This Is Why Popeyes Chicken Is So Delicious

Fast food mainstay Popeyes has made quite a comeback in recent years, with steady growth over the course of the 2010s. Many attribute that increased success to when Popeyes changed its name from Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Remind people that the food is from Louisiana, and they will come. And let's not forget the explosive popularity of the chicken sandwich it introduced in 2019. 

If you love that chicken from Popeyes (sorry for getting their infamous jingle stuck in your head for all of eternity), you certainly aren't alone. The fried chicken from this Louisiana-born fast food staple is even a favorite among world class chefs. The chicken really is spectacular, despite the general assumption that fast food can't possibly be the best tasting version of a food. Read on to learn why this Cajun outpost has developed royal status for its consistent fried poultry perfection.

The superior crispiness of Popeyes chicken is undeniable

You want some crispy chicken? Popeyes can guarantee you some crispy chicken. The crisp factor is undeniably one of their signature menu item's biggest selling points. It's certainly crispier than perhaps one of its biggest competitors, Chick-fil-A. In 2015, the Popeyes CEO at the time, Cheryl Bachelder, threw shade at her rivals, KFC and Chick-fil-A, in an interview with The Advocate. She explained that the Popeyes chicken is fried with more batter, hence boasting a superior crisp. Bachelder also specified that their "...chicken is dipped in an egg-and-flour batter before it's fried. That gives it a really crisp texture." Preach, Cheryl, because we are here for it.

Popeyes chicken is crispy all over the individual piece, too. There are no "soggy spots" to ruin your chicken-eating experience. Essentially, as chicken sandwich consumers have pointed out, you get a crispy mouthful with every single bite. Some Popeyes recipe replicators attribute Popeyes extreme crispiness to the extra flour in the breading process. 

Bottom line: If you taste tested the top chain fried chicken brands, you'd no doubt be able to acknowledge that Popeyes' top notch crispiness is part of why it stays on top.

The breading consistently sticks to the skin of Popeyes chicken

Not only is Popeyes chicken supremely crispy, but it also has that special magical quality we all hope for in a piece of fried chicken (bone in or out) — breading that actually sticks to the meat. Is there anything worse than a chicken finger that loses the bulk of its breading the minute you take a bite? Okay, there are probably worse things but it's still very disappointing. Regardless, you can always count on Popeyes to deliver in the "breading with every bite" department.

The award-winning chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt praises Popeyes chicken (via the Vice MUNCHIES column) because the breading stays put so well. When the most recent chicken sandwich hit the Popeyes menu, one very satisfied customer and Brooklyn-based food writer proclaimed on Twitter (via The New Yorker), "The chicken is perfectly fried! The breading isn't falling off." When you get breading in every bite, the chef is doing something right. 

The synchronistic union of meat and bread on a piece of Popeyes chicken is perhaps a big part of why it is such a stand out fast food gem.

The Popeyes marinade penetrates the entire chicken

Marinade can make or break your fried chicken recipe. Good luck getting a satisfied chicken consumer if you don't soak that meat in a decent marinade for several hours prior to cooking it. Popeyes knows the importance of a solid pre-frying marinade, and their marinade is part of what makes their chicken so special. Former Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder told The Advocate, "The first thing you notice about Popeyes is the marinade. It's a real reddish, orange color. It sticks to the chicken, you see it all through the chicken, and that's where the flavor is." Aha! We knew that flavor was superb for a reason — the reason is apparently the marinade's full-on chicken infusion.

According to Popeyes website, the "chicken is marinated for at least 12 hours" so that's definitely the right chicken prep etiquette. (It seems like any chicken recipe that's worth its weight always says to marinate for at least a certain amount of hours but ideally, overnight.) Stellar marinade that permeates throughout the meat of the chicken is definitely a Popeyes selling point.

The cajun spice in Popeyes chicken is authentic to New Orleans

Popeyes started as a donut stand outside New Orleans, but it wasn't called Popeyes yet. When founder Al Copeland noticed a neighbor having much more success selling fried chicken, he traded in his dough for some poultry, hatched an ultra spicy recipe, and changed the name to honor a famous movie character (Gene Hackman's character in the film, The French Connection). And that's when he started making a killing. Even when he sold Popeyes, he maintained ownership of the signature spice recipe, which he licensed to the chain until they officially bought it from him for a whopping $43 million in 2014. 

Popeyes' New Orleans roots proved helpful in solidifying the brand. Cajun cuisine was in the spotlight in the early 1980s when a Louisiana restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, dazzled palates with pop-ups in New York City and San Francisco. Around that time, Popeyes was hitting its stride, and later even touted its Cajun spice ties by including the special pepper sauce of the K-Paul's chef, Paul Prudhomme, as a free gift with meal purchases. 

Popeyes has also made the effort to pair up with other famous Louisiana brands, including menu items such as chicken tenders marinated with Tabasco and fried shrimp prepared with Zatarain's spice blend. 

You can say a lot of things about Popeyes but you definitely can't argue the fact that it's Cajun to the core.

Popeyes chicken is salted to perfection

If you're craving something rich and savory, does it get any better than the salty sensation that is fried chicken? The saltiness is one of the delicacy's most beautiful assets (yes, we just called fried chicken a delicacy, come at us). Salty fried chicken is essentially the ultimate comfort food. So it's not surprising that chefs and non-chefs alike usually agree, Popeyes really knows how to season a piece of chicken. 

The chicken joint's salting technique is pretty flawless. When questioned about the secret behind Popeyes' chicken's star status, prized chef Ashley Christensen told Vice, "I like the level of salt in the chicken. They push it just enough. It's got a touch of spice to it." We all know, there is a fine line between fried-chicken-appropriate salty and wow-did-I-just-make-out-with-a-salt-lick salty. 

Popeyes has the perfect balance of salt and other spices, along with its fantastic batter and superbly marinated meat of course.

Popeyes uses industrial strength, high-tech fryers

Popeyes does not mess around with one of the most important tools in a chicken frying arsenal— the ole' fryer. While a lot of chicken-oriented fast food places might use pressure cookers (ahem, KFC), or restaurants dedicated to stuff besides chicken might use dutch ovens, woks, or cast iron skillets, Popeyes only uses deep fryers to cook the chicken. And they're not just any deep fryers, they're like the smartphone of deep fryers. 

When the oil gets to a certain temperature on your average, run-of-the-mill fryer, the temperature of said oil immediately lowers when you drop a piece of chicken in it. The fryer than works to quickly jack the temperature back to the starting temp, which, in the case of fried chicken, can affect the quality of the final product. In the fryers at Popeyes, the oil actually stays at the lower temperature that results from the chicken being dropped in, because that cooks the chicken more evenly inside and out. The temp doesn't go up again until the very end of the process, so that you still get that crispy crust. 

There are also multiple settings available (the setting can vary depending on the chicken part) and technology that simplifies the oil changing and filtering. We certainly will sleep better knowing our Popeyes chicken isn't hitting our gullets after being doused in a vat of dirty oil. The Popeyes fryers are no doubt a contributor to the unparalleled taste of their chicken.

One of the secret ingredients of Popeyes chicken is MSG

In this instance, we're talking about MSG the flavor enhancer, not the famous arena in New York City. Allegedly, one of the top secret ingredients in Popeyes signature spice blend is monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. At the grocery store, the controversial spice is often sold as the brand name Accent. There are some experts that claim MSG leads to too much glutamate in the brain and an excess of nerve cell stimulation, which can supposedly cause harm since that makes it an excitotoxin.

Due to its potential excitotoxin status, the verdict is still sort of out on whether MSG is completely safe but it seems like the general sense is that it's okay to consume as long as you're not doing so in massive quantities. MSG enhances the flavors of foods so it's probably in a lot of the stuff we're addicted to, like Popeyes fried chicken.

Popeyes doesn't care about making the chicken healthy

When it comes to eating healthy, Popeyes is definitely more of a "cheat day" splurge. If you're looking for a salad, or something that's not loaded with fat and calories, Popeyes chicken probably won't be your go-to lunch selection. And the brand doesn't really give a flip. They are in the business of good fried chicken, not good greens. In 2015, Popeyes then-CEO Cheryl Bachelder admitted to Financial Post that health isn't the Popeyes priority. "I like to say we eat boring, healthy food at home, and we eat things like Popeyes when we go out to enjoy a special evening," she quipped.

In the chicken sandwich battle, Chick-fil-A comes out on top in terms of caloric damage — as in, it has less calories than the one from Popeyes. But again, who's thinking about their six pack when they're indulging in a fried chicken sandwich on white bread? Certainly not Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen diners, that's for sure. We're glad Popeyes doesn't care about being healthy. We don't need to feel guilty about ordering what we really came in for, which is greasy fried chicken, not some sort of air fried or grilled nonsense.

Most of the chicken Popeyes serves has never been frozen

People really insist on getting food that's fresh these days. Heaven forbid someone find out their food has been previously frozen (except Starbucks, everyone seems to make an exception for their freezer burned baked goods). According to a supposed former employee on a Reddit AMA thread, Popeyes bone-in chicken is always fresh, never frozen, but the chicken tenders are cooked from a frozen state. 

The bone-in chicken arrives at each restaurant fresh, then the staff brines, batters and fries the bird in-house. Ain't nobody serving you microwaved, previously frozen fried chicken at Popeyes — at least if you order it bone-in.

Even though Popeyes fried chicken is produced on a massive scale since it's such a popular chain restaurant with over 3,000 locations worldwide, it has to operate with an independent restaurant's spirit since it's frying fresh poultry by the batch from raw ingredients. That spirit is just one of the things that makes their chicken so delicious. 

Popeyes always aims for consistency in its chicken frying process

Consistency is pretty much the reason why we enjoy fast food as a whole. We know what we're getting at Popeyes, no matter where we're eating it. Popeyes fried chicken is consistently good because they've perfected the art of frying chicken, which can actually be harder to do in the context of a chain than say, hamburgers. Chicken has to be cooked very precisely, with the right amount of breading and the perfect temperature. Sure, you can get a hamburger medium rare but if your chicken is slightly undercooked, you're staring down the barrel of food  poisoning. And if the chicken is overcooked, well, you're serving your customers fried rubber. Popeyes employees have to follow the rules for frying pretty deliberately, as there isn't much room for improvisation without potentially ruining the final product. 

The restaurant is even really picky about the size of bird it will take from its supplier, too little or too big can jack up their frying technique, which needs to be uniform in order to deliver that signature Cajun taste in every piece of chicken they serve. This consistency is why Popeyes chicken is always a reliable option for your late night fried drumstick cravings.

The bun on the Popeyes chicken sandwich complements the chicken perfectly

When you're talking about the chicken sandwich dominance that put Popeyes in the spotlight in the summer of 2019, yes, we can agree the chicken itself is divine on so many levels. However, you have to acknowledge that another reason why the chicken might taste so on-another-level good is because of the bread that accompanies it. Let's get real, every element of a good sandwich deserves a little credit but the bread and the meat are doing the brunt of the work. The bread on the now legendary Popeyes chicken sandwich is (or was—it's still "sold out" and Popeyes has everyone on edge wondering when it will be available again) a brioche bun. This buttery pillow top of a bun usually comes at a higher cost but the Popeyes chicken sandwich is (was) only $3.99! Sorry but a regular ole white hamburger bun (sesame seed or otherwise) for a chicken sandwich just seems like a crime now. 

This brioche bun propped up the Popeyes chicken so that it could really be the star it was always meant to be. You just can't rant about how great Popeyes chicken is without paying your respect to its non-poultry counterpart. The Popeyes biscuits that come as a side with chicken buckets are pretty dope too.

The Popeyes chicken sandwich is a modern marvel

It was the chicken sandwich that launched a thousand ships. In the summer of 2019, Popeyes introduced a chicken sandwich that was so beloved, it became the darling of Twitter, Instagram and blogs (which are still a thing, believe it or not). People could not stop raving about the sandwich. Many will now look back to August of 2019 as the beginning of the Great Chicken Sandwich Wars. The chicken sandwich was so popular, it actually helped the sales of competitor chicken sandwiches at Wendy's and Chick-fil-A. Millennials and Gen Xers were credited as the most enthusiastic sandwich consumers, which also sort of gave Popeyes more street cred.

It seemed like no one was talking about anything about chicken sandwiches for weeks, which shows you how sad the state of the world is that we're all so desperate to escape it with chicken sandwich comparison think pieces on the Internet. 

Popeyes fries its chicken in palm oil

It might be easy to think all frying oil is the same, but that's far from the truth. Many cooking oils, such as olive, peanut, and sesame, have distinctive flavors and aromas (via Frymax). For certain foods and recipes, this might be exactly what you're looking for, but in the case of Popeyes chicken, you really want the taste of distinctive spices to come through. That's why the chain cooks its chicken in palm oil, which has a neutral taste and almost no aroma at all (via Popeyes). With the oil taking a backseat, the unmistakable taste of Popeyes chicken can shine.

Palm oil is not without its drawbacks, however. The precious liquid, derived from the palm fruit or its kernel, has been in the news in recent years, and not for the best reason: Harvesting palm oil is one of the leading causes of deforestation in the world. According to the WWF, up to 300 football fields worth of rainforest is cut down every hour to make room for palm plantations. Because of this harmful environmental impact, Popeyes' parent company Restaurant Brands International —which also owns Burger King, Tim Horton's, and Firehouse Subs — has made a commitment to sourcing all of its palm oil in a sustainable manner. As of 2021, 87% of the oil used across the company's portfolio of restaurants met that standard.

Popeyes is getting rid of artificial ingredients

Much of what makes Popeyes chicken so delicious comes from what is has: authentic New Orleans spices, perfectly crispy breading, etc. But it's also important to note what the chicken doesn't have: any fake stuff.

In 2021, Popeyes' parent company Restaurant Brands International, announced the fast-food chain was removing all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its fried chicken by the end of 2022 (via Forbes). The move is part of a larger five-year food quality and sustainability plan that includes using cage-free eggs and recyclable packaging.

"Popeyes is known for its great taste and culinary excellence, so evolving the quality and sourcing of our ingredients has always been at the center of what we do while maintaining our classic cooking techniques," Paloma Azulay, Popeyes' global chief marketing officer, said at the time. The chicken chain conducted numerous taste tests to ensure these changes wouldn't affect the deliciousness of the final product. The result is higher-quality, yet equally delectable fried chicken. "Popeyes menu items will continue to offer the same incredible taste they always have," Azulay promised.