Jun 23, 2014

Fast Food Premium Chicken Sandwich Comparison

L to R: Wendy's, Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Burger King
With the recent debut of the Carl's Jr. New Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich, they generously agreed to foot the bill for a Brand Eating comparison of five premium chicken sandwiches from some of the biggest fast food burger chains.

Since tasting and evaluating five chicken sandwiches is a lot of eating, I enlisted two cohorts, T and R, to try them and proffer their opinions.

Before we get into it, just a couple of notes:

- The sandwiches were delivered to me and were all lukewarm as a result. It's not ideal, but that's the way it goes for a side-to-side (to-side-to-side, etc.) comparison.
- Your premium chicken sandwich should come in a clam shell box. If it's going to be the most expensive chicken sandwich on the menu, it's packaging should follow suit. But really it's for a practical reason: the standard wax paper wrapping traps all the moisture and heat causing all the produce to wilt almost immediately and certainly if you're picking up a sandwich to-go.

So here's what we tried:

- Burger King's Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich is described as "a premium white meat chicken fillet generously breaded with homemade seasoning and carefully layered with fresh lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and creamy mayonnaise between an artisan-style bun." The price tag is around $4.19.

This was one of the wrapped sandwiches and the produce suffered as a result. That being said, it wasn't of good quality to begin with (yellowing lettuce and overripe tomato).

I ended up weighing the filets and Burger King tied for second heaviest with Carl's Jr. at 4.35 ounces. But Burger King was the only filet that appeared to be a combination of filet and ground chicken. It felt like a giant McChicken patty. It was only lightly seasoned and breaded. I swear these used to be better.

T remarked that the it used to be her favorite sandwich, but at least this time around, the chicken wasn't crispy and the the overall experience was soggy.

R thought that the bun was a little too dense, the produce was shoddy, but that the chicken seemed among the thickest of the bunch and was moist with very chicken-y taste.

- Carl's Jr.'s Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich is touted as "a crispy chicken fillet dusted with southern spices, topped with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, all served on a fresh baked bun." They also included a Bacon Swiss version (not pictured) for us to try, which comes with the chicken, bun, bacon, Swiss, and ranch.

The suggested price is $3.99 (but it's $4.29 in my area) for the regular version and $4.99 for the Bacon Swiss.

It came in a clam shell, which left the produce intact with a firm big slice of tomato and fresh, crisp iceberg lettuce lending some texture.

I really like Carl's Jr.'s Fresh Baked Buns; they do indeed feel fresher and add a slightly sweet brioche-like flavor along with a soft, airy texture. It was my favorite bun out of the sandwiches.

The chicken was solid and crispy but slightly too salty. It had a good thickness and weighed in at 4.35 ounce, which was second only to Wendy's. It's not quite the 5 ounces they boasted in the press release, but I guess it's an average and like burger patties, where they list the pre-cooked weight. The sandwich as a whole was the largest out of the bunch (the bun is quite big).

I preferred the regular version over the Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Fillet Sandwich, mostly because Carl's Jr.'s bacon is pretty weak and relatively tasteless.

T thought the chicken was juicy and tender but didn't pack enough flavor.

R picked the Carl's Jr. Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich as her favorite, saying that the fillet had the best flavor (but was pretty salty) and that the simple but good quality worked for her.

Neither was a fan of the Bacon Swiss version due to the bacon.

- Jack in the Box's Homestyle Ranch Chicken Club is described as a "homestyle chicken filet with creamy ranch sauce, crispy bacon slices and melting cheese on a toasted brioche bun." It goes for $5.19 at my local Jack in the Box, which is about the same as the similar Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Fillet from Carl's Jr. Jack in the Box does a Spicy Chicken Sandwich but not a homestyle version (although you can certainly substituted) so this came instead.

The brioche bun was introduced with the Bacon Insider this year and looks really good. It's a fair bit denser than Carl's Jr.'s bun and doesn't feel as fresh, but is still pretty good and a welcome upgrade from the previous bun.

If you couldn't tell from the picture, Jack in the Box's chicken sandwich also came in a clam shell. There was an ideal amount of leafy lettuce and tomatoes, and they were pretty fresh.

The bacon was the standard fast food thin but provided an excellent smoky flavor that really enhanced the sandwich. The ranch was pretty light, which is fine by me.

The weakest part of the sandwich was actually the chicken, which was on the dry side with a firm, overcooked feel to it. It's also on the thin side compared to the other filets but had a nice flavor and crispy breading. It weighed in at 3.15 ounces, which was ahead of only McDonald's.

T picked this as her favorite, citing its great bacon flavor and produce but noting that the chicken was "a little dry/overcooked toward the middle." She though the bun was great but didn't taste as good as it looked.

R had Jack's sandwich firmly in the middle of the pack and offered that the bun felt a little hard and dense and that the chicken was "super overcooked" but crispy. She also thought the bacon had a great flavor and the produce was plentiful and fresh.

- McDonald's Premium Crispy Chicken Classic Sandwich offers "Tender, crispy white meat chicken breast filet with leaf lettuce, a hearty tomato slice and creamy mayonnaise all served on a bakery-style bun made with 8 grams of whole grain." It goes for $4.19 in my area.

I'm not a fan of the current bun on McDonald's Premium Chicken Sandwiches, which is a whole grain "bakery-style" bun meant to assuage criticism that the number one fast food chain often faces regarding the healthiness of its food. The bun just feels too hard, dense, and dry to me. I would prefer they went with the brioche-style bun that they offer on the new Clubhouse burgers/sandwiches. It's far superior.

The mayo was a little excessive and there was only a single, sad piece of leafy greens and a decent slice of tomato.

The chicken filet was crispy and was seasoned very heavily, perhaps to make up for it's small size (the smallest of the bunch at 2.50 ounces; that's veering into junior hamburger territory). Fortunately, I liked the flavor of the seasoning and the chicken was relatively moist and decently crispy. I just can't get over the subpar bun.

T thought McDonald's chicken entry tasted good overall but that the whole grain bun was just okay due to its dense and chewy quality.

R thought the bun was super dense, wheaty, and slightly sweet. She liked the tomato slice but felt the single piece of lettuce didn't hold up well. She had the chicken down as seasoned but dry, and the sandwich as a "soggy overall experience" due to the mayonnaise.

- Wendy's Homestyle Chicken Sandwich is described in the following manner: "There’s something about our signature chicken fillet. Specially seasoned, lightly breaded and topped with mayonnaise." It goes for $4.39 at my local Wendy's

Wendy's bun is very mediocre. For a chain that sported more upscale buns recently, their core bun is a very standard, squishy soft burger bun. It looks a little like the Kaiser bun they used to serve (which I liked better) but otherwise feels the same as their junior hamburger bun.

It was the other wrapped sandwich and, like Burger King, the produce didn't fare too well, especially the lettuce, which was soggy through and through.

The chicken filet was crispy (despite the wrapping) and lightly seasoned but also very salty. I'd put Carl's Jr. and Wendy's as the most salty tasting of the sandwiches compared. It was also the biggest filet, weighing in at 4.75 ounces. I thought it was solid overall.

T thought Wendy's premium chicken sandwich was very basic and sported a good flavor, but felt the bun was a little "eh."

R opined that the Wendy's filet was the thickest out of the bunch and was very flavorful but also a little dry and quite salty. She thought the produce was sad and there was too much mayo, but that the overall flavor was good.

L to R: Wendy's, Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Burger King
The final tally had Carl's Jr. premium chicken sandwich as R's favorite, while T and I leaned towards Jack's sandwich, which had a bacon advantage. All of the sandwiches were pretty solid but Burger King's was the least favorite.