Some of life’s great questions were never meant for humans to conclusively answer. Is there a God? Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe?
Perhaps the knowledge and dedication required to resolve such questions makes the search for their answers far too costly. Perhaps they request – nay, demand – a level of technological and intellectual prowess that only a more evolved species can reach.
But today, I can proudly announce that the answer to one such question has been discovered. After seventeen years of intense research and hundreds of thousands of calories consumed, I finally have the answer to the most important question:
Which fast food restaurant has the best fried chicken sandwich?
For some ground rules: eight fried chicken sandwiches were selected. The following restaurants and picks were chosen through a lengthy and meticulous scouring of online reviews of almost every chicken sandwich on the face of the earth. Two chicken sandwiches from each location were purchased, each chicken sandwich was quartered, and a panel of eight judges rigorously reviewed each sandwich. The criteria for each sandwich were: Juiciness, Flavor, Chicken Quality, Bun, Sauce, and Crispiness. In no particular order, this is the list of the reviewed sandwiches:
- The McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
- Wendy’s Homestyle Chicken Sandwich
- Raisin’ Canes The Sandwich
- Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich
- KFC Crispy Colonel Sandwich
- Shake Shack ChickenShack Sandwich
- Smashburger Crispy Chicken Sandwich
- Popeyes Chicken Sandwich
There are two omissions on this list that some may take offense to: the $1 Spicy Chicken Sandwich from McDonald’s and the Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich. The reason they were not included is because of the perceived unfairness in the comparing of expensive items to cheap ones, as is the case for the former option, and for the same unfairness in the comparison of spicy sandwiches to regular ones, as in the latter.
So, without further ado, here is the official ranking:
- The Wendy’s Homestyle Chicken Sandwich: A Significant Disappointment
This sandwich was everything that a fried chicken sandwich should not be. As the person who chose which sandwiches would be reviewed, numerous judges were unhappy with this inclusion. The Wendy’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich is dry, lacks crispiness, and tastes like low-quality chicken. The flavor of the chicken is fine – nothing special – and the bun avoids sogginess. In its best traits the Wendy’s sandwich achieves mediocrity, and in its worst, it forces you to grab a drink of water to dispel the dryness. While online reviews praise the grilled chicken sandwich, the fried chicken sandwich falls far short.
- Shake Shack: One of the Saddest Sandwiches Ever Served
Shake Shack makes my favorite burgers, and I was extremely excited to find out what they had for their chicken sandwich. What I received was far below the standards I had come to expect. Yes, it had the flavorful cherry peppers that elevate almost every Shake Shack Sandwich, and yes, it had excellent flavor and probably pretty decent quality. But the bun and chicken were completely soggy, soaked by a sad and subpar sauce that dropped Shake Shack near the bottom of the list. To be fair, the experience was almost assuredly affected by both the resistance to quartering and the length of the trip from chicken restaurant to chicken restaurant before ultimate consumption.
- The McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich: A Safe Bet
The McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich is expensive for McDonald’s, but it pays off in a nice, high quality chicken patty with a solid bun and great flavor. While there are some problems with crispiness and juiciness, this sandwich is exactly what you’re hoping for as soon as you exit the drive-through. This sandwich was uniquely delicious in terms of sauce- McDonald’s mayo is always spot on, and it blended well with the flavor of the chicken on the palate. Eating the sandwich evokes an appreciation for what the documentaries and research of the 90s and 2000s did to McDonald’s, transforming them from cheap garbage into a company that balances affordability and quality as well as any other fast food chain. It’s a good pick, and while the crispy chicken crunch we crave is lacking, everything else is exactly what it needs to be.
- Raisin’ Canes The Sandwich: Why, Oh, Why?
Any Clark student who was here before the great cafeteria purge of 2019 knows exactly what Raisin’ Canes truly meant to our student body. Canes was the promise of the happiness and relaxation of a rapidly approaching weekend that, even at Friday lunch, couldn’t seem further away. It was the long-awaited break after a particularly torturous Tuesday morning, a breath of fresh, chicken-flavored air that used to come between one never-ending class period to another. Canes will always hold a special place in my heart. Every time I go to the restaurant, I’m transported back to the cafeteria of my freshman year, a place of long lines full of impossibly gigantic students trying to steal my seat as I hope, desperately, that the person I knew in Science Olympiad is selling today and will save me a box before they run out. I’m returned to sophomore year, which now seems to have passed many decades ago, a time of child-like fantasy in which the dark reality of college applications isn’t so, so imminent.
It’s this deep personal connection that made picking Canes as a sandwich choice so inevitable, so unavoidably obvious for me, and it’s this deep personal connection that I feel Canes has betrayed with this chicken sandwich.
I’m exaggerating. The Canes sandwich is good; it’s better than Wendy’s and Shake Shack, and probably better than McDonald’s, too. But the Canes of my memories isn’t “probably” better than anything. It’s the best, indisputably, and Canes refusal to recognize what makes their boxes so successful and delicious seriously impacts this sandwich.
Whenever I ordered a Canes box and felt like having a sandwich, I’d use a piece of Texas Toast, coat one side with an irresponsibly large volume of Canes sauce, and stack a piece or two of chicken on top, folding the Texas Toast over to make a little bundle of joy. All I wanted from the Canes sandwich was a more formalized version of my personal creation. Instead, I was served a strangely dry bun with three pieces of, yes, delicious and juicy chicken, but with a sauce that does not resemble the sauce that Canes is so famous for. Without the buttery, crunchy-but-soft toast and iconic sauce, the Canes sandwich is a sad example of someone with all the pieces of the puzzle who refuses to put them together. I’m still a believer, and I will return regularly for the Caniac, but I will never, ever, order their sandwich again.
- Kentucky Fried Chicken The Crispy Colonel: Movin’ On Up
Kentucky Fried Chicken is a restaurant that I am barely acquainted with, but everything I see, I like. Their fried chicken sandwich is no exception. It had excellent flavor, was pretty juicy, crispy, served on a nice bun (with cheese!), and even had a very solid sauce. It’s a good sandwich. I’m impressed.
There was one shortcoming of the sandwich, however. A chicken sandwich has a certain look to it- a deep orange color that reminds one of a golden retriever puppy. The KFC Crispy Colonel instead had an unappealing pale yellow color that made it slightly uncomfortable to eat. While this, at least to me, indicates a less than optimal chicken quality, outside of this category it did very well. I recommend giving it a try.
- Smashburger Crispy Chicken Sandwich: Surprisingly Great
From here on in this list, you can do no wrong when ordering. You can only do less right.
Smashburger was an item on our list that I was prepared to omit, but I’m glad I didn’t. The sandwich was juicy, very crispy, and had good flavor, quality, bun, and sauce. There’s nothing to complain about. This is the standard by which a chicken sandwich should be measured. Smashburger does a lot right, not only on their chicken sandwich but on their menu as a whole, and this is a new addition that you do not want to miss out on. To me, Smashburger is one of the most underrated fast food joints in the area, and this is just one more reason to go.
- Chick Fil’ A Chicken Sandwich: Why am I in Second Place?
For a long time, Chick Fil’ A was the epitome of what a fast food chicken sandwich could be. It did everything not just well, but perfectly. Every step of the sandwich process was everything I dreamt of when I craved a chicken sandwich.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
Doing a side-by-side comparison with every other chicken sandwich on this list made me realize that Chick Fil’ A is aggressively overrated. Yes, it’s a good sandwich. It might even be bordering on very good. But it never so much as peeks at the title of great. Chick Fil A’s sandwich exceeds in its flavor, has an outstanding bun, and is very crispy. But the chicken doesn’t taste of the highest quality, at least not when stacked up against other sandwiches, and the sauce is only “good”.
That’s not to say that I won’t be eating out at Chick Fil’ A. The service is great, the workers seem happy, and the food is consistently good. Yes, you’ll have an awesome experience if you come here, but when you take that first bite into the chicken sandwich, you’ll know.
It could’ve been better.
- The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich: A Gift from Above
The wrapper is so orange. It stays tightly wrapped, refusing to reveal a glimpse of what’s inside. The vibrancy of the color seems a statement against the pale yellow of KFC, and as I pull back the paper and look inside, I’m greeted by one of the most truly awe-inspiring sights of my life.
The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich.
When I eat this sandwich, I can picture the scientists in Popeyes hidden underground research facilities as they mix magical ingredients like the tears of a unicorn and the dust from the core of a dying star. In my daydream, they throw in one, final, unknowable ingredient, taste it one last time, and burst into tears. They’ve done it. This is it. If global warming wasn’t an issue, if all wars ended forever, if the human race lived in harmony and everyone was happy… that’s what the Popeyes chicken sandwich tastes like.
The bun is perfect. It’s soft and warm, a cushion on which the chicken can sleep. The sauce is lathered on thick; it’s a delicious sauce, unmatched by any other chicken sandwich in quality and quantity. There are three pickles, adding a fresh, tastebud-coating acidity that provides a break in between each bite. But the star of the show – the shining, blindingly delicious anchor of the meal – is the patty.
The chicken is impossibly crispy, and as your teeth tear through the outer shell, a beautiful burst of juice and flavor fills your mouth. This sandwich is, without question, the juiciest and crispiest fried chicken sandwich, or even piece of fried chicken, that you will ever eat. It truly lives up to the hype. It’s everything that everyone says it is. It evokes the same feelings the founding fathers must have felt when the Revolution ended. This is America. This is what we can do, this is what we can accomplish.
Any sandwich at or above the third ranking I would recommend in a heartbeat, excepting this sandwich. When you eat it, you’ll question yourself greatly. Why wasn’t I waiting in line on the day of the release? How have I gone, day in and day out, without eating this sandwich? Why have I been going to Chick Fil’ A, Smashburger, even Wendy’s, when this existed? These questions may be too difficult to answer, too overwhelming. All I can say is this: now that you know, you’ll never be able to stop knowing ever again.