Katie Canales/Business InsiderThe menus at KFC, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A sport similar items, but whose takes on fried-chicken staples are the best?
- When a craving for fast-food fried chicken hits, many options are available for your deep-fried desires.
- Three of the most popular options are Chick-fil-A,KFC, and Popeyes.
- We traversed the San Francisco Bay Area’s fast-food scene to hit all three chains and collect some of the most popular menu items at each.
- Chick-fil-A is clearly the winner for mastering its iconic chicken staple items.
- And while KFC brought nothing noteworthy to the table, Popeyes came in at a close second for its high-quality crispy chicken.
- Take a look:
When it comes to fried-chicken-oriented fast-food joints, you’ll find similar items across every menu.
Katie Canales/Business InsiderNote: We visited a joint KFC-Taco Bell location, hence the taco chain’s packaging.
The chicken tenders, the nuggets, the chicken sandwich — these are staples at any go-to chicken spot.
But what helps brands distinguish themselves from each other is offering a unique and distinct take on these items.
So we set out to see for ourselves how some of the best fried-chicken fast-food joints set themselves apart from each other.
Let’s meet our contenders (pun intended).
We’ve got the Louisiana-founded Popeyes …
… the Kentucky-based KFC, and the cult-favourite Chick-fil-A, which hails from Atlanta.
We sampled the most popular or best-selling menu items from each, referencing rankings posted by the companies and other publications and public forums.
That meant different dishes for each chain.
For Chick-fil-A, that was the chain’s chicken nuggets, which was the second most ordered main dish on the chain’s menu in 2018.
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For Popeyes, we went with its spicy chicken tenders, a crowd favourite.
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And we picked up original fried chicken tenders from KFC.
Katie Canales/Business InsiderDisclaimer: Those are two Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets stuck together in the middle. A KFC original fried chicken tender is on the left, and a Popeyes’ spicy chicken tender is on the right.
KFC’s chicken tenders were large in size.
But the breading on the KFC chicken was also the most uneven out of all three dishes.
It was also the least crispy, and it wasn’t as flavorful or as tasty as its competitors.
KFC’s tenders were easily overshadowed by Popeyes’ and Chick-fil-A’s warm, juicy chicken pieces.
But that’s just the chicken on its own — how does each chain measure up when it comes to its take on the chicken sandwich?
Katie Canales/Business InsiderFrom left to right: KFC’s Smoky Mountain BBQ flavored Crispy Colonel Sandwich, Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwich, and Popeyes’ Chicken Po’ Boy.
Let’s preface this by saying that, hands down, Chick-fil-A’s sandwich reigns supreme — the restaurant has mastered the art of the chicken sandwich.
Katie Canales/Business InsiderOn the left is KFC’s Smoky Mountain BBQ sandwich and on the right is Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwich.
It truly is as iconic as the brand advertises.
Katie Canales/Business InsiderFrom left to right: Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwich, Popeyes’ Chicken Po’ Boy, and KFC’s Smoky Mountain BBQ-flavored Crispy Colonel Sandwich.
But KFC and Popeyes have some appetizing equivalents.
KFC’s Smoky Mountain BBQ-flavored Crispy Colonel Sandwich, with its BBQ-sauce-soaked fried chicken nestled alongside pickles between two buns, packs a mean punch.
Each bite delivered a powerful, all-enveloping kick.
There wasn’t much of a crisp to the chicken, though, which was disappointing.
But at least the sandwich was a good size.
The chain’s Chicken Littles were more on the smaller side, as the name suggests.
The mini-sandwiches, dressed with pickles, are one of KFC’s specialty items. The look of them was more reminiscent of hot dogs than anything else.
As small as they were, they were still tasty, with their breaded and mayo-dressed tenderness.
And last, but certainly not least, Popeyes’ Chicken Po’ Boy is the chain’s take on a chicken sandwich.
And it’s a crispy, full-size, and delicious take at that.
It comes dressed in lettuce, pickles, and mayo with two chicken tenders tucked in a French baguette.
Chick-fil-A may have the winning sandwich …
… but the sheer quality of Popeyes’ crispy chicken makes its Po’ Boy more than memorable.
For the sides, we went with french fries at Chick-fil-A and Popeyes because both menu items have been ranked as some of the best that the chains have to offer.
KFC tries to pass its seasoned potato wedges off as french fries, but we don’t think that counts. So we opted for KFC’s creamy gravy-topped mashed potatoes, which were pretty tasty.
Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries took the No. 1 spot as the chain’s most ordered menu item in 2018.
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And for good reason — the fries’ unique shape, perfectly salty taste, and texture alone would warrant a trip to Chick-fil-A.
And while they, too, claim victory in the battle of the side orders, Popeyes’ french fries are delectable in their own way.
The restaurant, which originated in New Orleans, knows how to season food.
Each fry comes dressed in an even layer of Cajun spice.
They’re difficult to ignore.
The same could be said about the flaky, buttery triumph that is the Popeyes biscuit.
The buttermilk bread easily knocked KFC’s biscuits out of the park.
KFC’s lacked any taste or fluff.
It’s easy to say with certainty that in our taste test, KFC came in dead last when compared with its two competitors.
One of the more minor, but equally annoying, grievances against KFC is its poorly designed take-out boxes that are awkwardly narrow for reaching into.
The situation is actually similar with Chick-fil-A’s packaging — we had to fight over each other to grab the chicken nuggets from their small box.
We weren’t too thrilled about that.
Popeyes, on the other hand, delivered all of its food in a wide box, allowing for all of our hands to pull from it at once.
There’s a lot to be said about a sharing-friendly take-out container.
But on-point packaging design aside, Popeyes is not the winner of this taste test.
That title belongs to Chick-fil-A.
But that in no way diminishes Popeye’s downright superb fried-chicken quality.
The crisp, the breading, the texture, and the taste — Popeyes nails it every time.
But what Chick-fil-A does to single itself out is take each of its menu items and make it entirely its own.
From its chicken sandwich to its chicken nuggets and chicken strips, Chick-fil-A isn’t the only fast-food restaurant with these items on the menu, but it crafts them in such a way that its competitors don’t stand a chance against.
Its colourful variety of dipping sauces plays a big role in that.
We got one of each available sauce for this taste test: the original Chick-fil-A, the Polynesian, the honey mustard, the garden herb ranch, the zesty Buffalo, the barbecue, and the Sriracha.
The sauces were so much fun to mix and match with our food that we abandoned our goal of dipping only Chick-fil-A’s nuggets into them and started using them with KFC’s and Popeyes’ dishes.
We tried the spicy Cajun fries from Popeyes with the Polynesian sauce …
… Popeyes’ exquisitely breaded chicken tenders with the zesty Buffalo sauce …
… and we even slathered a good dollop on one of KFC’s Chicken Littles. We could not be stopped.
Part of the fun of going to Chick-fil-A is experimenting with all of its different sauces, and double, triple, or even quadruple dipping to see what flavours can arise out of the various combinations.
That’s not to say KFC and Popeyes don’t have good sauces.
But, again, Chick-fil-A just dominates in that department like it does in every other one.
Katie Canales/Business InsiderWe would highly recommend dipping Popeye’s Chicken Po’ Boy in Chick-fil-A’s sauce.
So it’s easy to see why the chain has gone from a regional favourite to a nationally ranked chain with a cult following in recent years.
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