The Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches in Fast Food, Ranked

We all know Popeyes' sandwich is great, but what about the rest?

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Chicken sandwiches can be a touchy topic. What type of batter works better -- tight coats of seasoning and flour that shatter into oily little flecks, or popcorn-like blossoms of crackle and crunch? Does a chicken sandwich need pickles, or do tomatoes and lettuce suffice? Most importantly, which fast food chain makes the chicken sandwich to rule them all?

These are the questions that weighed on me as I set out on a quest to find the best chicken sandwich in fast food, a journey of self-discovery through crispy chicken and lots of pickles. Over the last several weeks, I got my hands on chicken sandwiches from nearly a dozen popular chains across the country -- from Carl's Jr. to Culver's. My rules were simple: The chicken sandwich had to be fried. It had to be similar in shape; only round buns, not squares of sliced bread or subs, were allowed. Finally, the sandwich had to have similar components to its competitors, meaning I didn't go around comparing spicy sandwiches to regular ones or value menu offerings to those higher up the pecking order (unless that was the only one on the menu, like at Jack in the Box).

After devouring every chicken sandwich I could find at major chains -- and definitely feeling some sodium-induced bloat in my stomach -- I can officially proclaim a winner and some runner ups, including a few that may surprise you. 

11. Burger King: Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Price: $5.99
The Build: Potato bun, white meat chicken filet, tomato, lettuce, not enough mayonnaise

For the sake of keeping this ranking relatively consistent, I ordered Burger King's Crispy Chicken Sandwich rather than its long, sub-like Original Chicken Sandwich. Maybe that is where I went wrong because this wasn't the interpretation of the classic chicken sandwich I was expected from the royal burger chain.

Obviously, fried chicken is liberally seasoned and a salty patty is to be expected from a fast food joint, but the King's relatively thin fried patty left my mouth on the dry side. The tomatoes and lettuce, which both lacked any crispness, didn't provide much relief. A heavy smear of mayo might have been able to save the day, but I couldn't detect any even though the sandwich is meant to sport some. The mayo was missing. 

wendy's chicken sandwich homestyle
Courtesy of Wendy's/Twitter

10. Wendy’s: Homestyle Chicken Sandwich

Price: $5.79
The Build: Toasted bun, chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise

Wendy’s has a lot of nerve. The pigtailed chain once claimed on Twitter that it has the best fried chicken sandwich and that its competitors are just "fighting for second best." But in reality, its Homestyle Chicken Sandwich leaves a lot to be desired; namely, juiciness and seasoning other than salt. 

Look, there's nothing wrong with making a sandwich easier to eat, but this white meat patty was pounded too thin and ended up feeling dry. The tomatoes added a layer to the sandwich, but not a layer of deliciousness. However, the lettuce managed to provide a fresh crunch. Wendy’s beats out Burger King mainly because the mayonnaise was present and added moisture to the sandwich. 

9. Jack in the Box: Chicken Sandwich

Price: $1.89
The Build: Greasy buns, a tiny chicken patty, lettuce, and mayo

You have to understand that this chicken sandwich is a value-menu item. It’s less than $2, and compared to the Jack’s Spicy Chicken sandwich, which boasts a heftier-looking piece of chicken and more toppings, this offering is pretty meager. But this is a chicken sandwich ranking, not a spicy chicken sandwich ranking, and therefore this is what goes on the list. The sandwich itself doesn’t taste offensive, but it’s boring. The chicken patty is a half inch in diameter smaller than the bun, so the patty is suffocating underneath the disproportionate amount of carbs. There’s no real batter, the chicken center is spongy, and the overall flavor is completely one note. The lettuce and mayonnaise are fine, and bring moisture to the sandwich, though it doesn’t need much because the bun is a bit greasy. Overall, it’s a sandwich that will satisfy a picky eater seeking something plane -- but it’s nothing to go back for.

arby's chicken sandwich
Andy Kryza/Thrillist

8. Arby's: Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Price: $4.99
The Build: Star cut bun, buttermilk breaded chicken filet, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise

From here on out, I want to make it clear I enjoyed all these chicken sandwiches. Some were just better than others, and that was the case for Arby's.

Arby's Crispy Chicken Sandwich isn't a revelation, but it is a solid attempt. The chicken patty was juicy and had a nice pepperiness to it, while the fresh tomatoes were plentiful and succulent. Meanwhile, the iceberg lettuce didn't provide much of anything for the sandwich, other than a slight crunch. My main reason for ranking this sandwich so low is the lack of sauce or mayonnaise. Though the chicken patty itself wasn't dry, the sandwich as a whole was. 

I also think this Crispy Chicken Sandwich could be improved with some pickles. A nice tang could really tie the entire sandwich together and make it feel whole. And, of course, not as dry. Again, it's a tasty sandwich -- just don't expect it to leave you fist-pumping with joy at your desk or dinner table. That'd be kinda weird anyway. 

7. Culver’s: Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Price: $4.29
The Build: Kaiser bun, crispy chicken patty, lettuce, tomato

Culver’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich has some good things going for it. The batter is crispy and well-seasoned, the interior of the chicken is juicy, the pickle chips are tangy, and the Kaiser bun is fluffy. But all of this is lost beneath mealy slices of tomatoes and limp lettuce. That's excusable, but a complete lack of sauce -- not even a smidge of mayonnaise -- renders the sandwich completely dry and lackluster. If there was a melted slice of cheese, a squeeze of mayonnaise, or a pat of butter as Culver’s is famous for, maybe this sandwich would be bumped up a few notches.

6. Jollibee: Chicken Sandwich Classic

Price: $4.49
The Build: Soft bun, peppery chicken patty, crunchy lettuce, tomato, and mayo

Bless Jollibee for this tender, juicy, and well-seasoned chicken patty with all the right fixings. The mayonnaise is generous and keeps the chicken from feeling too dry, the lettuce is crunchy and provides additional crunch, and the entire sandwich is well-seasoned -- salty in some bites, refreshing in others. I do wish the mayonnaise had a twist to it; perhaps some herbs or spices would liven it up. It’s a well-made sandwich, but Jollibee’s buckets of fried chicken are even better.

KFC crispy colonel
Courtesy of KFC

5. KFC: Crispy Colonel Sandwich

Price: $5.49 
The Build: Toasted bun, one absolutely huge piece of crispy chicken, pickles, mayonnaise

As an actual fried chicken chain, it’d be a bit embarrassing if KFC couldn’t pull off a simple chicken sandwich. But it can!

Let's dig in. The chicken had a satisfyingly crunchy batter -- rigid like mountain peaks -- that gave way to a glistening, moisture-packed piece of chicken. And the chicken was huge, among the biggest of the sandwiches I tried. In fact, everything about the crispy colonel was generous: the mayonnaise was creamy and plentiful, while I counted four piquant pickles that easily cut through the heavy fat of everything else.

The chicken sandwich, of course, isn’t without its flaws. The bun was too greasy (so greasy, in fact, it seeped through the foil wrapping), the batter seemed slightly undercooked in the center of the sandwich, and the saltiness from the chicken itself did leave me thirstier than any other sandwich. I’d love to return and try the other variations of the Crispy Colonel -- there’s a Nashville hot sandwich, a barbecue-flavored version, and one dubbed the “Georgia Gold.”

4. Carl’s Jr: Big Fillet Chicken Sandwich

Price: $6.89
The Build: Premium bun, chicken fillet with “southern spices,” lettuce, tomato, and mayo

The price of Carl’s Jr.’s chicken sandwich is a little bit surprising, but the flavor is well-worth the cost. The Big Fillet Chicken Sandwich comes together thanks to white meat chicken covered in a well-seasoned, herbaceous batter. And just as its name suggests, this sandwich is actually pretty big.

The bun is soft and the mayonnaise creamy and generous. The only downsides of this chicken sandwich? The massive head of lettuce Carl’s wanted to include in the one I ordered, which was watery and unevenly distributed, and tomatoes that were average but not memorable. Sure, I’d get this sandwich again and recommend it to others.

chick-fil-A original chicken sandwich
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

3. Chick-fil-A: Original Chicken Sandwich

Price: $4.99
The Build: Buttered bun, boneless chicken breast, two very small pickles

I want to understand the cult of Chick-fil-A. I really do. But why has every visit to Chick-fil-A I've ever had left me in minor disappointment?

When Chick-fil-A first landed in California, back when I was still in high school, the promise of the best chicken sandwich in existence finally felt within reach. And here’s the good: The chicken itself is gloriously juicy, with a light, well-seasoned batter. I like the idea of customizing this no-frills chicken sandwich with the myriad of sauces offered -- and Chick-fil-A sauce is undoubtedly delicious. The two pickle chips pressed between the chicken and bottom bun provide some appreciated acidity.

But here’s the bad: The chicken batter is almost always soggy, as is the bun. The sandwich steams within the confines of its foil bag, rendering it soft all over. Without a dousing of the aforementioned sauce, this sandwich is sadly dry. And while the flavor of the pickles are respectable, they were the smallest pickle chips of any of the sandwiches -- easily devoured within a bite and a half.

If this were purely a judgment based on the piece of fried chicken alone, then perhaps Chick-fil-A could have gone for the silver. But since we’re discussing chicken sandwiches, I have to note that not all the components worked. I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of Chick-fil-A’s rabid fandom, and I’m perfectly OK with that.

2. McDonald’s: Buttermilk Crispy Chicken

Price: $5.69
The Build: Artisan roll, white meat chicken filet, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise

McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich is a sleeper hit. While I’m just as shocked as you are that this sandwich ranks so high, I have to say that I’m even more surprised no one is talking about it.

The sandwich is phenomenal -- miles ahead of the flattened discs of the McChickens I ate throughout high school (which, to be real, I still love). The patty was so flavorful, the aroma of buttermilk is evident throughout. The chicken itself was cooked well, though pounded a little bit too thin for my liking. The lettuce was refreshing and -- oh my -- the tomatoes. The tomatoes were a deep, succulent, cherry red and cut thick yet proportional to the rest of the sandwich. I could hardly believe I was enjoying sliced tomatoes from McDonald’s because they tasted like they’d been picked fresh in a garden. And the mayonnaise was spread evenly and lavishly, seductively spilling over the edges of the chicken in a way that is atypical for McDonald’s.

I loved every second of it, and am looking forward to returning to McDonald’s for another Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich. But, really, where's the meme war over this sandwich?

popeyes chicken sandwich
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

1. Popeyes: Chicken Sandwich

Price: $3.99
The Build: Brioche bun, a hefty piece of buttermilk battered chicken, huge pickles, mayonnaise 

This is it. The preeminent fast food chicken sandwich. I hinted that this could be the best chicken sandwich in fast food in my initial review late last summer, and well, my initial reactions have been confirmed after eating nearly a dozen chicken sandwiches from various chains in recent weeks. Popeyes' chicken sandwich is flawless.

The glorious newcomer has everything you'd want and expect from a classic fried chicken sandwich, and at one of the lowest prices in the pack. The sandwich's balance of crunchy buttermilk batter; cloud-like and sweet brioche buns; and crisp, tangy pickles came together like a symphony of fat, salt, and zest. The mayonnaise was velvety, while the two sizable pickles filled the surface area of the bottom bun, ensuring a kick of vinegar in every bite. The glorious chicken breast -- the center of it all -- had the perfect amount of salt, spice, and seasonings in the crunchiest batter of all the chicken sandwiches I ate, while still maintaining a juicy, succulent interior.

Popeyes upended the fast food fried chicken sandwich game. It's an awe-inspiring chicken sandwich and it’s shocking it took the company this long to share it with the world. Believe the hype people. The reason Popeyes was selling out of the sandwich left and right is because it's truly the best fried chicken sandwich in fast food right now.

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Kat Thompson writes about food for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn
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