Can KFC’s fries jump the bar that 2020 buried?

When we started writing this article, we were going to be very, very harsh on KFC. We were fans of the potato wedges, and upon hearing that they were replacing them with fries, we grew very upset. How could they do this? Potato wedges were one of the cornerstones of the KFC menu. Fries are… Nothing. Generic. Bland. They are everywhere, and potato wedges were a delightful way to separate KFC from the rest of the fast food world.

KFC’s appeal wasn’t that it was just “fast food”. It felt like a meal, a real meal that you eat with your family as a thing. KFC has offered quick service meals for our entire lives, but having the platonic idea of “getting a bucket for dinner” is inseparable from KFC as a concept. The wedges illustrated this. They weren’t french fries like what you’d get at a McDonald’s, they were home-cooked wedges just like what you could cook at home. Total difference.

We felt that KFC getting rid of the wedges was the latest awful move in a series of terrible decisions. KFC has been on a sharp and steep decline since the mid-2000s, and nothing seems to be turning their image around. They rely on tacky gimmicks like the new Colonel commercials and outlandish promotional stunts like VR video games and Crocs that smell like fried chicken, but can’t get past the simple fact that their food is not as good as it used to be and their atmosphere is a dump.

We haven’t properly eaten at KFC in what may be years. Them switching to fries seemed like justification that it was the right decision.

But then we decided we had to give it a chance.

We wanted to make fun of KFC, we’ll admit, and it didn’t surprise us that the first KFC we went to had run out of chicken tenders. We laughed, but it was getting late, and we had to sprint to the next nearest KFC to get there before closing. This did not bode well to us. How, exactly, does a KFC run out of tenders? Yes, we went there pretty late in the evening, but it was still well before closing (this is not a contradiction: Popeyes has taken over KFC in our area, and the other store was quite a ways away). Oh well, no matter, because the next KFC we went to had it.

At this point, the evening was feeling pretty damn cursed, so our expectations were as low as they could get. We had to wait a few minutes before they brought our chicken out to us, so we held onto the hope of freshly-warmed tenders. It was also pouring rain this night, and unseasonably cold, so we were sitting in our warm car surrounded by deep November weather in early September. Finally, our chicken was done, and we pulled over to eat.

So, put yourself in our shoes here: about to eat a meal we were not looking forward to, in horrible weather, far away from home, the scent of fried chicken filling the car smelling delicious but doing little to raise our hopes. The fries looked like regular old french fries, and the presence of a biscuit and cookie only made us feel more worried for the overall experience. Well, there was nothing to do but actually eat the damn thing and get it over with.

We took a bite of the chicken and our minds were flooded with memories. This was no mere piece of fried chicken. This was KFC. It tasted the way we remember eating KFC when we were young. Fond memories returned to us of picking the skin off the drumsticks and eating just that. The Colonel’s claim of “eleven herbs and spices” is complete bullshit at this point unless they mean eleven different kinds of MSG, but there’s a reason MSG stands for “Makes Stuff Good”. 

The tenders were crisp on the outside and juicy inside, and it came with an extremely good “KFC Sauce” that was some kind of combination of ketchup and mustard. It was kind of like Honey Mustard if somebody who didn’t know how it tasted tried to make it. It was very good, though; most chicken places rely on the classic “fry sauce” combination of mayo and ketchup, so this was a nice difference. The biscuit was surprisingly fluffy and tender, although not particularly flavorful. It really could use a bit of butter, but it’s just as delicious to dip it in the provided sauce.

But we’re here with a purpose. The potato wedges are dead, and replaced with fries. As children, we both adored the wedges, and considered them the highlight of the meal. They were totally unlike other fast food potatoes. Big and soft, seasoned richly with pepper, with a certain crispness unlike any french fry in the world. It was the one thing we missed when KFC left our area and was replaced totally with Popeyes; though Popeyes is delicious chicken in its own right, and their french fries are irresistible with their Cajun seasoning, they’re no wedges.

We were incensed when KFC removed wedges and added fries. It seemed like KFC had finally given up on trying to redeem itself, from getting away from the reputation it had developed in the past decade or so. KFC was once a place for families to get a nice meal together with little effort; now, it’s viewed as a filthy place to purchase greasy, flavorless chicken at a sky-high price. The restaurants were filthy, the sides disappointing, and the atmosphere nil. KFC found its senses around 2015 and underwent a massive rebranding project, bringing back Colonel Sanders as a mascot and taking on a new, irreverent attitude to attract young consumers. 

This didn’t seem like enough. The problem with KFC wasn’t a marketing one, but down at the individual store levels. What good was having the Colonel back if the food was still bad? But for all the criticism that could be leveled at these marketing campaigns, sales did go up, and it seemed like KFC was on the turnaround. But too much goodwill had been squandered for some people – namely us – to forget.

So understand the mindset we were in when we tried this box. We thought this was going to be mediocre at best, something to chow down on a rainy night as a quick meal, suitable for the gloomy chill in the air. The last time we had tried KFC it was for a gimmick that we found engaging, but by no means captivating. The fries were replacing something that was a cherished part of our childhood. How in the world could you enjoy yourself in a situation like this?

Well, it turns out the fries are good. They knocked our socks off, though we will admit the bar was VERY low. The fries were crips on the outside and tender on the inside in almost the same way as the classic wedges, and seasoned with the same exact peppery spice blend that we adored. They were almost exactly like the wedges, just in french fry form. The words do not exist for how surprised we were. We thought this was going to be inedible garbage; we were given, if not gold, then definitely silver. We even got a few fries stuck together in a wedge shape, as if they were guiding us from the old to the new. 

We don’t know what to think about KFC anymore. A few days after we got this tenders box, we went back out on a lark to get it again. It made us feel happy. Do you know how rare it is that a fast food meal actually makes us feel good inside? It was a dose of some kind of magical medicine, a concoction of MSG and salt and meat that swirled together to make a treat that we had never, ever considered before. We don’t know what we’re going to do from here. We don’t want to suggest that you should go and eat at KFC. But we’re probably going to go again, and like it again too. God help us.

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