Ranking fast food fried chicken sandwiches from worst to first

It's a good time to be a fried chicken sandwich in America. After spending years trying to dazzle hungry customers with increasingly over-the-top creations, stacking everything from house-cured maple bourbon bacon to sour cherry compote on top of burgers and chicken sandwiches, chefs have gotten back to basics.

A truly excellent fried chicken sandwich doesn't try to dazzle you with the cheffy pedigree of its toppings, or the complexity of its preparation. A warm, soft bun. A little dab of mayonnaise or other signature sauce, sometimes. The tang of a few sliced pickles to cut through the richness of the shatteringly crisp, moist fried chicken filet. Maybe a scattering of lettuce and/or tomato for color and texture. And that's it.

Made correctly and with restraint, a simple, balanced fried chicken sandwich can be a thing of understated beauty, especially when the individual components are treated with care and attention. And yes, you really can find an excellent fried chicken sandwich at a fast food drive-thru window. Not all fast food fried chicken sandwiches are created equally, however… so there was just one thing to do. We ate them all. Here are the results.

20. Dairy Queen Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Apparently, there are people who are visiting Dairy Queen for reasons other than ordering a Blizzard with an entire cheesecake chopped up inside, which already makes no sense to us whatsoever. But the "Grill" side of the menu offers a substantial meal at a bargain price, such as the "Crispy Chicken Sandwich Meal" which includes a drink, fries, and a small sundae for just $6 bucks (depending on your location).

Unfortunately, the fried chicken sandwich at Dairy Queen is about on par with what you would expect to find if you were stuck wandering around a semi-abandoned airport terminal at 11 p.m., albeit at one-tenth the cost of an overpriced, anemic chicken sandwich in Terminal C. The chicken itself is completely devoid of flavor, and tastes as though it was boiled prior to coating and frying, without a trace of seasoning. The bun disintegrates into nothingness almost immediately, and the lettuce and tomato contribute nothing but a slightly upgraded appearance to the sandwich. It's a thoroughly depressing meal. On the other hand, it does come with a sundae, so suffering through it might be worth it for some.

19. Checkers Big Chicken

The Big Chicken sandwich from Checkers puts all the emphasis where it counts; namely, on a full quarter-pound of fried chicken breast, served simply with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise on a sesame seed bun.

Unfortunately, most of the good news stops there, as this sandwich seems like a much better idea on paper, than in reality. For all of the promotion of the pre-cooked weight of the (weirdly ridged and bumpy) processed chicken filet, the finished product seems a little wimpy; there's not much in the way of plumpness or moisture, with a soggy, nearly flavorless breading that starts to fuse with the mayonnaise-covered cut interior of the bun into a pasty sludge long before you've worked your way through even half of the sandwich. 

At their best, good fast food fried chicken sandwiches can stand solely on the strength of their quality ingredients. The Checkers Big Chicken sandwich represents the opposite approach.

18. Jack In The Box Chicken Sandwich

If there's not a Jack In The Box in your area, the only thing you might know about them is that they have a strange clown mascot named Jack. If there's one in your area you might think of it as The Last Jedi of restaurants — you either love it or hate it; there's no in between. Jack is more known for their burgers, but they do offer up a variety of chicken sandwiches. Generally speaking you'd probably opt for one of their spicy varieties, but they do offer a standard, plain old, chicken sandwich.  

"Plain" is about dead on; as far as a chicken sandwich goes, it's fine. It's just shredded lettuce and mayo on a bun, nothing fancy (some locations use whole lettuce. At most locations it's $1, but as with most dollar chicken, you really have to question what it did of to be so cheap. If you really love Tyson chicken patties, then think of Jack's chicken as the Rolls Royce of probably-frozen chicken. If you're looking for an inexpensive chicken sandwich and you're in a pinch, and there's a Jack In The Box on your side of the road, it'll work. But you don't want to cross traffic to eat this.

17. White Castle Chicken Breast Slider

Unless you're lucky enough to live in one of the few states that enjoys their sackfuls of tiny hamburgers, you may not have had the chance to eat at a White Castle recently — that 100-year-old chain of castle-shaped roadside restaurants that were once the pride of roadside American dining.

Their small, 2x2-inch steamed burgers continue to be a craveable obsession for many, but the chain's efforts to branch out into other pocket-sized sandwiches have been mixed, at best. White Castle has a few options for getting your chicken on: One is the bizarre, nearly flavorless feat of food engineering known as the Chicken Ring Slider, made with formed, highly-processed chicken breast. Another, somewhat more natural and appealing choice, is the  Chicken Breast Slider. These tiny sandwiches provide a surprising pop of flavor, featuring a chunk of very moist and juicy chicken breast topped simply with American cheese, and served on one of White Castle's signature steamed slider buns. The overall impact is like someone softly whispering a little puff of chicken breath into your ear while you are sleeping soundly; it leaves the impression of having eaten food, without any evidence to support the consumption of a meal other than a sad scattering of empty cardboard slider boxes.

16. Burger King Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Oh, Burger King. Sweet, sweet little Burger King. You've gotten so preoccupied with piling generic, flavorless shaved steak on top of burgers and putting cereal into milkshakes, that you've lost your way.

In an effort to simplify, Burger King replaced the almost universally loathed "Tendercrisp" sandwich with this, the "Crispy Chicken Sandwich." It's a stripped-down, barebones return to the classics, with a breaded, 100 percent white meat chicken filet, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on a soft potato roll. Unfortunately, what should be a reaffirmation of the enduring power of the classics ends up being mostly a failure. While the chicken filet itself is reasonably crispy (if a little skimpy and thin), the shards of chopped lettuce mostly end up on your lap and wedged into the cracks of your car seat, and the tomato is a depressing colorless slab of mealy moisture that offers nothing in terms of flavor.

While the "Spicy" variation of this sandwich fared slightly better in our testing, thanks to a bigger pop of flavor, the original version proves that handled incorrectly, simple ingredients aren't enough to stand on their own. 

15. Sonic Classic Crispy Chicken Sandwich

For those of us that love eating in our cars and drinking sweetened ice drinks that taste like pickles, it's hard to compete with Sonic Drive-In. The chain continues to serve rock-solid versions of classic drive-in fare, at low prices and with friendly service. This tradition mostly continues with the Classic Crispy Chicken Sandwich, with some caveats.

The Classic Crispy Chicken Sandwich is served traditionally, with lettuce, sliced tomato, and mayonnaise, on a Brioche bun. The bun is pleasantly squishy and warm, with the lettuce and tomatoes neither adding nor particularly detracting from the experience, as with most of the fried chicken sandwiches we tasted. The chicken itself has a natural texture, and is breaded crisply and evenly. The chicken stays crunchy, though it does lean toward being somewhat underseasoned. Our biggest objection is to the overall dryness of the sandwich, which is something of an issue across the menu board at Sonic. It's a good thing they have more than a million drink choices…

14. Burger Fi Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Burger Fi is a new kid on the block, so to speak, and prides itself on wicked fresh ingredients. In 2018, they introduced chicken to the prior mostly meat menu. They offer a grilled chicken, and have added a crispy chicken at some locations. The standard comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a honey mustard barbecue sauce. If that sounds a lot like Chick-fil-A's deluxe sandwich with some CFA sauce on there… we thought so, too. If you're going to draw inspiration, might as well go big. 

The chicken is advertised as free range, and they really emphasize how good that makes it taste. The big problem is that the chicken has basically no flavor to it. The honey mustard doesn't do much to help this so you really need the lettuce and tomato to provide the flavor (and there sure is a lot of lettuce!). 

The other big big problem is the price. Prices vary by location, but you're not getting this for less than $6 — and that's without a side or a drink. It's Burger Fi, not Chicken Fi. Stick with the burgers if you're going to shell out for this place.  

13. Carl's Jr./Hardee's Big Chicken Fillet

Depending on where you are in the US, you either have a Hardee's or a Carl's Jr. in your area — or you have neither. Regardless, the chicken at both places is the same chicken; it comes from the same place, and the tastes are the same. 

Their chicken is the Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich — "big" because everything they serve is enormous. The sandwich is lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo, on a massive brioche bun. When they say big, they mean big! This is a YUGE piece of chicken. It's actually not that bad. It's not super flavorful but it's also fairly edible with a mild spice and moist chicken — it's just… big. Too big. If you're just off a three-year desert island stay, this might be a good choice for stop number one. If not, that's a whole lot of chicken going on. Buyer beware.

12. Bojangles' Cajun Filet

Have you ever found yourself at Bojangles' for lunch, or even dinner, and the next thing you know you're ordering breakfast?  The allure of a chicken biscuit, or a chicken and egg biscuit, at that oh so forbidden non-breakfast hour is so tempting, but they do have regular sandwiches, too! Bojangles' offers up some fancy chicken sandwiches, but the standard is the Cajun Filet sandwich.  

The sandwich is affixed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. The chicken is that usual tasty Bojangles' fare, which is oh-so-good and worth the drive every time. The chicken presents crispy, yet juicy, and the spice on the fried goodness makes this a savory win. The issue here is the bun — it's a big bun, and it takes away from the chicken. Or maybe it's just because there's a biscuit option on the menu and there are very few reasons to ever go bun over biscuit. Bojangles' makes great chicken, but you're better off going eating it with a biscuit.

11. Zaxby's Southern TLC Sandwich

Chicken fingers are a thing, and people get very passionate about their favorite places. Here's the secret: They're all just selling sauce and the "spoon" is the chicken finger. But all the big places out there actually make a pretty fine chicken! Zaxby's is no exception, specializing in "fingers" but Zaxby's also does offer up a sandwich if you're so inclined.

For this entry, let's actually discuss both. The Chicken Fingers Sandwich is simply chicken fingers on a bun — wisely served with their signature "Zax" sauce and lettuce and tomatoes. This—on paper—works. But something about Zaxby's chicken, sauce, and lettuce doesn't play the way it should on a bun. It doesn't make much sense but it's probably the one thing you don't want to get at Zaxby's.  

They also offer a couple other traditional chicken sandwiches. For our purposes we're focusing on the regular old Southern TLC sandwich. It's about as traditional "southern homestyle" as you can get — just lettuce, tomato, and mayo. It's hard to not want to pour a Zax's sauce on here, but if you do that, you're just back to the Chicken Fingers Sandwich (without the fingers). It's fairly underwhelming and you're better served going with another sandwich or just riding those chicken fingers.

10. Arby's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Arby's introduced their entry into the "buttermilk" fried crispy chicken sandwich trend in 2016, with the introduction of the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich. It features a meaty filet of buttermilk-marinated fried chicken, topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayo, on Arby's signature "Star Cut" bun.

The chicken itself was a bit of a disappointment; overly dry, lacking in flavor (and notably, any kind of tang or sweetness from the buttermilk), and with a breading whose primary flavoring agent seems to be "all of the salt in the world." We got big punches of flavor from the surprisingly juicy and substantial thick-cut tomato, and for once, we got to sample a fried chicken sandwich that wasn't plagued with gallons of off-brand mayonnaise. 

The vaunted "Star Cut" bun was easy on the eyes, but that's about it; we found it to be pleasantly squishy but with a weird density that made the sandwich feel overly bready and out of balance.

9. Wendy's Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich

For many years, long before a simple fried chicken sandwich became the "of the moment" fast food item of choice, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy's was our gold-standard for what a drive-thru chicken sandwich could be. It's traditionally stood out in a field of fried chicken sandwich wannabes, with a perfectly balanced blend of spicy peppered breaded chicken that will wake up your senses without being overpowering, topped simply with leaf lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, and served on a faux-Brioche style bun. But with the heat rising in the chicken sandwich space, would Wendy's be able to keep up with the new field of competitors?

The chicken here is thinner than many of the other sandwiches we tasted, but it doesn't compromise in terms of flavor. That familiar Wendy's heat is still there, and still seems the most balanced of many of the sandwiches in our lineup. The biggest inconsistencies lie in the quality and crunch of the breading, which can range from "crunchy" on a freshly-made sandwich, to "soggy and lifeless" on a chicken patty that's been around a while, as well as in the tomato, which almost always seems to be mealy and lifeless. Get lucky with at least two out of the five ingredients, however, and this sandwich is still a star.

8. McDonald's Classic Chicken Sandwich

You thought this one would be higher up on the list. didn't you? To be honest, so did we. Coming in at the high end of the price range of McDonald's "$1-$2-$3" value menu, the Classic Chicken Sandwich seems to be a direct swipe at the ongoing success and expansion of rival Chick-fil-A. The sandwich strips out all unnecessary components, offering a giant slab of fried chicken that overwhelms and destroys the bun it sits on, with a scattering of pickle slices and a new "Signature Sauce." It's very similar to the chain's "Mac Sauce," but adds just a touch of spiciness.

The first major thing that's hard to miss about this sandwich is that unlike the photo on the menu, your Classic Chicken Sandwich will appear to have been thrown out of the window of a moving car. Every single one we tried (as well as others we've seen online) seem to suffer from a major amount of squishing, as though the final step of the build concludes with the line cook smashing both fists into the sandwich, before lovingly wrapping it in paper.

Even so, the chicken filet itself is generously portioned, and the pickles lend a pleasing contrast to the salty buttermilk-fried chicken. The "Signature Sauce" compliments rather than overpowers, and adds a satisfying messiness to the proceedings.

7. Culver's Crispy Chicken Sandwich

If you've never been to a Culver's, you should find one. They really stress quality ingredients, and practice a friendly service each time they dutifully take your order. Culver's—if you don't know—makes their bread and butter on… butterburgers. But they also offer up a chicken sandwich. And wouldn't you know it? That's a darn tasty sandwich.

The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is in the family of "southern style." The texture has a nice flavor to it; it tastes like a real piece of chicken. Culver's standard toppings aren't what you'd expect — you get lettuce, tomato, and pickles, but there are no condiment present. No mayo, no mustard, no secret sauce. Yet somehow, you won't even miss it. The tomato provides all the moisture you'll need for this chicken sandwich. You're not thinking chicken when you go to Culver's, but this is an excellent and unexpected chicken sandwich — well worth adding into your chicken eating repertoire.  

6. Popeyes Chicken Po' Boy

The unusual form factor of the Chicken Po' Boy at Popeyes makes it the only "sub-style" fried chicken sandwich in our lineup. Straying from the "round chicken on round bun" formula of its competitors, Popeyes attempts to bring some Louisiana flavor to their chicken sandwich by serving it up po' boy style, on a French-style baguette with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise. The chicken itself is hand-breaded and fried in-house, and is available in either traditional or "blackened" varieties, for a little extra spice and heat.

The chicken is moist and juicy, with plenty of craggy bits of batter, which maintain lots of satisfying crunch reminiscent of a salty potato chip. The raft of shredded lettuce lent some po' boy flair to the proceedings, but the sliced pickles didn't prove to be much of a factor in the overall flavor of the sandwich. The bread itself wouldn't pass muster in The Big Easy, since it was mostly chewy and overly soft, with very little in the way of a crusty outside, but for a fast food product, it's more than passable. The biggest potential variable on this sandwich seems to be the application of mayonnaise; at least half of the sandwiches we tried were chronically under-mayoed, while the other half were practically swimming in the stuff.

5. PDQ Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Have you heard of PDQ? You will. They're one of the places to watch when it comes to quick serve, as the Tampa-based chain is expanding throughout the country thanks to some tasty chicken. What is PDQ? Think Zaxby's or Raising Cane's: A chicken finger joint that banks on its signature sauce — or in this case, sauces. But just like those places, they do offer up a chicken sandwich. And according to the signs inside the stores, PDQ stand for People Dedicated to Quality (because you wanted to know).

The PDQ standard sandwich is the Crispy Chicken Sandwich, with their crunchy fried chicken served up with lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickles. The reason that PDQ is spreading is because their chicken is flat-out excellent. For a "sauce place" they really bring a nice flavorful chicken with just a touch of heat, and a perfectly crunchy chicken breast, but not too crunchy for a sandwich. When your area gets a PDQ, pass on the strips and go right for that crispy sandwich, you'll be surprised at the excellent flavor. The only fallback to the sandwich is it has just too much lettuce — it would be better with about half the greens they provide. They also feature a chicken sandwich with pimento cheese and potato chips on it. We're not rating specialty chicken sandwiches, but if we were, oh boy… if that doesn't make you want a PDQ nearby you have no taste buds.

4. Raising Cane's chicken sandwich

It's difficult to go to a place and not get the specialty. Raising Cane's is a chicken finger joint, and if your eyes never even ventured over toward the sandwich part of the board, we can't blame you. Cane's chicken is just flat out good. They're known as a "signature sauce" place and a lot of people will just think it's the sauce that makes it work — but nope, that's some tasty chicken. But what about eating it between two buns?

Despite their amazing chicken, they know the sauce is boss. The standard chicken sandwich is just three chicken fingers on a bun with lettuce — but the trick is that they go ahead and put the sauce on there for you. Actually, they "double sauce" it, adding Cane's sauce top and bottom buns. If you think the chicken is good, and the sauce is good, throw it between some bread and add some lettuce and you've got something that's so simple, yet it's so good. Sometimes it's that simple — don't reinvent the chicken finger, just throw it on a bun and enjoy!

3. KFC Crispy Colonel Sandwich

KFC has maintained a legacy of crispy, pressure-fried chicken excellence for more than 70 years, and its version of a fried chicken sandwich helps prove why. This is a chicken sandwich that's confident in its very essence: A massive slab of thickly-cut chicken breast, fried to craggy perfection in the Colonel's secret blend of original herbs and spices, lovingly cradled by a soft, warm potato bun, and topped simply with a few pickles and a swipe of mayonnaise.

The chicken itself is the star of the show here: It's thick, juicy, and intensely flavorful. But where KFC really starts to outshine its competitors is in the slathering sauce arena: Customers can augment their Crispy Colonel Sandwich with the company's Smoky Mountain BBQ, Georgia Gold, or Nashville Hot sauces, which dial up the flavor considerably without sacrificing crunchiness, thanks to the oil base of the sauces. Whether sweet and smoky or hot and spicy is your complimentary chicken flavoring of choice, KFC offers a range of options on a fried chicken sandwich that puts the chicken itself front-and-center, where it belongs.

2. Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich

Chick-fil-A employs many extra touches in providing a delicious sandwich. If you actually look at the ingredients you'll be surprised to see vinegar listed there — that's the secret. It's a scientific trick that tells your brain that the food you're eating is bright and fresh. That perfect fried goodness is the result of pressure cooking, which also speeds up the process and gets the fresh chicken out more quickly. The crazy thing is it's so simple. It's just bun, chicken, and that little surprise — an unexpected pickle hidden under the chicken that gives it a bit more sour crunchiness. The pure simplicity is what takes it to a whole new level… and makes it almost the best.  

Chick-fil-A is the new Twenty-First Century pizza. You know how they say there's no such thing as bad pizza (even though there is)? There's no such thing as bad Chick-fil-A.  

1. Shake Shack Chick'n Shack

Shake Shack has exploded in recent years, based on one simple concept: Elevate classic fast food to its maximum possible potential, and turn it around quickly to keep the line moving. With the Chick'n Shack, Shake Shack's much-hyped foray into the realm of fried chicken sandwiches, the tradition continues.

The first thing you notice is that hulking mass of fried chicken breast, dwarfing the squishy toasted potato bun it is served on, with craggy, seasoned edges hanging lasciviously out of the edges like a college student at Mardi Gras. In fact, the impression isn't that this is a piece of chicken sitting on a bun at all, but instead a bun that's been somehow wrapped around a piece of chicken. 

In spite of its enormous size, the chicken remains impossibly crunchy, each bite of peppery breading shattering into juicy, naturally-textured chicken breast. A generous layer of artisanal-looking pickles (these aren't the weird, yellowed bargain dills being passed off at other fast food locations) compliments the fattiness of the chicken beautifully, offering lots of acid to cut through all of that richness. The lettuce is nothing spectacular (lettuce rarely is), but it's dressed in Shake Shack's herbed mayonnaise, redolent with the flavors of thyme, green onion, parsley and pepper.

As with much of Shake Shack's menu, the Chick'n Shack is a perfect example of what even a simple chicken sandwich can be, when you take time to balance the different elements and source good ingredients. It's deceptively simple, completely satisfying, and the new standard by which other fried chicken sandwiches should be measured.