Ahh, the chicken sandwich. A breast filet between two slices of bread, dressed with a range of vibrant veggie-accouterments. So simple and yet so mouthwateringly flavorful, the chicken sandwich has clearly earned its position in the pantheon of great American foods. And how do you improve upon perfection? With the marriage of tender chicken breasts and spices that skew higher on the Scoville scale of course. Making every bite an addicting moment of savory bliss, elevating the senses to something akin to a religious experience (Yes, as a matter of fact, it is that serious).
I’ve eaten a lot of chicken sandwiches in the creation of this article. It’s been my primary diet for awhile now, to the point where my relationship to the spicy chicken sandwich has gone toxic. According to the enthusiasts, insiders, dabblers, scholars, archivists, marketers, and general evildoers who make up the demographic of contributors on Wikipedia, Stockholm Syndrome contains these four components:
1. A hostage has developed positive feelings towards their captor. Okay check. Spicy chicken sandwich for president!
2. No previous relationship. Hmm, define “previous.” I’ve certainly had chicken sandwiches in the past, I wouldn’t call it a “relationship” per se.
3. A refusal by hostages to co-operate with police or government authorities. Spicy chicken sandwich? Never heard of it! FAKE NEWS!
4. A hostage’s belief in the humanity of their captor. Look, all the spicy chicken sandwich ever did was try and introduce some fun and flavor to the regular old chicken sandwich of yesteryear, is that really a crime?
The point is: I love these things and your definitions of healthy relationships don’t enter into play. Better to just sit back as I rank the best spicy chicken sandwiches in terms of heat and flavor.
6. Carl’s Jr Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Offensive, to say the least. The Carl’s Jr. Spicy Chicken Sandwich is by far the worst chicken sandwich on the market. Heavily processed chicken formed into the exact shape of the bun it slouches on. Everything about this sandwich is just sad — flavorless iceberg lettuce, abhorrent meat texture, it’s not even really spicy so much as its tinged red. Worst of all, its the type of sandwich that reminds you of how it tastes throughout the day, even after trying to mask it under another meal.
Any sensation of spice is just my taste buds in active-revolt, protesting my decision to subject them to such a disappointment. Its maddening considering Carl’s Jr has burgers with fucking mushrooms on them, and hand-breaded chicken tenders, you’d think they’d approach their spicy chicken sandwich with at least some effort.
Spice Level: Almost Non-Existant.
The Verdict: The burgers are great, order those.
5. Popeyes Spicy Chicken Po-boy
Two spicy chicken tenders on a french baguette, with lettuce, pickles, and mayo. The half-open baguette works perfectly here, keeping the chicken tenders from falling out of the sandwich mid-bite, as tender-based sandwiches are known to do. Unfortunately, while it’s spicy and the batter is thick and crispy, the overall experience is a little lacking. The baguette and lettuce ultimately don’t enhance the experience of eating the chicken tenders.
The Popeyes Spicy Chicken Po’boy comes off as a collection of things Popeyes just isn’t that great at doing. Their bone-in chicken is of superior quality, and if you’re a big fan of the tenders, well they’re better served on their own with a good dipping sauce and a biscuit between bites. If Popeyes gets serious about a spicy chicken sandwich they could have gold on their hands, but for now, it seems they were aiming for expanded menu options.
Spice Level: Moderate. A nice kick, but each bite leaves you thinking more about the crisp than the heat.
The Verdict: Meh. Get if you love the tenders but hate the biscuits.
4. Jack in the Box Spicy Chicken Sandwich
This spicy chicken sandwich is very crispy, with a slightly spicy and peppery batter. But the filet is thin, making the focus of each bite the bread rather than the chicken. The Jack in the Box Spicy Chicken Sandwich comes with a leaf of iceberg lettuce, tomato and two slices of white cheese. “What kind of cheese?” you ask. I couldn’t really tell you. We love cheese but this is almost flavorless, its more about the texture and perception of cheese than the flavor here. The website even claims its “Swiss-Style.” Why, because it’s white and has holes in it? Okay, “check”… I guess.
Currently, Jack in the Box has an alternative in the Spicy Chicken Club, which is virtually the same but on sourdough and with bacon. The bacon adds a nice density to the very thin chicken filet, but the sourdough is sadly lacking in flavor, though we do prefer thinner pieces of bread to accompany this already thin filet. Jack in the Box always has great menu ideas for fast food, but this one doesn’t deliver on the flavor.
Spice Level: Moderate. More peppery than spicy.
The Verdict: Okay but still satisfying. Like your worst orgasm.
3. Burger King Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Finally, a nice juicy and thick chicken filet that actually delivers on spice AND flavor. The leaf lettuce is a quality above Jack in the Box’s as it doesn’t water down the flavor or provide too much of a crunch. It’s served on a potato bun which adds a softness and lightness that gives way to the flavor of the chicken — it’s a choice that really elevates the sandwich and put the focus on the chicken and heat level.
Our only major gripe with this sandwich is the consistency. You’re going to feel like a jerk but definitely ask for this sandwich “off the broiler” which is Burger King code for “fresh.” We’ve had this sandwich and it’s a lot different as it ages — ranging from “a delicious surprise” to “a flat-out waste of money.”
Spice Level: A kick worthy of the name “Spicy.”
The Verdict: Not regrettable and most days that’s good enough.
2. Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Juicy, thick, and spicy — a lot spicier than its competition. Wendy’s — this is a very good sandwich. The fact that it’s set on a slippery leaf of iceberg lettuce is the only downside and does a disservice to the flavor of the chicken.
If you can’t handle your spice (why are you reading this?) this may serve as a challenge for you. And even lovers of ridiculous heat levels can still get the sensation of spice in this sandwich. All spicy chicken sandwiches should aim to hit Wendy’s quality at the minimum, or else why bother?
Spice Level: Hot! Even to lovers of spice.
The Verdict: You will literally brag about having eaten fast food.
1. Chick-fil-a Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe
Whether you’ve left Chick-fil-A behind for the politics of their CEO or not, it’s hard to deny that the place makes hands down the best spicy chicken sandwich on the mainstream fast food market.
Don’t bother with the regular spicy chicken sandwich — which comes on a soft buttery bun with just pickles. Instead reach for the Deluxe, which has pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, and leaf lettuce. The breast filet is thick and high quality, the bun is sweet and not bland, the batter on the chicken has that “hand-breaded” feel, giving this chicken an attention to detail that it’s competition just doesn’t have.
The spicy breast filet is fried in 100% peanut oil, and it doesn’t share it’s oil with any other food — giving Chick fil-A’s sandwich a consistency and clarity in its flavor. The filet is lopsided, looking like well, a chicken breast, the veggies are crisp and although the cheese isn’t always melted, the pepper jack gives you an extra dose of spice if the chicken isn’t enough. The flavor, the heat level, and the presentation are all on point here.
Spice Level: Brow-sweat inducing with every bite!
The Verdict: Most restaurants don’t make a sandwich this good.