The delicate thing about marketing the debut of a big, splashy fast food item is that you sometimes have to establish a product as “new and improved” by (artfully) trash-talking your prior product. KFC understands this. Today the fast food giant released a new chicken sandwich (in both regular and spicy varieties) that the chain is calling its “best chicken sandwich ever,” and the language used in a statement emailed to The Takeout to talk it up is… well, let’s just say that if I were the Crispy Colonel, I’d be mad.
Compared to the Crispy Colonel Sandwich, the KFC Chicken Sandwich is an upgrade in every way. The new sandwich features a quarter-pound all white meat, double-breaded Extra Crispy™ chicken breast filet, which is 20 percent larger than KFC’s Crispy Colonel sandwich, on a new, buttery brioche bun with thicker, crinkle-cut pickles, and choice of the Colonel’s real mayo or spicy sauce, all packaged up in a temperature-controlled foil pouch.
“An upgrade in every way” is a high bar to clear, or at least, it would be if I were intimately familiar with the previous iteration. In reality, I’ve only experienced KFC fried chicken as a standalone item, plucked from a bucket. So, with the confident description above as my guide—as well as several bold claims from a press release announcing the rollout—I proceeded with my first KFC Chicken Sandwich, ready to be wowed.
Let’s start with the bun, which according to the press release is the result of KFC “[collaborating] with six different bakeries on more than ten recipes in order to find the right bun to hug the… chicken breast filet in just the right way.” The bun certainly succeeds at, well, being a bun: it’s got that glossy shine on top that no homemade version has ever had, and it’s so soft, so non-resilient, that it has no choice but to hug whatever is placed inside it. It exists purely to define the sandwich as such, ferrying the elements that really matter up to your mouth.
The chicken is covered in so many crunchety barnacles that I’m going to allow the capitalization of “Extra Crispy™.” The breading protrudes outward from the sandwich in tantalizing spokes that are fun to tear off and nibble at before tucking in. One thing I appreciate about KFC is that, while it’s not the artisan fried chicken you’ll find at your favorite local spot, the latter is sometimes too salty, coated in fancy coarse salt crystals that overshadow the flavor of the poultry. KFC’s sodium is more evenly distributed across all elements of the experience, making a big chunk of breading go down unsettlingly easy.
Too much of a good thing is not always wonderful, however. The breading is so thick that it separates from the meat and slides off the filet in big sheets—something you might have experienced at some point with a pizza that is heavily over-cheesed, allowed to cool slightly, then catches a sharp turn in the delivery truck. Consequently, biting into this sandwich might involve wrangling a saucy strip of skin slip-sliding around on the surface of a slick, bare chicken. But the quality of said chicken is surprisingly tender and juicy (not woody, thank goodness), so even when you take a bite that is 99% unadorned breast meat, it’s a pleasant experience, if a slightly bland one.
The mayo adds little to this equation. Definitely go for the spicy sauce instead. It’s got an immediate sharp tang, followed by a pleasantly lingering heat that sticks around far longer than you’d expect from mass-distributed fast food. The sauce is generously applied, which is a double-edged sword: for all the flavor it adds, it shrinks the window of time in which to eat the sandwich without the whole thing becoming a soggy mass of indistinguishable textures, soaking both the bun and the chicken breading and even drowning out the crunch of the pickles—pickles that were tested “with eight variations of thickness,” no less! For the optimal eating experience, open up the bun immediately and situate the pickle slices around the perimeter of the sandwich, so that every bite along the edge has the double crunch of still-crispy breading and pickles. And eat it quick. As quick as you comfortably can. (Maybe this is a caveat for all fast food meats.)
You know what the true innovation is? The temperature-controlled foil pouch, which kept the sandwiches hot all the way home. As restaurants increasingly rely on takeout business to stay afloat, these tweaks to the process will ensure a better experience no matter what you’re eating. I’d still take a Popeye’s sandwich over KFC’s, but maybe that’s not the scorecard we’re working with here. Judging this sandwich against everything else on the KFC menu, this is certainly a worthy addition to the lineup, a clear demonstration that as every fast food outlet steps up their fried chicken sandwich game, we stand only to gain from this fierce competition among chains. I am hopeful that soon enough, the choice won’t be between lousy and decent options, but between really good, great, and excellent sandwiches. What a fast casual world that will be.
(The sandwich isn’t available everywhere yet, but it’s in the process of being rolled out nationwide. It’ll be everywhere by the end of February, but to see where you can order it now, click here.)