I compared the new wings at Popeyes to Wingstop. I couldn't believe who won — and by a near-landslide.

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I compared the new wings at Popeyes to Wingstop. I couldn't believe who won — and by a near-landslide.
  • Popeyes made wings a permanent part of its fried chicken menu in late November.
  • It enters a category dominated by Wingstop, which has about 1,800 locations in the US.

Wingstop is the King of Wings in the fast-food world.

The chain, which has more than 1,800 locations in the US, is unstoppable. In its latest quarter, sales increased 26.5% to $885 million. Each store makes about $1.8 million annually. Wingstop's digital sales are off the charts, accounting for nearly 67% of sales.

So, when Popeyes expanded its permanent menu to include chicken wings in late November, it seemed fitting to see how they stacked up to the No. 1 player in the category.

Going in, I expected a landslide win by Wingstop.

That didn't happen.

Here's what I found out:

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Wingstop sells 12 flavors of wings. Popeyes offers five flavors.

Wingstop sells 12 flavors of wings. Popeyes offers five flavors.
We compared four flavors at Wingstop to similar flavors at Popeyes.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

To ensure a fair battle, I scoured the Wingstop menu and compared only the wings that were similar in flavor profiles to the wings sold at Popeyes.

The Popeyes vs. Wingstop matchups went as follows:

  • Roasted Garlic Parmesan vs. Garlic Parmesan.

  • Honey BBQ vs. Hickory Smoked BBQ.

  • Ghost Pepper vs. Louisiana Rub.

  • Sweet 'N Spicy vs. Spicy Korean Q.

Wingstop's prices per wing are a tad higher than Popeyes.

Wingstop's prices per wing are a tad higher than Popeyes.
Wingstop prices are a tad higher per wing than Popeyes.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

At Popeyes, six a la carte wings are $6.99, or roughly $1.17 per wing. Popeyes won't let you order two different wing flavors in a single six-piece box.

At Wingstop, the smallest a la carte box is 10 pieces for $12.99. That's about $1.30 per wing. Wingstop allowed me to split flavors. So I ordered five Garlic Parmesan wings and five Hickory Smoked BBQ wings.

Both chains took about 20 minutes to prepare my order.

(Note: I ordered from a Popeyes and Wingstop less than a mile from each other in Santa Ana, California. Prices may vary where you live.)

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The Roasted Garlic Parmesan wings at Popeyes were crazy delicious.

The Roasted Garlic Parmesan wings at Popeyes were crazy delicious.
Roasted Garlic wings at Popeyes show red flakes, indicating I might feel some heat.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The asiago cheese mixed into the sauce gave the wings a nice smoky flavor. The cheesy garlic sauce was soaked in the deep-fried coating of the wing, making for a delicious crunchy bite. There's a bit of unexpected heat that comes with these wings, as well.

The wings at Popeyes are also a very nice size.

I thought the Garlic Parmesan wings at Wingstop would be superior to Popeyes because it's such a classic flavor.

I thought the Garlic Parmesan wings at Wingstop would be superior to Popeyes because it's such a classic flavor.
The Garlic Parmesan wings at Wingstop were heavily dusted in cheese.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

But the wings were a total letdown, from presentation to taste. The wings are noticeably smaller than Popeyes. I had to work hard to get a solid bite with a lot of meat on the bone.

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I couldn't get over the clumps of Parmesan cheese laying on top of each Wingstop wing.

I couldn't get over the clumps of Parmesan cheese laying on top of each Wingstop wing.
I didn't like the clumps of Parmesan on Wingstop's garlic wings.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Parmesan cheese was clearly dusted on top of the wing with a shaker. At Popeyes, the cheese was part of the sauce, so you could taste it with every bite.

The Wingstop wing doesn't have thick breading, so it had no crunchy texture like Popeyes. The clumpy grated cheese barely clings to the wing. Half of the Wingstop grated cheese fell to the table or on my shirt.

Winner: Popeyes

The Honey BBQ wings at Popeyes were sticky, but finger-licking good.

The Honey BBQ wings at Popeyes were sticky, but finger-licking good.
The Honey BBQ wings at Popeyes are tossed in a sweet and tangy sauce.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Honey BBQ wings at Popeyes are tossed in a sauce made with a mix of tamarind, sweet honey, and molasses. The honey made these wings a sticky mess.

The tamarind and honey gave this barbecue sauce a creative kick.

I liked the innovation here. It wasn't a boring barbecue sauce.

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Wingstop's barbecue wings were plain, but delicious.

Wingstop's barbecue wings were plain, but delicious.
The Hickory Smoked BBQ wings at Wingstop were mighty sticky.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Wingstop wings came slathered in tangy sweet barbecue sauce with a hint of smoky flavor. I love smoky-flavored food, so these wings were pleasing to my palate.

But, the Wingstop chicken wings are much smaller with less meat compared to Popeyes. I'm also not a fan of Wingstop's thinly coated breading.

Winner: It was close, but Popeyes won this round.

Popeyes said the Sweet 'N Spicy wings, tested earlier this year, are the chain's "best performing product since the infamous Chicken Sandwich."

Popeyes said the Sweet 'N Spicy wings, tested earlier this year, are the chain's "best performing product since the infamous Chicken Sandwich."
The Sweet 'N Spicy wings are swimming in chili oil.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

That statement speaks volumes, as the chain's chicken sandwich sparked a chicken sandwich war with Chick-fil-A in 2019. Other fast-food chains produced chicken sandwiches to compete, including KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's.

Could Popeyes' wings spark a similar chicken battle?

If the Sweet 'N Spicy wings are leading the charge, I say, "Yes."
After my first bite, I could see why it was an overnight success.

The wings are bathed in a pool of chili oil. It was sticky tangy goodness in one bite. It was like eating orange chicken but with a lot more heat.

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The Spicy Korean Q wings at Wingstop have a similar flavor and heat profile to the Sweet 'N Spicy wings.

The Spicy Korean Q wings at Wingstop have a similar flavor and heat profile to the Sweet 'N Spicy wings.
Wingstop's Spicy Korean wings were similar in flavor to the Sweet 'N Spicy wings at Popeyes.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Spicy Korean Q wings are described on Wingstop's menu as a "sweet and spicy" wing made with ginger, garlic, sriracha, and crushed red pepper.

The heat level is three flames out of five on the Wingstop scale.

It was nearly identical in taste to Popeyes' Sweet 'N Spicy wings.

But the Popeyes Sweet 'N Spicy wing had more heat and bolder flavors.

Winner: Popeyes.

The next matchup pits the not-so-hot Ghost Pepper wings at Popeyes against Wingstop's Louisiana Rub wings.

The next matchup pits the not-so-hot Ghost Pepper wings at Popeyes against Wingstop's Louisiana Rub wings.
There's no real heat in the Ghost Pepper wings.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

Believe it or not, the Ghost Pepper wings at Popeyes were not hot.

They are not tossed in any sauce. The heat comes from marinating the chicken for 12 hours in ghost pepper spices. It's the least spicy of the five Popeyes chicken wings. They were a big letdown, as I prepared my palate for some scorching heat.

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The Louisiana Rub wings at Wingstop were lightly coated in a Cajun seasoning. They were the best wings I tried at Wingstop.

The Louisiana Rub wings at Wingstop were lightly coated in a Cajun seasoning. They were the best wings I tried at Wingstop.
Wingstop's Louisiana Rub wings were the best of the four we tasted.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

The Louisiana Rub wings had the perfect amount of heat. The seasoning on the breading also wasn't an afterthought like the Parmesan crumbles on the garlic wings.

Winner: Finally, a win for Wingstop.

Here's why Wingstop loses to chicken wings newcomer Popeyes.

Here's why Wingstop loses to chicken wings newcomer Popeyes.
The new chicken wings at Popeyes pack a lot of heat.Nancy Luna/Business Insider

I know. I'm just as astounded as you are. I really came into this battle thinking Wingstop would win this chicken wing battle by a landslide.

Instead, it was a near sweep by Popeyes. Their wings are meaty, crispy flavor bombs ready to spark another chicken war.

Still, there's no denying Wingstop is a pro at chicken wings. When I visited on a Friday night, the place was hopping. A dozen employees were working, taking orders, frying wings, tossing wings in sauce, expediting delivery orders, and cleaning tables.

The chain is a well-oiled machine.

But, Popeyes is a mighty newcomer in the chicken wings space, and Wingstop should be worried.

Popeyes is a well-known brand with 3,000 restaurants in the US. It is owned by Restaurant Brands International, the parent of Burger King. RBI is investing heavily in improving operations at Popeyes, and leaning into the chain's spicy-infused fried-chicken menu.

Popeyes is on a roll. This year, Popeyes became the No. 2 fried-chicken player in the US, leapfrogging over KFC. Popeyes is fearless about entering a new category dominated by others. They proved that with their chicken sandwich.

I can't wait for the social media slingshots to begin as Popeyes' wings gain more traction among fast food eaters.

Are you a fast-food insider with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at nluna@insider.com or via Signal encrypted at 714-875-6218.

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