Fried chicken's healthier alternative is experiencing a renaissance as it rides the wave of the health-conscious trend.
Grilled chicken: the timid, humdrum sibling of fried chicken.
While nowhere near as glamorous or greasy as its crispy companion, grilled chicken is starting to increase in popularity as it rides the wave of health-conscious dining.
Most major fast-food chains now offer grilled-chicken options, from sandwiches to nuggets.
But seared chicken isn't masked by a delicious fried coating, so it has to be good to pass muster.
We tried grilled-chicken sandwiches from seven major fast-food chains — Burger King, Bojangles', Chick-fil-A, Hardee's, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Zaxby's — to find out which is best.
According to Burger King's menu, this chicken is marinated and seasoned with "pepper and herbs" — yet in reality, it tastes of utter nothing. The bun is weak, underwhelming, and prone to flattening. And with the sandwich coming in at 470 calories — the highest of any on this list by a long shot — its nutritional value is dubious at best.
This is a chicken sandwich in the midst of an existential crisis. Is it meant to be an enjoyable, flavorful item or merely a bland vehicle for protein delivery? The chicken itself is dry, stringy, and tough. The lettuce and tomato are pallid, and the mayonnaise oversteps its boundaries in every bite. This sandwich leaves one in tangy despair.
The grilled chicken from Bojangles' is, in a word: disappointing. The chicken breast is flavorless and dry, which makes little sense considering how over-laden with mayonnaise the sandwich is. The bun sops up both mayo and tomato, leaving it a mushy mess.
This sandwich is part of the "Artisan" chicken revamp that McDonald's released in 2015 along with the crispy fried version. The grilled white-meat breast fillet is topped with lettuce, tomato, and a vinaigrette dressing, all within McDonald's "artisan" bun.
The chicken, in a word, is rubbery. It's not all that flavorful, even with the mystery vinaigrette that quickly becomes a messy, drippy hassle. The slightly sweet bun is a mismatch with grilled chicken — it works better with the saltier fried chicken and best with a savory beef patty. It's a middle-of-the-road, disenchanting sandwich with little imagination at best.
The chicken in this sandwich is surprisingly... good. It's very tender and well-cooked without drying out, and there's a hint of a grill char to the taste. However, the sub-par toppings — some lazy tomato slices and anemic lettuce on a smear of overly sweet honey mustard — and smushy bun betray the chicken.
Hardee's — known more for its burgers and, erm, provocative advertising — also has a collection of grilled chicken sandwiches. The "normal" one is a grilled chicken club on a wheat bun — a strange combination of bacon-y decadence and boring whole wheat.
The chicken itself isn't too bad; the fillet is tender and juicy but still manages to have a good char on the outside that lends a smoky taste. The bacon is quite good — no surprise there — and the tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise are adequate. However, the wheat bun is just too much, and it overwhelms the sandwich.
By comparison, Wendy's grilled chicken is an adventurous departure. The recently recalibrated recipe involves honey mustard and tart spring greens beneath a nutty bun. I'm not normally a fan of multigrain buns, but this one is fairly unobtrusive.
The chicken is dense and marinated with a clean, herbal flavor that is complemented well by the sharp spring greens — chard, arugula, spinach, and romaine. The honey mustard is sweet, but only just; it actually has a rather strong bite.
Obviously, something with bacon is bound to be better than something without bacon. It's just logic. Chick-fil-A's grilled-chicken club sandwich is, simply put, pretty darn good.
The pillowy multigrain bun is, much like Wendy's, restrained in its hale-and-hearty seediness. It doesn't distract or overrun the chicken.
The cheese is ultimately for decor rather than flavor — one can't really detect it. Bacon, of course, is hard to do wrong, and Chick-fil-A certainly hasn't here.
But one wonders whether all these fancy extra frills hide a perfectly delicious chicken breast, as the aftertaste is more bacon than chicken. Is there truth to the "too much of a good thing" adage? This sandwich is quite good, but another eclipses it.
In this sandwich, the grilled chicken breast is the undeniable star.
Burger King and McDonald's try to hide their mediocre chicken behind masks of mayonnaise and sweet buns, but here Chick-fil-A's wonderfully juicy and grill-charred breast showcases delicious seasonings with minimal distractions.
Just a rosy red tomato slice and some lettuce within the inoffensive multigrain bun is all that's needed to make this simple sandwich hugely enjoyable. Plus, it has the lowest calorie count of the whole list, clocking in at 310 calories.
The chain is popular mostly for its fried chicken — sandwiches, nuggets, strips — but even its grilled chicken is delicious. With recent chicken overhauls from McDonald's and Wendy's, it's clear that the fast-food giants are trying to make inroads in Chick-fil-A's market, but they have a long way to go.