Popeyes has been serving up Southern-style fried chicken for over 50 years, but only recently started focusing on one highly popular poultry part in particular: wings.
In January 2023, the Louisiana-themed chain relaunched its old fan-favorite Ghost Pepper Wings as a special limited-time offer. The spicy wings were such a smashing success—selling out in just two weeks, boosting sales and traffic numbers, and attracting younger customers, according to the company—that Popeyes brought them back as a permanent menu item later that year.
Soon, the chain started releasing other wing flavors, beginning with a Sweet 'N Spicy variety over the summer. That proved to be an even bigger success. Popeyes President Sami Siddiqui called it "our best-performing product since the infamous Chicken Sandwich."
Popeyes then followed up with three additional options last fall: Honey BBQ, Roasted Garlic Parmesan, and Signature Hot.
This week, Popeyes aims to strengthen its position as a premier destination for wings with the launch of its first-ever Super Bowl commercial. Starring comedian Ken Jeong, the humorous 30-second spot is based on the premise that Popeyes has finally delivered "a better chicken wing" to the world.
Do the new wings really live up to all this hype? I decided to find out, taste-testing all five varieties in Popeyes' arsenal. Here's how each flavor compared, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the absolute tastiest wing that Popeyes has to offer.
Roasted Garlic Parmesan
One of the newer additions to Popeyes' lineup, the Roasted Garlic Parmesan is advertised as one of the mildest wing flavors on the menu. All of the options are similarly battered and fried to a crisp. Most of them are then tossed in some type of sauce. These wings get doused in a milky mixture that contains caramelized garlic and parmesan and asiago cheeses.
The look: Creamy with little red specks throughout. The light-colored sauce gives these wings the greatest visual contrast against Popeyes' trademark golden brown breading.
The taste: Like a fried drumstick dunked in Caesar salad dressing. The flavor is rich, salty, and a little tart. I'm a big fan of both Caesar salads and fried chicken, but I can't say I love the combo more than any other flavor at Popeyes. Texturally, these wings start to get soggy the longer they linger under that creamy coating, but that's also true of most of the chain's saucier wing flavors. Spice-wise, they also seem like the tamest of the bunch to me.
Another newbie, the Honey BBQ variety comes coated in a thick sauce flavored with honey, molasses, and tamarind. In terms of spice level, Popeyes rates these on par with the gentle Roasted Garlic Parmesan, though you may feel differently after trying them for yourself.
The look: Dark brown and sticky. This flavoring is easily the goopiest of the group, which only makes sense given all the syrupy ingredients.
The taste: Sweet, tangy, and pungent. Despite the equal spice rating, these wings tasted hotter to me than the garlic-parm flavor, but that's a plus in my book. The flavors also felt more complex, with layers of richness and a hint of smokiness, too. I found these quite enjoyable, but very messy. You'll need several strong licks to remove that viscous sauce from your fingers.
Popeyes isn't the first fast-food chain to introduce a new menu item flavored with the infamous ghost pepper, but it's perhaps the most successful. Both Wendy's and Burger King similarly launched ghost pepper-themed menu items last year, but neither chain gave them a permanent spot on the lineup like Popeye's did with its Ghost Pepper Wings.
Also known as bhut jolokia, the actual ghost pepper once ranked as the world's hottest chili pepper. So, most folks are probably surprised to see these wings listed in the mid-range of Popeyes' spice chart. I know I was! The chain describes its recipe as "the perfect balance of flavor and fire."
The look: Dry and crispy. These are the only wings at Popeyes that don't come coated in a sauce. Instead, they're marinated in a dry spice blend before being breaded and fried. So, they look nearly identical to Popeyes' regular bone-in fried chicken, albeit with a darker reddish tint.
The taste: Peppery and potent. Despite the moderate spice rating, these wings still pack a wallop. You feel the burn all along the front half of the tongue, and the spice leaves your lips tingling, too. The lack of sauce means these wings don't quickly lose their crunch like other flavors. The drier exterior also allows you to better appreciate the juiciness of the meat inside—something all these varieties share in common, even if you don't notice it as much with the others.
Despite those perks, however, I still found myself reflexively dunking these in Popeyes' accompanying buttermilk ranch sauce, which I didn't really do with the others. Cooling the burn is certainly part of the reason, but I suspect the lack of lubrication had something to do with it, too.
Sweet 'N Spicy
The Sweet 'N Spicy variety became an immediate hit upon its debut last summer—and it remains one of the most popular flavors at Popeyes, according to a handful of employees that I polled during my recent visits. It's also the second hottest, per the chain's own spice-level rating system. The fiery sauce contains chili, garlic, and ginger.
The look: Bright orange with specks of red floating amid the translucent dressing. The vivid coloring is not only eye-catching, but inviting, too.
The taste: Sweet, sour, and savory with an unmistakable kick—quite like your favorite spicy Thai chili sauce. It's easy to see why this particular flavor became so popular. It connects with essentially every receptor on your tongue, with the notable exception of bitterness, which I'm personally fine to exclude in this case. The taste also feels very familiar, like an Asian-style dipping sauce for coconut shrimp or crispy spring rolls. But, that's arguably also its downside. There's nothing very surprising about this flavor. It's really, really good, but also kind of ordinary at the same time.
The fifth and final addition to Popeyes' wings selection is the Signature Hot flavor, made with the chain's own Cajun hot sauce and "just a touch of southern sweetness," according to the company. It's ranked as the hottest option available—and duly delivers on that promise.
The look: Burnt orange with specks of black. The sauce appears thinner and clumpier than the others.
The taste: Uniquely delicious. I honestly did not expect to like this variety at all. A manager at one location warned me about the flavor, calling it "the worst sauce" of the whole lot. Surprisingly, I found it to be the opposite. While I presumed this would taste like another unremarkable variation on the classic Buffalo-style wing sauce, it actually offered something truly different. Instead of a purely fluid or gelatinous dressing, these hot-glazed wings also come dusted with a fine powdery substance, reminiscent of Pixy Stix candy, which seemed texturally out of place but totally hit the mark from a gustatory perspective. This unexpected candied element made these wings both tasty and intriguing.
Initially, I wondered whether these wings were just coated in granulated sugar. But, according to the posted nutrition facts, the Signature Hot flavor actually contains less sugar than other varieties. What this magical pixie dust actually is, I have no clue. "Southern sweetness," perhaps? I just know that it works. The result is fiery and flavorful, which is precisely what I want from a good chicken wing.
If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, check out the Signature Hot Wings—and let me know if you crack the code as to its mystery ingredient.