwich in the great state of New Jersey.
Spicy chicken sandwiches are obviously better (in my not-so-humble opinion), but not every chain offers one. So to level the playing field, I got the classic chicken sandwich at every juncture.
Let’s get to flapping. I mean, eating.
As I pulled up to the Arby’s drive-thru, I was thinking to myself how the roast beef-centric chain gets a bad rap. It may have been one of Jon Stewart’s favorite punching bags, but every time I’ve gone there for a story, it’s been at least decent. Heck, its curly fries are terrific. But then I took one bite of this super-salty sandwich and almost spit it out. Dammit, Arby’s. I trusted you.
Oh, White Castle. My love. I spent Valentine’s Day with you in 2020. Now you’re breaking my heart. OK, comparing a slider to a bunch of regular-sized sandwiches may be unfair. But your cheeseburger sliders have been punching above their weight for years. Don’t get me wrong, I finished your chicken breast slider. But I didn’t enjoy it. Rubbery chicken and plastic cheese. You’re better than this.
Any time people tell me they wish they had my job, I’m tempted to tell them that my assignments have taken me to the Molly Pitcher Service Area more times than I’d care to admit. With both a Roy Rogers and an Arthur Treacher’s, it is essentially a fast food purgatory — filled with soggy roast beef and fried fish, only salvaged by the scent of Cinnabon wafting through the air. But old Roy surprised me with this one. Turns out putting bacon on a chicken sandwich, along with barbecue sauce, is kind of fool-proof. The chicken is far from perfect and the bacon isn’t great texturally, but the flavor is there.
How the mighty have fallen. Wendy’s used to have the best chicken sandwich in the game. I’d say it’s just the rest of the competition stepping up their efforts that explains why Wendy’s dropped this far, but I have to admit — this sandwich just ain’t what it used to be. While the chicken itself is decently moist, there was no crunch at all.
Dairy Queen’s cool treats are better than its hot eats — give me a blizzard over its best burger any day. But its chicken sandwich is serviceable. Crispy, hot and juicy — though the chicken itself was a tad under-seasoned.
Remember what a big deal it was when Sonic finally came to New Jersey in 2007? Lines were so long they spilled out into the highway. Sonic’s commercials are sadly better than its food, which isn’t much better than McDonald’s if I’m honest. Its chicken sandwich has a decent kick of flavor, but is pretty lackluster in the texture department.
There aren’t many Checkers in New Jersey, but every time I go to one I ask myself, “Why don’t I come here more often?” Its chicken sandwich comes with a zesty sauce that makes up for a lack of crunch. It also has the best name on the list.
When it comes to fast-food fried chicken, KFC is a distant second to Popeyes. This is not up for debate. Popeyes’ chicken is simply better. This knowledge had me pessimistic when it came to The Colonel’s chicken sandwich, but I was pleasantly surprised. Very crispy chicken gives way to a decently juicy interior. A bit on the salty side, but I’d expect nothing less from KFC.
Red onion on a chicken sandwich! Smashburger gets major points for the freshest toppings on any of the sandwiches I tried for this poultry party. The texture was nice and crunchy, but the chicken itself could have used a bit more flavor.
I remember Burger King’s chicken sandwich used to just feel like a massive chicken finger on a roll. That’s no longer the case, as the king has updated its recipe to be more like a classic chicken sandwich. Nothing stood out about this sandwich — in a good way or bad way. Decent crunch and flavor.
I had low expectations for this one. I was impressed when I went to the Jollibee that opened in Edison over the summer, but not by its chicken. Its burger and desserts stole the show. But the Filipino fast food sensation changed my mind with its chicken sandwich, one of the most substantial ones I sampled of the bunch. The crispy exterior of the chicken was outpaced by only one other sandwich on the list.
The salty, savory salvo that started the chicken wars. I attested two years ago when this fried fracas started that Popeyes’ chicken sandwich was very, very good but not the best. I still feel that way. I have heard from some that the sandwich has dipped in quality, and it wasn’t quite as flavorful as I remembered it. The crunch is still elite, the best of any chicken sandwich I had. If texture is the most important aspect of a chicken sandwich, look no feather — sorry, further.
The whole reason I started this crispy quest. I have a healthy respect for McDonald’s — its fries are elite, and I can appreciate a Big Mac a couple times a year. But every time it releases something new, I’m a bit suspect. It rarely delivers. I’ve also long dismissed the McChicken, its classic chicken sandwich, as a middle-of-the-pack fast-food item. But wow, McDonald’s came correct with its update on the chicken sandwich. The bun is buttery and toasted, the pickles add a nice briny bite. And the chicken itself comes close to replicating the tenderness and juiciness of Chick-fil-A. Color me impressed, Ronald.
Does Shake Shack live up to the hype? I remember waiting in line for nearly an hour to get my first burger back in 2012. It’s really good, but not wait-in-line-for-an-hour good. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for its chicken sandwich, and I was as impressed by it as any of Shake Shack’s celebrated burger offerings. The chicken itself was well-fried and crisp, while still being incredibly juicy. The buttermilk herb mayo was a nice touch, and the bun held up to the heaping sandwich well.
The king stays the king. The full package. Texture. Flavor. I still don’t know how Chick-fil-A gets that chicken to be crunchy and crispy on the exterior and still so tender and juicy on the inside, but it’s a culinary miracle. And no other sandwich on this list comes close to matching Chick-fil-A’s flavor — its classic chicken sandwich has more than some competitors’ spicy versions. Oh yes, and Chick-fil-A sauce is the best condiment in the fast-food game. I don’t know if Chick-fil-A invented the chicken sandwich like it claims, but it definitely makes the best one.
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