We Tried McDonald’s New Chicken Sandwiches to See if They’re as Good as Popeyes’

Can Popeyes keep its title?

Illustration by Grace Han/Thrillist, Photos Courtesy of McDonald's, Popeyes

When Popeyes debuted its game-changing fried chicken sandwich back in August of 2019, we got not one, but two versions: classic and spicy. Since then, the chain’s competitors—KFC, Church’s, Jack in the Box, even Taco Bell—have largely followed suit, rolling out pairs of similarly “new and improved” takes on the fast food staple in attempts to overthrow the reigning chicken champ.

The latest chain to belatedly join the chicken wars, McDonald’s, is trying to one-up Popeyes and the others with an entire trio of brand-new chicken sandwiches—Crispy, Spicy, and Deluxe. The company’s revamped sandwiches hit menus nationwide on Wednesday. 

The lineup of three sandwiches begs the question: Did McDonald's prioritize quantity over quality? Or can the golden-arched fast food chain give Popeyes a run for its money? Well, we ordered up each one (yep, all five sandwiches) for a head-to-head comparison with those very questions in mind. And more. How do McDonald’s and Popeyes’ sandwiches differ? Which chain achieved the best crunch? Whose sandwich has the best pickles and sauces? We’re answering all. 

When can you get McDonald’s new chicken sandwiches? 

All three of McDonald’s new chicken sandwiches officially hit the nationwide menu on Wednesday, February 24. This follows an early sneak peak for diehard fans on February 23. 

Of course, Popeyes’ sandwiches have been available for about a year and a half now, though we shouldn’t forget those couple of months when it was totally sold out.

The Overall Sandwich

When it came time for the grand reveal, I was less than impressed with how McDonald’s sandwiches looked. Placed side-by-side against the Popeyes sandwiches, they paled in terms of visuals. My first impressions of the McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich in particular left more to be desired.

The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is the simplest of the three versions. It features a fried chicken fillet with crinkle-cut pickles on a potato roll—without any sauce, which is a major distinction. The Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich includes all the same ingredients, but with the addition of a spicy pepper sauce. The final contender, the Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich, is stacked with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. 

As a quick refresher, Popeyes’ chicken sandwiches are made with a fried chicken fillet marinated in Louisiana-style seasonings, barrel-cured pickles, toasted brioche buns, and regular or spicy mayonnaise depending on which version you order. 

The Bun

This is where McDonald’s scored some easy points. The chain opted for a super-soft potato bun as opposed to Popeyes’ go-to brioche. It was light, fluffy, tasty, and ultimately served as the perfect vessel for the chicken and toppings in terms of flavor and texture. It tasted and felt almost refreshing compared to the rich and buttery brioche of the Popeyes sandwiches.

The Chicken 

Upon removing the sandwiches from their wrappings, it was immediately clear that McDonald’s fried chicken simply doesn’t hold a feather to that of Popeyes. On all three versions of the sandwich, Mickey D’s chicken was thin, flat, and lacking in the crispiness department. This is a surprising development, considering McDonald’s is now competing with actual fried chicken chains in both Popeyes and KFC. In other words, the bar is clearly high.

The great thing about Popeyes’ chicken breading is that it’s golden with crispiness and has significant texture and crunch. This is where McDonald’s misstepped. While the chicken beneath the breading was as tender and flavorful as Popeyes’, the lack of crunch detracted from the experience, weighing these sandwiches down. Popeyes’ Louisiana-style seasoning also provides a nice kick that its competitor doesn’t offer.

Tony Merevick/Thrillist

The Sauce

With the regular Crispy Chicken Sandwich, McDonald’s appears to be aiming for simplicity by not including a sauce, much like Chick-fil-A. The closest we get to a sauce here is salted butter that McDonald’s spreads on the bun. We appreciate sticking to the basics, but McDonald’s would do well to mimic Popeyes instead of Chick-fil-A and throw some mayo on this thing.

McDonald’s showed us that it knows heat with its Spicy McNuggets and Mighty Hot Sauce, and it proves this again with the Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich. It comes topped with an all-new pepper spicy sauce—a bright orange, creamy mayo with serious kick. While its chicken is inferior to Popeyes, McD’s spicy chicken sandwich brings the heat in a way that Popeyes doesn’t. I attribute this to both the higher overall spice level and the amount of sauce used. 

As for the Deluxe sandwich, the sauce is straightforward. McDonald’s uses a classic, smooth mayo, which certainly adds a nice dimension of tangy flavor to the chicken that the basic Crispy version lacks. 

The Pickles 

To me, the pickles can make or break a fried chicken sandwich. KFC recently earned serious points for its pickles in its own matchup against Popeyes, but the latter chain’s salty cucumber slices aren’t about to be dethroned by that of McDonald’s. The pickles were thin, and much like the fillet, lacked crunch. While they added a little sweetness and zest to the experience, I would’ve preferred a thicker, crispier version. 

Tony Merevick/Thrillist

Are McDonald’s chicken sandwiches better than Popeyes’?

I had high expectations for McDonald’s return to the fried chicken sandwich arena, but like many other chains over the last few months, it falls short of equalling—let alone exceeding—Popeyes’ excellence in this space. While McDonald’s serves up a damn-good potato bun, decent pickles, and a spicy version of the sandwich that packs true heat, its fried chicken simply doesn’t measure up. Whereas the Spicy version makes up for this with its delicious sauce, the Deluxe version’s mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes just seem to try to distract you from the chicken.

The bottom line: Out of the three sandwiches McDonald’s has put forward, you should go with the Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich.

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.