Update, January 13, 2022: Perhaps we spoke too soon when we said that this new menu item would be an exciting development for those adhering to a plant-based diet. Our Taste Test of KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken found that, while delicious, these fake chicken bites are not prepared in a way that allows them to be certified vegetarian or vegan—our guess is that they are cooked in the same frying oil as the real chicken on the menu.
If you’re just plain interested in seeing how these taste, regardless of their meatlessness, read our full review here to get a sense of what they’re like before heading to your local drive-thru.
Update, January 10, 2022: Today is the day that your vegetarian friends might surprise you by suggesting a group outing to KFC. Beyond Fried Chicken has landed on the KFC menu nationwide, with options for both 6- and 12-piece orders, as well as a combo with fries and a drink. As you can see from this photo on the restaurant chain’s website, Beyond might have really nailed the whole chicken tender texture here, with longer “strands” of meat rather than a pulverized flaky center more akin to a nugget:
If you try the Beyond Fried Chicken, let us know what you think! Price varies by location and will, of course, be an important factor here. But it’s exciting to see a place so focused on poultry expand its roster of plant-based options. Let’s hope this stuff extends beyond its limited-time-offer status and joins the permanent menu.
Original post, January 5, 2022: On January 10, KFC will debut Beyond Fried Chicken nationwide for a limited time, according to a press release sent to The Takeout. Congratulations, vegetarians, you no longer have to stick to the biscuits and sides! There’s a protein for you, too! And it’s one that select test markets have been enjoying for nearly three years, since mid-2019.
Just how far away does 2019 feel to you? We’ll give you a reference point: In the summer of 2019, most people hadn’t even heard of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich yet. And even before that fast food craze, KFC was testing Beyond Fried Chicken in select test markets. Per the press release:
KFC was the first national U.S. QSR to introduce plant-based chicken when it tested its first iteration of Beyond Fried Chicken in August 2019 as a part of a limited-run test in Atlanta. The launch was an overwhelming success with the test store selling out in less than five hours.
In 2020, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Beyond Meat expanded the test to select restaurants in Nashville and Charlotte. That summer, KFC shared a sneak peek of Beyond Fried Chicken at select restaurants in Southern California, which led to another sell-out in just one week.
That’s a lot of gradual build-up. Indeed, just about every press release we receive for new fast food items emphasizes how long the product stayed in the development phase. It’s enough to conjure the image of white-lab-coated flavor scientists all poking and prodding a sandwich while jotting down notes on clipboards, tinkering with the formulation to get its spice blends just right.
This emphasis on quality is one way that fast food chains dispel the notion that the food is thoughtlessly or carelessly prepared before being tossed in your direction at the drive-thru. But in fact, long development time isn’t purely the result of perfectionist chefs. Rollouts take forever due to marketing, logistics, pricing, coordination with thousands of franchise outlets, and the like. By the time we get our first bite of Beyond Fried Chicken, Atlanta residents might have forgotten what it tastes like.
Beyond Fried Chicken is not, as we have mentioned before, a 100% in-house development, but rather a collaboration with Beyond Meat on an iteration of the chicken product the latter company has already released as a retail product. We know from our recent taste test that many different plant-based nuggets can get the flavor and texture right, but larger “cuts” of chicken like tenders will be an interesting challenge, and we’re excited to find out whether KFC’s version can emulate the grain and pull of real chicken breast meat. This could be big. The poultry industry could use the relief right now.