The Best Spicy Chicken Sandwiches in Fast Food Right Now

Making a great chicken sandwich is one thing. Making a great spicy chicken sandwich is a whole other.

best spicy chicken sandwich
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Welcome to The Fasties, Thrillist’s third-annual fast food awards! The awards feature more than a dozen categories celebrating all the best foods that came out of drive-thru windows over the past year—from the Best Coffee Nuggets to the Best Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and many more. Check out the full list of categories and winners.

The fast food fried chicken sandwich competition is fierce. Hell, people (including us) even referred to it as the "chicken wars" for a while there. Turns out the competition for the best spicy chicken sandwich in fast food is, well, even hotter.

Not only do you need to create a delicious overall chicken sandwich to serve as a strong foundation, you also have to infuse it with a delightful kick of heat that will please the masses. Who does it best? And which spicy chicken sandwiches have the perfect amount of crispy crunchiness and the best toppings? We took it upon ourselves to answer these very important questions.

Here's what we found...

Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist

10. McDonald's: Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: Lackluster chicken topped with pickles and a ton of sauce—all on a potato roll.

We'll cut to the chase here: The chicken McDonald's uses for this sandwich is simply sub-par compared to the many competitors you're about to see on this ranking. And, frankly, that's a shame because the sauce Spicy Pepper Sauce is packed with flavor and plenty of heat to help scratch your spicy chicken craving. Maybe that's why they douse the chicken with so much of it. But where's the crunchy crispiness in the breading? Where's the juice chicken breast interior? It's clear that McDonald's spent a long time at the drawing board before adding this sandwich and the other versions of it to the menu, but maybe it should go back.

9. Arby’s: Buffalo Crispy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: A small chicken filet doused in buffalo sauce and topped with parmesan peppercorn sauce and shredded lettuce on a toasted bun

As the only buffalo chicken sandwich we ate for this story, we were excited to find out where it would end up landing on the finished ranking. How can you go wrong with saucy, tangy buffalo chicken? Well, we're bummed to tell you that this Arby's hand a lot of good going for it, but one fatal flaw: the piece of chicken was laughably tiny. Like it only filled about two thirds of the bun, and it wasn't a big bun. The rest of the sandwich was very much tasty, especially the interplay between the hot buffalo sauce and somewhat cooling parmesan peppercorn sauce. We want to put the latter on everything, including Arby's industry-leading curly fries.

8. Wendy’s: Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: That black pepper-speckled crispy chicken breast, lettuce, good mayo, and sad tomatoes on an afterthought of a bun

While Chick-fil-A takes credit for inventing the first fried chicken sandwich, Wendy's claims its behind the original fast food spicy fried chicken sandwich, according to its extensive company timeline. It first started serving the Spicy Chicken Sandwich all the way back in 1995 as a limited-time offering, then landed back on the menu for good in 1996. Was it your first spicy chicken sandwich? It was definitely ours. And we've eaten hundreds of them since, so there's a strong sense of nostalgia that we can't shake every time we unwrap one. But that's not enough to make up for this sandwich's clear shortcomings. 

Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich has plenty of seasoning and flavor, but it's not all that spicy (we actually remember it being spicier in the '90s than it is now). It'll warm your mouth, but that's it. Other pros: It's got a nice level of crisp around the edges of the chicken, and the mayo is so good when you get a generous smear. The cons: The lettuce and tomato tend to be pretty sad and limp, while the bun just doesn't have anything going for it beyond its basic function as a vehicle. But, hey, we'll probably continue to happily eat these forever despite the many better options available today.

7. Culver’s: Spicy Crispy Chicken

The Build: Kinda dry chicken breast, iceberg lettuce, dill pickle, and tomato on a boring bun

We go to Culver's for its signature Wisconsin fried cheese curds and its best-in-class cheeseburgers. In fact, we named its Double ButterBurger with Cheese the best cheeseburger you can get right now as part of Thrillist's annual fast food awards, The Fasties. So, we had understandably high expectations going into our samples of the Spicy Crispy Chicken. Maybe they were too high.

On the one hand, the spicy crispy chicken on the sandwich was indeed crispy and indeed spicy (Culver's uses ghost pepper powder, according to its detailed ingredients list. On the other hand, the chicken was a tad drier than we had hoped. It had that sort of stringy interior that you'd see in an overcooked chicken strip, though it certainly wasn't too dry to enjoy it—we ate the whole thing in a matter of moments. The heat and flavor you're looking for in a spicy chicken sandwich is all there. We recommend a juicier chicken breast and an upgraded bun (while buttered, it's a tad plain and not as fluffy as others) for Culver's next iteration of this menu item. Oh, and maybe a spicy sauce for additional heat and overall moisture.

Courtesy of Whataburger

6. Whataburger: Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: A Whatachick’n fillet (don’t let the apostrophe fool you; it’s not fake meat), tomato, lettuce, and a healthy smear of creamy mayo, on a shiny brioche bun

There are few fast food experiences as transcendent as Whataburger’s golden Onion Rings dipped in its perfectly chilled Jalapeño Ranch sauce. It’s a pairing that perfectly illustrates how the Texas-based chain both makes itself stand out in the states’s greasy, crowded fast food arena and makes a name for itself beyond the confines of the Lone Star State. The chain's spicy chicken sandwich, however, isn't quite as exceptional.

Whataburger's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is the type of fast food fried chicken sandwich we were all used to eating before Popeyes came around and changed the game in 2019. Don't get us wrong—it's a good fried chicken sandwich. But it's more old school than the chicken sandwiches we're seeing as part of the fast food chicken sandwich 2.0 wave, so to speak, that we're in right now. The chicken is flatter and drier. The breading is relatively thin and inconsistently crispy. The pickles haven't been upgraded to the thick-cut kind. Basically, it could use a makeover. It's sheer size and abundance of spice (they're catering to Texans after all!) makes up for a lot here, resulting in an overall satisfying spicy chicken eating experience.

5. Jollibee: Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: Hand-breaded fried chicken, sriracha mayo, sliced jalapeños—all on a toasted brioche bun.

Thank you, Jollibee, for this juicy, well-seasoned chicken breast with just the right spicy chicken sandwich fixins'. The crispy fillet is excellent, largely due to a fried batter than holds its crunchy texture from first bite to last. It's the sriracha mayo and sliced jalapeños that earn this sandwich extra points, though, and places it squarely above many other spicy chicken sandwiches on the market, including those from McDonald's and Wendy's.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

4. Chick-fil-A: Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: Spicy breaded chicken breast and little, flaccid pickle chips on a buttered bun

With its striking lack of sauce, Chick-fil-A's Spicy Chicken Sandwich could very well be the simplest we encountered in our research. It's composed of three major ingredients: a breaded chicken breast infused with spices, a couple of pickle chips, and a buttered bun. That's it. And while the lack of sauce gave us significant pause, we found that the simplicity of this sandwich is actually kind of beautiful. You don't need a ton of condiments when the spicy kick and overall fried chicken flavor is there—and in this case, it totally is. Then again, Chick-fil-A's pickles are comically little and limp. They end up doing a disservice to its overall spicy chicken sandwich efforts here.

3. KFC: Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: Flavorful chicken with 11 herbs and spice, pickles, and spicy sauce on a brioche bun

Please take a moment to commend the Colonel for cracking the top three on this list. That's no small feat, considering the competition in this space. Then again, would we expect anything less than an absolutely delicious spicy chicken sandwich from a fast food fried chicken icon? No way. KFC was born for this, and it shows in its Spicy Chicken Sandwich.

No surprise here, but the chicken itself has that KFC 11 herbs and spices flavor. The meat is moist and tender with an above-average amount of crunch that holds up through most of the eating experience, though not enough crunch to best the next two sandwiches on this ranking. Most importantly, the heat you're looking for in a sandwich with "spicy" in its name is there. The only other downside is that you might find the whole thing to be a tad too salty, even for a menu item from a fried chicken chain. 

2. Burger King: Spicy Ch'King Sandwich

The Build: Spicy glazed chicken, big ol' pickles, and savory sauce on a potato bun

Other than Arby's somewhat disappointing Buffalo Crispy Chicken Sandwich, Burger King's Spicy Ch'King is the only other spicy chicken sandwich we taste tested that employs a spicy glaze the envelopes the entire chicken breast instead of a spicy sauce on top, like most others. It's a critical characteristic that helped this sandwich soar to the No. 2 spot on this ranking. Why is it so important? This glaze unlocks an achievement that competing sandwiches struggle to attain: a consistent level of spicy heat in every bite. The King smartly stashed the spice all over the breading of the chicken breast fillet instead of a spicy sauce that could end up being unevenly distributed. We know, this is super nerdy, but we strongly contend that it makes a difference. 

On top of nailing the heat of the sandwich, BK does the basics better than most. In fact, we named its regular, non-spicy Ch'King the best fried chicken sandwich in fast food right now. The chicken itself is a crispy, crunchy, golden-brown marvel. The thick-cut pickles are stars in their own right, with their pleasing texture and sharp vinegar-y tang. The soft potato bun is more like what you'd find from more expensive fast casual chains. 

There's just one component on this sandwich that doesn't work: the savory, mayo-based signature sauce. Why Burger King decided to include the same sauce as the regular Ch'King is beyond us. It tastes just fine, but it ends up detracting from the sandwich's heat. Maybe it's just us, but we don't think that should be happening in a spicy chicken sandwich.

All said, you truly cannot go wrong with Burger King's Spicy Ch'King. It's got everything a delicious spicy chicken sandwich should have, and each of those components is damn-near perfect. However, there's one spicy chicken option that's slightly better, and interestingly, it comes from a chain that's owned by the same parent company as Burger King. Guess who! Or, you know, just keep reading to find out.

Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

1. Popeyes: Spicy Chicken Sandwich

The Build: A damn-near perfect chicken breast fillet, thick-cut pickle chips, and Cajun-style spicy spread. all on a toasted brioche bun

When everyone went nuts over Popeyes' fried chicken sandwich a few years ago, they were talking about the spicy version. Don't get us wrong—the regular, Classic Chicken Sandwich is exceptional. But the spicy one—and the instant wave of heat that it unleashes in your mouth—is simply better. In fact, it's the best spicy fried chicken sandwich in all of fast food today.

Popeyes masters the two major aspects of a great spicy chicken sandwich: it has to be both a great chicken sandwich overall and it has to consistently deliver the perfect amount of spice to please everyone.

The foundation this sandwich is built on is rock solid: It has a delightful balance of crunchy buttermilk batter and cloud-like brioche bun; crisp, tangy pickles that bless the sandwich with a depth of salt and zest; and the glorious chicken breast possesses the perfect amount of salt and spices and one of the most consistently crunch batters in the game, all while delivering an impressively juicy and succulent chicken breast interior. 

As for the perfect spicy heat, Popeyes achieves this with a Cajun-style, remoulade-like spread that you can almost always see peeking out from under the top of the bun. They don't skimp on it, which is critical. In our extensive testing, we found enough spicy sauce to provide an even level of heat across the entire sandwich. It combines with Popeyes' standard fried chicken spices in the batter as you eat it, resulting in enough heat to please spicy food fiends (though they can always ask for extra sauce) and an amount that won't inflame more sensitive palates. 

The Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich is fast food's magical alchemy at its best.

Fast Food Spicy Chicken Sandwich FAQ

Which fast food chain was the first to serve a spicy chicken sandwich?
Wendy’s introduced its Spicy Chicken Sandwich in 1996. None of the other major fast food chains’ spicy chicken sandwiches predates that. So, while there were definitely spicy chicken sandwiches being made in America before 1996, Wendy’s holds the official title for the first fast food chain to serve a spicy chicken sandwich.

Do any fast food chains make a buffalo chicken sandwich?
Yes, for sure. Arby’s offers a Buttermilk Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. It's made with a crispy, tender filet of buttermilk chicken drenched in spicy buffalo sauce, a creamy parmesan peppercorn ranch dressing, and shredded iceberg lettuce, all packed into a bun.

Who makes the best fried chicken sandwich in fast food?
In case you missed it, this very question led to a years-long internet battle commonly referred to as the fast food chicken wars. It all started when Popeyes dissed Chick-fil-A on Twitter shortly after launching its game-changing chicken sandwich in August of 2019. Almost every other major chain has introduced new and improved chicken sandwiches since then. We’ve eaten them all, and can safely declare a winner in our ranking of the best fast food fried chicken sandwiches.

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