- Now that the chicken sandwich wars are in full swing, I’m jumping into the fray again with a comparison of budget chicken sandwiches.
- I taste-tested the budget chicken sandwiches from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s, KFC, and Burger King to find the best one.
- I found that the McChicken was still the best budget chicken sandwich, despite the attempts of other chains to copy it. However, Arby’s did offer an interesting and different contender.
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Budget chicken sandwiches aren’t to be trifled with.
My veggies-obsessed mom won’t touch most fast food, but she’ll eat two McChickens in one sitting. My meat-loving dad who grew up on a meat-based Inner Mongolian diet usually prefers cheeseburgers, but he’ll often forego his beef for a McChicken or three.
Now that the chicken wars are in full swing, I thought I’d jump back into the fray with a host of sandwiches that have so far been ignored: budget chicken sandwiches, or what could be considered McChicken equivalents.
I went to Arby’s, KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s to see if any chain had a better budget chicken sandwich than the McChicken. Along the way, I learned just how much a budget chicken sandwich can reveal about a chain’s identity.
MCDONALD’S — MCCHICKEN SANDWICH, $2.99 — Hi. It’s me, the McChicken, first of my name, former vanguard of the Dollar Menu.
The McChicken is comprised of a processed fried chicken patty on a basic McDonald’s hamburger bun. It’s topped with shredded lettuce and a sauce that’s essentially mayo.
The patty is essentially a larger, juicier, spicier chicken McNugget. Its spicy black pepper is softened by the sweet and light bun, and the two are joined by the tanginess of the extra flavorful mayonnaise.
The lettuce leaves something to be desired, but otherwise, this is the gold standard, the tried-and-true. There’s a reason the McChicken has lived for almost 40 years, and that reason is it’s really, really good.
WENDY’S — CRISPY CHICKEN SANDWICH, $1.89 — This is Wendy’s Crispy Chicken. It pretends to hate its older, more popular siblings, but still copies them a lot.
Wendy’s Crispy Chicken sandwich looks… familiar. The only visual difference between this sandwich and the McChicken is that it has Wendy’s classic whole lettuce leaf, which I argue doesn’t improve the taste or cohesion of a sandwich.
This tastes almost exactly like a McChicken, but slightly worse. The patty is nearly identical, except it’s not as black pepper spicy. The mayo, too, is less tangy and flavorful.
It’s still a perfectly decent budget chicken sandwich, but not as good as the one it’s imitating. It did cost nearly half as much as the McChicken in NYC, so if the price is a consideration, this is an adequate alternative.
ARBY’S — CHICKEN SLIDER, $1.59 — Arby’s Chicken Slider is not afraid of standing out. In fact, its individuality is what makes it successful.
Arby’s wears its sandwich shop identity proudly with a bun that’s more sandwich than burger. The chicken in the slider, in contrast with the chicken in Arby’s chicken sandwich, is thick and satisfying.
It’s definitely more slider than sandwich. It’s small but thick and hardly lasts four or five bites. The chicken is crunchy and delicious, and the cheese is salty — too salty for my taste.
The ingredients were undeniably high quality. But I thought the choice to top fried chicken with cheese and only cheese was an odd one. Fried chicken needs something tart to cut its salty crunch, and Arby’s slider just didn’t have that.
KFC — CHICKEN LITTLE, $2.60 — The Chicken Little is KFC’s entry in the smaller chicken sandwich category.
This little sandwich, like Arby’s Chicken Slider, was more slider than a sandwich. It was a thick slab of fried chicken on a sesame bun, dressed with pickle slices and plenty of mayo.
It impressed me a magnitude more than the chain’s chicken sandwich. The chicken was thicker, juicier, and crispier — still not amazing, but not bad.
This sandwich actually has a great flavor profile. It was a little too salty, but otherwise, I was very satisfied with the classic combination of bun, chicken, pickles, and mayo.
BURGER KING — CHICKEN JR, $1.29 — Chicken Jr is the edgy sibling in the Burger King family.
But wait! Haven’t we seen this sandwich before? It’s not from Wendy’s, it’s not from McDonald’s, but it feels like it could have been from either. The only visual distinctions are the sesame seeds on the bun and the lettuce, which is torn rather than shredded or whole.
This sandwich also, unsurprisingly, tasted almost exactly like a McChicken. The chicken wasn’t quite as thick or spicy, although it was plenty flavorful. The lettuce was more present, but the sauce wasn’t nearly as good as McChicken sauce.
Burger King’s sandwich was almost indistinguishable from Wendy’s, and it was also a slightly worse version of the McChicken. It’s still a pretty good sandwich, and at less than half the price of a McChicken, it’s a great value option.
Still, if we’re talking about who makes the best budget chicken sandwich, the answer is clear. Bun + chicken + lettuce = all the love for the original: the McChicken.