We Blind Taste Tested Our Favorite Chicken Tenders And Crowned A New Champ

Who doesn’t love a chicken tender? Sure it doesn’t have all the glitz and glamour of a juicy cheeseburger or a gargantuan chicken sandwich — and by glitz and glamour I mean there is no bread and cheese — but when you bite into a great chicken tender the pleasure centers in your brain ignite. Life improves immediately. Yes, I’m fully aware that I just said that delicious chicken tenders make life better but have you ever eaten a chicken tender while angry? The only time that happens is when your chicken tender order was botched somehow and that’s a pretty rare occurrence, considering that chicken tenders are a pretty easy dish to prepare.

So long as it is crunchy, tender, and battered in a mix of spices that make it flavorful (no sauce required), it’s probably going to be delicious. Chicken tenders are like french fries in that they require very little effort to make right. And like french fries, chicken tenders vary wildly from fast food restaurant to fast food restaurant.

For the most part, I’ve never eaten a chicken tender that I don’t like. That said, I definitely have my favorites. Last summer we ranked 18 different chicken tenders and I concluded that Dave’s Hot Chicken makes the best tender on the market. But since some of those 18 tenders featured sauce (some were doused in barbecue or buffalo), it was only fair to rank each of the 18 paired with the best sauce available from each respective restaurant.

Which got us wondering: who makes the best chicken tender no sauce required? If we ditched the sauce element of the ranking, would our number 1 still be number 1? We put our top five to the blind taste test to find out.

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Food Rankings From The Last Month

How We Put Together Our Blind Chicken Tender Taste Test

When conducting a fast food blind taste test, time is the enemy. I needed a way to pick up all of these chicken tenders in a short window of time so they’d all be warm-to-hot, as a cold chicken tender isn’t going to taste nearly as good as a warm one. Luckily, in Cerritos California, I can hit up all of the restaurants that landed in last year’s top five pretty easily.

Our top five from our 2023 ranking were, in descending order:

5. Jollibee
4. Popeyes
3. Chick-fil-A
2. Raising Canes
1. Dave’s Hot Chicken.

In Cerritos, two of these restaurants are across the street from one another, and the other three are all located on the same street around the corner. I placed an order on each restaurant’s app while in the Jollibee drive-thru and rounded up all the chicken in about 15 minutes. Then I hit up a nearby friend’s house and explained my very weird situation (“I need to eat chicken tenders in your house while wearing a blindfold”).

Soon, I was tasting away. All of the tenders were still warm so I consider this a success. Now let’s get to the food:

PART I — The Chicken Tender Blind Taste Test

Taste 1:

Tenders Blind
Dane Rivera

Despite the appearance, there is a noticeable lack of crunch here… but it’s surprisingly juicy. It’s very tender and easy to chew with a subtle mix of flavors. I’m tasting a hint of garlic powder and a touch of salt but where it wows me is the almost sweet buttery aftertaste.

The chicken also comes apart incredibly easily, the breading wants to slip from the tender with each bite. There is a homemade imperfect quality about this chicken tender that I think works as a strength.

Taste 2:

Tenders Blind
Dane Rivera

Considerably drier than Taste 1 but still tender. The breading looks heavy but has a bright and airy mouthfeel, with an almost panko-like crunch. The dominant seasoning here is salt but there is something else here lurking in the back end.

It’s savory, almost umami-like. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s MSG.

Taste 3:

Tenders Blind
Dane Rivera

I know this is Dave’s Hot Chicken because it has that distinct cayenne and smoked paprika flavor with a sort of pickle-y briney aftertaste that is characteristic of hot chicken. And you know what? It’s not hitting. The chicken is laborious to chew, and the breading has bits that are so crunchy I’m fearing for my teeth.

There is a sort of chunkiness to the meat that I’m not into, it doesn’t have that tender texture that Taste 1 and Taste 2 had. The breading is a nice mix of smokey and spicy sensations, but there is a certain Hot Cheetos-like aftertaste that I’m not digging today.

Taste 4:

Tenders Blind
Dane Rivera

That pickle-brine flavor returns here. There is a dark, earthy sweetness to this chicken tender that sets it apart from the other tenders I’ve tried so far, even more so than the cayenne-heavy flavor of Taste 3. The breading has a mix of black pepper, garlic, and onion powder, and the chicken is tender and almost melts in the mouth.

This is a pretty solid chicken tender, I’m not sold on the sweetness, but I can tell that paired with the right sauce this can be a real winner. No complaints here.

Taste 5:

Tenders Blind
Dane Rivera

Audibly crunchy, but dry as hell. This has a noticeable spicy kick to it, it almost tastes like a combination of the flavor of Taste 3 and the texture of Taste 2. While I enjoy the crunch, it’s clear that I’m getting more breading here than meat itself.

I like the flavor but I feel like this tender is severely lacking in chicken, which is kind of a problem.

PART II — The Chicken Tender Ranking

5. Popeyes — Spicy Chicken Tender (Taste 5)

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No one wants to see Popeyes come dead last in a ranking, I get it, but I can’t in good consciousness rank a chicken tender higher than last when it has this little, you know, chicken. Ultimately, while I liked the spicy flavor and the crunch of this chicken, there simply wasn’t enough meat.

If this was a ranking on the best chicken tender breading, then maybe, maybe, we’d be able to rank this higher than last, but that’s not what this ranking is. It is with a heavy heart that I give Popeyes last place.

The Bottom Line:

The ratio of breading to meat is all off here.

4. Dave’s Hot Chicken — Chicken Tender (Heat Level: Hot)

This is quite a fall. As I mentioned before, in our ranking of 18 chicken tenders, Dave’s took the top spot and I’m not sure what happened here, but it did not stand up to the blind taste test. Maybe it was the lack of sauce, but I just found the flavor kind of off-putting, and the texture of the chicken itself way too chunky and chewy.

Considering the whole purpose of this blind taste test was to see how each tender stacked up without the help of dipping sauce, I thought this winning was a sure thing. It’s noticeably seasoned more than the competition, and yet… it couldn’t stack up. We’re going to have to revamp our full ranking after this one.

The Bottom Line:

The champ has fallen!

3. Jollibee — Chicken Fingers (Taste 2)


Jollibee hails from the Philippines and while there isn’t anything about this fried chicken that strikes me as particularly reminiscent of Filipino cuisine, there is a noticeable difference in the texture of the breading and the overall flavor of the seasoning blend.

In my blind taste test, I suspected monosodium glutamate as the secret ingredient here, and while I can’t confirm that, there is a noticeable savoriness here that is lacking in the other tenders in this taste test. While I like that umami quality, the chicken was a bit too dry to take the top spot so I’m going to have to award this one the bronze medal.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a chicken tender that tastes truly different from the competition, Jollibee is the play.

2. Chick-fil-A — Chick-n-Strip (Taste 4)


Chick-fil-A’s Chick-n-Strip gets the award for the most annoying name. The chain goes crazy with the hyphens, and that’s coming from someone working in media, where going crazy with hyphens is our favorite thing to do.

Annoying name aside, this chicken tender, or… Chick-n-Strip is everything that a good chicken tender should be: juicy, flavorful, and crunchy. The breading here is well seasoned and the noticeable sweet aftertaste that this chicken tender has is distinct enough that I can see this being someone’s favorite.

But… it’s not mine. I think the sweet aspect is interesting, and I love the mix of seasoning, but this tender wants for a sauce to balance it out. Because of that, I’ll probably never eat one of these sauceless again, so I can’t give it the top spot for that reason alone.

The Bottom Line:

A near-perfect chicken tender. Alas…

1. Raising Cane’s — Chicken Tender (Taste 1)

Raising Cane’s chicken tender ticks all the boxes. It’s juicy, tender, and has the perfect meat-to-breading ratio. Yes, it’s easily the least crunchy tender on this list, but what you lose in crunch you gain in flavor. There is a perfect balance between the salt, onion powder, and a hint of garlic flavor, with an addicting buttery finish. The meat is tender and melts in your mouth, and while yes, sauce would improve this tender, you don’t need it.

There’s satisfying and complete about biting into this chicken tender — it tastes the closest to homemade that you’re going to get in the fast food space. It doesn’t feel like any corners are being cut here, the quality is palpable.

Today, it’s the clear winner. The other chicken tenders we tasted don’t even come close.

The Bottom Line:

The chicken tender, perfected. This is the best chicken tender in the fast food space you’re going to find.