Starbucks has thrown its hat into the chicken sandwich wars. This week, the Seattle-based company launched a chicken sandwich with maple butter and egg on an oat biscuit, though availability is limited so far. How does it taste? I got my hands on one in Brooklyn, and in short: bland.
With an egg patty on it, the Starbucks sandwich is aimed at the breakfast crowd. I pre-ordered mine on Thursday morning for $5.65 and found it waiting on the counter when I got to Starbucks. My first thought was that the sandwich looked…beige. There was no layer of pickles, like at Chick-Fil-A, no orange pop of spicy mayo, like at Popeyes. The Starbucks sandwich is just a piece of breaded chicken on a bed of scrambled eggs, a parent-and-child combo that’s definitely salty, but a bit unsavory.
I’ve never seen a deep fryer in a Starbucks, so it didn’t shock me to find that the chicken on this sandwich lacks that fresh-from-the-oil crunch you can find elsewhere. Still, texture aside, we’re left with a pretty uneventful sandwich whose predominant flavor comes from its artificial-tasting maple butter spread. This means the Starbucks chicken sandwich tastes, more than anything else, sweet and empty. It’s not explicitly bad, but it definitely needs something extra, like a hit of acidity, a creamy condiment, or any other flavor to break up the mushy monotony.
Whether it tastes good or not might not matter, though. Justin McElroy, co-host of the podcast ‘My Brother, My Brother, and Me,’ has been eating and covering new chicken sandwiches for years on his show, and he says flavor isn’t the primary reason to launch these new products—hype is.
While Starbucks dipping its toes into the crowded chicken sandwich field might seem odd, unexpected entries into this market have actually been the norm for some time. The Popeyes fried chicken sandwich in 2019 fired a shot in a space dominated by Chick-fil-A, and from there, the competition for new takes on the food went into overdrive. Contenders already known for fried chicken like KFC revitalized their offerings, while beefy brands went bullish on poultry: McDonald’s, Burger King, and even Arby’s followed for a taste of viral chicken success.
“You would see these headlines about people waiting for hours to get a Popeye’s chicken sandwich,” says McElroy, who argues that it kicked off a hype train that brands like Starbucks continue to ride to this day.
Standing out in the world of crispy chicken sandwiches is not easy, partly because most of them follow a similar formula: a crispy piece of fried chicken, paired with a layer of pickles, a mayo-based sauce (often with plain or spicy variants), and a soft bun to hold it all together.
This means that the chicken sandwiches compete almost entirely through the subtlest of differences. Popeyes’ sandwich is renowned for its crispy texture, KFC’s for its iconic blend of herbs and spices, Chick-Fil-A’s for somehow managing to be both a sandwich and homophobic. Starbucks’ entry targets breakfast, similar to the breakfast chicken biscuit from Wendy’s (now available with hot honey), and the McDonald’s chicken-bacon option, both of which prove you don’t need eggs to make a breakfast sandwich.