I Tried McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, & Popeyes Chicken Sandwiches—and This One Is Still the Best!
August 12, 2019 will go down in the history books as the day that Popeyes blessed the world with its famous chicken sandwich. It was the day all other fast-food chains began chasing Popeyes who had officially thrown down the gauntlet. Plus, it's the day that we, as chicken sandwich fans, finally got the glut of crispy, whole chicken breast sandwiches we deserve, instead of Frankenstein-like preformed patties.
And get them we did, many of them, as one fast-food chain after another began churning out Popeyes copycat sandwiches. We got to choose from simple marinated versions with just pickles to tingly, spicy versions piled high with lettuce and tomato, or all kinds of sauces and wild additions. But it always seemed that the chains were chasing the one that started it all: Popeyes.
A few frontrunners emerged in the Chicken Sandwich Wars. Chick-fil-A, which already had premium crispy chicken sandwiches in both regular and spicy versions, represented the minimalist approach. Chick-fil-A's classic, a simple crispy chicken breast with a few pickles on a toasted bun, was developed at the Dwarf Diner, the predecessor to Chick-fil-A, in 1942. The Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which had spices mixed into the breading and two pickles, came nine years before Popeyes' version in 2010.
McDonald's Classic and Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwiches also bumped to the head of the pack when they came out in early 2021. Now known as the McCrispy and Spicy McCrispy, they both have two pickles on toasted potato buns, but the spicy version is kicked up a notch with a fiery sauce.
Since all three of these chains have very similar sandwiches that are equally popular, we decided to taste them side by side to find out which is the ultimate chicken sandwich in 2023.
Here they are from our least favorite to the best of all time.
McDonald's Crispy Chicken Sandwich features a 'Southern-style' breaded chicken cutlet with two pickles served on a buttered potato roll.
The look: The McCrispy looks smaller than the other sandwiches and the bun is a bit squished. It is worth noting that the traditional McCrispy has 220 fewer calories than the Popeyes chicken sandwich, so your eyes are not deceiving you, it is quite a bit smaller. The size is on par with Chick-fil-A's sandwich, which has 50 fewer calories. This chicken looks juicy and a quick peek under the hood shows a toasted bun that's maybe a bit too toasty and smallish pickles that have slid to one side.
The taste: For surprisingly few ingredients this is a good sandwich. The bun, though squished, has a great buttery flavor and the chicken is ever so slightly spicy. When I got a bite with the pickles, everything worked together. The biggest issue with this sandwich is the execution. The pickle flavor is uneven and that nicely toasted bun appeared to have remained on the heat a little too long, resulting in a bitter aftertaste.
McDonald's Spicy McCrispy
McDonald's Spicy McCrispy is the same as the regular McCrispy with the addition of a spicy pepper sauce.
The look: This spicy version looks almost identical to the classic. Again the bun is a bit squished but appears golden and soft. A look under the bun reveals where the issues are going to be. The bright orange sauce is unevenly spread and the pickles again, are haphazardly placed.
The taste: For the uneven glob of sauce the spice carries surprisingly well through the sandwich. It's spicy enough to make you want a drink of something right after tasting it, but then the potato bun and pickle jump in to tamp down the flame. The problem is, again, that there is not enough pickle coverage across the sandwich and there were bitter bites from the over-toasted bun.
Chick-fil-A's Chicken Sandwich
Chick-fil-A's classic Chicken Sandwich is made from a piece of chicken breast that is pressure cooked in peanut oil. It is, like the McDonald's version, served with just crinkle-cut pickles on a buttered bun.
The look: The chicken is the star of the Chick-fil-A sandwich, with the bun playing a supporting role. Crispy, deeply browned bits stuck out all sides of the bun. The bun was a bit squished just like McDonald's but we didn't care because we came here for the chicken, not the bread.
The taste: The spicy, crunchy, juicy chicken lives up to Chick-fil-A's reputation. This sandwich has two pickles, just like the McCrispy, but they stay lined up in the middle of the bun, giving each bite a pop of freshness. The pickles are deliciously tangy and not too salty or sour. The chicken quite flavorful and aromatic so that no sauce is needed, although it would be welcome.
Chick-fil-A's Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Chick-fil-A's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is the only chicken sandwich of this batch that includes a blend of spices in the breading. Then, like the original, it is pressure cooked in peanut oil and served with pickles on a buttered bun.
The look: Again, chicken is the star here and is spilling out of the bun. The spicy chicken looked slightly redder due to the difference in the breading, but otherwise, these sandwiches looked similar.
The taste: This sandwich is so similar to the classic we had to wonder if they had mixed up the orders. The red color said otherwise and the heat did build with each bite but didn't overwhelm the chicken. Again, the bird was amazing, dense and juicy at the same time. This is a phenomenal sandwich and the differences between the Chick-fil-A sandwiches and the Popeyes sandwiches were marginal. If Chick-fil-A's sandwiches had mayo or a spicy sauce, this would be a much tougher call.
Popeyes' Classic Chicken Sandwich
The sandwich that spawned a thousand copycats is coated with a blend of secret spices, hand-battered and breaded in the chain's 'buttermilk system,' deep-fried, served on a buttered brioche bun, and topped with pickles and mayo.
The look: This one was big! Popeyes sandwiches dwarfed the McDonald's and Chick-fil-A sandwiches. For the classic, the deep golden, shiny bun was a little squished, but it still held on tightly to the big hunk of deep-fried chicken within. A quick flip of the bun showed monster pickles that promised a lot of tangy crunch to break up the deep-fried taste.
The taste: Crispy, tangy, lemony, creamy—this sandwich hit all the right notes and then some. It was mouth-filling and begged for another bite. There is only one chicken sandwich that can stand up to this monster of flavor and texture and it is its spicier brother.
Remember, this is not a light sandwich. This big guy has 220 more calories and 22 more grams of fat than the McCrispy. This is either a bargain, because you get more food for the price, or a negative because no fast-food chicken sandwich will ever live up to this one in both size and taste.
Popeyes' Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Popeyes' legendary Spicy Chicken Sandwich is essentially the same as the Classic with a spicy sauce spread on both sides of the brioche bun.
The look: The spicy version looks about the same as the classic because they are the same sandwich, just with different sauces.
The taste: This sandwich has the same crunchy yet melt-in-your-mouth chicken as the classic version, but combines it with the perfect spicy sauce. Plus, it has levels of flavor and texture that you just don't find often in a fast-food sandwich. The soft bun is slathered generously on both sides with the sauce, the chicken is crunchy in all the right places but then gives to a super juicy chicken breast. The ginormous pickle slices add just the right tang and relief from the spice. The only thing that kept this sandwich from being perfect was the bun. It was just a hair dry compared to the others. But, honestly, you can't get much better than this from a take-out window.