2 Meats No Bun
KFC originally announced the KFC Double Down sandwich in a press release they put out on April Fool’s Day, which makes a lot of sense, being that it seems like a joke that people just sort of kept going for the novelty value of it all. The sandwich, featuring two fried chicken breast “buns” housing two pieces of cheese, two bacon strips, and sauce was the hot punchline during its initial run in 2010.
Before planking before the Ice Bucket Challenge before Kony 2012, there was the KFC Double Down, being eaten for laffs on YouTube by people who weren’t even yet known as “YouTubers.” Its status as a novelty pop culture phenomenon was cemented when Stephen Colbert ate one on his show on Comedy Central, which was a “channel” on a thing called “basic cable” back then, which we all had on our TVs, which was the style at the time.
“I don’t think there has ever been a more obvious sign of profound psychotic behavior than KFC’s new double down sandwich,” Colbert joke-ranted. “It is breaded insanity! It is a sandwich that lacks all sandwichness!…This is the warped creation of a syphilitic brain!”
This was clearly a food designed to be ridiculed all the way to the bank, even before “outrage bait” had been coined as a strategy. Presumably to be washed down with an original recipe Four Loko (which would first be banned in several states later that fall).
The Double Down was originally envisioned as a limited-time menu item but lasted much longer before quietly phasing out. It was basically gone by 2014.
That is… UNTIL NOW.
The Double Down returned to KFC menus on March 6th this month, supposedly for a limited run. I did have one 13 years ago, but I also used to regularly drink original recipe Four Loko so let’s be honest, those memories are fuzzy at best. We figured it was high time for a reappraisal of the KFC Double Down. Are punchlines still as funny 13 years later?
I dutifully sat in the drive-thru lane just after noon at my local KFC on a rainy day in Fresno, California. The Double Down comes two ways, regular, which comes with mayo, and spicy, which comes with spicy mayo. I ordered one of each, plus fries and a drink.
It was a long(ish) wait for fast food, which actually gave me hope. If it took that much time to make, I figured, maybe it would be fresher? A man can hope.
I received my order and headed for home. The first bad omen was that the fries were very bad. Nicely seasoned, but stale tasting, like they’d been sitting there for a while and/or weren’t very good in the first place. Sort of like seasoned cardboard. I stopped after four or five, and believe me when I say that fries have to be pretty bad for me to stop eating perfectly available fries while driving. I could probably mow down a whole KFC bucket full halfway decent ones.
Five to 10 short minutes later, I was safely at home popping these bad boys out of the bag.
They looked… honestly pretty appetizing. The breading looked crunchy, though not daunting. The cheese was nicely melted, and the bacon looked… well, like fast food bacon usually looks. Probably unnecessary, but I suppose I can’t really ding a KFC Double Down for being excessive.
I took a sniff, like I was nosing a fine wine or celebrating a loud fart in front of the kids. It smelled fried and good, like the Colonel’s blend of 11 herbs and spices.
As I bit in, yes, it was a little hard to get my mouth around, as compared to a normal sandwich, but it was doable. I think they cut the breasts in half horizontally rather than using two whole breasts, which seems like the right move. It’s a little rough on the roof of your mouth, without the soft bun to cushion all that breading. A little mayo squirted through a hole in the chicken onto my hand like I was eating a giant gusher candy, which added an element of surprise and disgust.
Taste-wise, it was… okay. There’s lots of smoky bacon flavor and creamy cheese, and the chicken is fine. It’s chicken breast, so it’s not particularly juicy, but it’s not too overcooked or overfried, so dryness isn’t really a factor. The more I chewed and the more bites I took, the more I realized what a salt bomb this thing is. While it has crispy breading, there’s also no fresh crunch — this thing was positively dying for some pickles or maybe some sliced onions in there. I actually thought the spicy sauce was pickles at first glance and I was immediately disappointed that it wasn’t.
The bacon flavor is slightly overwhelming at first, but it’s bacon, so that’s not so bad. The regular mayo is nice too (chicken and mayo being a solid combination) and the spicy sauce is surprisingly spicy. If I had to choose a worst component, it’d actually be the cheese. It tastes like that white American, which contributes little flavor beyond bland milkiness and there’s way too much of it. This definitely doesn’t need two slices, and they mostly seem to deaden the flavors, coating your mouth and neutralizing all the acids.
I understand why Stephen Colbert took one bite and thought “Hey, this actually isn’t bad.”
That was sort of my first thought as well. But then the more bites you take, the worse it gets and the worse you feel. There’s nothing fresh in there, just breading and bacon and mayo and cheese. It’s got no restraint, which is to be expected, but also no pizzazz. One bite is basically enough, there’s nothing else to discover.
I would have to be extremely drunk and/or stoned to finish an entire one of these, and I can’t even imagine the hangover. I got maybe a quarter of the way through the sandwiches and then I called it. This is still more of a prank than it is a meal.
I don’t think fried chicken breasts as sandwich buns is that “out there” of an idea, or even so beyond the pale, nutritionally. In fact I think I’d rather put fast food fried chicken filets in my body than whatever is in the buns. That’s kind of a tough one.
In any case, the biggest issue with the Double Down is that these chicken filets are seasoned like they’re going to be the center of a sandwich (because presumably, they are, for KFC’s other sandwiches), surrounded by fresh and unsalted or not-very-salted ingredients. The Double Down loses all those fresh and unsalted ingredients, doubles the chicken, and adds bacon, cheese, and mayo. That’s too much salt, son! My capillaries were tumescent. I worried I would have to call over a young Mormon boy to read me an essay about Moby Dick. They could definitely improve this by cutting the seasoning level on the chicken in half.
The filling also feels like it isn’t really adding much. The bacon adds a smoky element (fun fact: the halal version subs bacon for a slice of smoked, processed chicken), but it also worsens the seasoning issue. The mayo is welcome, but the cheese doesn’t add anything but a binding. It also desperately needs something fresh in there, even if that’s pickles (which feature into most fast food joints’ chicken sandwiches).
All of which is basically to say: I believe in the potential of the KFC Double Down, but it doesn’t seem like the execution ever got beyond the “stunt food” phase.
Vince’s Fantasy World Galaxy Brain Remix:
If I were rethinking this, I’d cut the cheese (heh) to one slice and use swiss, cheddar, havarti… instead of whatever milky crap this is. I’d also definitely add pickles, and maybe onion and tomato. That’s going to make the sandwich too big, so I’m cutting out one of the chicken filets and wrapping the whole thing in lettuce so that you can hold it — holdability being a key consideration in sandwich artistry.
I’m keeping the bacon, just because.
So it’d be: fried chicken cutlet, melted (real) cheese, bacon, mayo, pickles, tomato, and onion in a lettuce wrap. Now, you might argue, that’s basically just an In N Out protein-style burger with fried chicken instead of a burger patty. To which I’d ask… is that a bad thing? You could even switch the bacon to ham and call it “cordon bleu style.” Remember chicken cordon bleu? Those were the days.
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