Review: Burger King Chicken Fries

by Emily LAWTON
 

I wanted to hate them. I really, really did. If you’re unfortunate enough to have seen the hard-rocking commercials promoting these thin poultry strips, you know why. If you haven’t seen them, well, they feature a chicken-masked hardcore band called Coq Roq. Need I say more? And yes, they do have a website.

I’m a brave soul, so I ventured to my neighborhood B.K. over my lunch hour. They were advertising the Chicken Fries in multiple places near the menu–large cardboard stand-ups to the right and left suggested they’d go well with a Coke, or raved about dippability, but apparently this store, at least, was in such a rush to out-innovate its competitors with the latest chicken technology that they couldn’t expend the resources to update their menu boards. Would they be $2? $6? A mystery. As I neared the front of the line, a sign on the counter (Spanish only) advertised the Snack Size (tamaño del bocado)–six for $1.87, or $4.99 for the nine-piece meal (including fries and drink of medium size). I elected to order the six piece, with fries. As to drinks, I’d thieved an 8oz bottle of Poland Spring from the office and was carrying it in my bag. When I placed my order, I said “six piece chicken fries, and medium… fries.” This seemed redundant, so I leaned in and said, “you know, potato fries.” She just nodded, expressionless, and punched my order into her specialty keyboard.

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Chicken fries, according to bk.com, are available with a choice of Barbecue, Honey Mustard, Sweet & Sour, Ranch, or new Creamy Buffalo dipping sauces. I was excited about the Ranch option. It’s uncommonly offered as a “sauce,” despite being one of my favorite thing to dip food (tater tots, pizza crusts, buffalo wings, bread sticks) in at home. The girl at the counter (perhaps nonplussed by my crack about the potato fries), said “we don’t have ranch.” Not strictly true, of course; they have a ranch salad dressing. I could’ve pressed her on it, but opted for the Creamy Buffalo sauce instead.

Initial thoughts: Why does everything have to be so dippable? Have we not forced chicken to mold to our whims long enough? Was the Chicken Tender, also available at Burger King, not sufficient?

Chicken Fries are smaller than they appear in commercials. It’s unfortunate for them that “chicken fingers” is already a name for something, because these were almost the precise size of my middle finger. Meanwhile a chicken finger is so large that if you saw a person with fingers that size they would almost certainly be suffering from gigantism. I can imagine the marketing meetings, with the word “finger” coming up again and again (“finger dippers? Spicy fingers?”) until finally the head of the department slams his notebook on the table and shouts “goddamn it! they can’t be called fingers!”

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The chicken inside was uniformly white and had a texture that seemed not so far from the breast meat the advertisements claim. The outside is good, and significantly more crunchy than most breaded chicken products (I’m looking at you, McNuggets).

And, what’s this? They’re actually spiced with something! This is what you’d expect from a Popeye’s, or from something with “spicy” in the name (such as Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich). But here, without gloating about their flavor, Chicken Fries step away from the Universal Blandness and they act like it’s nothing special.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking about the hotness of even a mild salsa. It’s just spice, a taste other than “breaded,” “chicken,” and “fried.” In other words, just spicy enough that former four-foot, eleven-inch octogenarian Wendy’s spokeswoman Clara “where’s the beef?” Peller might think them too spicy. Despite her savvy attitude vis-à-vis burger joint advertising, I venture to say that the “Coq Roq” campaign would’ve provoked in her either spontaneous vomiting or erotic rapture, had she not died of natural causes in 1986.

And the buffalo sauce Burger King has introduced to accompany these is great. It’s tangy, cayenne-tinged. Purists note: while delicious, it only vaguely reminiscent of the ultra-hot wings for which it’s named. Among the ingredients listed are cayenne, paprika, chipotle peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, and, ominously, “spices.”

The worst thing about these things is the advertising. Is it so much to ask that I not be assaulted with images of tattooed rockers dressed in chicken masks? (Maybe I’m getting old). It’s beyond me why anyone (particularly people whose job it is to come up with such ideas) would think that that was a good image to use to promote food. They’re slightly terrifying.

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Let’s move on to the packaging. The box holds either six or nine Chicken Fries. The consumer flips the top open and there’s a little expandable holder for the sauce to sit in. An explanatory note inside the box explains that someone requested a container that would fit in a cup-holder. “A container that screams portability,” says bk.com.

However, the box is too portable (if by portable you mean drivable, which Burger King apparently does). If you try to use it anywhere except a cup-holder, putting the sauce in its allotted slot will only make it disastrously unsteady.
So what if:

  1. you’re a consumer who happens to enjoy Burger King’s safe, family-friendly atmosphere? You’re forced to set your sauce on the table like a caveman.
  2. you do not drive a car
    1. perhaps for those of us in metropolitan areas who use public transportation, Burger King could design an urban Chicken Fries holder that would hook over the poles on subways.
    2. for the perambulatory among us, a velcro arm- or leg-band with cup-holder sized frame.
  3. is this a slippery-slope of cup-holder based packaging?
    1. To wit: aren’t french (potato) fries just crying out for a round, pop-top container with ketchup-holding lid? So, you’re a single person and you want a meal to eat in your car. Fine, but you’ll need minimum three cup-holders to contain your entrée, side (fries, onion rings, or: McDonalds has already invented a cup-holder friendly salad container), and drink. This will obviously affect car design, as currently the average sedan comes with only two (2) cup-holders. As brilliant designers continue to orient our food more and more cylindrically, we’ll need a minimum of four cup-holders per passenger (what if you want dessert?).
    2. Food needs to fit in these containers, so while something like Taco Bell Taquitos-To-Go would be obvious, other foods would be more challenging. Imagine, twenty years from now, when they introduce a cheeseburger in fry form: a thin sliver of beef encircled in a sesame-coated enriched bun, nestled in cheese, ketchup, and onion lined petals as the meat reaches skyward like the stamen of a delicious orchid.

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