Chicken sandwiches are inarguably the biggest thing in fast food right now. And yet… Carl’s Jr/ Hardee’s — a chain that actually goes through all the effort of hand-breading their chicken tenders — has been slumming it for years with one of the worst chicken sandos in the game. For a place that makes something as great as the Western Bacon Cheeseburger and Waffle-style Fries, and, we’ll say it again, some damn good chicken tenders, it’s puzzling that Carl’s Jr. waited until this week in 2021 to reformulate their chicken sandwich into something that is actually edible.
Okay, rant over. Now the good news: Carl’s Jr went HAM and didn’t just drop one new chicken sandwich, but three:
- The Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich
- The Hand-breaded Chicken and Waffle Breakfast Sandwich
- The Hand-breaded Chicken Biscuit.
Unfortunately for west coasters, that chicken biscuit sandwich is exclusive to Hardee’s. But the new hand-breaded and waffle sandwich is being offered nationwide at all Carl’s Jr./Hardee locations. This week, we tried those latter two sandwiches and have some thoughts! We won’t spoil our verdict for you just yet — but the fact is that we’re probably going to have to revamp our Best Chicken Sandwiches ranking to give Carl’s Jr its proper spot.
Let’s get into the good and bad of these sandwiches!
Carl’s Jr Hand-Breaded Waffle Breakfast Sandwich
Chicken and waffles have a beautiful thing going. You’ve got the savory salt and crunch of hot, fried chicken mingling with the sweetness and soft texture of syrup-covered waffles. Together, they bathe the palate in sweet and salty goodness. It’s the food version of a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. On paper, it sounds weird, but in practice? It’s a party for the mouth.
As a big chicken and waffle head, I’m a little torn on this sandwich. On one hand, the flavor is there. Carl’s Jr knocked it out of the park with their new fried chicken breast filet, which tastes just like their excellent hand-breaded tenders. It’s crunchy with notes of garlic powder, white pepper, and a dash of onion with subtle hints of smokey paprika with a thick juicy filet of chicken inside that didn’t taste dry or overcooked.
But the waffle section of the sandwich leaves a little to be desired. What makes chicken and waffles so great is that you can control how much of the saltiness you let intermingle with the sweetness. Maybe you just want syrup touching the chicken skin, but not any of the meat — so you eat with the aim of achieving that effect. A sando takes away that level of control. The waffle “bun” (I’ll get to that in a second) and chicken are brushed with Maple Butter Glaze (which is definitely a corn syrup-based sauce, not actual maple syrup) and it’s just way too sweet and tends to overpower the chicken, giving the whole sandwich an overly sweet taste.
My other big gripe is with the waffle. It’s not really a waffle! Carl’s Jr calls it a “Belgian waffle bun,” but it doesn’t have the texture or crunch-to-softness ratio that you expect from a Belgian. Instead, it’s just kind of mushy — creating an unpleasant mouthfeel that gets worse the longer it gets soaked by the syrup. (The Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken Biscuit is served sauce-less, so it sounds like an improvement over the waffle.)
This is almost delicious and certainly an exciting entry into the world of fast-food chicken sandwiches. But it needs some definite tweaking before it blows any minds or inspires the kind of passion the Popeyes sandwich did.
The Bottom Line
Ditch the sauce and you’ve got yourself a delicious chicken and waffle sandwich that’ll satiate your need for sweet-meets-savory. Even asking to go light on the sauce makes this more balanced. But if you have a joint that serves the real thing nearby, you’re better served to put your money there, even if it’s three times the price.
Carl’s Jr. Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich
This brings us to the Carl’s Jr. Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich. I wish… I had more to say about this sandwich but it’s pretty standard as far as chicken sandwiches go. The chicken here is the same, crispy and crunchy with a well-seasoned garlic powder and white pepper-heavy batter that reveals a thick juicy filet of white meat chicken inside served on a soft and spongey potato bun with four surprisingly crispy thick pickles and mayo on the top and bottom bun.
It’s basically a sandwich that stands on the stage at the chicken sandwich awards show to say “Carl’s Jr’s got something to say!”
Everything about this sandwich works. The pickles aren’t sad and soggy. A potato bun is always appreciated. The cried chicken is on point. The mayo… okay, the may take it or leave it — if you don’t like mayo it’s not going to severely impact this sandwich to order it sauceless (or with BBQ, do BBQ).
Carl’s Jr isn’t slumming it anymore with their chicken sandwich it easily blows McDonald’s new chicken sandwich line-up out of the water. Is it a top 5 chicken sandwich? No way. But definitely a top 10.
Optimistically speaking, this is proof that Carl’s Jr knows how to make a good chicken sandwich and we’re excited to see how they spin-off this recipe into more exciting territory. Adding bacon and cheese or mixing up a spicy version would certainly inspire a bit more hype than the stock chicken sandwich will, but if you’re a big Carl’s Jr/ Hardee’s fan you can finally rest easy knowing that a great chicken sandwich is to be had on the menu, and it isn’t shaped like a giant fried star!
The Bottom Line
A solid attempt at a standard fried chicken sandwich. It won’t inspire long lines and a black market like Popeyes’ sandwich, but it’s a welcome and delicious addition to the Carl’s Jr menu.
The new hand-breaded chicken sandwiches are available now at Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s locations nationwide.