Friday, July 16, 2010

The Great Value Menu Chicken Sandwich Showdown

364 days ago I did a post on several different kinds of chili cheese fries in the Pasadena area. It was a little gross and a little funny (which is all I ever aim for) but it was my birthday so I just said "The hell with it, I'm doing what I want." This year I am tackling the spate of fast food value menu chicken sandwiches that are being currently promoted. My birthday isn't until tomorrow (Hutch's for dinner!!!) but I never post on the weekends so I'm doing it today. Enjoy, my friends.

Jack in the Box
In junior high, my school cafeteria served chicken sandwiches about once a week. They were $1.75 each, which always seemed a buck-fifty too high. They were terrible: breaded patties of dense, flavorless chicken that were only palatable when drowned with a deluge of mustard from a several-gallon dispenser that sat on a nearby table. Each bite of the sandwich caused mustard to squirt onto the ground, or your Air Jordans if you weren't careful, but that was the price you paid for being able to eat the things.

So it was with equal parts nostalgia and revulsion when I unwrapped the Jack in the Box chicken sandwich to find a clone of sandwiches I ate begrudgingly 18 years ago. I mean, from the lack of any odor (other than burnt) to the feeling you could fling the thing at a small child and do permanent damage, it was the same sandwich. If only the sandwich had been served to me by an overweight middle-aged woman who was rumored to be sleeping with my gym teacher, the circle would be complete. But it was not, and at any rate, as of tomorrow it will have been half my lifetime ago that I had a gym teacher.

And it tasted just as bland, only this time there was no bucket of mustard around to save the thing.

Ralph's has been pushing their already-prepared, hot chicken sandwiches for a couple months now. On Sunday's they're $1.50 each, so I grabbed one, not expecting much. I mean, they're sitting in a heating tray by the deli counter. Who knows how long they might be sitting around? I seriously doubt the employees throw out the sandwiches once they've been sitting there for a while.

I unwrapped the sandwich in my car and immediately noticed the edges of the chicken poking out from under the bun were a bizarre, dark shade, unlike any other sandwich I'd tried. I removed the bun to reveal a much lighter spot in the middle of the patty. It looked like the top of Rasheed Wallace's head. The piece of bun with the pickles on it didn't look any more appetizing.

Whatever. I took a bite.

It was nasty - easily the worst and most dried out of any of these sandwiches. In my glove compartment I have a sampling of fast food condiments that would impress (or, I suppose, disgust) anyone, so I added some hot mustard and barbecue sauce to the sandwich. That made it slightly better, but still not close to edible. I should have known better than to try this sandwich.

Church's Chicken
Pleased with my recent experiences with Church's, I decided to try their 99 cent chicken sandwich, too. I was actually given the choice of regular or spicy. Not surprisingly, I opted for the latter, and there was a bit of an orange-tinted sauce on the sandwich, although I could not detect any heat. Not that I was disappointed - or even cared, for that matter. There is only so much complaining you can do about something that costs 99 cents. I don't remember the last time I bought anything that only cost 99 cents (not counting a Seattle Seahawks bottle opener at the 99 Cent Store, which, technically, was 99.9 cents).

The sandwich was pretty good. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but considering how lousy most of these sandwiches were, it's quite a compliment. As are these words: this is the only sandwich here that I could see myself ordering again.

Burger King
Well, Burger King is my least favorite fast food place, as I have said many times, so I was expecting it to be the worst. It was nowhere near as bad as that Ralph's sandwich, and really it wasn't anything worse than Jack in the Box or Carl's Jr. In fact, there really was very little difference between any of those three sandwiches (although Jack's was probably a little worse than the other two.)

Carl's Jr.

Carl's Jr.'s 99 cent chicken sandwich was the only one of these that I had actually ever had before. I was at a 4th of July barbecue once that was close to a Carl's; I was starving and had had too many beers to drive, so I walked over and had one of these sandwiches. I remember it as being good, although to be honest I probably could have eaten the wrapper at that point and liked it.

This time around I did not like it very much. It was dry and needed some mustard to be edible.

Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is one of the better fast food chicken sandwiches around, so I had high hopes for their 99 cent chicken sandwich. I was wrong. It was very similar to the upcoming McDonald's sandwich, although the bun did taste like it had just been baked. I wish Wendy's still had the sauces they came out with a few years ago for a limited time; their southwest chipotle sauce would have been a nice addition to this sandwich.

I like chicken at McDonald's. Their McNuggets are a guilty pleasure of mine. I really dislike their burgers, but the chicken always does the job for me. Their value menu chicken sandwich is better than most of these. I don't think I will ever get it again - as I wrote, Church's sandwich is the only one of these I think I would ever repeat - but I liked this one. It did not hurt that I was able to put some of their hot mustard sauce on it. That sauce makes up for a lot.

McDonald's, Part II
Okay, this one doesn't count, but I wanted to have some fun with it. I went by McDonald's one night to get Elizabeth her usual Two Cheeseburger Meal, and decided to get another value menu chicken sandwich. I put some blue cheese on it with Krugermann sweet & spicy peppers and fresh cilantro, then baked it in the oven for ten minutes. Was it better than the plain chicken sandwich? Yes, definitely. Was it good? No, not really.

If any of these sandwiches can be said to be disappointing - and I've already pointed out how silly that would be - it would be Arby's, although that has less to do with the quality of the sandwich than the high expectations I had for Arby's. (These are some of the more bizarre sentences I have written lately.) Arby's chicken is my favorite fast food chicken, consistently fresh and hot. Their popcorn chicken is without peer, even including most restaurant versions of the dish that cost twice as much. A little while ago Elizabeth and I both tried Arby's "crispy chicken sandwich" for dinner and we both thought it was great.

But the 99 cent version of the sandwich was tiny. It was mostly breading with a thin, bland strip of chicken inside. I added some of Arby's eponymously-named sauce, as well as their "Horsey Sauce" (perhaps the only two fast food condiments that I like as much as McDonald's hot mustard). The sandwich wasn't bad, let me be clear about that, however I'd expected that this sandwich was going to be the far-and-away best of the bunch, and it was just average.

So this would be my ranking of the sandwiches, ignoring the McDonald's sandwich that I doctored:

1) Church's
2) Arby's
3) McDonald's
4) Wendy's
5) Carl's Jr
6) Burger King
7) Jack in the Box
8) Ralph's


Michelle said...

I've been reading you for a year now, this might be the best ever. "Rasheed Wallace's head"!!! Fucking priceless. Happy birthday, for tomorrow!

Mikey said...

Is it wrong that I'm already looking forward to next year's extravaganza?

Nosh Gnostic said...

I read this post with high hopes of letting you sort out what would be lunch for my road trip today.
But, alas, none of the entries seem even even gaggable. Maybe I'll just suck mustard and BBQ sauce from little packets as I'm traveling (they do that in outer space, don't they?).
Anyway, thanks, as always, for your invaluable research. Have a great birthday tomorrow!
BTW - disgust is an impression.

ben wideman said...

The moral of the story is stay away from the value menu chicken? Well done.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

What about the AM/PM mini market version, or are you boycotting ARCO?

JustinM said...

I bought a hot dog at ampm when I was 12. I won't horrify you with what I found in it, but let's just say I have never eaten anything from an ampm again, and I never will.

Anonymous said...

yo pp- over how many days did this consumption of 8 chicken sandwiches take place?

JustinM said...

2.5 hours

Only kidding, several days. I don't think I had more than one in a single day.

SuperLarge said...

I admit to snort-laughing (and kinda loudly too) at the Rasheed Wallace's head thing. But mostly, I'm horrified and awed by what you suffer for your art.

Shawn Robare said...

Yeah, those Ralph's chicken sandwiches are pretty gross. (We have them in our area, though they're sold at a store chain called Kroger (I believe it's the same company), and they're trying their damnedest to copy the Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich. Haven't tasted a good substitute yet...

JustinM said...

Yep, Ralph's is owned by Kroger. Last month they had a pulled pork sandwich, but after considering it, I just couldn't bring myself to try it.