My Ultimate and Definitive “Chicken Sandwich War” Taste Test Results
While today’s post is not necessarily about photography, there are many, many photographers that enjoy a really incredible chicken sandwich; this is a well-known fact (you can Google it). It’s on this very thin premise that today I bring you “The Ultimate and Definitive Chicken Sandwich Wars taste test” to end all chicken war taste-tests.
You may not know this about me, but I consider myself to be somewhat of a “Chickenado,” and so I personally visited all the fast-food locations that claimed to be in the current “chicken sandwich war” to taste-test their latest entries (sometimes twice, sometimes three times just to be sure). I took this seriously and wanted to be certain of the results because…ya know…this stuff is important to photographers (and other humans).
Now, it’s time to share my carefully researched findings, so let us don our ceremonial robes, light the candles, repeat the sacred chant, and begin:
Popeyes is the target
Their amazing chicken sandwich and its off-the-chart runaway success is why we have a “Chicken Sandwich War” in the first place. Their sandwich is what every chain is aiming to at least meet or, better yet, beat.
If you haven’t tried one of Popeye’s chicken sandwiches yet (available in regular or spicy) — it’s pretty incredible. Life-changing. It makes you rethink the entire trajectory of your life and why we’re all here in the first place. You will come to a place where you realize that you would crawl across 3-miles of fishing hooks and rose thorns just to lick the discarded wrapper from the last person that ate one. Yes, they are that good. It turned the entire fast food industry upside down with people waiting literally in mile-long lines just to get one of these magical chickeny beauties.
So, Popeyes (for the sake of our test) is ranked a “10 out of 10.” It’s generally accepted (by photographers and other people who move infrequently) to be the best fast-food chicken sandwich of all time. So, all my rankings will be based on a scale where Popeye’s is a 10 (10 being best), and one being the worst, (probably the chicken sandwich at Checkers), but I digress. Let the rankin’ get to crankin’ (note: should be on a t-shirt).
McDonalds Crispy Chicken Sandwich | 5/10
The new McDonalds Crispy Chicken Sandwich (available in spicy and regular, and deluxe with added lettuce and tomato) I believe is the best chicken sandwich McDonalds has ever made. Way better than the McChicken sandwich we’ve been saddled with all these years, so it’s a step in the right direction, but Popeyes has nothing to worry about whatsoever from this entry. It’s fairly small size wise, and it’s not anywhere near the crispy crunchiness of the Popeyes sandwich — it’s not even close. So, good on McDonald’s for making their chicken sandwich better, but they’re on the outside looking in. In the context of the Chicken Sandwich War, they’re a 5 out of 10. Maybe a 5-1/2 on a good day. Before we move on, take a look at that image of it above again (also note the dry-looking bun). Now move to the next one, and compare it.
Burger King’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich | 9/10
I need to say this upfront — I am not a Burger King fan. Never have been, and if I go there, it’s probably to get my wife their plant-based Impossible Burger, which she loves, but as I said — not a fan. Which is why I guess I was so surprised at how great their new chicken sandwich is. It’s like they sat in a conference room, gave everyone a Popeye’s chicken sandwich, and said, “We need to make our version of this. It has to be at least as good if not better” and it shows. It’s really, really good! Great, in fact. Blows away McDonald’s by a mile. Just look at it — it even looks like the Popeye’s sandwich (and comparing this image with the one of McDonald’s chicken sandwich — that tells a lot of the story right there). Then bun is excellent (it’s not one of Burger King’s usual sesame seed buns); the chicken is big and crispy and juicy, and folks as much as I hate to admit it (as a non-Burger fan), maybe now I’m a fan. They’ve got a real winner with this one, and if I passed a Burger King on my way to a Popeyes a couple miles down the road, I’d probably just stop at Burger King — it is that good.
Wendy’s New Classic Chicken Sandwich | 4/10
I need to say this upfront. I love Wendy’s. I’ve been a fan forever, and I love their burgers and their salads, and I love their baked potatoes, and frosty’s and well…pretty much everything. But their new Classic Chicken Sandwich is pretty awful. Awful! It is just about tasteless. I actually went back to a different location to try one again to make sure I didn’t order the wrong one, or I got their old chicken sandwich, or something went wrong in the kitchen, or there was somehow a mix-up. Nope. Still bad.
The folks at Wendy’s apparently skipped that meeting the folks at Burger King had about making something to compete with Popeyes. Part of the reason may be there is not a Popeye’s in Dublin, Ohio (where Wendy’s is headquartered), so maybe they weren’t able to get a fresh Popeye’s sandwich to compare it to, so they just made their new chicken sandwich anecdotally — on hearsay, not actually tasting or even looking at a Popeyes sandwich. It’s like someone in a Wendy’s meeting said, “Hey, Earl in shipping went to a Popeye’s in Columbus, and he said their chicken sandwich is much better than ours. So, let’s tweak ours a little,” and they did. But even Earl would have to admit, Wendy’s missed the mark by 10 miles. It’s bland, lifeless, dry, and just so totally “meh” of a chicken sandwich that I’m surprised Wendy’s can sell this into the chicken sandwich war with a straight face. In fact, I would have to say Wendy’s has withdrawn from the Chicken Sandwich war altogether. They lost the battle. They have surrendered. They may as well sign just the truce and get back to making great burgers.
The New Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich | 9.8/10
Zaxby’s wasn’t even on my Chicken Sandwich Wars list, but just by chance, I was driving by the Zaxby’s near our office, and I look over to see a banner across the front of their restaurant that read, “The Chicken Sandwich WAR ain’t over yet!” so I turned around to give it a try. Now, I’ve been a Zaxby’s fan for years (I love their chicken, but their homemade potato chips and dipping sauce is legendary). I would get their chicken tenders on my way to shoot Bucs games (I pass one on my way to the stadium), but I didn’t realize they had “entered the war” until that moment. I went through, ordered both the regular and the spicy — tried both and was BLOWN A-WAY!!! They nailed it. NAILED IT!!! Fantastic, soft, fresh bun — great sauce (and enough of it); perfect pickles, crispy super-yummy chicken, and the spicy version is spicy enough without being too hot — really just about as great of a Popeye’s competitor as you could come up with. So much so, if they were across the street from each other, I’d just go to the one with a shorter line at the drive-thru. Yes, it is that good! I did not see that one coming.
NOTE: Because Zaxby’s homemade potato chips are so much better than any side item you’d get with a Popeye’s combo meal, this just might tilt the overall “combo meal experience” to Zaxbys. That’s sayin’ something. A big High-five to the Zaxby’s folks for not only making a sandwich that looks and tastes about as good as Popeye’s, but to their marketing folks for hoisting that banner on the front of the building. They are right — they war ain’t over yet, and they are massing their troops on the border!
KFC New Chicken Sandwich | 9.8/10
I knew that being a chicken chain and having great crispy chicken tenders already, this was not going to be a big stretch for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was expected a lot, especially after seeing their TV ads this past week about their entry into the war, and they did not disappoint. They totally rocked their chicken sandwich. Rocked it! They clearly were going after Popeye’s, and the look, feel, taste, and texture is spot-on!!! Seriously, just amazing, and I’m so glad there’s not a KFC anywhere near me (the closest one is about a 20-minute drive), because I would soon wind up in a circus sideshow as the world’s largest human. Plus, their sides (like their Mashed potatoes with gravy, Mac & Cheese and their delicious biscuits) might put them over the top if both were across the street from each other and I could only pick one, even if the line were a bit longer at Popeye’s, I’ll still probably still head to KFC. I wasn’t a big KFC fan before, but I surely am now.
So why not 10/10 for Zaxby’s and KFC?
It’s Popeye’s bun. I think it’s their secret weapon. There is something magical about their bun (my buddy Terry tried just their bun alone as part of his own chicken wars research and he feels there’s something sweet-tasting about their bun, and I have to agree with him). Zaxby’s and KFC nailed the rest (the chicken, the crispiness, the juiciness, the sauce, the wedged pickle chips — all of it). Still, there’s something about that Popeye’s bun that gives it that 2/10 of 1% edge over the rest, but it’s so close that honestly, any one of these three is a truly great warrior in this Chicken Sandwich War of 2021 (and honestly, Burger King is pretty much right there with them — it’s all so close).
What about Chick-fil-A?
They never really entered the Chicken Sandwich Wars. They serve the same chicken sandwich they always have, and they have a huge dedicated fan base for theirs, so they’re not going to mess with it. To me, their chicken sandwich is “OK,” but if you took a real Chick-fil-a fan and did a blind taste test with it against any of these mentioned above (except for Wendy’s, which is trash), I’ll bet Chick-fil-a would lose a lot of long-time fans, or at the very least Popeye’s, KFC, Zaxby’s and Burger King would gain a lot more (though you still cannot beat the service at Chick-fil-a which is second-to-none, and I love their chicken minis for breakfast. Ask them to add American Cheese on top. It activates the chicken).
Honorable Mention to a Neutral Country Goes To…
PDQ, particularly their Baby Bleu sandwich, which up until the Chicken Sandwich Wars, made the best fast-food chicken sandwich anywhere, and it’s still incredibly good. It’s like a gourmet chicken sandwich and everybody I’ve turned on to it has fallen in love with it. One more worth mentioning, but it’s not fast-food, so it’s not in the war, but Chili’s Buffalo Chicken Ranch sandwich is very, very good, and they’ll even bring it out to your car for curbside delivery. Thought they deserved a shout-out.
OK, but if I had to pick just one…
I would choose Zaxby’s, even over Popeyes, but certainly over the rest. It was shockingly good and their sides put it over the top.
We’ve got so many great choices for chicken sandwiches now, to which we owe a big thank you to Popeye’s. They elevated everyone’s game, which should be used in schools as another example of how competition drives the creation of better products for everyone.
Thanks for taking the time to read this deviation from the regular photography, Lightroom and Photoshop stuff I usually post here. If you miss that stuff today, pop on over to LightroomKillerTips.com where I rarely talk about chicken sandwiches, which quite frankly is a shame. ;-)
Have a crispy, crunchy, juicy, saucy, week everybody!