The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (2024)

Chicken tenders have come a long way. What was once the most basic of orders — a dish reserved for picky indecisive eaters — has become a powerhouse in the fast food space. The days of over-processed mystery meats are behind us (for the most part!) and there are restaurants whose entire businesses revolve around the mighty chicken tender.

Some days… I’ll even take a tender above a chicken sandwich.

I know that sounds crazy but here is what the tender has over the sandwich: fewer carbs, fewer calories, a smaller footprint (which is important if you’re eating while driving), and a more focused and pronounced flavor. The chicken tender doesn’t need a bun, cheese, or veggie accouterments to be delicious, it just needs to be juicy, and deliver on the promise of its name — be tender.

Best of all, it’s infinitely easier to dip a chicken tender than a chicken sandwich. But things in fast food move, well, fast, and that means food is always changing. Recipe alterations, new formulations, different food sourcing — if you’ve ever felt like your favorite dish used to be better, that’s probably not your memory playing tricks on you.

That’s why it’s our mission to keep you up to date on the best fast food, which is why we’re once again tasting all the chicken tenders we could find and ranking them from worst to best. This is, to date, our biggest chicken tender ranking ever with 20 different chicken tenders. That’s a lot of chicken, so let’s dive in already and get you fed.

20. Del Taco — Crispy Chicken Strips

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (1)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

I’m a big Del Taco supporter. I think the chain is doing Mexican food better than Taco Bell, and its non-Mexican offerings (fries and cheeseburgers) are also way better than you’d expect, but unfortunately my love doesn’t extend to the chicken strips.

The biggest offense these strips commit is the batter. It’s less a breading and more of a loose sleeve that separates from the chicken after a single bite. The chicken itself is also pretty bad, it’s rubbery to the point of being inedible.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Pour Del Taco’s hottest hot sauce, Del Scorcho, all over these tenders. Hell, don’t even eat the chicken strips, just squirt the sauce right in your mouth and you’ll have a better experience.

The Bottom Line:

The most skippable chicken strips of all time.

Find your nearest Del Taco here.

19. Sonic — Crispy Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (2)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

When it comes to its chicken tenders, Sonic is still living in the past. While some of the better restaurant chains out there offer whole cuts of chicken filet freshly breaded and fried, these Sonic tenders taste like what you’d find in the freezer aisle at your local grocery store.

The chicken is dry, stringy, and poorly seasoned, offering a bite that tastes mostly like flour and black pepper.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Sonic’s Signature Sauce. It’s a Carolina-style BBQ sauce which adds smokey, sweet, and tangy elements to this otherwise bland chicken.

The Bottom Line:

Sonic is known for its delicious side orders, this is not one of them.

Find your nearest Sonic here.

18. Arby’s — Chicken Fingers

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (3)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

I will never understand why any restaurant chain would choose to call chicken tenders “chicken fingers.” It’s like telegraphing to the world “These aren’t good!” Arby’s Chicken… Fingers (shudder) are pretty awful. The chicken is dry, the flavor is that cheap flour and black pepper blend, and the fingers are over-fried.

I’ve never had an order of chicken fingers from Arby’s that didn’t taste like the fry oil needed to be changed.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

BBQ sauce, but there isn’t enough sauce in the world to make these things enjoyable. So consider yourself warned.

The Bottom Line:

You’re at Arby’s, why the hell are you ordering chicken? Get the roast beef!

Find your nearest Arby’s here.

17. Dairy Queen — Chicken Strips

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (4)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Dairy Queen, I have to ask, why are you making food at all? Stick to the desserts and you’d be beloved! Anyway, having said all that, these DQ chicken strips aren’t terrible. But that isn’t to say they’re good either.

The chicken is meaty and thick, but the overall flavor of the breading is pretty bland. These chicken strips desperately need salt and pepper, and if DQ is going to go that far they might as well add garlic and onion powder as well.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

If you want to make these strips at least decent, order a side of Country Gravy. It’ll add a savory element to the chicken that is desperately needed.

The Bottom Line:

Remember when Dairy Queen had a deep fried burrito? Bring that back DQ and ditch these chicken strips if you have to.

Find your nearest Dairy Queen here.

16. Jack in the Box — Crispy Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (5)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

There was a time when Jack in the Box’s chicken tenders were some of my favorite. No, they wouldn’t top a list, but they were reason enough for me to pull into JiB’s drive-thru. Then the pandemic happened.

When Covid-19 hit, JiB felt the need to reformulate its chicken tender recipe and what we got in place of the original were awful. Yes, these tenders are meatier than the old ones, but the chicken is totally dried out and flavorless. This chicken tender is all texture and breading, with only one real flavor note: salty.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Frank’s Red Hot will help mask the lack of flavor here. It’s not technically a dipping sauce, but its delicious.

The Bottom Line:

I’m hoping for the day Jack in the Box brings back its original chicken tender recipe. But I’m not holding my breath.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

15. Burger King — Chicken Fries

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (6)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Do Burger King Chicken Fries count as a chicken strip/tender? I don’t think so, but it’s the closest thing to a chicken tender Burger King has on the menu so I’m going to go ahead and include it.

Because this isn’t quite a cut of meat, what we have here is a sludgy meat texture. It’s off-putting. But, if you’re willing to not look too deeply at the “meat,” the flavor works. It’s a zesty mix of paprika, black pepper, and onion. Dip it in some sauce and you’re guaranteed an enjoyable experience.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

BBQ sauce works best with the zesty flavor of the breading.

The Bottom Line:

The closest thing on this list to a guilty pleasure. It’s not “technically” a chicken tender, but it’s not a nugget either.

Find your nearest Burger King here.

14. Dairy Queen Honey BBQ Sauced & Tossed

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (7)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Dairy Queen is kind of cheating by dousing these chicken tenders in sauce. Although I really dislike the un-sauced counterpart, I can’t deny that these are pretty good.

Each bite is meaty, and the flavor is a satisfying combination of sweet and peppery notes with a smokey finish. I still think Dairy Queen should focus on dessert, not food, but hey, if you’re hungry and at DQ, these get the job done.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Treat it like wings, dip it in ranch!

The Bottom Line:

Pretty good… for Dairy Queen.

Find your Dairy Queen here.

13. Carl’s Jr — Hand-breaded Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (8)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Carl’s Jr’s hand-breaded tenders are a significant jump up from everything we’ve ranked below this entry. But as good as they are, they don’t compare to what is in the top ten.

The flavor is great, the breading is a mix of onion and garlic powder, black pepper, and salt, but they are a bit over-battered. That results in a chicken tender that is mostly crunch, and very little meat. In my experience, they’re often lukewarm, meaning Carl’s Jr. has these sitting under a heat lamp waiting to be ordered.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Dip it in Carl’s Jr.’s best sauce — Sweet Bold BBQ for an infusion of brown sugar sweetness and light spice.

The Bottom Line:

Not the best chicken tender you’ll ever have but significantly better than everything ranked lower on this list.

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr here.

12. Long John Silver’s — Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (9)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

What I love about Long John Silver’s chicken tenders is the bright, crispy, and airy batter. Unlike most chicken tenders — which are breaded in flour — these taste as if they’ve been battered in corn or potato starch.

Breading aside, the chicken is a juicy cute of white meat. What I don’t love about these is that they taste just a bit fishy. That’s probably because LJS fries its chicken in the same fry oil as its fish. It’s not a dealbreaker for me, but it might be for some people.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Louisiana Hot Sauce does a lot to distract from the fishy flavor.

The Bottom Line:

Great breading, juicy chicken, but a slight fishy flavor holds them back for me personally.

Find your nearest Long John Silvers here.

11. Rally’s — Fry-Seasoned Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (10)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

If you love Rally’s fries, you’re going to love the tenders. This tenders features the same zesty garlic-forward pepper-heavy flavor that makes the fries so addictive. The chicken is thick and wonderfully juicy. My only real issue with these is they’re incredibly greasy. So greasy that you’re going to find a small puddle of grease under each tender.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

BBQ adds a sweet smokiness that pairs excellently with the fry-seasoning.

The Bottom Line:

Rally’s fries in chicken form!

Find your nearest Rally’s here.

10. Rally’s — Buffalo Fry-Seasoned Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (11)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

It’s not a major improvement, but we can’t deny that the Buffalo Fry-Seasoned Tenders are a step above the non-sauced version. Joining the zesty flavor is a smoldering sweet and sour flavor that stains the palate in the best way.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

No sauce necessary, but feel free to deep these in ranch if you want that boneless wing vibe.

The Bottom Line:

A slight step-up from the non-sauced version.

Find your nearest Rally’s here.

9. Church’s — Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (12)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

The Texas chicken chain Church’s is not quite as good as KFC, and not nearly as good as Popeyes. Save for the biscuits, which are admittedly the best, I find myself going here more out of convenience than any real desire for the chicken.

This chicken tender is good but not great. It’s juicy, crunchy, and crispy, with a hint of buttery savoriness on the back end. I wish I liked it more because for whatever reason I’d love to support Church’s over KFC, but these chicken tenders fail to make a lasting impression on me.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Church’s Signature Hot Sauce. It’s bright, citrusy, and heavy on the habanero.

The Bottom Line:

Really good, but instantly forgettable.

Find your nearest Church’s here.

8. KFC — Extra Crispy Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (13)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

KFC has some of the best chicken tenders in the game. They are well seasoned with a mix of earthy black pepper, a bit of salt, and a hint of garlic with an addicting sweet aftertaste. The breading is heavy, yet has a light airiness to it that makes its audibly crunchy, which is always a satisfying element.

But I’d like these so much more if KFC would give us Original Recipe Tenders instead of the Extra Crispy variety. For that reason alone, I almost always prefer to order the Original Recipe nuggets in place of these crispy tenders.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Dipping sauce is for nerds, use the mashed potatoes and gravy instead!

The Bottom Line:

So close to greatness, but there are better options out there.

Find your nearest KFC here.

7. Popeyes — Mild Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (14)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Popeyes just doesn’t miss. These Mild Chicken Tenders have a pronounced garlic and onion powder flavor, a crispy exterior, and a slightly sweet aftertaste. My only gripe, and its a small one, is that the chicken tenders are so wildly breaded that sometimes you get more crunch than actual meat.

Normally, that would knock it down a few spots for me but the flavor is so undeniable that I can’t rank these any lower.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Skip the sauce and drizzle these in honey to help emphasize that sweet aftertaste.

The Bottom Line:

Choosing mild over spicy is never fun, but if the mild tenders are stacked higher under the heat lamp, order them, that means they’re fresher.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

6. Wingstop — Chicken Tenders (Louisiana Rub)

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (15)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Wingstop Chicken Tenders are kind of the ugly duckling of the Wingstop menu. My guess is they are only on the menu because of picky children who for some reason think they don’t like chicken wings.

Ranking these was tough because there are over 10 variations, from wet sauces to dry rubs. My favorite choice is the Louisiana Rub, a dry rub season blend that includes a whole lot of paprika, black pepper, garlic, onion, and a hint of cayenne.

It’s floral, savory, and peppery with a gentle kiss of heat. Still, I rather just order the wings, you get more bang for your buck anyway.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

It really depends on what flavor you get. For me, I eat these sauceless, but if I got buffalo or lemon pepper, I might want to dip each tender in ranch.

The Bottom Line:

Pretty good, but the wings are superior in every way, so you should order those instead.

Find your nearest Wingstop here.

5. Jollibee — Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (16)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

If you haven’t been to Jollibee yet, remedy that and believe all the hype that is put upon this small change. These chicken tenders taste unlike any other chicken in the fast food landscape. It has a slightly sour and sweet flavor counterbalanced with salt and a juicy and tender bite.

The breading is my favorite part, it’s light, airy, and crispy, like Long John Silver’s but without that fishy aftertaste.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Add a savory element that complements the buttery finish by dipping these in Jollibee gravy.

The Bottom Line:

Jollibee’s chicken tenders are a must-eat for the uninitiated. If you’ve never eaten at Jollibee, start with this dish.

Find your nearest Jollibee here.

4. Popeyes — Spicy Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (17)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Undeniably delicious. The breading here is unbeatable, it’s crunchy and has a great blend of garlic and onion notes, buttery elements, and a strong kick of cayenne pepper on the backend.

Here is the thing though, as good as these tenders are, and let me reiterate, they’re delicious, still the quality of chicken is surpassed by a few other big fast food chains. I ranked all of those higher.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Offset some of that heat with honey!

The Bottom Line:

Delicious and legitimately spicy, but there are better options out there.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

3. Chick-fil-A — Chick-n-Strips

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (18)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

Chick-fil-A’s Chick-n-Strips are so close to being the best in fast food, but the quality control is all over the place, which is strange considering Chick-fil-A is pretty consistent with its other food products. I think that comes down to these not being quite as popular as the nuggets or sandwich, resulting in the strips sometimes sitting around cooked and waiting to be ordered.

When it’s good, it’s great. The chicken is so juicy that it melts in your mouth. The breading is full of rich floral black pepper notes and just a hint of sweetness on the aftertaste.

Still, I’d rather order the nuggets, and that’s a sign that these aren’t worthy of the number one spot.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Add some sweet and sour complexity by dipping things strips in Polynesian sauce.

The Bottom Line:

They’re delicious, but more often than not you’re going to be better served ordering the nuggets or sandwich.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

2. Dave’s Hot Chicken — Tender (Spice Level: Hot)

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (19)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

I’m just going to come out and say it — Dave’s Hot Chicken Tenders are too f*cking big. Seriously, a single strip is sometimes as big as a small human’s foot. Yes, that’s a weird image to have when talking about food, but I’ve never looked upon these tenders without being slightly disturbed, so you’ll just have to live with that weird image.

Dave’s Hot Chicken is a relatively new chicken chain that is taking the country by storm. Most of the restaurant’s dishes revolve around the chicken tender, even the chicken sandwich is just a giant tender in a bun. The chicken is available in seven different spice levels, but I think the best is simply “Hot.”

A single bite kicks your salivary glands into overdrive. After the initial kick of heat, slightly sweet notes take over, finishing with a smokey aftertaste. That journey of flavors is absolutely addicting and will keep you coming for bite after bite, despite how on fire your mouth will be.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

Dave’s sauce, but that’s not saying much because it’s your only option.

The Bottom Line:

An amazing drool-inducing chicken tender, but I still think that our number one pick beats it. But if you’re after spicy chicken, this can’t be beat.

Find your nearest Dave’s Hot Chicken here.

1. Raising Cane’s — Chicken Tenders

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (20)

Tasting Notes & Thoughts:

I’ve gone back and forth on Raising Cane’s several times. When we first ranked chicken tenders, I gave this the top spot. When Dave’s burst onto the scene, recency bias made me vote in its favor last year. But here we are in 2024 and now that I’ve re-tasted everything, I have to give it to Cane’s once again. These are hands down, the best chicken tenders in all of fast food.

Let’s talk about its weak points first — the size and shape of tenders are incredibly inconsistent. Sometimes you get ripped off with a tender so tiny it’s practically a very large nugget. But even with that weak point, these just taste so damn good.

The tenders are made from never-frozen breast meat that is marinated for a full 24 hours before being hand-battered in restaurant, and fried to order. Because of the fresh preparation, this chicken is juicer and tastier than the competition. The batter is a simple mix of salt, garlic, and onion powder, but there is also a slight buttery aftertaste and a hint of lemon on the backend.

I think this chicken tender is further elevated by just a bit of black pepper, so ask for some on the side and dust to taste.

Best Dipping Sauce Available:

The brand’s coveted Cane’s Sauce adds a savory umami quality to every bite thanks to its mix of mayo, ketchup, Worcestershire, and spices.

The Bottom Line:

The gold standard when it comes to fast food chicken tenders. Tenders are Cane’s only food product aside from fries, cole slaw, and toast. They’re so good that the menu doesn’t need to be expanded.

Find your nearest Raising Cane’s here.

The 20 Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked (2024)
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