This Is Still The Best Fast Food Chicken Sandwich, According To Fans

In recent years, the fast food chicken sandwich wars have escalated to a whole new level, with just about every quick service restaurant offering their own take on the fried bird between buns. After the Popeyes chicken sandwich sent the nation into near-hysteria following its release in 2019, a fried chicken sandwich has become a staple of many fast food menus.

In response to the roaring success of Popeyes' crispy chicken sandwich, McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King each released upgraded versions of their chicken sandwiches. Wendy's also debuted a line-up of new chicken sandwiches, while Zaxby's entered the chicken race with a saucy signature sandwich. Even Taco Bell got in on the fried chicken action with a Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco, served in a puffy flatbread rather than a standard tortilla.

While the fast food chicken wars are unlikely to conclude any time soon, new data suggests that one classic chicken-slinging company currently reigns supreme when it comes to the best of the chicken breast. Review aggregator Merchant Centric — which culls data from thousands of customer reviews across the web in order to monitor public opinion — recently collected data from a number of chicken-focused quick service restaurants in order to determine which brand has the highest customer satisfaction score.

This nearly 60-year-old sandwich still reigns supreme

In a press release shared with Mashed, the Merchant Centric research company declared that the resounding chicken sandwich champion, according to its consumer data, is the classic pickle-topped Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, which hasn't changed much since its inception in the 1960s. In a ranking system with a maximum of 5 points, Chick-fil-A led the pack with a satisfaction score of 4.39, followed very closely by Raising Cane's and Culver's, with scores of 4.38 and 4.37, respectively.

According to Eat This, Not That, Chick-fil-A also topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the seventh year in a row, solidifying its reputation as one of the most consistent fast food restaurants in the country. Also ranking in the top chicken spots were regional chain Runza (with a score of 4.35), Charleys Philly Steaks (4.02), and A&W (4.00). Falling toward the bottom of the pack was El Pollo Loco (3.71), Wendy's (3.63), Taco Bell (3.60), and the California-based chain, Waba Grill (3.42). Despite recently being declared the most popular fried chicken chain in America, KFC also fell to the bottom of the list, with a score of 3.40. 

Surprisingly, the chain that first set off the chicken sandwich frenzy, Popeyes, came dead last in the rankings, with a customer satisfaction score of 3.39 — suggesting that just because your sandwich has the most buzz, that doesn't necessarily make it the favorite.

Chick-Fil-A's popular sandwich has a storied history

While countless fast food chains have touted twists on the deep-fried magic of Chick-Fil-A's venerable sandwich, the latest data indicates that most American diners still prefer the original. Although the Atlanta-based chicken chain's origin story began in 1946 — when its founder, S. Truett Cathy, opened up a still-operating diner called Dwarf Grill — the famed chicken sandwich didn't come to be until the early 1960s (via Chick-Fil-A).

According to the chain's website, after tinkering with his new chicken supply, Cathy devised a method for cooking the chicken with peanut oil in a commercial pressure cooker. The result was a fast-cooking piece of meat that remained juicy and tender. The businessman also enlisted the help of customers to taste various versions of chicken breading, changing the seasonings and proportions until he finally landed on the perfect combination of 20 spices, which is still used today. Once Cathy settled on the perfect fried chicken recipe — served between two buttered buns, which was revolutionary at the time, and topped with sliced pickles — he officially opened up the first Chick-Fil-A location in 1967, beginning its journey to becoming a household name.

Today, as Merchant Centric's data confirms, the classic chicken sandwich, which is still cooked in peanut oil and served on a lightly buttered bun with pickles (despite only half of customers liking pickles on their sandwich), is still the overwhelming favorite across the United States, even in the face of a slew of new sandwiches.

The spicy chicken sandwich competition is also heating up

In addition to the many traditional crispy chicken sandwiches that have been released in recent years, spicy chicken sandwiches have also become a big business for fast food companies. While Chick-Fil-A does offer a spicy take on its traditional sandwich, per its menu, the chain seems to be lesser known for its hotter offering.

Nevertheless, Chick-Fil-A's spicy chicken sandwich did land toward the top of Mashed's rankings of the best fast food spicy chicken sandwiches — edged out only by Zaxby's sauce-topped Spicy Zax signature sandwich — and other popular spicy options continue to vie for the title of the best in the country. Today, spicy poultry fans can go anywhere from Burger King and Jack in the Box to Arby's and McDonald's for a heat fix. However, as the data suggests, any restaurant that wants to top Chick-Fil-A's decades-old recipe has major shoes to fill.