If fried chicken is proof of God’s Love, the chicken tender is communion. Though maybe not the superior form of golden bird, The Tender™ is one of the most convenient. Like its cousin, the nugget, the tender only requires one hand for eating and dipping—a major perk that allows people to concentrate on more important things like holding a beer. (And let's be honest, you can’t walk around at a respectable tailgate with a mound of nuggets in your palm and not be roasted on someone's Snapchat feed with the caption: “😂😂😂😂 NUGS BABY😂😂😂😂 .”) Tenders strike a middle-ground—not bite-sized, but not requiring a fork or knife either. They're a snack that sustains you, delivering the perfect combo of crispy breading, grease, and moisture.
Because of their convenience, tenders have become a staple at fast-food chains across the nation, breeding a deep sense of nostalgia. And no surprise—everyone is a self-proclaimed tenders expert. This cockiness was on full display last week when a tender bracket surfaced on Twitter, setting the Internet aflame. Though it was absolutely blasphemous (Buffalo Wild Wings? Tyson isn’t even a restaurant; it’s a slaughterhouse! Zaxby’s ranked lower than Dairy Queen?!), it proves that everyone buys into the myth that their favorite chicken spot is the best chicken spot. We’ve seen family members fist-fight each other at reunions over the “wrong” chicken. That type of unwavering loyalty can blind people to the reality of what a great tender should be.
We are interested in the truth. And in the pursuit of that chicken tender truth, we want to compare apples to apples. So we are evaluating larger fast-food chains because it would be silly to compare regional heavyweights like Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles or Publix with KFC. We’re also excluding any restaurant whose menu is not a majority of fried items, because lumping in McDonald’s and Dairy Queen just to fill some space for a bracket is disingenuous. Restaurants hanging their hats on wings are also excluded.
Without further ado, here is the definitive ranking of fast-food chicken tenders.