We knew KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken would taste great. The formula is three years in the making, having tantalized test markets as early as 2019 while KFC sought plant-based perfection. Now, they’re here. As of Monday, January 10, the Beyond Nuggets are available for a limited time at KFC locations nationwide. They were announced via a press release that promised “the juicy satisfaction that you’d expect from KFC’s iconic fried chicken but in a plant-based option that’s still finger lickin’ good.” After a Takeout taste test, we can confirm the finger lickin’ part. But the nuggets do raise some questions—namely, does this product do any real good in a broken food system?
First, what, exactly is this product? The name—KFC Beyond Fried Chicken—suggests a tender or imitation breast, but the reality is much closer to a nugget. Oddly enough, the brand never refers to the product as a “nugget,” calling it “fried chicken” in all press materials. (The word “nuggets” does appear within the online menu, though only sparingly and not within the item description.) But for accuracy’s sake, we’re going to call it a nugget moving forward. And this particular nugget was developed by Beyond Meat exclusively for KFC, making KFC the first national U.S. quick-service restaurant (QSR) to introduce plant-based chicken. (Burger King is currently piloting nuggets created in collaboration with Impossible Foods, but KFC launched its product first.)
Per a press release sent to The Takeout, the first iteration of Beyond Fried Chicken was tested in Atlanta in August 2019. The launch was an immediate sensation, and the product sold out completely in less than five hours. In 2020, KFC expanded the test to select restaurants in Nashville and Charlotte, looping in a few restaurants in Southern California later that year.
Now, KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken is available nationwide, although it’s unclear how long that will last. (The product is currently listed under KFC’s Limited Time Offer, or LTO, menu.) For the time being, it’s available as part of a combo or a la carte in six- or 12-piece orders with prices starting around $6.99. With this in mind, I hauled my chilly tush into my hatchback and scooted to the nearest KFC to try these bad boys.
I ordered six a la carte nuggets with my customary side of KFC mac and cheese. First, I inspected the exterior of the nuggets. They look identical to standard chicken nuggets, covered in crispy breading and dotted with tantalizing flecks of seasoning. If anything, they’re a bit bigger than, say, a McNugget. After a thorough inspection, I took my first bite.
Pretty spectacular. I cannot lie. A nugget is already a perfect food—pleasantly orb-like, perfectly dippable—but these nuggets are thoroughly seasoned and crispy, crispy, crispy. Most importantly, they taste exactly like chicken. That sounds like hyperbole, but after a few more bites, I started to worry that I had accidentally picked up an order of standard chicken nuggets. After triple-checking my receipt and confirming that my order was, in fact, meatless, I plowed through the rest of the nugs with the vigor of a woman stranded on a nugget-free desert island for 30 years. These weren’t just good imitation chicken nuggets—they were good nuggets, period. The genuine article.
A quick note on texture: While I’ve seen a few reviewers quibble with the product’s consistency, I didn’t find it to be rubbery, overly firm, or unpleasantly spongy like some plant-based nuggets I’ve tried in the past. Peering into the core of the nugget, the base looks less like ground meat and more like the layered, quasi-shredded flesh used in a chicken tender. This wasn’t an issue for me.
Here’s where things get weird. In the press release announcing the nationwide nugget release, KFC is very clear that the product is “not prepared in [a] vegan/vegetarian manner,” suggesting that the nuggets are prepared in the same fry oil as bona fide chicken products. In Eater, Amy McCarthy explains that this catch is fairly common; McDonald’s new McPlant burger is cooked on the same griddle as its beef burgers, as is Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. In other words: dedicated plant-based eaters may not be able to enjoy products like the KFC Beyond Fried Chicken.
With this in mind, it’s my responsibility to ask: what’s the point? Sure, an ordinarily meat-loving KFC customer might enjoy the meatless nuggets—but given their relatively high price point, as well as the unfortunate political implications of aggressively carnivorous eating, this product alone isn’t likely to convert anyone to a largely plant-based diet. And, as we know, heavily processed meatless products come with their own set of health considerations. Finally, given the Beyond Fried Chicken’s current status as an LTO, it hardly seems likely that KFC would reduce its chicken farming and slaughter efforts to ramp up meatless nugget production.
Let me be clear: I very much enjoyed this product. It’s the best fast food item I’ve eaten in a while, and it’s certainly among my favorite LTOs, as LTOs go. But while meatless products like this one may be designed to give the consumer hope—hope for a better, more ethical food future in which everyone can access their meaty faves in five minutes or less with zero consequences—they just give me a stomachache. Of course, that could be the mac and cheese.