The fried chicken sandwich is a fast-food staple, a go-to order for the burger averse and people who enjoy referencing deep-cut Insane Clown Posse lyrics. And though I'm sadly not a Juggalo, I have already knocked-off burgers, so I figured it was time I taste-tested the birds. But this go-round, I was (kind of) smart(er): I broke down the tastings over two days so I wouldn't unfairly judge against sandwiches I was tasting later in the campaign, and also so I wouldn't die from eating 6,300 calories worth of fried meat in one sitting.
How I did it: Unlike burgers, I opted to try all of the chain's premium fried chicken offerings, rather than the lowest price-point chicken sandwich. As most consisted of some combination of breaded chicken fillet, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, I tried to stay as close as possible to that order (though, as you'll see, sometimes it was challenging). The test was conducted in both San Francisco and San Diego over two days ending on August 4th, 2014. My mouth still tastes salty.
9. BURGER KING'S TENDERCRISP CHICKEN SANDWICH
The build: Fried chicken fillet, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, on an "artisan-style" bun
Wait time: 2min 48 sec
Tasting notes: In high school, we used to go to the 24-hour Burger King off the Mass Pike by using a service road off a random side street in Natick to enter it without actually getting on the Pike. And we went there a lot -- because of that, I would posit that I've easily been to Burger King 5x more than any other fast-food restaurant -- and I'd always get the original chicken sandwich, and I have fond memories of high school, so my hopes were high with this one. But it just didn't deliver. While the bun was pliable, squishy, and actually decent tasting, my taste buds were overwhelmed by a fried taste due to too-heavy breading that wasn't crunchy in that satisfying way... or flavorful. It was also over-dressed with mayo, which took away from some decent lettuce and tomato action. Apparently there is a reason BK is not called Chicken King, despite that being a very catchy name.
8. JACK IN THE BOX'S SPICY CHICKEN SANDWICH
The build: Spicy crispy chicken fillet, lettuce, tomato, "Mayo-Onion" sauce, on a sesame bun
Wait time: 1min 58sec
Tasting notes: Jack in the Box left me in a quandary. Last time, with the burger taste-test, I felt badly because it seemed like their non-basic options would test so much better than the lowest level, so I was excited to get to try something premium. But the only non-spicy upper-middle level sandwich they offered was the Homestyle Ranch Chicken Club, and that was too different and too bacon-y to compare. So I was left with a dilemma, and decided the spicy option was the most similar to all the others. And though it did have some moves -- the lettuce and tomato were actually pretty crispy and juicy, which I definitely didn't expect from Jack -- the rest left much to be desired. Although the chicken coating was sufficiently crunchy, it was over-breaded, the bun was really soggy on the bottom, and there was too much Mayo-Onion sauce. Like, way too much. Like, it made some sort of mayo imprint all along the top of the chicken, which is not something I enjoyed typing.
7. MCDONALD'S PREMIUM CRISPY CHICKEN SANDWICH
The build: Fried white chicken breast fillet, leaf lettuce, tomato, mayo, on a "bakery style bun made with 8 grams of whole grain"
Wait time: 3min 23sec
Tasting notes: Ah, Mickey D's. Like BK, I have fond memories of the McChicken Sandwich from high school, usually eating one off the dollar menu, along with two cheeseburgers as I thought about what I really wanted to order as my entree. And McDonald's usually knows what it's doing on the upscale chicken sandwich front, but this felt like a miss. And here's why: the bun. It was just really, really not great. Maybe it was all that whole grain they shoved in it, or the weird topping that felt like it belonged on nine-grain sandwich bread, but either way, it was dry and a little crumbly and sacrificed what was otherwise a decent experience. The lettuce and tomato felt fresh(ish). The chicken was breaded nicely and offered a good crunch, but didn't really provide a very distinctive fried chicken flavor. Change that bun, Chairman Ronald. With your powers, I'm sure you can tuck "8 grams of whole grain" into something a little more delicious.
6. WENDY'S HOMESTYLE CHICKEN SANDWICH
The build: "Specially seasoned" fried chicken fillet, lettuce, tomato, mayo, on a nondescript, seedless bun
Wait time: 4min 23sec (but I also got a Frosty)
Tasting notes: I like Wendy's chicken sandwich game. If you asked me beforehand which chicken sandwich I'd like the best of the Big Fast-Food Three, I'd have said Wendy's so quickly that you would get weirdly suspicious. I always get the Spicy Chicken Sandwich when I go there. Always. I never deviate, except once to get something on a pretzel bun, and that was a mistake I'm copping to now, because I feel like I can trust you.
Anyway, this was a perfectly fine experience. Although the lettuce was excessively limp, and the tomato was one of those tomatoes where the middle is basically all core, the chicken was moist, there was a good ratio of mayo, and the breading was peppery but not overwhelming, albeit a bit soggy. The bun -- which Wendy's doesn't even talk about on their site in the description, a rarity amongst fast-food chains nowadays -- was mostly pliable and a little sweet and soft. This is basically the utility infielder, the 1991 Steve Lyons of chicken sandwiches -- it may not be your first choice, but it can step in and perform serviceably when needed (also, I feel like Steve Lyons is definitely the type of dude to Google himself, so, hi, Steve Lyons!).
5. SONIC'S CRISPY CHICKEN SANDWICH
The build: "Lightly seasoned and breaded" chicken breast fillet, lettuce, tomato, light mayo, on a "warm, whole grain Ciabatta bun" made with 10 grams of whole grain
Wait time: 5min 27sec
Tasting notes: Why you would ever go through Sonic's drive-thru is beyond me. You have the option to park, hit a big ole red button, place your order, and a dude in f**ing roller skates will bring your meal to you. ROLLER SKATES! Anyway, outside of getting food from people on roller skates, the spice blend in the breading is the real champion of this very solid sandwich, with warm black pepper notes on the backend of each bite. The amount of mayo added was perfect, and the lettuce and tomato were crisp. The only issue was the Ciabatta, which isn't as light or really very Ciabatta-eque as most breads that would dare use that Italian white bread moniker. All in all, extremely solid.
4. CARL'S JR.'S BIG CHICKEN FILLET
The build: Crispy chicken fillet "dusted with Southern spices", plus lettuce, tomato, and mayo, on a "fresh baked bun"
Wait time: 2min 37sec
Tasting notes: This is the new kid on the block, and probably the biggest surprise of the group. I didn't know what to think of Carl's Jr.'s new entry into the chicken sandwich wars, mostly because I'm so used to them strictly introducing stunt products that 21-year-olds really, really want to eat when they're enjoying safe amounts of legal alcoholic beverages. But this sandwich was subtle and great.
The winner here was the fresh baked bun, which kind of looked a little strange (as you can see in the pic), but was squishy, lightly grilled and buttered, and stood up to the moisture really well. The actual fillet was huge, definitely the biggest of any of the restaurants, and the breading was peppery in a way I really liked, adding a little more spice than most of the standard builds. The only reason it didn't move even higher was because the chicken got pretty soggy where it was posted up against the tomatoes, and so my middle bites weren't quite as glorious. Still, even if you're not 21 or named Connor, you should still probably eat this.
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