We Ranked 9 Popeyes Chicken Items From Worst To Best

Popeyes' chicken items
Popeyes' chicken items - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

Not many foods are as crowd friendly as fried chicken. It's delicious at pretty much any temperature and is welcomed with open arms and mouths at most parties. It appears on menus all over the world, from Japanese karaage and Guatemala's country chicken to our own American fare in regional versions like Buffalo chicken wings and Southern fried chicken. No matter how it's prepared, the general result tends to be the same: juicy, flavor-packed meat with a crispy, crunchy outer layer.

I'm a longtime fried chicken fanatic, fond of all things crispy, from tempura to Canada's beloved beaver tails. My first hands-on experience with fried chicken came from my Texan aunt, who taught me the secret of a buttermilk brine. These days, I'm privileged to work in a Japanese kitchen, where karaage and tempura are made daily. I've also always wanted to take a fried chicken taste-testing road trip, but instead, I got to do the next best thing: I ordered nearly all the chicken dishes at Popeyes so that I could give our readers some advice on what to order when craving a hit of fried chicken and a side of buttery biscuits.

From appearance and taste to texture (such as the balance between the crispy coasting and juiciness of the meat), every dish was judged under the same standards. I've tasted every piece of fried chicken that has crossed my path, from mild to ultra-spicy, so I hope that you'll trust my — and my fellow taste testers' — judgment when it comes to ranking Popeyes' chicken items worst to best.

Read more: 26 Best Toppings To Add To Your Chicken Sandwich

9. Signature Hot Wings

Signature hot wings
Signature hot wings - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

With wings having only been added to the Popeyes permanent menu more recently, we felt obliged to give them a try. The chain added five flavors in late 2023 after first seeing success with both a limited-edition ghost pepper flavor and later a sweet 'n spicy version. All Popeyes wings are pretty spicy right off the bat. Before they even touch the deep fryer, they've been dunked in a ghost pepper spice blend marinade and, to add searing insult to injury, we opted for the hottest sauce possible: signature hot.

You'd be excused for having some misgivings as soon as you opened the container. The stunning shade of orange feels a little like a warning sign, much like any foodstuff that's called "flaming hot" or displays a nuclear trefoil on the label. This unnatural shade could be little more than a signal for social media stunt-eaters to start farming followers, rather than truly being the shade of the Popeyes Creole spice blend that gives all the food that unique taste.

Undeterred, we took a bite. Sadly, neither the flavor nor texture impressed us. Popeyes gives its wings the crispy coating treatment, but that's obscured by the unapologetic slathering of hot, vinegary, peppery sauce that makes everything limp before it reaches your lips. The gorgeously crunchy outside gets soggy pretty fast, so only order these if you plan on inhaling them as soon as they hit the counter.

8. Roasted Garlic Parmesan Wings

Garlic parmesan wings
Garlic parmesan wings - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

These wings are also covered in a thick sauce that quickly seeps into the batter. However, the buttery garlic parmesan flavor was enough to make us soldier on. That said, we were aware that things could be better: You can actually order any of the wing sauces on the side and dip your chicken at will, keeping the coating crisp until you're ready to dig in. Curiously, the ghost pepper wings are the only ones that come sauceless; they also land in the middle of Popeyes' own heat ratings, while the roasted garlic parmesan wings are listed as mildest. Simply marinated and battered, we suspect the former might actually be the milder.

Generally speaking, these wings just don't reheat very well either. While leftover fast food isn't usually a considerable source of consternation in real life, the scope of this article meant that we had to order an absolute pile of fried chicken all at once, so we did experiment with reheating the leftovers (in the name of investigative journalism). Even after a lengthy spell in a high-heat air fryer, these babies were a disappointment; they were still packed with tasty flavors and juicy chicken, but the breading was too limp to be palatable.

We had tried the hottest and mildest versions of these Popeyes wings and were unfortunately let down by both. While the chicken's tenderness is there, the pre-sauced wings just didn't work for us. Unfortunately, if you're new to Popeyes, you likely wouldn't know to order them with the sauce on the side.

7. Classic Tenders

Chicken tenders in box
Chicken tenders in box - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

On the opposite end of the soggy spectrum, Popeyes' classic tenders are extra crispy. Like nearly everything we tried, the meat is still delicious, but we did find that the coating was a little, well ... excessive. They were good, don't get us wrong, but the coating veered into Cap'n Crunch territory, leaving the roofs of our mouths feeling slightly shredded after eating them. (Maybe we're just delicate, though.) The tenders were also all on the thin side, leaving us wishing there was a better balance between chicken and batter. And because of the thinly sliced meat, the tenders felt dried out and a little tough.

That said, one of the astounding things about Popeyes' chicken is how the brand has engineered fried chicken breading that manages to stay in place while you're eating it. Just like onion rings, fried chicken comes with the inherent risk of biting into it and ending up with just chicken or breading in your mouth. Somehow, that's not the case with any chicken items on the Popeyes menu, as unusual as that sounds. It's something that we appreciated as we dipped our way through the lineup of sauces with fully coated and relentlessly crisp tenders.

For these classic tenders, the blackened buttermilk ranch sauce was far and away our favorite due to the tangy ranch vibes mixed with a depth of flavor from the blackened Creole seasoning.

6. Spicy Tenders

Spicy chicken tenders in box
Spicy chicken tenders in box - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

The spicy tenders are exactly like their classic counterpart but with the addition of spice, as you may have guessed. So we didn't expect much of a difference between the two -- and there really wasn't. Still pretty thin for a fast food chicken tender, they were somehow moister than the classic version. But the same crunchy, golden-brown coating gets a spicy hit, and this version also makes a fine pairing with a pass through those delightful Popeyes sauces. The sauces themselves are another star in the take-out world, and the Mardi Gras mustard, in particular, worked nicely in the case of the spicy tenders. But as noted in the wings section, ordering a separate tub of the garlic parmesan dip might just make you overlook that skinny tender vs. heavy coating conundrum.

Now, fast food meals tend to be better for the soul than serving as a nutritious part of a well-balanced diet -- and Popeyes' chicken tenders are admittedly loaded with calories, sodium, and fats. But they're also actually the highest source of protein available at Popeyes, packing in 63 grams in a 5-piece order.

5. Classic Signature Chicken

Fried chicken pieces
Fried chicken pieces - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

Now we're getting down to the food items that made Popeyes the beloved chicken joint that it is. In 1972, chef Alvin Copeland Sr. opened a restaurant selling traditional Southern-style fried chicken. Quickly realizing that sales would increase if he switched to the spicier version known as New Orleans-style, Copeland overhauled his recipe. In the 50-plus years since, Popeyes has become one of the top fast-food fried chicken chains in North America. In 2023, we profiled Popeyes as one of the 45 best fried chicken restaurants in the U.S. -- and in a country that loves its chicken, that's a pretty big deal.

Popeyes' classic fried chicken -- and the spicier version -- has a lighter coating of breading than the tenders, and it's delicious. Delicate, golden brown, and full of flavor, we'd go so far as to say that it's almost absolute perfection. We ordered a piece of both dark and light meat, but we were impressed with the breast far more than the drumstick. This might just come down to personal preference though, as drumsticks have never really been an easy sell in my house. We did find the drumstick a little on the dry side, especially when up against the glorious juiciness of the fried chicken breast.

This is a menu item that we'll certainly return to. It's packed with flavor, just enough saltiness to satisfy, and a perfect balance between crispy and tender.

4. Spicy Signature Chicken

Spicy fried chicken pieces
Spicy fried chicken pieces - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

For the spicy signature chicken, we went with two pieces of dark meat. But next time, we'll certainly order a breast and thigh combination as those were the pieces all of us taste testers thought were the tastiest. Again, no one was overly impressed with the drumstick, but if that's your preference, you'll probably love this version. The thigh was as good as we expected -- boasting loads of flavor and spice without being overwhelming. Popeyes lets you order whatever combination of chicken pieces that your little heart desires, so make it worth your while and go for what you like. Like most other places, there's an added charge for extra breast meat, but the quality and size still make it a good deal.

Popeyes chicken is so delicious because the meat is soaked in a 12-hour marinade in the chain's signature ghost-pepper-spiced brine, which packs every bite with taste. The level of heat in the spicy signature chicken isn't off the charts here, either. It's approachable while still bringing a tasty bit of zip to your dinner. Like always, you can up your level of heat with a side of sauce in one of the spicier flavors. We found the signature hot dip (the same sauce used on the hot wings we ordered) to be eye-wateringly piquant, while the sweetness of the honey mustard made a great option for those of us not wanting to react like an unsuspecting celebrity guest on "Hot Ones" (seriously, the signature hot is intense).

3. Nuggets

Chicken nuggets in box
Chicken nuggets in box - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

This will certainly sound like hyperbole, but these fantastic little nuggs were likely the best we've ever tasted. Now, we're well aware that chicken nuggets are a very big deal, so you might not agree ... but even so, hear us out. With so many things to consider when it comes to perfect nuggets, from size to shape to breading, there's loads of pressure on these bites to perform. And perform they did.

Dipped in a breading closer to the signature chicken, rather than that of the super crunchy tenders, the ratio of meat to breading is faultless. Smaller than other fast food nuggets, Popeyes' version is more like super-sized popcorn chicken, making them perfect for tossing into your mouth as fast as possible. Another pro-level tip: Stock up on those dips when you're looking to get down with these nuggets. Blackened ranch, buttermilk ranch, wild honey mustard, and even the basic barbeque are all superb. The nuggets, unlike almost everything else on the menu, only come in the classic level of spice. While they do similarly spend 12 hours in the marinade, they're more flavorful than spicy. So if you're a nugget-lover who also happens to be a heat-seeker, load up on fiery dips when you're cruising through the drive-through.

Honestly, between the juicy, crispy nuggs and those delightful tubs of flavorful goodness, you might have a hard time imagining that there could be a better order. But hang on to your nuggets -- because there totally is.

2. Blackened Chicken Sandwich

Blackened chicken sandwich
Blackened chicken sandwich - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

The only meat item on the Popeyes menu that isn't battered (it's instead coated with spices), the blackened chicken sandwich is good. First introduced as unbattered seasoned tenders in 2011, this sandwich was a promotional limited-time item that dropped at the end of 2022. The following year, the blackened chicken sandwich was added to Popeyes' permanent menu to the joy of diners looking for something with less carbs. Don't be fooled, though, as this tasty option doesn't spend any time on a grill. The chicken is still deep-fried, but without the coating to absorb as much oil, it feels a lot less greasy.

This sandwich comes in both classic and spicy versions, both served on a brioche bun with pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and mayo (regular mayo for the classic, and spicy for the other), all ingredients that we consider some of the best chicken sandwich toppings possible. Around my table, in particular, pickles and mayo are absolute must-have additions, so we were thrilled to see them here.

The blackened chicken sandwich is a solid choice; it's full of flavor, and the chicken is just as juicy as all of our other top picks. The only thing that kept it from the top spot was that, without that crunchy, carby breading, the saltiness of the seasoning is more apparent. It's not over-the-top salty; we just found that it was more noticeable than the with perfectly balanced nuggets, tenders, and chicken thighs we'd had the pleasure of eating.

1. Classic Chicken Sandwich

Classic chicken sandwich
Classic chicken sandwich - Jenny Latreille/Tasting Table

And finally, the big winner! Popeyes' own classic chicken sandwich. Unless you've been boycotting both social and traditional media in recent years, you're likely familiar with the chicken sandwich battle that hit X, formerly Twitter, in the summer of 2019. Not only did this particular sammie stoke the fires of the hungry masses, but it also made social media users go bonkers, with Chick-fil-A and Popeyes officially engaging in a chicken sandwich war. People even lined up down the block to get their hands on the classic chicken sandwich until Popeyes restaurants started running out of chicken.

That fantastic blackened chicken could never have taken first place, because this crunchy handful -- seriously, it's massive -- has been the true star of the Popeyes menu ever since it launched. A thick piece of tender white meat breaded with that crunchy coating is covered with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles and sandwiched in a slightly sweet brioche bun. Sounds simple, right? Keeping the other ingredients low-key is one of the strengths of this pick, as trendy toppings aren't Popeyes' style, nor are they needed.

Mayo gives a little softness to the crunch, pickles add the tang, and the fluffy bun holds it all together perfectly. But like everything else on the menu, the chicken is the star. The spicy marinade works its magic to give the white meat some definite oomph, while the crunchy exterior lends itself to the overall texture.


Popeyes restaurant exterior
Popeyes restaurant exterior - Jetcityimage/Getty Images

The methodology for this Popeyes chicken experiment was pretty simple. After purchasing everything together (a staggering amount of food that left the young cashier asking if I was having a party) so each chicken item could be tasted at the same time, the entrees were judged on a few simple factors. In addition to taking note of appearance, taste, texture (including juiciness), and spiciness, we also tried everything warm, cold out of the fridge, and finally reheated in the air fryer the next day. Apart from the wings, the other options still tasted good at all temperatures.

During the taste testing, we also had Popeyes' biscuits (because no one can resist them) and ice water on the side to temper any too-spicy surprises. While the quality and taste of any additional components (from the flavor of the dips to the freshness of the lettuce) were judged, we looked at balance overall when it came to the amount of crispy breading vs. the tenderness of the meat and the amount of flavoring (bland? overly spiced or salted?). But most importantly, we asked: Would we eat each chicken item again? We definitely would, but perhaps just one chicken dish at a time next time around.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.