Popeyes, the Louisiana-based chicken chain that first opened in New Orleans in 1972, is often described by consumers as being one of the best fast-food restaurants in the world. Praised for its delicious fried chicken wings, tenders, sandwiches, and an impressive array of comfort-food style sides to match, customers seem to love it. The franchise's overwhelming popularity can likely be attributed to a freshness you can taste. Instead of resorting to having frozen tenderloins shipped in, as is the case with many poultry-based restaurants, the chicken Popeyes uses to create its blackened or breaded masterpieces arrives in its kitchens fresh. So fresh, in fact, that one employee even reported there is a step in the preparation process that involves plucking off missed fatty spots or feathers from the raw meaty bits.
But this commendable from-scratch method does not apply to every single item on the Popeyes menu -- and even for some of those items for which it does, according to workers, freshness does not automatically equate to perfection. While there are plenty of tasty dishes available at the food franchise that could be considered culinary slam dunks, the employees who prepare our orders divulge that some menu selections are still decidedly lacking. From an underwhelming taste to off-putting smells and questionable sanitary practices during preparation, here are some Popeyes menu items the staff won't even eat.
The Homestyle Mac & Cheese
Macaroni and cheese, with its basic composition of melted savory cheeses and chewy noodles, is a dish that might be considered hard to mess up. According to a surprising number of customers across platforms such as Reddit and Youtube, however, Popeyes manages to do just that. "Why is Popeyes Mac and Cheese so watery / runny?" reads the title of a Reddit thread, in which the poster divulges the seemingly common consumer opinion regarding the chicken chain's cheesy side dish.
Whether fortunately or unfortunately, it appears that the majority of Popeyes employees actually agree with the sentiment regarding the Homestyle Mac & Cheese dish they whip up on a daily basis. "Worst thing (to order) would be the Mac and cheese," said one of these workers on Reddit under r/Popeyes, "because it's an overpriced side and the consistency is never correct." Another alleged employee on a separate post even went so far as to use an expletive to emphasize how much they personally disliked the dish, so we'd say order the mac and cheese at your own risk.
The Chicken Sandwich Filets
Sometimes, one foul memory is more than enough to turn someone off to something forever. And for a handful of Popeyes employees, it seems that certain unappealing sights and actions taken by coworkers during the handling of a few notable chicken items -- in particular the filets used for Popeyes chicken sandwiches -- have made for some lasting negative associations.
"I think I remember one of my coworkers dropped a chicken sandwich filet on the ground in the cooler, looked at me, said 'shh', and used it anyways," admitted one employee on a Reddit thread under r/IAmA. Further on in the post, the worker also divulged that sometimes a chicken chunk ends up undercooked -- and that they themselves had once bitten into a still-bloodied piece without knowing it. Similar incidents have been reported by other alleged employees, so just as with ordering poultry from any restaurant, be aware of the risks as a consumer before you place an order.
The Specialty Ranch Flavors
While it's true that Popeyes may be most widely celebrated for its chicken, the chain has additionally been recognized for its long and running list of different kinds of sauces and ranches. From discontinued selections such as Blackened Ranch, Cajun Ranch, Mardi Gras mustard, or Red Hot Honey Sauce, to currently listed choices like Chili Sauce or Buttermilk Ranch, there's no doubt that the company has invested quite a bit of effort in developing unique sauce offerings for its guests to dip their wings or french fries into.
But while some of these creative dressings might be worth the hype, according to some employees of the chain, many of the specialty ranches in particular haven't quite hit the mark in terms of actually tasting that stellar. On a Reddit thread, a worker responded to a user's question regarding their personal favorite sauce with an interesting admission. "Since we sadly don't have a honey mustard," they began honestly, "it's gonna have to be the regular old ranch with some hot sauce, all the other ranches are disappointing to me and taste like thousand island with random peppers."
Another alleged employee on a separate post actually claimed that the company's current specialty ranch selection, the Buttermilk Ranch, was their least favorite of all the restaurant's sauce picks -- so we hope that when you go to open your sandwich and drizzle on some extra flavor, you aren't as underwhelmed as the staff has been.
The Cajun Rice
The Creole-seasoned Cajun Rice side from Popeyes is so beloved by customers that when it was suddenly taken off the menu seemingly without warning in 2021, throngs of furious customers flocked to social media to display their anguish. Perhaps this is what caused the franchise to resurrect the dish for a limited time in 2022, where it was quickly and enthusiastically snatched up by nostalgic consumers. And while much of the chain's fan base waits in anticipation to see whether Popeyes will restore the side's status to either a limited-time or permanent menu item in the future, the employees believe the potent rice dish should continue to stay far, far away.
"I don't recommend the Cajun rice even though so many people stand by it," confessed an alleged Popeyes kitchen worker on Reddit. "It's quite literally just white rice with a meat gravy mixed in. But it makes me want to puke making it since the gravy is bright green and very unnatural." The dish was reported as foul-smelling and unattractive to look at by another employee as well, who commented frankly on a thread: "Cajun rice looks and smells like booty, but if you like you do you." Whether or not these admissions will turn people off to the dish when and if it returns remains to be seen.
The Biscuits ... Without Water
Ahh, the Popeyes biscuits. Whether or not they are enjoyable is truly a controversial topic among customers, but whichever side of the fence you fall on, one generally cannot deny that the chicken chain's savory baked rounds are quite dense. "Popeyes biscuits are [...] much thicker than biscuits from a lot of other restaurants," said a user on Reddit, voicing the overall customer -- and, as it turns out, employee -- opinion.
Workers of the chain do not deny claims of overly dense biscuits coming out of the ovens in the kitchens in which they work. However, one did offer up a possible explanation as to why on Reddit. "Why are your biscuits so [...] dry?" asked a curious consumer. The employee answered: "I think it's because they're made out of cake flour [...] they are frozen but we coat them in butter before we put them in the oven and after [...] would not recommend eating without water."
On another thread in the same forum, one consumer joked: "As a hazing ritual do you make the new employee eat a biscuit with no drink?" In jest, another user answered: "I think that's attempted murder." All in all, to avoid quite literally choking one down, we'd recommend ordering a beverage alongside your biscuit order during your next Popeyes stop-in.
The Regular Chicken Tenders, Especially Without Fresh Batter
While Popeyes has historically been praised for its glorious and crispy fried chicken tenders, there have been some recent reviews across numerous platforms that cast doubt on the dish's usually-assumed brilliance. On a Reddit post titled, "quality of chicken tenders gone down in the last year or so?" under r/Popeyes, customers communally discussed issues such as rubbery strips and chewy breading. A handful of alleged employees joined the debate, offering suggestions as to the why of it ... the majority of which seemed to include theories that the individuals preparing the poultry pieces following improper cooking techniques.
One worker in particular, however, disagreed, offering their own, simpler explanation. "All this is wrong, hear me out," they began. "I work in the kitchen at popeyes, ask for them fresh. The batter is hard and has a poor taste after 5 minutes that's all it takes to make your chicken bad." They continued, discounting the theory that it had anything to do with incorrect hand breading or cooking failure. "There is no wrong way to cook the chicken [...] the batter and flour stick straight to the chicken so there will not be too little or too much." Whatever the true cause of the waning quality of the Popeyes tenders in recent days, we say taking the employee's advice and asking for a fresh batch certainly can't hurt your chances of receiving a winning basket.
The Spicy Chicken Tenders
Interesting spices that challenge the palate are often associated with New Orleans, the city where Popeyes got its start. With the region sporting such a colorful blend of historical influences, including Spanish, French, Cajun, or African-American, seasonings from multiple cultures have worked their way into the food over the years, creating platefuls of powerful flavors ... and, often, some eye-watering spiciness. However, if a burning tongue is what you seek when it comes to culinary experiences, you may want to skip the spicy chicken tenders from Popeyes -- despite the promise their name makes.
Consumers across online platforms have called out the chain's "hot" variant on tenders, claiming the actual spice in the dish is only minimally detectable. One user requested an explanation from a willing employee on Reddit, asking: "Why do they say 'spicy' tenders? Genuinely can't tell the difference between them and the normal ones. Any like, code word I can use to get them to dump that spice on like I'll die without it?" The alleged worker came back with a rather discouraging answer, explaining that the spices are all applied prior to cooking and are never sprinkled on post-frying. Therefore, the spiciness factor stays relatively mild ... somewhat off-putting for those craving a legitimate kick. "I would agree with you, they could be spicier," the employee confirms -- sounding, we'd say, rather disappointed with the dish themselves.
The Mashed Potatoes
When we think of mashed potatoes, we naturally envision giant spuds freshly cooked to perfection and mashed with butter and salt to create steaming, creamy bowls of deliciousness. However, some people don't realize that not all mashed potatoes originate from recently harvested starchy vegetables. Many fast-food chains utilize powdered mashed potatoes -- a dehydrated and packeted potato product that can, in a sense, reactivate when hot water is added. While this is understandably a much faster process than boiling, peeling, and mashing fresh potatoes would be, it can make the idea of actually eating the end result slightly off-putting for those charged with making it.
"Spoiler alert- It's powdered mashed potatoes," admitted an alleged employee on Reddit regarding the Popeyes side, "the kind they add lots of water to to make it seem like regular mashed potatoes." This was corroborated on other threads, as well, with one former worker describing tiny specks and granules sometimes being left behind when they aren't absorbed properly during stirring. Disgust for this less-than-fresh shortcut reads clearly between the lines; but for those not required to stir the powder-and-water mixture to make magic happen, it appears the Popeyes potatoes can still be enjoyable. "I still love mashed potatoes from places like this," said a responding user on the original thread. "It's a guilty pleasure."
While the Popeyes gravy is so coveted that it has inspired countless copycat recipes online, it appears that the home cooks tirelessly working to recreate their favorite fast-food side have actually created a much fresher version than the original in their own kitchens. This is because the heavenly-tasting Popeyes sauce that many believe is too good not to come from scratch comes to the chain's kitchen, rather unfortunately, preserved and bagged.
"I worked at Popeyes many years ago," said a former employee on Reddit on a posted copycat recipe before joking sarcastically: "Getting to work two hours before opening to prepare the gravy, cook the gizzards, boil and reduce, etc. was such a tiring process. Just kidding, it came in a bag that we put in boiling water to heat up." This fact is confirmed across the board by additional workers, who often break the hearts of the Popeyes fan base online by exposing the truth. "How do you make the only thing I live for," asked a hopeful consumer on a separate thread, "I mean, the gravy?" Bluntly, a responding employee answered with four simple and disheartening words: "It's in a bag." You'll have to decide for yourself whether this bothers you enough to stop ordering it.
The TRUFF Mayonnaise
TRUFF is a line of high-quality condiments including hot sauces, cooking oils, and mayonnaises all constructed from truffles, a fungus that grows underground and is often used in the culinary sector due to its poignant flavor. Recently, the TRUFF company joined forces with Popeyes Louisiana Chicken to develop a line of products featuring the company's various sauces. One of the limited-time offers in 2023 was the Spicy TRUFF Chicken Sandwich, which calls for a spicy chicken patty topped with a generous layer of the sauce company's mayonnaise in a brioche bun.
While food brand mashups can often end in a favorable result, according to consumers and employees alike, the creation that results from the Popeyes and TRUFF collaboration is anything but. This appears to be overwhelmingly due to the mayonnaise itself -- specifically, its smell. "The smell immediately put me off. Gross. Took 1 bite, spit it out," said one user on Reddit of the sandwich. An employee on a separate thread titled, "TRUFF mayo is so bad," shared that preparing the dish is about as enjoyable as eating it. "I work at Popeyes and this sauce right here is the worst thing you could possibly get. Right off the bat when you get this sauce it has the worst smell. Everyone in my store calls it the stink sauce." Yikes. If you're into truffles, this one might be enjoyable -- but at the very least, you should prepare your nose for an interesting sniffing experience.
The Red Beans And Rice ... For Vegetarians
Let's face it; it can be hard to eat out as a vegetarian, especially at a chicken-focused chain. However, a person who stops in for sustenance at Popeyes wishing to avoid a spicy chicken patty or a box of battered and fried cutlets may assume, at first glance, that they've found the perfect dish in the restaurant's long-standing cup of Red Beans and Rice. A famous recipe first developed by chef Warren Leruth, the meal consists of simple white rice, mixed seasonings, and succulent red beans. Nothing meaty in there, right?
Wrong. As professed by handfuls of alleged employees across Reddit, the red beans are actually developed using pork fat ... a fact which is not at all obvious when looking at the dish. "There is lard and/or meat in them. Contrary to what some workers are instructed to say they are NOT vegetarian-friendly," said one worker on a thread from years ago ... and it appears nothing has changed. "Does Popeyes use any type of pork in their products in the US?" reads the title of a more recent thread, under which an alleged employee answers without hesitation: "Red beans have pork in them." In summary, if you're avoiding meat for any reason, don't be fooled by the popular dish's appearance. You can thank the hard-working employees of Popeyes for clearing things up.
Read the original article on Mashed.