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Lunch guys: KFC’s smoky chipotle gets chilly reception

POSTED: July 16, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Editor's note: After writing more than 200 columns over the past five years, the Lunch Guys are calling its quits. This is their final column.

"Life tastes better with KFC" is this chicken franchise's new tagline, but the real question here is, does chicken taste better with smoky chipotle spices? The Colonel is making a big deal of this historic third addition to his fried chicken flavors, touting it as not too spicy but still plenty of kick. So did we Lunch Guys get a kick out of it?

Chris: Tom, for many reasons, I did not need this chicken. First reason, of course, is that I dug into my chipotle breast and wing on a 90-degree day, so if anything I would have preferred eating chicken that cooled me off, not heated me up. Second, this Mexican flavoring works a lot better on, uh, Mexican food. Fried chicken needs chipotle like a doughnut needs curry. And third, this was the brownest plate of food I've had all year. I had two chipotle chickens, a golden biscuit and a scoop of mashed potatoes with leather-colored gravy. (I know, I could have picked the green beans. My bad.)

The silver lining/crunchy coating on this lunch is that the chipotle seasoning does have a complex smokiness and a perfectly tuned spice level that simmers without boiling over. I could see this as a fun "look what our taste chemists cooked up" chicken dish to serve at the KFC summer company party. But to roll it out to the masses already dripping in the hotter than ever summer sun, that ain't fun.

Tom: You are right. This is the New Coke of fried chicken. A new flavor is supposed to be better than the old, and quite simply, this isn't. It's not that it's bad ... it's just a bit of a let down. A KFC flavor release should get the reception of a once-in-several-generations event - like the Cubs winning a World Series or Sylvester Stallone figuring out a new movie character. Twenty-five years without a new flavor and this is what they come up with? I have to think if the Colonel wanted chipotle as one of his chosen 11 herbs and spices he would have founded Taco Bell. The only thing Kentucky and chipotle should ever have in common is their number of syllables.

Chris, you are right that the chicken does have a bit of a smoky/spicy tang but it's not spicy like Popeye's or savory like KFC's own Original Recipe. It's just blandly in the middle.

Chris: The worst part of all this, Tom, is that I wish our final column could have celebrated something as inventive as the Cheesecake Factory's fried macaroni and cheese or Arby's grape-filled Chicken Salad Sandwich. Those are the lunches to remember.

Tom: Actually Chris, this is a perfect one on which to end five years of Lunch Guy columns. It reinforces the fact that we can no longer afford to waste the gas getting to and idling in drive-through lanes for this kind of food. I don't know about you, but from now on, this Lunch Guy is keeping the car in the office parking lot and brown bagging a healthy lunch from home.

Tom James and Chris Tauber are freelance writers.


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