I compared the spicy chicken sandwiches from 5 fast-food chains, and the best was the crunchiest

I compared the spicy chicken sandwiches from 5 fast-food chains, and the best was the crunchiest
·7 min read
Bojangles fried chicken sandwich
Bo's Chicken Sandwich is the one to beat. Rachel Askinasi/Insider
  • I compared and ranked spicy fried-chicken sandwiches from Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, Shake Shack, and Bojangles.

  • I thought McDonald's and Shake Shack didn't do as good of a job when it came to incorporating the spicy flavor.

  • Bojangles' beat out Burger King's for first place after considering how well the entire sandwich came together.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken sandwich landed in the bottom slot because the chain failed to fully incorporate the spice into the chicken.

McDonald's spicy fried chicken sandwich
McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

The coating on McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken sandwich was dark brown and looked like it would provide a crisp bite with more chicken than breading. After biting into it, I found all this to be true. The fried outside wasn't as attention-seeking as the one on Burger King's Ch'King or even Shake Shack's hot honey, but it still got the job of satisfying a craving for fried food done.

While the texture of the fillet was nice, that of the bun was not. It was dense and a little damp from the steam that gathered inside the package. The classic McDonald's hamburger bun would have been a better choice, in my opinion.

The overall flavor profile was also disappointing. I first got a bit of the sweetness and acidity that came from the bun and pickles respectively, and a tiny bit of sweetness came from the sauce as well. But the heat from the red pepper sauce quickly took over and coated my whole mouth and throat.

The sauce was too overwhelming and there was nothing to balance it out.

McDonald's spicy crispy chicken sandwich
An open-faced view of McDonald's Spicy Crispy Chicken sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

A larger, thicker pickle slice could have helped to balance the profile here, but the ones McDonald's chose to use were small, thin, and barely delivered any flavor.

The chain also chose to unevenly schmear sauce on the bottom and top buns rather than use it to coat the chicken fillet. This strategy left some pieces of chicken uncovered and therefore no different from McDonald's non-spicy version of the sandwich.

Simply put, McDonald's sandwich wasn't well-rounded.

Similarly, Shake Shack's hot honey chicken sandwich had heat coming exclusively from the sauce, which was just one factor in determining its fourth-place position.

Shake Shack's hot honey fried chicken sandwich
Shake Shack's Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Shake Shack is offering a hot honey fried-chicken sandwich as part of a larger summer menu, which launched nationwide on July 1 and will last until October 4.

This sandwich promises a honey-glazed fried piece of chicken topped with a habanero mayo sauce made with pickled fresh habanero peppers. While the sauce was both sweet and packing tons of flavorful heat, I wasn't able to detect any honey flavor from the glaze.

The fried coating itself had some savory flavors, but none resembling spice or honey. Equally as disappointing was the fact that the white meat was dry and flavorless — though it's important to note that this may have been a mistake unique to the batch I was served from. The fillets on the rest of the sandwiches in this ranking were moist and had flavors of their own.

Though there's hardly any honey flavor, the sauce was powerful and the texture of fried coating was pleasantly crunchy.

Shake Shack's new hot honey fried chicken sandwich
An open-faced view of Shake Shack's Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Unlike McDonald's sauce, this one wasn't so overpowering. It did become the main flavor throughout the dish, but not in a negative way. I was able to taste the unique sweetness that comes from a pickled hot pepper, and there was just enough of it to where it nearly coated the top bun but wasn't overflowing.

And even though the coating didn't taste like honey, it was rippling with modestly crunchy textures that didn't hurt to bite down on.

The shredded lettuce was crunchy and the potato bun was as soft as I always expect it to be. Had this been labeled as just a spicy fried-chicken sandwich, it may have landed higher on this ranking. But the lack of one of two main components (coupled with the dry piece of poultry) landed this behind Wendy's, Burger King's, and Bojangles' versions.

Wendy's sandwich took third place because of its intentional spice.

Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich
Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Wendy's breading was also on the thinner side and provided a somewhat crispy bite – though not as crispy as McDonald's.

But what made this one better was the seasoning of the fried fillet. Unlike McDonald's sandwich, the flavor came from a peppery dredge rather than a gloopy sauce. It tasted like I was eating a spicy chicken tender on a bun — which is great.

The bun Wendy's used was lightweight and slightly sweet, which allowed the chicken to shine and be the main event.

The lettuce and tomato didn't add much here by way of flavor, but they also didn't detract from the sandwich at all.

Wendy's spicy fried chicken sandwich
An open-faced view of Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

While the fried-chicken fillet was tasty and satisfying, the toppings didn't really make it better. The lettuce and tomato were both thin and added more texture than flavor.

There was also a mayo sauce between the tomato and the top bun. While I thought it was good for texture and functionality (it cooled down the spice of the chicken a bit), it didn't impart additional flavor the way Burger King's honey-mustard-like mayo did.

Overall, this was a solid sandwich.

Burger King's take on the fast-food phenomenon was flavorful, thoughtful, and larger than expected. It landed in second place in this competition.

Burger King Spicy Ch'King sandwich
Burger King's Spicy Ch'King. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Like Wendy's, this sandwich came on a fluffy, chewy, and semi-sweet bun.

It had a rippled, fried dredge that both looked and tasted luxurious and super crunchy.

The tang that came from the sauce complemented the rest of the flavor profile, which included pickle chips and a second sauce that tasted like a cross between mayo and honey mustard.

Each component of the sandwich came together in a cohesive and delicious way.

Burger King's Spicy Ch'King sandwich
An open-faced view of Burger King's Spicy Ch'King. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

The pickle chips Burger King used were large enough to cover most of the surface area of the bun, which meant I got some briny goodness in each bite.

Since the fillet was glazed in sauce rather than topped with it, I tasted even flavoring and heat throughout each bite.

The glaze had notes of chili pepper, but it didn't overwhelm my taste buds and fill my whole mouth, but I did think it could have used a bit more salt to highlight the fruitiness of the chilis. I also appreciated the fact that I was able to still recognize the flavors that came from the meat itself.

Taking size, flavor profile, and purpose served by each component in the sandwich into consideration, I think Burger King had a great spicy sandwich. But after tasting Bojangles' sandwich, I thought this one deserved a still-honorable runner-up position.

Bojangles combined the best parts of every good fast-food fried chicken sandwich to earn the top spot.

Bojangles fried chicken sandwich
Bojangles' Bo's Chicken Sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

This sandwich was large but not overwhelmingly so, rippling with fried goodness, and came on a soft but not greasy bun.

When I first bit into it, I noticed that the bun was similar to the one on McDonald's sandwich. With the same notes of sweetness and the same seam down the middle, it was a better version as I didn't get any of the soggy density I experienced with McDonald's.

I also noticed there was a subtle but strong layer of spice that was visible between the meat and the fried dredge. It was a ring of fiery reddish-orange around the animal protein that I could both see and taste.

The layered ingredients proved to be a winning combination.

Bojangles chicken sandwich
An open-faced view of Bojangles' Bo's Chicken Sandwich. Rachel Askinasi/Insider

In terms of the sandwich as a whole, I thought the crunchy and flavorful coating, moist and juicy white meat, layer of peppery heat, creamy mayo, and perfectly sized briny pickles all worked well together.

Out of all five sandwiches, this was the most impressive one.

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