Life

The Best New Fast Food Burgers & Chicken Sandwiches Of 2021, Ranked

In 2021, the fast food gods delivered diners a cavalcade of new cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches to choose from. Some were delicious, some were bad, and some gave it a major swing and a miss but we ate them anyway. Now we’re here to collect them all into one super list that separates the good food from the trash.

Yes friends, this is a ranking of the best new chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers to hit the fast food universe in 2021. We even included a few we haven’t had the chance to officially review yet. Most of the sandwiches on this list are available for a limited time but a few have earned permanent menu status. We were sure to include the availability of each selection — so that you don’t make a fool of yourself at the drive-thru.

So.. would you rather eat a Hot Cheeto dusted cheeseburger or a honey-sauce smothered chicken sandwich? Let us break it down for you, because sometimes a concept can make the mouth water only for the final result to be straight-up gag-inducing. And we don’t want that! It’s the end of the year, we’re under enough stress as it is!

Let’s eat.

12. Naked Chicken Chalupa

Dane Rivera

The Sandwich:

Is it a sandwich though? Seriously what the f*ck is this thing? I can’t decide if we should consider this a sort of freakish taco or a freakish chicken sandwich, but what I can very easily decide on is that I don’t like it.

It’s not horrible, mind you, but never has an item of food made me feel so stupid and confused. Figuring out what this thing is is more interesting than eating it! The Chicken Chalupa features a flattened chicken patty loaded up with lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and avocado ranch as if it were a taco shell. The shell features a black pepper-forward flavor that pairs nicely with the refreshing qualities of the avocado ranch, but for the most part, this sandwich leaves me feeling like it’s missing something.

Load it up with ground beef and maybe you’ve got something, but as it stands, Taco Bell needs to take this one back to the lab.

Availability:

Apparently, they have taken it back to the lab, the Nake Chicken Chalupa is not currently on the always shifting Taco Bell menu. Let’s keep it that way.

The Bottom Line:

Skip it once Taco Bell inevitably brings it back.

Find your nearest Taco Bell here.

11. McDonald’s Spicy Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Burgers
McDonalds

The Sandwich:

McDonald’s started off the year with high hopes by dropping three new chicken sandwiches, the best of which, the Spicy Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich, isn’t even worth eating. I know it sounds overly harsh, but you should never order a chicken sandwich from McDonald’s. Never.

This sandwich is nothing more than a waste of money, the chicken patty is a dry and flavorless mess, the tomatoes are equally flavorless, and the shredded lettuce is off-putting. The only thing going for this sandwich is that spicy pepper sauce, which has a nice cayenne kick to it and a strong cracked pepper flavor. If McDonald’s would serve this sauce as a dip for their fries, they’d have something, but as a sandwich, this is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff.

Availability:

McDonald’s unveiled three new chicken sandwiches this year, you’ve never heard about them because they’re that bad.

The Bottom Line:

McDonald’s still hasn’t figured out how to make a damn chicken sandwich. Skip this.

Find your nearest McDonald’s here.

10. Carl’s Jr Sourdough Star

Burgers
Carl

The Sandwich:

The Sourdough Star is the best sourdough burger on the fast food market, it’s a shame that it took until this year for Carl’s Jr to create it. The burger features a charbroiled beef patty topped with American cheese, bacon, Thousand Island, and gently grilled onions over a bed of lettuce, tomato, and mayo.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why Carl’s Jr decided on putting Thousand Island and mayo on one burger, but a simple alteration is all it takes to make this burger shine (ditch whatever sauce you like less). I love the mouthfeel of this thing, the bacon and sourdough bun add a pleasing crunch to it. I only wish it had more cheese and leaned more into its patty melt inspiration.

Availability:

Unfortunately, this sandwich was only available for a limited time and that window has closed. We await its triumphant return!

The Bottom Line:

Carl’s Jr can’t decide whether or not it wants to keep sourdough bread on the menu (Hardee’s features sourdough as a permanent menu staple) so we on the West Coast are going to have to wait until they bring this burger back as a promotional item.

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr. here.

9. Panda Express Orange Chicken Sandwich

Dane Rivera

The Sandwich:

Panda Express attempted to make a chicken sandwich this year that piggybacks off of the brand’s popular Orange Chicken sauce. Let that sink in for a second. Panda Express. Made. A. Chicken. Sandwich. We wouldn’t have believed it if we didn’t eat it ourselves.

For the full rundown, definitely hit my review, but ultimately the issue with this sandwich is not its concept, it’s the execution. The sandwich was previewed to a select few food writers in California and comes straight from Panda Express’ Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena.

The flavors are actually pretty on point, the sandwich features cabbage and pickles in a spicy aioli which pairs nicely with Panda’s deliciously spicy and sweet orange sauce. It comes served on a sweet King’s Hawaiian roll — a great call. Sadly, the chicken itself needs work. This is just a bad chicken patty, it’s dry, flakey, and flavorless, relying completely on the toppings to deliver the flavor. I like that the chicken is battered in the same corn-starch-based breading as Panda’s Orange Chicken as it absorbs the sauce nicely, but it’s clear Panda needs to work on this on a bit before it hits restaurants nationwide.

Availability:

The Orange Chicken sandwich was only available for a limited time this fall at Panda Express’ Innovation Kitchen, but hopefully, we see a nationwide rollout this coming year.

The Bottom Line:

It still needs a few tweaks, but if Panda Express figures out a way to produce a better chicken filet, they’ve got a real contender here in the great fried chicken sandwich wars.

Find your nearest Panda Express here.

8. Wendy’s Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger

Burgers
Carl

The Sandwich:

This year Wendy’s unveiled a few new burgers to their lineup but none have caught our attention quite like the Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger. In fact, it’s probably the best addition to the menu since the mighty Baconator. Featuring your choice of one, two, or, brace yourself, three quarter-pound fresh beef patties topped with Applewood smoked bacon, a double serving of American cheese, and fried onions slathered with a Bourbon-based sauce that is actually made with real bourbon and bacon, this burger is bursting with sweet and savory flavors that really complement and play off one another deliciously.

The sauce is smokey and sweet — it’s a bit like a complex barbecue sauce but it leans heavier on those smokey flavors and has a much thinner consistency. Using real bacon to make this sauce was a smart move, as this burger isn’t plagued with that off-putting liquid smoke flavor of lesser efforts.

Availability:

The Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger is a permanent menu item at Wendy’s both nationwide and in Canada.

The Bottom Line:

A great pub-inspired burger topped with a bourbon and bacon-based sauce that delivers on the flavor. This burger is a must-pick-up on your next Wendy’s trip.

Find your nearest Wendy’s here.

7. Burger King Spicy Ch’King Sandwich

Dane Rivera

The Sandwich:

Burger King, more than any other fast food brand, consistently ranks near the bottom of our fast food rankings. So to see the brand’s latest chicken sandwich revamp, The Ch’King Sandwich, in the middle of the list is actually quite an improvement in our books.

Go BK, we’ve been rooting for you (while gleefully shredding your efforts where needed).

The Spicy Ch’King isn’t good enough to make you forget about the Popeyes chicken sandwich — hell, it still has a bit of a way to go before it can compare to Chick-fil-A or Wendy’s sandwiches — but its a step in the right direction. The best sandwich of Burger King’s new range of chicken sandwiches is the Spicy Ch’King which features a hand-breaded chicken breast fillet topped with crinkle-cut pickles, the saddest, palest lettuce you’ll ever see, tomato, a savory sauce on the top and bottom bun, and a delicious spicy glaze covering the chicken.

The sandwich’s weakest points are the accouterments, the lettuce and tomato are virtually flavorless, and that soft potato bun isn’t going to be anything your taste buds want to remember, but the chicken itself is top-notch. It has a distinct black pepper and garlic powder flavor that is complimented beautifully by the sweet and spicy sauce.

Availability:

The Spicy Ch’King chicken sandwich is a permanent menu item at Burger Kings nationwide.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re skeptical about a chicken sandwich from Burger King because everything from Burger King is, well, pretty awful, this sandwich will surprise you. It’s not something worth ordering if a Popeyes, Wendy’s, or Chick-fil-A are nearby, but if you’re stuck in an airport for longer than you want to be? Eating the Spicy Ch’King isn’t a bad way to spend your time.

Also:

The award for the stupidest sandwich name definitely goes to the Ch’King.

Find your nearest Burger King here.

6. Carl’s Jr Hot Honey Chicken

Burgers
Carl

The Sandwich:

Sorry, Burger King, the Ch’King was good but Carl’s Jr’s Hot Honey chicken sandwich has you beat! Two strips of bacon sit atop a nutty slice of Swiss cheese and Carl’s Jr’s hand-breaded chicken breast filet before being smothered in a heavily sweetened Hot Honey sauce.

Take the word “hot” with a grain of salt here, this leans much more on the sweet side and only features a gentle lingering heat that you’ll barely notice between bites. You don’t miss the heat though, the combination of bacon, Swiss, and the sweet sauce gives this sandwich a sort of breakfast vibe with an almost maple flavor to it. It’s the only chicken sandwich on this list that feels fitting for breakfast.

Availability:

The Hot Honey Chicken sandwich is now a permanent menu item at Carl’s Jrs nationwide.

The Bottom Line:

The closest thing you’re going to get to the experience of eating chicken and waffles from a drive-thru.

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr. here.

5. Wiz Khalifa HotBox Blazed OG Cheetos Burger

Burgers
HotBox

The Sandwich:

Yes, your eyes are correct, that is Hot Cheeto dust you’re looking at. I get it, Hot Cheeto dust on a burger seems like the ultimate fast food gimmick but this burger really works. Also, it’s part of Wiz Khalifa’s stoner-pleasing HotBox meal, so when you think about the fact that the majority of people ordering this burger are stoned — it all starts to make sense.

This burger features a thick and juicy salted beef patty cooked to a medium-well state and topped with American cheese, fried tater tots, lettuce, tomato, Thrill Sauce (which is just 1000 Islands), and of course, Hot Cheeto Dust. The dust provides a nice perceptible level of heat to the whole sandwich, you don’t taste it so much as you feel the heat it brings to each bite.

I wouldn’t describe it as spicy, but it creates this mouthwatering effect that pulls you in. Although this is a virtual kitchen concept, the meat sourcing is fantastic (at least in Los Angeles) and I would put the quality of this patty in the same camp as something from Shake Shack or Fat Burger.

Availability:

The OG Cheetos Burger (and the rest of the Wiz Khalifa menu) is available now for delivery-only in Miami, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, and Houston. Hit up the website to get your order started.

The Bottom Line:

It looks gimmicky as hell but trust us, it’s worth the purchase. It argues for the existence of Hot Cheeto dust as a culinary ingredient.

See if HotBox is available in your city here.

4. Church’s Texas Cut Bacon Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Church's Texas Chicken Sandwich Review
Dane Rivera

The Sandwich:

In 2021, Church’s made a serious swipe at Popeyes — the current GOAT in the fast food chicken sandwich space — and they came damn near close to coming up with a better sandwich. The Texas-Cut Bacon Spicy Chicken Sandwich features a juicy and tender fried breast filet that is breaded in Church’s craggy, sauce-absorbing batter and topped with layers of crispy thick-cut bacon served on two brioche buns slathered in spicy mayo sauce.

Each bite provides a great balance of crunch, heat, smokiness, and a slight tinge of sweetness. It’s easily one of the best chicken sandwiches you can hope you order at a fast food restaurant and if Popeyes didn’t exist, the internet would be rightly obsessed with this contender for the best chicken sandwich ever.

To take it to the next level insert the fried jalapeño popper that Church’s serves alongside this sandwich. It’ll add an extra dose of heat as well as some gooey cheesy goodness to the experience.

Availability:

The Texas-Cut Bacon Spicy Chicken Sandwich is only available until December 26th. Once it leaves the menu you can still order the sandwich, but you won’t get any delicious and smokey bacon.

The Bottom Line:

It comes damn near close to being the best fried chicken sandwich in the fast food universe, but Popeyes still holds an edge over this one thanks to their delicious flaky breading.

Find your nearest Church’s here.

3. Smash Burger Double Smoked Bacon Brisket Burger

Smash Burger

The Sandwich:

This burger took the number one spot in our ranking for the Best Decadent Fast Food Cheeseburgers because it’s… well, the most decadent fast food burger we’ve ever eaten. Sweet tender smoked brisket is sandwiched between two salty ground beef patties and smokey bacon, topped with ultra-thick cut pickle chips, BBQ sauce, and cheddar cheese. It’s the sort of burger that makes it hard for you to breathe for a few hours after you’ve finished it.

Be warned, it’s not the best brisket you’ll ever taste — as it definitely leans on the drier side — but it’s hard to find a burger that delivers more flavor per bite than this one. Each taste of this burger will fill your mouth with all sorts of smokey and salty flavors with the right amount of sour tang from the pickles to counterbalance it all. It’s remarkably harmonious even though it looks like a car accident.

Availability:

The Double Smoked Bacon Brisket Burger is a permanent menu item at all Smash Burgers nationwide.

The Bottom Line:

For all the true meat maniacs out there. The Smoked Bacon Brisket Burger allows you to triple up on meat, and if you need more you can always make it a double.

Find your nearest Smash Burger here.

2. Popeyes — Megan Thee Stallion Hottie Chicken Sandwich

Dane Rivera

The Sandwich:

How do you improve upon perfection? Apparently, by calling Megan Thee Stallion. I’m not sure how involved Megan actually is in the creation of this new iteration of Popeyes’ deservedly beloved chicken sandwich — they approved her as a franchise restaurant owner at the very least — and honestly, I don’t really care. It tastes so damn delicious that the details don’t matter.

This sandwich differs from Popeyes OG by smothering it in Megan’s Hottie Sauce, which gives it a sort of sweet and sour flavor. The sauce is made from aged cayenne pepper, sugar, and honey and helps to further elevate the subtly sweet notes of Popeyes’ sandwich.

Each bite will greet you with tangy sweetness and leave you with some lingering heat on the palate. It makes the sandwich a bit more decadent than it comes stock, but in the best way imaginable. This is definitely worth heading to Popeyes over ASAP.

Availability:

Available at all Popeyes restaurants nationwide while supplies last!

The Bottom Line:

Somehow better than Popeyes already amazing internet-breaking chicken sandwich.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

1. Shake Shack Black Truffle Burger

2021-09-10_SHA_Black-Truffle_Press_1920x1440-1-1.jpeg
Shake Shack

The Sandwich:

As good as our number two selection on this list is — and it really is good, go order that now — if I think about the new fast food menu item I’ve come back to the most frequently this year, and the one I’ve enjoyed eating the most, I have to give that honor to Shake Shack’s super gourmet Black Truffle Burger. This sandwich truly delivers, you’ve got fast food’s best-tasting beef patty topped with a grip of fried shallots — which are superior to fried onions every day of the week — above perfectly melted gruyere cheese and an umami-flavor bomb of a sauce made from real organic black truffles. What more could you possibly hope for in last food?

The result of this wonderful culinary alchemy is a journey of flavors and pleasing mouthfeels better than the sum of its parts (and I should know, I’ve eaten Shake Shack’s meat patty by itself). There’s sweetness counterbalanced by salt, butter, and umami richness — with a crunchy mouthfeel to tie it all together. It’s fast food at its finest.

Availability:

The Black Truffle Burger is available until January 10th at all Shake Shack restaurants nationwide.

The Bottom Line:

Shake Shack has always set itself apart from other fast-casual chains by bringing Michelin-quality ingredients to the world of fast food, but the Black Truffle Burger is the first menu item that truly delivers on that concept. It’s a must-order.

Find your nearest Shake Shack here.

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