Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich
Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

The Best (and Worst) Fast-Food Spicy Chicken Sandwiches

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Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich
Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Hot and Battered

Fried chicken on a bun isn't exactly new, but it reached trendy heights in 2019 when Popeye's released a chicken sandwich that became a viral sensation. Since then, other fast-food joints have released and revamped their own chicken sandwiches in a war for spicy-poultry supremacy. Popeye's has reinvented its own classic sandwich in a new limited-time Buffalo ranch style to keep the menu fresh. Here are some of the best, worst, and most mediocre spicy chicken sandwiches available. 


Related: Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches in America

Jack in the Box Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Jack in the Box Spicy Chicken Sandwich by Penny (CC BY-NC)

Worst: Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box came out with a new, thicker crispy chicken fillet for its sandwiches in 2020. The spicy version includes an orange-hued cayenne and garlic powder coating on the chicken, not just a sauce, and it comes on a bun with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and optional cheese. Reviews are mixed, with many noting its similarity to Burger King's spicy chicken sandwich and high price tag; the consensus is that "there's really nothing exciting" going on here. 


Related: The Best Fast-Food Cheeseburger

Hardee's Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Morton F./Yelp

Worst: Hardee's

The only permanent spicy chicken sandwich at Hardee's is a budget sandwich. Made with a processed chicken patty and not a chicken breast like most of the others on this list, it costs only a buck or two — and if money is your only concern, this is the spicy chicken sandwich for you. But you'll be disappointed. 


Related: Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Checkers Chicken Sandwich
Harvey C./Yelp

Worst: Checkers

Like Hardee's, the only permanent spicy chicken sandwich at Checkers is a budget(ish) offering made with a patty. If you find yourself stuck at a Checkers and need a chicken sandwich, definitely order the newer Mother Cruncher items — the chain’s real entries in the sandwich wars. One reviewer summed the situation up well by puzzling over why Checkers even left this "weakest offering" on the menu.


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Panera's spicy Chef's Chicken Sandwich
Panera Bread

So-So: Panera

Panera seems like an unlikely place for a traditional chicken sandwich, but the bakery-cafe chain recently unveiled its own pricey take on the trend. The spicy version comes with a seared chicken filet topped with buffalo sauce, garlic aioli, and spicy cucumber crisps on a brioche bun. So far, reviewers say it's a tasty option, especially with the combo of buffalo sauce and aioli, but prepare for sticker shock: It's a budget-buster at $12. One fast-food reviewer notes that he can't go higher than an 8 out of 10 because the sandwich is simply way too costly. (Even so, customers are at least willing to give it a shot: Panera says it sold 1 million of the sandwiches in the first nine days after their launch, according to Nation's Restaurant News.)

Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco
Taco Bell

So-So: Taco Bell

After months of testing, Taco Bell released the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco nationwide in September. It's a tortilla chip-crusted crispy chicken tender that's been marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, paired with chipotle sauce and jalapeños, all tucked into a fluffy flatbread. Most reviewers agree that the chicken itself is tasty, but say the sandwich — if you can call it that — is lackluster and small, especially for the price. Taco Bell is going to have to step up its game if it wants to compete with the big guys in the chicken sandwich wars.

McDonald’s Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich
McDonald's

So-So: McDonald's

McDonald's recently revamped its premium fried chicken sandwiches. Consensus among reviewers seems to be that the chicken is a big improvement, but that the sandwich still isn't as good as most other restaurants. The only thing that makes the spicy version spicy is the creamy pepper sauce, with its "lingering peppery aftertaste that begs for follow-up bites."

Culver's
MaryLou D./Yelp

So-So: Culver's

The spicy crispy chicken sandwich at Culver's is a bit of an outlier because it doesn't come with sauces or condiments. Some people consider the sandwich dry, while others say the lettuce, tomato, and pickles that come standard add enough that condiments aren't necessary. As for the chicken, it's pepper-flecked, crisp crumb coating doesn't pack much heat

BURGER KING Spicy Chicken
Burger King Corporation

So-So: Burger King

This spicy, crispy chicken sandwich — not to be confused with the chain's oblong-shaped chicken patty sandwich — got a 2021 revamp and is now hand breaded, which most people seem to find an overall improvement. One Youtube reviewer found the new peppery spice heat "adds just the right amount of pop" to an already tasty sandwich. It won't win any contests, but it's a solid alternative to a Whopper.

wendy's chicken sandwich
Randy W./Yelp

So-So: Wendy's

When Wendy's decided to reinvent its chicken sandwich, it made sure to clarify that it didn't affect its spicy chicken sandwich. This is the OG spicy chicken, popular for well over a decade now with its heavy-on-the-black-pepper coating and lingering heat. Though it's been surpassed by other heavy hitters in the chicken sandwich wars, it's still rated as a favorite pretty consistently (and better than the revamped classic chicken sandwich). 

Zaxby’s
Zaxby’s Franchising LLC

Best: Zaxby's

Zaxby's is a chicken tenders chain, but decided to finally enter the chicken sandwich wars this year with a full breaded fillet, not just its chicken tenders on a bun. It's made with a double hand-breaded chicken breast — a "quality piece of chicken" — plus pickles and a spicy version of its creamy Zax sauce made with jalapeños and cayenne. If there's any complaint from reviewers, it's about how big the sandwich is, with Uproxx warning: "One of the best fast-food fried chicken sandwiches, but make sure you're hungry. It's a lot."

BOJANGLES
Kathleen D./Yelp

Best: Bojangles

There is only one fried chicken sandwich option at chicken and biscuit chain Bojangles: the Cajun fillet sandwich. The seasoning in the coating provides a little bit of heat, so it's essentially a spicy chicken sandwich. The bun tends to be dry and fall apart, but overall the sandwich is great thanks to its high quality "crispy, yet juicy" chicken fillet with "just the right amount of crunch." Lettuce, tomato, and mayo lend freshness and moisture, putting this in the higher ranks. 


Related: Fast-Food Deals to Feed the Whole Family

Church's Chicken Sandwich
Daniel K./Yelp

Best: Church's

Church's is a competitor of Popeye's, so it's no surprise it has a really good fried chicken sandwich as well. The spicy version includes spicy mayo and a jalapeño on the side, plus a huge but light, not greasy, battered chicken breast. The bun is brioche and brushed with the chain's signature honey butter, giving it a subtle sweetness that's a "perfect foil to the seasoned batter." Almost all reviews rank this sandwich right up there with Popeye's. 

Chick-fil-A: Family Meals
©TripAdvisor

Best: Chick-fil-A

The spicy chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A is generally rated a bit lower than its famous non-spicy sibling (unlike at Wendy's). It's been around a long time, so the heat level is considered tame now that the market is more saturated. Still, Chick-fil-A does chicken sandwiches well and always will, so it's hard to go wrong with any of the sandwich options here. The Spicy Deluxe, which includes pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, is considered by some as the basis for measuring all fast-food chicken sandwiches.

Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich
Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Best: Popeye's

It's almost impossible to find a chicken sandwich ranking or article that doesn't list Popeye's as "flawless," as Thrillist does. This is the sandwich that started the chicken sandwich wars, and it wasn't just a fluke of social media — it's a darn good sandwich. The breast features an "absurdly crispy crust and tender chicken laced with a complex spice profile," the Chicago Tribune says, and it's only elevated by the tangy pickles and swipe of orange spicy mayo that differentiates the classic and spicy versions. If you're not a fan of that spicy mayo, you may want to try the new Buffalo ranch version, which is going to be available only for a limited time. 


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