If you like fast-food chicken, you’re living in a veritable Golden Age, one in which every chain worth its vat of fryer oil is churning out crispy bird in all manner of permutations and configurations and pairings.
And so it was with some fanfare that KFC last week introduced its Nashville Hot Chicken & Waffles, available until the end of the year as a sandwich (a hot-sauce-lashed filet hugged by waffles instead of the standard bun) and an entree (either bone-in pieces or tenders with a waffle on the side), accompanied by a miniature tub of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.
If that sounds like a lot, it’s because, well, it is. The Nashville waffle options are messy, multiple-napkin affairs, with their varied components feeling somehow like you invited people from separate friend groups to a party and things just didn’t gel.
Nashville chicken, of course, is a style popularized in the Tennessee city that has spread to restaurants around the United States like a country-music earworm. And chicken and waffles is an iconic dish. KFC previously has offered both — the Nashville chicken sandwich and a plain chicken and waffle — but this is the first time the Colonel has mashed up the two, and the result is far less successful than a Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus pairing.
The most welcome guest at this particular KFC soiree is the chicken itself. I’m on record as really liking this well-seasoned, juicy chicken patty — and I gave the company’s doughnut sandwich a near-rave when it debuted in September. The dark-red, oil-based Nashville sauce, which packs more smoky flavors than actual heat, is an interesting variation.
After that, like the city that inspired the sauce, things go south. The waffles-as-bun are sweet and slightly sticky, with a texture that’s spongy, not crispy — which makes them functionally a readier swap for a sandwich bun, but not particularly appealing. The waffle/chicken/waffle layering creates a ratio I don’t like, and an unwieldy size that makes it difficult to ingest without an unhingable jaw.
I’m more partial to the entree version, where you can, using a fork and knife, control how much bird and waffle you combine into a single bite. Which is a little fussy for a meal at a fast-food joint, where the point is convenience.
But the real downer here is the guest collab. The side packet of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup reminds me why I switched from the pancake toppings I grew up with to the pricier, real-maple version I now buy. (Sorry, Mrs. B, but your fake-butter-flavored high-fructose corn garbage isn’t fooling anyone.) Now, if this were a BYOS (bring your own syrup) affair, and I was toting my favorite bottle of grade A, real-maple stuff in my bag like Beyoncé and her hot sauce, things might be better.
And here’s where I need to share my methodology. I sampled the new offerings in two settings. The first was at a location in the Maryland suburbs selected by the chain, with one of the company’s supervisors on hand to oversee the tasting. The other, which I tried only after discovering that, in fact, the Nashville line was available at my local KFC location, was an incognito affair — that is, the folks preparing my food had no idea who I was.
It didn’t seem to make a big difference in the dishes. One variable: At the unsupervised visit, both the sandwich and the entree came with lots more Nashville hot sauce, which improved the chicken. In fact, I found myself skipping the waffles and just munching on the filet.
So it seems this Nashville pairing is less Johnny and June than Blake and Miranda — or maybe it’s just better as a solo act.
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