My definitive ranking of the Classic Chicken Sandwich

There have been few moments in history that have redefined how future generations will look back on that time. Those moments that will always be talked about. Personally, I think about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand sparking World War One, or even the day the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA, and even the day the orange man got elected president. I will never forget though, that day in August of 2019 when Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen woke up and chose violence and Gen Z and Millenials lost their minds. Popeyes took a straight shot at the self proclaimed king of the chicken sandwich, Chick-Fil-A, with their rendition of the classic “invention.” Social media was flooded overnight with posts asking what team you were on, #TeamPopEyes or #TeamCFA. You also could not scroll through stories on Instagram without seeing a poll asking which sandwich was better. Popeyes created such a movement that celebrities got involved and one person even lost their life trying to get one. In 2019, the proletariat comprised of the “other” fast food establishments (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, etc.) decided enough was enough and decided to follow suit.

Since the release of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, other fast food establishments have tried to do their own take on a deep fried chicken breast between two slices of bread with some pickles and a unique sauce. I live in Durham, North Carolina and the options for chicken sandwiches here in this section of the east coast are limited, but amongst the top establishments in the fast food industry that have a chicken sandwich, I have been able to try them and here is my definitive ranking of them, from worst to best. I have not tried the creations at places like Sonic, Whataburger, Checkers, or even Arby’s (but who would try Arby’s?).

The throne is empty, but I believe one empire has risen from the ashes to claim its rightful seat. Here is my ranking.

7. Wendy’s

At the bottom of the barrel slowly deteriorating and withering away, we have the Wendy’s Classic Chicken Sandwich. First of all, there is nothing classic about this. Wendy’s threw creativity out the window when they released this. This sandwich is nothing new from their previous chicken sandwiches with nothing other than a new name. The breast patty is weak with no added spices or any flavor, not to mention the embarrassing size of this patty adds even more reasons to despise it. Wendy’s claim that things are “fresh never frozen” is questionable after eating this atrocity. One major component in the chicken sandwich race is a special sauce usually comprised of mayo, paprika, ketchup, and some other spices. This sandwich lacks that necessary component substituting it with an absurd amount of mayonnaise. This is a sad, pathetic attempt at joining a race they had no business in. Go home, Roger.

6. McDonald’s

You would think that the most iconic restaurant in American history would be able to create something worthy of making the Chick-Fil-A sandwich sleep with one eye open. Sadly, McDonald’s has not risen to the challenge. They have added 3 options (regular, spicy, and deluxe), but even this variety has added nothing. The sandwich itself is usually soggy all around and tastes like they warmed the entire thing up in a microwave before they served it to you. The breaded patty has no flavor along with zero crunch— which is a must in this race. This is just a glorified McChicken. The one redeeming quality of this sandwich is the spicy sauce on the spicy version. The spicy sauce does make up for a lot of lost ground, but still it comes nowhere near the top.

5. Burger King

I thought Burger King was doing just alright with their 6 inch chicken sandwich. But, for some reason BK felt like joining this fight and nobody really knows what they are doing here. I pulled this sandwich out of the bag and was first amazed at the sheer size of the sandwich. It was hard for the bag top to even close. There is a lot of chicken in this sandwich. Just looking at it can feel overwhelming throwing off the bun to patty to pickle ratio, but when have ratios ever mattered to Burger King? I mean, the sandwich is just okay. The crunch is soft. Like the sandwiches preceding this one, there is still limited flavor in the breading itself. The sauce is very mayo heavy adding no tanginess to the sandwich other than a slight sweetness in every bite. The bun on this sandwich is where redemption on this list starts. BK has buttered this bun and there is a perfect toast on this sandwich. I’m not really sure what they are doing with the spicy version though. The spicy version has no special sauce, but the patty is covered in a strange Nashville Hot type sauce. If you do choose to try this one, get the spicy sandwich, but personally, I think BK should just stick to the Whopper and sit this one out.

4. Chick-Fil-A

The golden standard. The self proclaimed king. The assumed victor. Jesus’ favorite chicken sandwich. The Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich is nothing special and even the marketing surrounding this is subtle, well because, why try to sell something that sells itself? At its core, this race is about which deep fried piece of chicken breast between two buns and some pickles is the best, and Chick-Fil-A has done it well for decades. I mean, they invented it right? Their slogan is “We didn’t invent The Chicken, just The Chicken Sandwich!” This sandwich is familiar and it packs much more flavor than the others in the breading department. There is a reason why the sandwich war started with this creation. This sandwich just does everything right, but I think we have become too familiar with it. The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” means that extensive knowledge or close association with something leads to a loss of respect for it. This is where I am with this sandwich. The sandwich also comes un-sauced, meaning we have to add either a Barbeque or Chick-Fil-A sauce to the top. Without sauce this sandwich is bland. Also, there is no crunch on this sandwich unless you get lucky. I can appreciate the antiquity with every bite sending me back to the days where we could sit and listen to CCM instrumentals and play the game where we see how many times we can get an employee to say “my pleasure,” but we need a new king and the days of Chick-Fil-A leading this race are over. I won’t stay away from this place, but it’s something I won’t seek out.

3. Zaxby’s

Now we’re in the final stretch. The throne is in sight and now we are packing the courts with trustworthy leaders to fill in when the new king is not available. The Zaxby’s New Signature Sandwich was second nature to this establishment. They knew what they were doing and they executed it with precision. The split bun creates a nice grip for your hands on top and the flavor is strong with this sandwich. There are hints of paprika, cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder all combined perfectly on what can only be a twice breaded patty. The crunch is too strong for a single breading. The Zax Sauce adds a perfect zest to the sandwich and don’t even get me started on the spicy Zax Sauce. Spicy Zax is a beautiful mixture of buffalo flavoring and peppery goodness. The only difference between the spicy and non spicy is the sauce and not the flavoring in the breading itself. The sandwich is smaller than the others, but worth it if you pair it with seasoned fries and a lemonade. A noble companion when the last two are not in sight.

2. Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

The one that started all this. I mean, just look at this picture, you can practically hear and taste this picture. Popeyes has done fried chicken right ever since they added a Louisiana inspired flavor to their menu. The Popeyes sandwich does a lot right and had good reason to start this whole debacle. Though they rely on mayo to be the sauce on this one, the flavor is PACKED into the breading on the breast patty. Every bite is a mouthful of cajun inspired flavoring and bits of hanging fried batter that add just so much to the experience. If you get the spicy sandwich you do get a spicy buffalo inspired sauce which is subtle, but the flavor in this sandwich is focused on the patty itself so I’m not upset. This sandwich is huge too and you definitely get what you pay for. There is a reason why Popeyes decided to snipe from a distance and take this shot to start this war. The nation was enthralled with this sandwich. It was released in August of 2019 and I couldn’t get my hands on one until March of 2020 due to nationwide shortages, long lines, and even being temporarily sold out completely. This was a phenomenon. This sandwich is catalytic. This sandwich is iconic. This sandwich started a movement. It’s very good, but it’s not the best.

  1. Kentucky Fried Chicken

In the shadows, the Colonel has been quietly witnessing the violence and decided enough is enough. The release of this sandwich felt like Aslan proudly standing on the rock coming to save us all. This sandwich is a quarter pound, double breaded patty with the Colonel’s 11 Herbs and Spices making it mysterious and delicious all at once. The toasted brioche bun paired with the Colonel’s Mayo (which is probably just mayo) and some THICK pickles makes this sandwich something to remember. And when I tell you this is a crunchy sandwich, I mean it. Every bite is followed by an audible sound in your ears that makes it hard to hear what is happening around you. This sandwich is a delight to anyone who tries it. Furthermore, this sandwich can change a stubborn chicken sandwich connoisseur or a Chick-Fil-A stan to think differently about their sandwich preferences. The process for this sandwich was intense too. They tested 8 different pickle sizes and 10 different bread recipes to make sure it was perfect at roll out. The spicy sauce is also near perfect. There seems to be a cajun inspired flavor along with a perfect texture of creaminess and spice. It is actually spicy! Popeyes probably has the upper hand on the actual breading being spicier, but the Colonel takes the chip with potent flavor all around. The meal comes with fries and a biscuit too! This is the king. The battle is won, but the war is not over.

I’m a graduate student at Duke University in the Divinity School pursuing a Master’s in Divinity. I love Basketball. Richmond, VA and Alyson have my heart.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store