Is Starbucks’ new chicken sandwich worth trying?

Starbucks threw its hat into the chicken sandwich wars. This week, the Seattle-based company launched a chicken sandwich with maple butter and eggs on oat biscuits, though availability is limited so far. How does it taste? I got my hands on one in Brooklyn, in short: cute.

With an egg pancake on it, this Starbucks sandwich is aimed at the breakfast crowd. She pre-ordered on Thursday morning for $5.65 and found her waiting at the counter when I got to Starbucks. The first thing I thought of was that the sandwich looked…beige. There was no layer of pickles, as in Chick-Fil-A, and no orange layer of spicy mayonnaise, as in Popeyes. The Starbucks sandwich is a patty of rusk chicken on a bed of scrambled eggs, and it’s a parent-child mix that’s definitely salty, but a bit awful.

I’ve never seen a deep fryer at Starbucks, so it didn’t shock me to find that the chicken on this sandwich lacked that fresh oomph from the oil you could find elsewhere. However, regardless of the texture, we’re left with a rather bland sandwich whose predominant flavor comes from artificially flavored maple butter. This means that, more than anything else, the Starbucks chicken sandwich is sweet and empty. It’s not downright bad, but it definitely needs something extra, like a dose of acidity, a creamy seasoning, or any other flavor to break up the mushy monotony.

Whether it tastes good or not may not matter. Justin McIlroy, co-host of the “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” podcast has been eating and covering new chicken sandwiches for years on his show, and says flavor isn’t the main reason these new products are being launched — the hype is.

While Starbucks dipping its toes into a crowded chicken sandwich field may seem strange, an unexpected entry into this market has actually been the norm for some time. The 2019 Popeyes fried chicken sandwich fired a shot at a space dominated by Chick-fil-A, and from there, the competition for new eating started picking up pace. Contenders already known for fried chicken like Kentucky Fried Chicken have revitalized their offerings, while fatter brands have tended to splurge on poultry: McDonald’s, Burger King and even Arby’s have followed suit for a viral taste of chicken.

“You might see these headlines about people waiting for hours to get a Popeye’s chicken sandwich,” says McIlroy, who argues it’s starting the hype train that brands like Starbucks continue to ride to this day.

Standing out in the world of crunchy chicken sandwiches isn’t easy, in part because most of them follow a similar formula: a crunchy piece of fried chicken, paired with a topping of pickles, or mayonnaise sauce (often with regular or spicy variants), and a fluffy bun to hold it together.

This means that chicken sandwiches compete almost entirely through the tiniest differences. Popeyes’ sandwich is known for its crunchy texture, KFC for its signature blend of herbs and spices, and Chick-Fil-A’s somehow manages to be a homophobic sandwich. Starbucks’ entree targets breakfast, similar to Wendy’s Breakfast Chicken Biscuits (now with hot honey), and McDonald’s Chicken-bacon option, both of which prove you don’t need eggs to make your breakfast sandwich.

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