Chicken tenders are one of the most popular commodities in fast food right now. While everybody’s got their own version, the gold standards up to this point have been Raising Cane’s and Zaxby’s. Their low breading-to-meat ratios, Instagram-worthy dinner plates, and tangy signature sauces have made these chains the go-to spots for fast food tenders.
A new contender has emerged in the quick-service chicken tender game, though, that doesn’t just compete with, but surpasses Cane’s and Zaxby’s in every way. While you think this fire might be coming out of Church’s Chicken or Chick-fil-A, it’s actually coming out of Sonic Drive-In. Crazy, right?
I had the opportunity to visit Sonic’s headquarters to try the new Sonic Crispy Tenders ahead of their mid-June release. The new strips replace Sonic’s old, crunchy versions with a meatier, juicier tender that’s on par with the “specialists,” as Culinary Director Scott Uehlein puts it.
To get on par with those gold standards, Sonic slashed their breading by 50% to achieve the texture and meatiness consumers want nowadays. Personally, I felt that Sonic’s tenders were even juicier than those that I’ve had at either of the top tenders chains, and I was beyond impressed at their quality.
Sonic is bringing that same level of flavor to the accouterments alongside their tenders. They’ve concocted a Signature Sauce of honey mustard and barbecue that’s modeled off of Cane’s Sauce, but isn’t as cloying as the OG version. There’s even plate meals of the tenders available that are constructed to look like the Raising Cane’s plates that crush it on Instagram. This “Crispy Tender Dinner” comes with three strips of chicken, sauce, tots, an onion ring, and Texas Toast.
Uehlein was bold enough to call these the “best tenders in QSR” during the visit to Sonic HQ. Do they live up to that claim, though? Being on par with Cane’s and Zaxby’s at their best makes them worthy enough to be in the conversation. The one thing that can put Sonic over the others, though, is consistency.
Sonic’s tenders retain a crispiness just below that of Zaxby’s while being (at the bare minimum) as succulent as a Cane’s tender. That combination, plus the fact that Sonic is matching or beating the “tender specialists” in the sauce, plate, and quality aspects, gives Uehlein’s claim quite a bit of legitimacy.
Those interested in trying out the new Sonic Crispy Tenders will see them in stores starting in early May. A nationwide rollout of the chicken strips to all locations will be completed in mid-June.