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The Best Fast Food Chicken Tenders Of 2022, Ranked (Plus An Unbeatable Hack)

Chicken tenders are fried chicken at its finest. Unlike bone-in fried chicken (OG Fried Chicken, if you will), tenders are simple, dippable, and can be eaten with a single hand, allowing you to enjoy all the wonders of fried chicken without having to deal with the bones, the mess, or tables. And it’s summer baby, the season of road trips and eating outside. Who wants to deal with bones or tables?

I know all the nugget heads are squirming in their chair so let’s address that real fast. The chicken nugget holds a similar advantage to the tender, but the tender has class. Unlike the nugget, the good ones aren’t overly processed, which means that when you bite into a chicken tender there is a chance you’re biting into an actual tenderloin, the long muscle strip located underneath the chicken breast. When you bite into a nugget, you’re essentially eating chicken meal, a collection of tendons, bones, connective tissues, and fat, all ground up and pressed into an arbitrary shape. Sometimes they hit the spot, but the fact remains: it’s f*cking space food.

So in celebration of the greatest fried chicken form factor (an appetizing phrase if we’ve ever heard one), we’ve decided to rank all the fast food chicken tenders in search of the very best. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, but it’s been nearly two years since our last ranking and there are new birds on the scene. Not to mention that some birds have massively dipped in quality. This ranking reflects the best chicken tenders you can get right now, as well as the best dipping sauces for each. Let’s dip!

14. Del Taco — Crispy Chicken Strips

Chicken Tenders
Del Taco

Tasting Notes:

The absolute worst. For the record, I love Del Taco. I think they do a much better job approximating the flavors of Mexican food than their more popular cousin, Taco Bell. And the chain’s “American Grill” menu is pretty solid too (the burgers taste way better than they should).

But the chicken strips, which are a fairly new addition to the menu, are objectively awful. The batter works more like a sleeve than a breading. You can bite into this chicken and actually pull the sliver of chicken meat out from the fried casing. If that’s not a sign of a bad tender, I don’t know what is. But the horror doesn’t end there. The flavor is also awful, a weird mix of too much salt and not enough pepper, and the texture is rubbery and off-putting.

Best Dipping Sauce:

The trash, only you don’t dip it in, you throw it. And then leave it there.

The Bottom Line:

Never order fried chicken from Del Taco.

Find your nearest Del Taco here.

13. Sonic — Crispy Chicken Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
Sonic

Tasting Notes:

Sonic’s Crispy Chicken Tenders are akin to your typical cheap frozen chicken fingers, the sort of stuff you’d find in the freezer section of your favorite grocery store. They are, at best, marginally better than the sort of thing you’d make at home because Sonic has deep fryers.

The chicken is super dry with a stringy texture, and the flavor is bland and flour-y with some blunt black pepper notes on the aftertaste.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Sonic’s Signature Sauce. It’s a golden BBQ (honey mustard + smokey BBQ) which isn’t everyone’s thing, but to me, this is the flagship flavor of Sonic. It earns the best dipping sauce pick from us.

The Bottom Line:

The sort of chicken tenders that you NEED sauce to enjoy. Not bad, but forgettable. It’s better to skip or order one of Sonic’s other finger foods, like mozzarella sticks.

Find your nearest Sonic here.

12. Arby’s — Chicken Fingers

Chicken Tender Ranking
Arby

Tasting Notes:

Arby’s is a weird place, because they’re pretty good at what they do — Roast Beef sandwiches — so good in fact that if they just focused on that, they’d probably be one of the more respectable fast food chains out there. I’m talking In-N-Out and Chipotle levels of respectability here! Instead, they choose to dilute their brand with all of these sub-par sides that don’t accomplish much beyond wasting menu space. These chicken tenders are just fine, they’re practically interchangeable with Sonic’s. The batter delivers most of the flavor but doesn’t taste like much more than black pepper and flour.

It beats Sonic because the black pepper tastes a little more natural here, it doesn’t have that weird bitter bluntness of Sonic’s.

At least give me a hint of spice, Arby’s! Garlic, onion powder… something. This is sadly another tender you can’t eat without the dipping sauce.

Best Dipping Sauce:

It depends. If you can get your hands on Arby’s Three Pepper Sauce, get that. It’ll easily elevate these chicken tenders up a few ranks. Unfortunately not all Arby’s carry the Three Pepper Sauce, in which case, just go with BBQ. If you’re not down with BBQ, get the classic Arby’s Horsey sauce.

The Bottom Line:

A waste of menu space. If you really want chicken from Arby’s, get the nuggets. They don’t taste any different, but they are smaller, and that’s the best you’re going to get with Arby’s sub-par chicken.

Find your nearest Arby’s here.

11. Dairy Queen — Chicken Strips

Chicken Tender Ranking
Dairy Queen

Tasting Notes:

I feel like I spent the entire opening paragraphs of this article praising the culinary wonder that is the chicken tender, and so far we haven’t hit a single chicken tender that I actually like. Unfortunately, we’re a far way away from that still. Dairy has the edge over Sonic and Arby’s because the ratio of chicken to batter is better here.

Dairy Queen’s strips are a lot meatier and the chicken isn’t quite as dry and stringy as Sonic and Arby’s but it’s still nothing to write home about. Luckily Dairy Queen has a special dipping sauce that turns these very bland chicken strips into something actually worth ordering.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Country gravy! It needs to be a standard at every fast food restaurant that sells fried chicken tenders. It adds a savory satisfying quality to each bite. It’s the only way you should ever eat Dairy Queen chicken.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re starving and the only food place for miles is for some reason a Dairy Queen, by all means, get the tenders and dip them in that country gravy! If you have any other options, go there instead.

Find your nearest Dairy Queen here.

10. Kentucky Fried Chicken — Nashville Hot Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
KFC

Tasting Notes:

Hot chicken is having a moment right now. Hot chicken chain restaurants are popping up everywhere. You’ve got Hattie B’s, Dave’s Hot Chicken, Joella’s, and my personal favorite, LA’s Howlin’ Rays, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that KFC, one of America’s biggest national chicken chains, has taken a stab at the country’s new favorite style of chicken. But KFC needs to stay in its lane.

If you’ve never had Nashville-style hot chicken, these taste fine. They’re smokey, sweet and spicy. But they taste nothing like actual Nashville-style hot chicken. KFC uses way too much vinegar, creating this wet saucy glaze that makes each strip soggy when it should be crispy. The mouthfeel of the sauce is also very oily, so it tastes like something you probably shouldn’t be eating.

Best Dipping Sauce:

No sauce necessary, the glaze is sauce enough.

The Bottom Line:

KFC isn’t just out of its lane with this poor take on Nashville-style chicken, it’s on the wrong side of the damn road.

Find your nearest KFC here.

9. Jack in the Box — Crispy Chicken Strips

Chicken Tenders
Jack in the Box

Tasting Notes:

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Jack in the Box’s old chicken strips recipe was delicious. Each strip was unusually flat, like the tender had been pounded out before being fried, but that didn’t matter because the flavor was delicious. A medley of garlic, onion, and pepper flavors, with a crispy batter that housed always tender — albeit thin — bites of chicken. Then sometime in 2019, Jack in the Box launched a spicy chicken tender that had a totally different shape, with meatier strips and a drier texture.

Those spicy strips weren’t good and have since been discontinued, but for some reason, Jack in the Box decided to keep the meatier chicken and now the old strips have been replaced with these… things. They’re awful — dry, salty, and noticeably low quality.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Frank’s Red Hot. It’s not technically a dipping sauce and JiB doesn’t advertise that they have it on the menu, but it’s always there behind the counter and it’ll turn your boring chicken strips into delicious mouthwatering hot strips.

The Bottom Line:

If you’ve had the old Jack in the Box strips, it’s a little hard to get used to these things, but with the right sauce, they’re at least edible.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

8. Carl’s Jr. — Hand-breaded Chicken Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
Carl

Tasting Notes:

The first few times I had Carl’s Jr’s Hand-breaded chicken tenders I thought they were amazing. The chicken was juicy and the breading was thick and craggy, the perfect sponge for absorbing sauce. I think those visits might’ve been a lucky fluke though because every time I’ve ordered these in the last year I’ve been disappointed.

Carl’s Jr’s tenders are strangely small, almost more like large nuggets than proper strips. The buttermilk batter is still thick and craggy, but unfortunately, that absorbent quality often ends up absorbing all the oil the chicken was fried in, resulting in chicken that ends up overcooking from the hot oil after it’s been removed from the fryer, leaving you with dried out chicken that isn’t nearly as juicy as you want it to be, with a sour dirty oil after taste.

Best Dipping Sauce:

BBQ sauce. It’s not that Carl’s Jr’s BBQ sauce is particularly good, but the chain doesn’t have very many notable sauces in its roster. This is sadly as exciting as it gets.

The Bottom Line:

Too small, too oily, and almost always over-cooked to the point of being dry.

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr. here.

7. Burger King — Chicken Fries

Chicken Tender Ranking
Burger King

Tasting Notes:

Burger King’s Chicken Fries are chicken strips at their worst. If you order these hoping for minimally processed white meat chicken, you’re not going to get it here. The texture of the meat is almost sludge-like. Despite the name, Chicken Fries taste like neither chicken nor fries. Instead you get an interestingly zesty mix of paprika, black pepper, and onion powder flavors, and you know what? Aside from the questionable texture of the meat, they’re actually pretty damn good.

I can’t emphasize the word ‘zesty’ enough. It’s spicy but not enough to be considered hot, but it still leaves your taste buds dancing.

Best Dipping Sauce:

BBQ. Burger King’s BBQ is pleasingly smokey with a nice balance of sweetness that never gets overwhelming.

The Bottom Line:

Look at that, Burger King finally landed in the middle of one of our fast food rankings! The Chicken Fries are weird and disturbing, but they taste good, so if you can get past the form factor and the strange texture, the flavor delivers.

Find your nearest Burger King here.

6. Kentucky Fried Chicken — Extra Crispy Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
KFC

Tasting Notes:

I like KFC, though you wouldn’t know it the way both tender offerings have hit the middle of our list. But I actually think the Colonel’s Original Recipe blend of spices is one of the best-tasting flavor combinations of any fast food chicken chain. Unfortunately, KFC doesn’t make Original Recipe Tenders, they only make it in Extra Crispy, and KFC’s Extra Crispy chicken batter is pretty damn basic.

This tender is salty with a hint of garlic powder. That’s it. The quality of the meat is pretty good, it’s tender and juicy and never dry but the basic breading holds it back from being truly delicious.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Luckily it’s really easy to improve the flavor of these bland tenders with KFC’s side dishes. Skip the sauce and order a side of mashed potatoes and gravy or Mac and Cheese and dip your strips to your heart’s content.

The Bottom Line:

KFC can make a really amazing tender if they wanted to, unfortunately, they don’t seem to want to. These are good, not great.

Find your nearest KFC here.

5. Rally’s/Checkers —Fry-Battered Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

Rally’s new fry-battered chicken tenders are good but misleading. If you’re expecting the same garlic-forward, black pepper-infused light and crispy batter that Rally uses on the fries, this isn’t that. It’s sort in the same taste ballpark but doesn’t manage to capture half of the magic of the fries.

I’m not sure if that’s a result of Rally’s leaving this in the frier a bit too long, masking the flavors in its crunchiness, or because they had to adjust the batter recipe to be able to adhere to a big piece of meat rather than potatoes or mozzarella cheese. But I suggest skipping the tenders and grabbing a big Mother Cruncher instead.

Best Dipping Sauce:

It’s a toss-up between the BBQ and Honey Mustard. Both are a bit too sweet, but that goes for all of Rally’s sauces.

The Bottom Line:

The name is a false promise. This doesn’t taste nearly as good as the fries or the fry-seasoned mozzarella sticks. Order those instead.

Find your nearest Rally’s here.

4. Jollibee — Chicken Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

Jollibee’s chicken has an interesting balance of sweet, sour, and salty flavors distinct enough to pick out in a blind taste test. No other fried chicken tastes quite like this, and the batter is equally unique with a light crispiness that makes it the most audibly crunchy chicken in this ranking.

The chicken itself is good but not great, it’s tender but not nearly juicy enough to warrant a spot higher than this.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Gravy! I’ve already mentioned how gravy is an ideal fried chicken dip. Good gravy adds a richness to chicken that makes it greater than the sum of its parts.

The Bottom Line:

Unique enough that it deserves a trip to Jollibee if you’ve never been, but this is far from the best menu item at the mighty bee.

Find your nearest Jollibee here.

3. Chick-fil-A — Chick-n-Strips

Chicken Tender Ranking
Chick-fil-A

Tasting Notes:

Chick-fil-A’s Chick-n-Strips are pretty damn good. The chain marinates its chicken in pickle brine, giving each bite of chicken a real depth of flavor and a tender juicy mouthfeel that sets it apart from a lot of the other chicken chains on this ranking. The use of peanut oil is another great move, ensuring each tender has a perfectly crispy exterior. Chick-fil-A’s better is also considerably lighter than a lot of other chicken chains, offering a meatier ratio of white meat chicken to breading.

But despite how good these things are, they are easily Chick-fil-A’s worst chicken product.

The nuggets are way juicer, and the breast filet used on the sandwiches if in another league entirely. So as good as these are, we can’t recommend ordering them over their other choices.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Everyone has their favorite Chick-fil-A sauce but if we had to choose a best dip for the chicken, we’re going with the namesake, the Chick-fil-A sauce. It’s a mix of barbecue and honey mustard, with a ranch-backed tang that adds a nice smokey and rich quality to the fried chicken.

The Bottom Line:

You certainly wouldn’t complain if someone gave you an order of Chick-fil-A Chick-n-Strips but if you have the choice to order anything else, do it. These are good, but far from Chick-fil-A’s best chicken offering.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

2. Popeyes — Mild Tenders/Spicy Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
Popeyes

Tasting Notes:

I was going to separate these into two individual categories but they ended up slotting right next to each other in the ranking so I’m just going to kill two birds with one stone here. Generally, I think the Spicy style tenders offer a bit more, supplying a cayenne kick to Popeyes’ buttery, garlic, and onion powder forward batter that makes the chicken taste more interesting. Having said that, as far as which one tastes better, it kind of depends on how fresh the chicken is.

If you’re ordering inside of a Popeyes you can usually see the fried chicken they have on hand behind the cashier. If the pile of spicy tenders is high, order them, they probably just came out. If it looks like the spicy tenders are running low and the mild tenders look fresher, order those instead. Popeyes chicken tastes best right when it’s out of the fryer. Once it cools down a little bit the texture of the chicken becomes oddly chunky and not tender and juicy.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Honey. It adds a little floral sweetness to the heat.

The Bottom Line:

Popeyes is the king of chicken sandwiches, and probably the king of bone-in fried chicken. Their tenders could use a refresh to get them to the level of the menu’s GOATS.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

1. Raising Cane’s — Chicken Tenders

Chicken Tender Ranking
Dane Rivera

Tasting Notes:

Ecstasy of the mouth. The other tenders on this list don’t even come close. Raising Cane’s uses fresh chicken that is marinaded for 24 hours, hand-battered, and fried to perfection. Each bite of chicken is bursting with tenderness like a goddamn Otis Redding song (it helps that Raising Cane’s uses actual chicken tenders) with the perfect texture that melts in your mouth. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood while eating Cane’s.

Because the strips are hand-battered on sight using fresh non-frozen chicken, the batter isn’t always the crispiest, but that’s easily remedied by asking for your chicken “extra crispy.” Cane’s will then leave your chicken in the fryer for anywhere between 30-60 seconds, resulting in a perfect golden finger that is as crispy and crunchy as it is delicious.

Best Dipping Sauce:

Cane’s Sauce, obviously, I mean they throw it right in the box with the chicken. Cane’s sauce is a classic comeback-style sauce (mayo, ketchup, Worchestershire, spices) that adds a savory umami quality to each tender bite.

The Hack To Make It Better:

Chicken Tender Ranking
Dane Rivera

Order your fingers ‘extra crispy,’ add an extra order of toast and ask for both to be made BOB style (That’s buttered on both sides if you’re not hip to that Cane’s culture). Stick a tender between the two pieces of toast, douse it in Cane’s sauce, and you have one of the best (and smallest) chicken sandwiches in all of fast food. It’s a damn crime that it’s not on the menu.

The Bottom Line:

The fried chicken tender perfected. You’ve probably seen the drive-thru lines and wondered if its worth it. It is (But we suggest ordering inside, you’ll get your order in half the time).

Find your nearest Raising Cane’s here.

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