Sunday, January 12, 2020

Chicken Sandwich Showdown

This is my comparison of the Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich vs. Popeyes Chicken Sandwich; what historians are sure to call the defining question of our times.

The Uproar

Unless you're been fast asleep in the hen house, you're no doubt aware that 2019 had quite the brouhaha over Chicken Sandwiches. I consider myself above such nonsense. Thus, I did not go near a Chick-Fil-A nor a Popeyes Chicken during the ensuing Twitter Feud, massive crowds, car wrecks, stabbings and other violence. In addition to all that, it's clear from social media that some people hold rabidly-strong opinions about favoring one establishment over the other because of their misguided political leanings. Sigh. This is not the way to get along, America.

I said I consider myself above such nonsense, but I am curious. I have a detached-observer-technologist's interest in watching social media turn humanity into lemmings, driven by FOMO of whatever minor phenomenon becomes viral. Truly the majority of the US population can no longer be considered sane nor polite. Nevertheless, now that things have calmed down slightly, I thought I would try each sandwich and make a non-agenda-driven attempt to determine which was the better sandwich.

Prior Chicken Sandwich Experience

The Popeyes sandwich is the newcomer that sparked the Chicken Sandwich Wars, but it's not quite accurate that Chick-Fil-A invented the chicken sandwich as some claim. I know this because I have been eating chicken sandwiches since the 70's. In my teens and early twenties, my brother and I tended to hang out a lot at the local Burger King. One of my favorite things to get there was the BK Chicken Sandwich: an oblong processed chicken patty on a bun with mayonnaise. This sandwich was always a gamble because the amount of mayo applied by the fast food worker was the defining factor in whether the sandwich was a success. Today we set our sights a lot higher: both of the modern contenders for the Chicken Sandwich throne are superior in every way.

In more modern times, I continue to love chicken sandwiches, but I don't usually buy them from fast food restaurants. My wife makes amazing Cajun Chicken Club Sandwiches and my family loves them. It's not possible that some fast food offering will ever unseat them from being my favorite.

Prior to this showdown I'd never had the Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich nor the Popeyes chicken sandwich, but I have had other food from both places. My family likes Chick-Fil-A a lot, and I'm partial to their nuggets, sauces, and excellent Mac and Cheese. I did try the spicy chicken sandwich a few years back and found it too hot for my liking.

I started frequenting Popeyes when I did consulting in Washington D.C. for a year. I'm partial to Popeyes for their boneless buffalo wings, sauces, and excellent Cajun fries. The town I live in now has a local Chick-Fil-A and Popeyes Chicken, fittingly across the street from each other.

Do I enter this judging with a bias? I do love Cajun food, and that may give me a slight inclination toward Popeyes. I'm doing my best to be unbiased. As a manager I have had to take training at work on Unconscious Bias and I am counting on that to help me in this taste test.

Purchasing a Chicken Sandwich at Chick-Fil-A

At 4:28pm on a Saturday, I pull into the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. This was built recently and is new and clean. The drive-thru has a dual lane, and in prior visits when things have been really busy Chick-Fil-A staff are out working the cars with tablets. Right now is less busy though. There are half a dozen cars ahead of me in the drive-thru.

When asked for my order, I am greeted by a friendly voice. I ask for a Chicken Sandwich. "Regular or Deluxe?" I am asked. I automatically say Deluxe but later wonder if that makes the comparison unfair. I am then asked if I want any sauces. I'm not sure if the sandwich comes with a sauce or not so I ask for some Chick-Fil-A sauce. I also order a large Mac and Cheese because it's really good.

I receive my food at 4:40pm. Elapsed time in the drive-thru: 12 minutes. I was charged $4.99 for the sandwich. On to Popeyes!

Purchasing a Chicken Sandwich at Popeyes

I pull into the Popeyes single-lane drive-thru at 4:45pm and there are no cars ahead of me.

As Popeyes' sandwich is the newcomer, and is a hit, they understandably are working to capitalize on it. A poster on the outside of the building proclaims "I'm Back", referring to the sandwich being sold out for weeks after its pilot introduction.

When asked for my order, I am greeted by a friendly voice. I ask for a Chicken Sandwich. I also order Cajun fries because they're really good. At the payment window, I am asked if I want a sauce. Unsure if the sandwich comes with a sauce, I ask for Mardigras Mustard sauce.

I receive my food at 4:50p. Elapsed time in the drive-thru: 5 minutes. I was charged a combined amount for the sandwich plus fries, but looking online the sandwich alone is $3.99.

I head home to taste both sandwiches. On the drive home, it smells really good in the car.

Taste Test: Chick-Fil-A Deluxe Chicken Sandwich

It is now 5:00pm, 20 minutes after getting my sandwich. The Chick-Fil-A bag is perfect and unwrinkled. Inside, the Chick-Fil-A sandwich comes in a container box. I like this kind of packaging because it provides a place for fries, if you're having fries.

Opening the lid reveals the sandwich which has an appealing look. Fast food often fails to come close to the pictures used in ads and posters, but this looks attractive. I again wonder if I've done the comparison a disservice by ordering the Deluxe version of the sandwich, which adds cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

A few bites in, I'm enjoying the sandwich but have realized it doesn't come with a sauce. I spread some Chick-Fil-A sauce on the bun and continue on. I could in fact have asked for any of a dozen sauces; sauces at Chick-Fil-A are free (ahem) unlike Popeyes which is a miser about giving you any extra sauces.

The bun is just what I want: soft, but not so soft that it gets squished and doesn't survive the length of the meal. I find the chicken moist and delicious. I love the thin crunchy breading on the outside.

I finish my sandwich and think, "that was a very good chicken sandwich."

Taste Test: Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

The Popeyes bag is in sad shape. Although I've come to appreciate the food at Popeyes Chicken, the restaurant itself always seems run-down and the bag exemplifies the feeling. It's in stark contrast to the tight ship that is Chick-Fil-A. But on to the sandwich. The sandwich is in a foil bag that loudly proclaims "love that chicken (sandwich)."

Opening the foil bag reveals the sandwich which looks a little different than I am expecting. After a few bites, I realize I am holding the sandwich upside down and I correct matters. That is why the picture below shows a half-eaten sandwich. Even so, the sandwich looks a lot less like advertisement pictures than the Chick-Fil-A sandwich did. In fact, it looks like the sandwich was dropped and stepped on.

While the sandwich had a kind of squished appearance out of the bag, the sandwich is good and I am enjoying it. It comes with a mayo so I am not needing to add a sauce. But that's okay, the Mardigras Mustard sauce will be delicious with my Cajun fries later on. Did I mention that Popeyes is a miser when it comes to sauces?

The brioche bun is delightful and survives the meal. I like the chicken, which is juicy, but I expected the Cajun flavor to be more prominent. It is very different from the Chick-Fil-A chicken: the buttermilk batter is reminiscent of what you would find on fried chicken. The biggest thing I notice about the chicken, though, is how much of it there is. There is definitely more chicken on the Popeyes sandwich. This is not to say that the Chick-Fil-A sandwich didn't have enough chicken.

I finish my sandwich and think, "that was a very good chicken sandwich."

Which One Wins?

It's at this point that I'm expected to declare a winner, but as I finish the second sandwich I am at a loss to pick a favorite. They were both good, but nothing pushes me toward one over the other. Which one would I like to have again? At the moment, neither! I have just finished a double meal and I am full. Really, it's too close to call. If I was marooned on a desert island and you told me I could have either sandwich, I would close my eyes and say "Surprise me."


1. Both places offer an excellent chicken sandwich.
2. My wife's Cajun Chicken Sandwiches remain #1 in my heart.
3. If it's a Sunday, go to Popeyes. Chick-Fil-A is closed.
4. If you're going to photograph the food, I'd go with Chick-Fil-A.
5. If a lower price or more food for the price is your main concern, Popeyes has the edge.
6. If you're a lover of sauces, go Chick-Fil-A.
7. These are just chicken sandwiches, not reasons for a new Civil War or acts of felony violence.

There you have it. You really can't go wrong with either sandwich, and there are now enough sandwiches for everybody... so your chances of getting one without violence and name calling are excellent. All you militant Chicken-Twitter people can just chill. Can't we all get along?

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