As I’ve said before, we’ve reached the zenith of the fried-chicken sandwich — and I couldn’t be happier.
These are tumultuous times; more than ever, we need some crispy, crunchy, golden, and delicious chicken served up in a bun.
There were some surprises (Arby’s makes a fried-chicken sandwich?) and some severe disappointments.
But what’s most surprising — to me, at least — are the sandwiches which tasted the best. Not McDonald’s new recipe, not Wendy’s reliable Homestyle, not even Chick-fil-A’s inimitable classic snagged the top spot.
It was KFC’s sandwich, sharing the throne with Shake Shack’s.
I can already hear the cries: What? How could Chick-fil-A not be the best of them all? KFC, the chain of mutant chickens and the creepy Colonel? And then a chicken sandwich from a burger joint? Come on.
The Doublicious from KFC is a beautiful creation. A crispy breast of KFC’s finest chicken, resplendent with the mysterious herbs and spices, swathed in bacon, Monterrey Jack cheese, and some sweet, tangy sauce — all lovingly embraced by a fluffy and lightly sweet Hawaiian bun.
Smokey bacon lends a richness to the sandwich that melds seamlessly with the mild and rich cheese. The chicken is crispy and thin. There’s the unmistakable tang of buttermilk in every bite.
The sauce seems to be a combination of mayonnaise and barbecue sauce, with perhaps a pinch of paprika and garlic. It adds a perfect balance of smooth, creamy flavor and a vinegary kick all while managing to play second fiddle to the chicken and bacon.
In terms of quality, it seems more genuine than countless other items on the menu. There’s little “gross factor” with this sandwich, which can’t be said for most of the competition, or even of KFC’s own sides.
And yes, Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches are always fantastic — I’m not denying this by any stretch of the imagination. Classics are classics for a reason, and if we were judging on terms of tradition, Chick-fil-A would walk away victorious with ease.
But KFC’s Doublicious is a surprisingly flavorful, rich sandwich that manages to sidestep the looming, greasy shadow of KFC’s previous sandwich of note, the quadruple-bypass-to-go that was the “Double Down.”
It’s not too much, or too little; it’s simply delicious.
Does it beat Shake Shack’s chicken sandwich? That’s a harder question to answer.
Shake Shack’s beautifully crisp and golden creation was first rolled out in 2015 as a test item in Brooklyn locations only — its nationwide release happened in January 2016, meaning it counts as a contender for best chicken sandwich of 2016.
And boy, what a contender. Could-‘a had class, could-‘a been somebody? This sandwich oozes class, plus a deliciously tangy and smooth herb mayonnaise that dances a delicate waltz with the tart, crunchy pickles and perfectly peppered breading on the chicken.
This chicken sandwich is pretty darn close to the American ideal of a chicken sandwich: fried to a crispy crunch, yet juicy and tender; mayo and pickles and lettuce swaddled by a plush potato bun.
But comparing it to KFC’s Doublicious is comparing apples to oranges — bacon to, well, chicken. They’re both staggeringly delicious in their own ways. The Doublicious relies on a vinegar and barbecue sauce, and salty bacon to take the eater on a strangely satisfying journey — an itinerary hitting every taste bud grouping from salty to sweet. The Colonel would’ve made a bang-up taste bud travel agent, if either were still around.
The Chick’n Shack takes a more traditional approach, which is downright refreshing in today’s stunt food environment. Nothing here but a bun, some pickles and lettuce, and some herb mayo, slathered on perhaps the most rewarding fried chicken breast ever known in the realm of chain restaurants. It has little pretense — its superiority lies only in its quality and delivery.
So do yourself a favor and start 2017 off on a good note — try one of these pinnacles of fried fowl. Or even better, try both