The continued success and expansion of Chick-Fil-A must really be getting stuck under McDonald’s corporate craw. The Golden Arches have been waging all-out holy war on the southern chicken chain, rolling out new version after new version of their classic fried chicken sandwich, each new iteration more closely resembling Chick-Fil-A’s version that the last.
And with good reason: Fried chicken is the clear sandwich of the moment, and Chick-Fil-A’s uber-simple version, made with just pickles, a crispy pressure-fried breast filet, and a soft, pillowy buttered bun, must seem something like a magician’s sleight of hand to the McDonald’s Test Kitchen, technically obvious but somehow still elusive and out of reach. But that hasn’t stopped McDonald’s from trying to unlock the secret of a true Chick-Fil-A killer for themselves. From the website:
“McDonald’s classic chicken sandwich is made with all white meat chicken filet, topped with deliciously sweet and tangy Signature Sauce and pickles. Served on a soft, toasted regular bun.”
The new sandwich is part of McDonald’s revamped “$1-$2-$3” value menu, coming in at the top of the price range at $3. It’s a good move for McDonald’s, who can’t help but have noticed over the years (much to the dismay of their listless food scientists and chefs), that people don’t want higher-quality burgers or on-trend toppings; they want classic McDonald’s fare, they want it to fill their empty stomachs (and their hearts), and they want it to be cheap to the point of economic impossibility.
The new offering borrows heavily from Chick-Fil-A’s classic sandwich, offering a bun-destroying oval piece of crunchy fried chicken, a scattering of pickle slices, and forgoes the butter in favor of a new “Signature Sauce,” that manages to be both somehow vaguely “flavors” and “unidentifiable” all at the same time. It’s probably another variation on “Mac Sauce,” with a ketchup-and-mayonnaise base, but also some tangier mustard notes, and some garlic and black pepper to add the faintest touch of heat.
The first thing you notice about this sandwich is that, unlike the rendering on the menu, your chicken sandwich will appear to have been thrown out of the window of a moving car. Every single one we tried (as well as others we’ve seen online) seem to suffer from a major amount of squishing, as though the final step of the build procedure handed down from corporate concludes with the line cook angrily smashing both fists into the sandwich, before lovingly wrapping it in paper.
The chicken filet itself is enormous, hanging lasciviously out of both ends of the standard McDonald’s bun like a drunken college student on her first trip to Sanibel Island. The pickles lend a very pleasant tart contrast to the craggy, crunchy fried chicken, and the “Signature Sauce” compliments nicely with a touch of creaminess and satisfying messiness.
Does it beat Chick-Fil-A? For those of us in the Chick-less Northeast, it’s probably the next best thing. The chicken filet is moist, tender, and crunchy, with only a few spots of weird chewy knuckle bits. The stripped-down production value definitely works; McDonald’s fried chicken has come a long way in the last five years, and presenting it so simply allows the buttermilk-seasoned breast to really dazzle and delight. The Signature Sauce is complementary, but not overpowering, and the $3 price point makes this a solid choice for anyone whose location (or politics) prevents them from eating at (the still superior) Chick-Fil-A.