Life

The Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches In The Fast-Food Galaxy, Ranked

Right now it feels like the entire fast food industry is in a race to see who can make the best fried chicken sandwich. In a world that has been long dominated by the drive-thru cheeseburger, the fried chicken sandwich feels like a fast-food innovation — a culinary curiosity different enough to give the illusion that you’re ordering something outside of the norm but familiar enough that it satisfies the craving everyone gets for cheap and easy handheld foods. Plus, it’s a dish that’s not too complicated and can be transcendent when done right.

In our search for the best fast-food fried chicken sandwich, we quickly realized that there are a lot of them out there and a good share of them are offensive to the genre. But in the interest of being comprehensive, we tested them all again and ranked every fried chicken sandwich that we had access to across the entire fast-food universe. As with everything in the last twelve months, COVID-19 made this task more difficult than we’d hoped. Being located in California meant I didn’t have access to a Culvers, Zaxbys, Bojangles, or Whataburger — four chains that are known for being able to hold their own in the fried chicken game. Rather than exclude those beloved establishments and hear about it in the comments, we had Uproxx’s Josh Kurp, a true fast-food lover, try three of them (Bojangles remains our white whale) and share his thoughts.

You ready to dive in? Here’s every fried chicken sandwich* across America’s top 50 fast-food chains, ranked from worst to best.

*The Unranked Entries:

Whataburger — Whatachick’n Sandwich

Whataburger

Calories: 580

Along with Buc-ee’s, Willie Nelson, and incompetent politicians, Whataburger (please do not pronounce it “Water-burger”) is a Texas institution. But does the Whatachick’n Sandwich belong among such Lone Star food staples as brisket?

In short… maybe! In long: the brioche bun is sturdy, the WhataSauce is plentiful but not overwhelming, and the breast is juicy, but that’s only a half-compliment. It tastes too similar to Whataburger’s grilled chicken sandwich. There’s almost no crunch to the Whatachick’n — so it’s not worth the extra calories and saturated fat.

If you’re going to order a chicken sandwich from Whataburger, don’t. Get the patty melt on — what else? — Texas toast instead. Everything’s bigger in Texas; everything’s better on Texas toast.

Find the nearest Whatburger here.

The Bottom Line:

A perfectly serviceable sandwich, but there’s a reason it’s called WhataBURGER. — Josh Kurp

Zaxby’s — Signature Sandwich

Zaxbys

Calories: 1110

This was my maiden voyage to Zaxby’s, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Would I be blown away, or would I be annoyed about all the Wendy’s I could have gone to instead?

Folks, let me tell you: it will not be 30-plus years (a gentleman never tells) before I return to Zaxby’s. The Signature Sandwich is big and crunchy and delicious. My quibbles are minor: the much-hyped “famous Zax Sauce” doesn’t add much flavor and it could use a vegetable to compliment the bun and breast. But otherwise, this is a damn fine double-hand breaded fried chicken sandwich (shout out to the crispiness around the edges of this massive sandwich, too).

It’s not quite on the level of Popeye’s, but if there’s a Zaxby’s near you (there are over 900 locations across the country), I would suggest making your maiden voyage, too.

Find the nearest Zaxby’s here.

The Bottom Line

One of the best fast-food fried chicken sandwiches, but make sure you’re hungry. It’s a lot. — Josh Kurp

Culver’s — Chicken Sandwich

Culvers

Calories: 460

Culver’s website guarantees that their chicken sandwich will be “crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside.” The promise is half-right: the inside is juicy and tender, but the outside only technically counts as “crispy,” in that it’s crispier than, say, a slice of American cheese. The Culver’s chicken sandwich could use some melted cheese, actually, if only to offset the pickles.

As a pickle skeptic (fancy word for “hater”), I should have asked to hold the dill chips, but I forgot. That’s on me. I could taste the pickles with every bite, even after removing them. But this could still be a better-than-average sandwich if there was sauce slathered on the chicken. There isn’t. Without any zestiness or sweetness or mayo-ness, this is a subpar chicken sandwich.

Find the nearest Culver’s here.

The Bottom Line

Hold the pickles, add some sauce. — Josh Kurp

The Ranked Entries:

16. Dairy Queen — Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Dairy Queen

Calories: 550

Oof — that’s the sound you make after you bite into a Dairy Queen chicken sandwich. This sandwich is brutal. It’s simply the worst fast-food chicken patty I’ve ever had — overly processed and blandly seasoned yet consciously… brown. Served with mayo, lettuce, and tomato, I have no kind words for this attempt at food.

Stick to ice cream and French fries Dairy Queen.!

Order your ice cream at your local Dairy Queen here.

The Bottom Line

Offensive to food.

15. Sonic Classic Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Sonic

Calories: 570

So it turns out that Sonic is not the place to go if you want even a decent chicken sandwich. Jalapeño poppers, chili cheese fries, and hot dogs? Sure. But chicken sandwiches? Never.

Served on a Brioche Bun with lettuce and mayo, this over-processed chicken patty is spongey and porous which, we agree, is a disgusting way to describe meat. The mayo does nothing for it. Ig you buy one, douse it In Sonic BBQ sauce… then light it on fire.

Find your nearest Sonic here and get the mozzarella sticks.

The Bottom Line

Don’t even eat it on a dare.

14. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s — Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Fillet Sandwich

Carl

Calories: 810

How is it that an establishment that has such good chicken tenders could have such bad chicken sandwiches? Carl’s Jr/Hardee’s Crispy Chicken Fillet sandwich is among fast-food’s worst. It’s spongey and overly processed, served on a single lettuce leaf atop an overly dense white bun, with thick watery tomatoes. The swiss is a nice twist and the bacon helps to make the thing edible, but ultimately, this one is just gross.

The seasoned batter on this chicken is surprisingly tasty, with a nice spicy kick to it. But that’s just the batter. The chicken inside is almost inedible.

Find the nearest location here.

The Bottom Line

One of the worst, but it has bacon!

13. Burger King — Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Burger King

Calories: 670

This photo is false advertisement. Anytime I eat at Burger King I feel so sad — here is a fast-food chain that enjoys legendary status, but where are its fans? What is it known for? Charbroiled burgers? Please.

This sandwich has some good qualities, but they are weighed down by its bad qualities. The BK Crispy Chicken Sandwich is served on a soft and light potato bun, which is good, because each bite never feels too bready, which allows you to focus on the chicken. Unfortunately, that chicken isn’t good. It doesn’t suffer from the spongey quality of some of the lower-tier chickens on this list, but the meat is chunky — flaking off from itself in weird sections as if the breast filet wasn’t cut properly from the bone.

Sure, it’s a weird thing to notice about a sandwich. But the fact that such a thing is noticeable is ironclad proof that it’s bad.

Find the nearest location here.

The Bottom Line

Order a Whopper with cheese.

12. Jack in the Box — Homestyle Ranch Chicken Club/Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Jack in the Box

Calories: 630

Jack in the Box has a few iterations of their chicken sandwich but it doesn’t get more exciting than the Homestyle Ranch Chicken Club. The chicken here is a bit hit or miss. If it was consistently good we’d bump it up a few spots on flavor alone, but I’ve had Jack in the Box from several establishments in multiple cities (sad to admit) and this sandwich is bad more often than it’s good.

Let’s talk about what’s good. The bun is soft and spongey, the bacon adds a lot of good smokey flavor to an otherwise bland but sufficiently crunchy chicken filet, and it’s all complimented nicely by the Buttermilk Ranch sauce spread on the top bun. Unfortunately, the cheese is a missed opportunity. It tastes like white American to us, never a good combo with chicken, the lettuce is pathetic, which sounds mean but there really is no other way to describe it (maybe wilted?). The chicken breast filets offer a bland blend of black pepper and garlic powder and it often tastes more like grease than it does fried chicken.

Ask for the Homestyle Ranch Chicken Club with the Spicy chicken patty and the sandwich becomes significantly better thanks to a blend of garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and Jack in the Box’s crispy spicy batter.

Find the nearest Jack in the Box here.

The Bottom Line

Lower mid-tier, overall.

11. McDonald’s — Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald

Calories: 530

McDonald’s crispy chicken sandwich comes in three form factors: The Crispy, which consists of little more than a fried chicken filet and thick-cut pickles, the Spicy, which is built the same as the Crispy but features a spicy cayenne pepper spread, and the Deluxe, which ditches the pickles for tomatoes and lettuce. Gun to our head, we’re picking the Spicy every time.

The chicken has a decent and flavorful crispy coating but the texture of the meat is seriously lacking, suffering from the dreaded flakey break-off that a lot of these frozen breast filets suffer from. McDonald’s knocked it out of the park with their cayenne-based pepper sauce — it produces a lingering peppery aftertaste that begs for follow-up bites — but they still haven’t quite nailed a fast-food chicken patty that can hold its own against their biggest competitors.

Find the nearest location here.

The Bottom Line

Grab the spicy, stuff it with some fries and you’re almost at a solid fast-food fried chicken sandwich.

10. Arby’s — Chicken Bacon Swiss Sandwich/Buffalo Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Arby

Arby’s has some pretty wild sandwich options to choose from — Smokehouse Brisket, Roast Beef Gyro, f*cking Corned Beef! — making their chicken sandwiches seem tame by comparison. We think it’s safe to say if you’re coming to Arby’s, you don’t want a chicken sandwich, your want a meat pile. You’re at Arby’s baby!

Still, Arby’s has several fried chicken sandwiches to choose from. You can order it with bread, mayo, and tomato (worst option), with crispy Arby’s bacon and Swiss cheese (a good option) or doused in spicy buffalo sauce (an… option) but Arby’s is one of the only fast food locations we’re going to suggest you go ahead and opt for the roasted version of these two sandwiches instead. The flavors work harmoniously in the roast chicken — Arby’s knows how to roast — but the fried options taste like they’re missing something.

These entries aren’t trash, but it’s almost like they exist solely because it’s what the consumer expects.

Find your nearest Arby’s here.

The Bottom Line

You know the saying, “when in Arby’s stuff yourself with meat until you explode!” Stay focused on those meats, but if you need to order this, consider it functional.

9. Rally’s/Checkers — Classic Mother Cruncher

Rally

Calories: 690

Everything about this sandwich is funny. The name, the use of the word “classic” so close to the combination “mother cruncher,” the fact that it uses a signature “squawk sauce” spread on a toasted bun… it’s just ridiculous. In a fun way.

People love Rally’s/Checkers but I just don’t get the hype. This chicken sandwich is merely okay, it has a good crunchy well seasoned breading to it, and the thousand islands-like Squak Sauce is pretty tasty. Still, we can’t see it being anyone’s favorite Rally’s choice.

We suggest you order the chicken bites, which are smaller and more dippable.

Find the nearest Rally’s/Checker’s here.

The Bottom Line

Order it simply to say the words “Give me the Classic Mother Cruncher, please.”

8. KFC — Chicken Sandwich

KFC

Calories: 470-540

There really is no excuse for KFC not having a better chicken sandwich. Their first mistake is using a crispy style breading for their breast filet. Use Original Recipe KFC, that’s what you’re known for! Or use thigh meat!

The breast filet just doesn’t taste very good. And it’s hard to understand how KFC could’ve screwed this up.

The Crispy Colonel Sandwich is available in four forms, extra crispy, honey BBQ, Buffalo Hot, and Nashville Hot, each served with pickles and mayo on an unremarkable bun. Our favorite is the Nashville Hot version which is doused in a vinegar heavy Nashville hot chicken sauce. It’s not as spicy as we’d like it to be, but it covers up the flavor of the bland breast filet.

Find your nearest KFC here.

The Bottom Line

Get the Nashville Hot version, but there are plenty of better choices to come.

7. Chick-Fil-A — Spicy Deluxe

Chick-fil-A

Calories: 550

Chick-fil-A has a lot of different versions of their chicken sandwich, but for this list we’re going with the best. Forget the non-spicy version or the grilled bird, at Chick-fil-A, the Spicy Deluxe reigns supreme. The Spicy Deluxe features crinkle cut pickles, a bed of green leaf lettuce, two succulent tomato slices, a spicy breaded chicken breast full of pepper, paprika — and, we want to say cayenne? — topped with pepper jack cheese. The non-spicy deluxe swaps out the chicken for Chick-fil-A’s more bland version and replaces the pepper jack with American cheese which is just offensive.

This is still one of fast food’s best chicken sandwiches but the days of it easily taking the number one spot are thankfully behind us. Chick-fil-A uses peanut oil which helps to give this sandwich a nice crunch but the chicken is just a little too pressed for our liking. It’s incredibly dense and always uneven. If Chick-fil-A went the extra mile and pounded out this chicken before breading it, it would easily bump it up a few spots, but for now, it’s simply good. Not great.

Find the nearest Chick-fil-A here.

The Bottom Line

The baseline by which you should measure all fast-food chicken sandwiches. If it’s not as good as the Spicy Deluxe, it’s probably not worth eating.

6. Raising Cane’s — Chicken Finger Sandwich

Raising Canes

Calories:

Raising Cane’s could have one of the best chicken sandwiches in the game, but they’ve decided that all they make is chicken tenders, and that’s all they’ll ever make. Raising Canes uses fresh never frozen chicken that’s brined in salty lemon water, hand-breaded, and fried to perfection. Their chicken is delicious and juicy and it practically melts in your mouth. But chicken tenders are a stupid way to build a sandwich.

This thing comes served on a toasted bun spread with Cane’s sauce, and as soon as you bite into it the whole thing starts to fall apart because it consists of loose chicken strips. Just make a f*cking chicken filet Raising Canes, please! Why are you getting in your own way like this?

The said part is, this isn’t even the best sandwich at Raising Canes. For a real delicious experience, order two Texas toasts BOB style (buttered on both sides) spread the Cane’s sauce, and stick a tender between it. That right there is a better sandwich and I don’t even work there.

Find your nearest Raising Cane’s here.

The Bottom Line

This feels like a troll. A solid-tasting troll, but still.

5. Wendy’s — Spicy Chicken Sandwich/Asiago Ranch Chicken Club

Wendy

Calories: 630

All of Wendy’s chicken sandwiches are delicious, but my favorite is the Asiago Ranch Chicken Club, which is served up with Asiago cheese and bacon. When I set out to make this ranking I was ready to give this sandwich the number one spot, it was only after tasting each sandwich that I had to recognize that while this sandwich is good, and is sometimes my favorite, it’s a good distance away from being “the best.”

Wendy’s spicy chicken filet (also available in Homestyle and grilled) has a great flavor, it’s legitimately spicy with a cayenne and black pepper-heavy batter that brings some nice lingering heat into the after taste, but it’s a little over-processed. It’s far from the spongey mystery meat of some of the lesser sandwiches on this list, but it’s noticeably of lower quality than something like what you’d find at Chick-fil-A.

In fact, I go back and forth on whether this is truly better than Chick-fil-A all the time. For now, I think it is.

Find the nearest Wendy’s here.

The Bottom Line

One of the best fast-food chicken sandwiches, but you could still do better.

4. Jollibee — Chicken Sandwich Classic/Deluxe

Jolibee

Calories: 550

Filipino chicken spot Jollibee is seriously underrated. Their unique chicken marinade and batter tastes unlike any other fast-food chicken on the market, it’s this interesting mix of garlic, pepper, salt, onion powder, and… maybe some dried parsley? It’s battered in cornstarch, giving it this crispy airy quality that keeps the chicken crunchy but incredibly juicy inside and we’d really really like to rank it higher.

Still… just tastes like it’s missing a little something. It doesn’t linger in our memories or inspire cravings like the next three.

Find the nearest Jollibee here.

The Bottom Line

Ridiculously delicious and, best of all, this one doesn’t feel like it looked to Popeyes for inspiration. It’s in its own lane.

3. Church’s — Chicken Sandwich

Church

Calories: 360

Clearly inspired by Popeyes chicken sandwich, Church’s chicken sandwich comes incredibly close to the real thing. The sandwich is served up on a brioche bun that is brushed in the same honey-butter Church’s uses on their delicious biscuits, accompanied by your choice of regular or spicy mayo (go for the spicy), thick dill pickle chips, and a juicy hand-breaded filet. The breast filet here is massive and juicy, with a great peppery batter that supplies a lot of crunch without throwing the meat to breading ratio out of whack.

Whether you prefer this to Popeyes is going to come down to which chicken batter you prefer. For some, that’s going to be Church’s, but for me…

Find your nearest Church’s here.

The Bottom Line

Just as good as Popeyes chicken sandwich with half the hype. Could easily be someone’s number 1 pick.

2. Shake Shack — Chick’n Shack

Shake Shack

Calories 590

Honestly, between Shake Shack’s Chick’n Shack and our number one pick (which you probably called at the start of this article), it’s a toss-up. Shake Shack has quietly been offering up one of the best fast-food fried chicken sandwiches in the game and they’ve been doing it for years. The Chick n Shack is thick and juicy, with an addictive flakey buttermilk batter that absorbs sauce beautifully and provides a pleasing audible crunch to every bite. Served up with pickles, mayo with herbs, and lettuce on a buttery brioche bun, this sandwich is made even better with the inclusion of Choi’s kimchi and Shake Shack’s gochujang sauce, which is available for a limited time.

I’ve never had a bad chicken sandwich at Shake Shack, they’re remarkably consistent, but it’s hard to make the case for why you should order this over a Double Shack Burger.

Find the nearest Shake Shack here.

The Bottom Line

Delicious, juicy, and crispy, but it’s lacking the decadence of our number one pick.

1. Popeyes — Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Popeyes

Calories: 700

Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich is the predictable number one choice. I promise that I really fought with myself over giving it our number one spot, but pretending otherwise is just kind of silly. There is a reason this chicken sandwich inspired the ridiculous hype that followed its release in 2019. Yes, part of that is due to excellent marketing, it’s not like this is the greatest chicken sandwich in the world (we’re positive we can make a better one, also if Howlin Rays was a chain, it would get the number one spot in a walk) but it is definitely in a class above the rest.

Popeyes also sells a non-spicy version with mayo. It’s good but not great.

It’s not worth robbing a Popeyes over, it’s not something that should be sold on an aftermarket like a coveted pair of sneakers, hell it’s not even worth waiting in line for longer than 20 minutes for, but this is a juicy, crispy, and spicy contribution to the fast-food hall of fame.

Find the nearest Popeyes here.

The Bottom Line

It truly is the best in the game… for now.

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