You are almost certainly aware of this, but today is not just any Monday. In the same way that we all remember September 26, 2006 as the debut of Burger King's Chicken Fries, April 12th, 2010 will be seared upon our historical consciousness as the premiere of the new KFC sandwich, the Double Down. I'm afraid I must confess that when I-a connoisseur of speedily-prepared foodstuffs-first heard about this sandwich, I found the concept distasteful and thought myself unlikely to sample it. But here I am, having eaten both of the available versions and writing about them on the internet.
If you aren't familiar with the Double Down, here's some marketing language from the Colonel's website that breaks it down:
The new KFC Double Down sandwich is real and it's coming April 12th! This one-of-a-kind sandwich features two thick and juicy boneless white meat chicken filets (Original RecipeÂ® or Grilled), two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel's Sauce. This product is so meaty, there's no room for a bun!
One of the best things about this blurb is that they had to make sure people understood that this was not actually some sort of amusing prank or illusion. Which makes sense really. If someone told you KFC was coming out with a sandwich that used either grilled or fried chicken in place of bread and bacon as the "meat," accompanied by multiple layers of cheese, and then a sauce, you might assume it was some clever comment on America's obsession with fast food and subsequent obesity. So I suppose an assertion of the product's actuality is both warranted and necessary.
Also, KFC is not lying. An accurate review of the sandwich is pretty much: "This product is so meaty, there's no room for a bun!" In fact, I should probably stop wasting everyone's time because that's the most systematic description of the sandwich that could ever be written. But you know what? I ate both of these things. You're going to sit here as I walk you through each component of this "sandwich"/"product" and like it.
So let's get to it and break the Double Down piece by piece.
The "Buns"/Fried Chicken and Grilled Chicken
There are two options when ordering a Double Down: one can either select the grilled version or the fried version (or, in my case, both). The grilled version offers the breakout (right?) KFC item of last year: the Grilled Recipe filet. It evokes a less ambitious Boston Market/Kenny Rogers' rotisserie chicken. It's not terrible, and is actually probably better than you would think it to be, but it's definitely not good. (to clarify the comparison, let's establish in the context of this review that the Boston Market/Kenny Rogers' rotisserie breasts are adequate but not exceptional.)
The fried option is essentially the chicken breast they serve in the buckets that you may or may not remember from your childhood depending how awesome or unawesome your parents were. While undoubtedly palatable, I've never found the Colonel's blend of flavors to be my cup of tea. Which should not be taken as a disparagement of all fast food fried chicken; I am no stranger to Bojangles' and Popeyes-the former being much better than the latter, but both ranking significantly above KFC for me.
What I'd point to as the major flaw in this sandwich-in its underlying principle, really-is that both varieties of chicken, particularly the fried, out-muscle and overpower the rest of the sandwich with the intense taste of saltiness. Make sure you get a drink. Actually, if you're ordering the Double Down, you should probably get water instead of a fountain soda, because you are going to be really parched both during and after the act of consumption. Also, you don't NEED a soda.
Sadly, the belly of the hog is pretty much an afterthought. To be frank, by the time I had turned my attention to the grilled version I was unable to perceive even the existence of bacon. I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe the grilled one is the 'healthy' version! Maybe I could try this again!" But nope, that wasn't the case: There was bacon in that one too, only I just couldn't tell. It's either because the chicken, cheese, and sauce are all so flavor-full/salty and the bacon is kind of "meh," or because the bacon is kind of flimsy and afterthought-y. Or maybe it's because I was eating my second KFC Double Down in the span of 15 minutes and at some point your palate gives up and says, "F you, if you're not going to treat me with respect you don't deserve to taste." I'm still not sure.
If you like gooey cheeses that promise the suggestion of a flavor with which you are familiar without actually presenting such flavor, this is going to be up your alley. The cheese, much like the chicken-or perhaps because of the chicken-has sort of a salty and nutty thing going on. It's more identifiable than the bacon while eating, but this may be more a product of consistency than actual flavor.
The Colonel's Special Sauce TM
It's pretty much Thousand Island dressing. I think it's safe to say that when a fast food chain promises a special sauce, it's going to be Thousand Island dressing. If you're share my affections for the McDonald's Big Mac, note that that special sauce is also Thousand Island dressing, although if have waded this far into a review of a fast food sandwich that uses chicken instead of bread this is almost certainly a fact of which you had prior knowledge.
(Sidebar: Did you know that there's actually a place in the world that is called Thousand Islands, somewhere between us and Canada, that may be the origin place for Thousand Island dressing? It turns out that there's a pretty interesting-relative, perhaps, to this review-debate about it on the Thousand Island dressing Wikipedia page! Spoiler alert: passive aggressive comments arguing about salad dressings are behind that link!)
So KFC claims that the two Double Downs only have 540 and 460 calories each (fried and grilled, respectively). At the risk of being unfortunately unpleasant, I'm forced to express my disbelief of those numbers, because there's no way that these things have less calories than a Big Mac (without cheese!). Also, if you look on the board at your local KFC (or at least at my local KFC), there's a calorie count for the meal, which comes with potato wedges and a drink (you fatty!), that counts the calories at 475-1080.
Further to this issue, Susan Levine, the nutrition education director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has issued a letter to Yum! Brands Inc. (operators of KFC, obvs) insisting that the shouldn't advertise the Double Down to children. Levine feels that the "sandwich" is a "troubling symbol of corporate irresponsibility." She also believes that the FDA should restrict Double Down advertising in a similar manner to the way it handles tobacco advertising. Sorry, phallus-faced Camel who's eating bacon surrounded by pieces of fried chicken, your kind isn't wanted here.
(Sidebar 2: Did you know that KFC also offers a Double Chocolate Chip Cake that is 1700 calories? I mean, truth be told, it looked pretty dope, but 1700 calories? Holy crap.)
Should you eat this? Probably not. It is very much what you think it is, a sloppy and salty mess, and will make your stomach hurt for several hours after you've consumed it.
Still, I asked the KFC employee behind the counter how the Double Downs were doing, mostly in the hope that I would have been the first one to order this creation. It was not to be: Apparently my local KFC affiliate has been serving them for "a few days" already. In fact, they are "selling a lot so far." So I guess that's cool. America, we did it! We, like the Double Down, are pretty much exactly what people think we are.
Awl publisher David Cho previously reviewed the products prepared on the new Burger King broiler. The Awl has no financial arrangements with KFC or its parent company Yum! Brands, which should be pretty obvious right now.