I like mock meat. I like tofu, I like tempeh, I really like wheat gluten and seitan.
So it’s safe to say I was pretty amped to try Beyond Fried Chicken, KFC’s newest menu option from Beyond Meat. It’s been available in limited test markets since 2019, but a few weeks ago, KFC announced it was doing a limited-time national rollout. That began on January 10, with the company estimating supplies would last for around four weeks, so there’s still time to get your greasy hands on some fake chicken nuggs — just don’t call them that.
KFC isn’t exactly trying to do haute cuisine for fake meat lovers here. In theory, they could have shot to replicate the whole fried chicken experience, like using a sugarcane “bone” to create a mock meat lollipop — something I’ve encountered at restaurants. Instead, they just made nuggets, or as the brand is calling them, simply Beyond Fried Chicken.
To answer the most burning question: This stuff tastes like KFC. I haven’t eaten at the Colonel’s joint in years, but everything about the experience instantly lit up a long-dormant neural pathway. (I guess it’s true that KFC is kind of addictive.) That started with the box the Beyond Fried Chicken came in, with its oil-stained exterior clearing the underbrush in my brain.
The breading only made the terrain of memory open up further; Beyond Fried Chicken has the exact same breading as KFC’s real chicken, complete with the dash of the chain’s secret ingredient white pepper (once you know what it is, you can’t fail to notice it), along with the MSG and salt. It was somehow both crisp and super oily.
The actual “Beyond” component of Beyond Fried Chicken tastes, well, like chicken. It’s at the very least competitive with most other fast food nugget options, which may be saying a lot or a little depending on your view on nuggs.
Where the comparison breaks down a tiny bit is with KFC’s normal boneless offerings. The Beyond Fried Chicken is decidedly square compared to the more organic appearance (we’re using that loosely here) of the chain’s tenders and popcorn nuggets. Still, I found the texture quite pleasant. I’m frankly not totally sure that I’d be able to tell the difference between them and one of KFC’s discontinued nugget recipes in a blind taste test.
Though “vegetarian” usually gets conflated with health, Beyond Fried Chicken is anything but. The company’s guide indicates that a six-pack of the Beyond nuggets comes in at 480 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 1,440 milligrams of sodium. Mashed pointed out the closest comparable menu item, a kids’ size Popcorn Chicken, comes in at 290 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 870 milligrams of sodium. But then, fast food is about indulging in something you know is a little bad for you. You’re not going to KFC for a juice cleanse.
In other words, if you like KFC, you’re probably going to find that Beyond Fried Chicken offers the same indulgent kick. If you don’t like KFC, it’s probably not going to change your mind either.
I got at least 12 nuggets in my box, and I ate most of them in one sitting. It was a hearty meal, but I wouldn’t describe it as gangbusters. You’re going to eat at least six, probably with a side and washed down by a beverage.
Not that cats are a true measure of whether fake chicken can pass for the real thing, but I feel it’s important to note in this review that my cats began swarming around the kitchen counter meowing from the second the bag was unwrapped. Larry, the younger one, tried especially hard — every time I shooed him away, he’d try to stalk the chicken bucket from a different angle. Seriously, look at this freak.
I’m not proud to admit I caved and gave him and my other cat a sliver of a nugget, which they slobbered up like tiny little starving hobgoblins.
Maybe it was because the Beyond Fried Chicken is reportedly cooked in the same fryers used to cook regular chicken, but I choose to believe it’s because my cats are arbiters of good taste. (Please don’t yell at me, this was a pretty big divergence from the usual no people food rule, and probably less problematic than the time Larry tried to run away with a Ziploc bag full of raw chicken breast.)
The other sticking point for potential buyers might be the price, which is kind of wild: As Eater pointed out, it’s $US7 ($10) for a six-piece serving, and a 12-piece combo with a side, two dipping sauces, and a drink runs the tab up to $US14.99 ($21). Given Beyond Fried Chicken isn’t necessarily truly vegetarian and pretty pricey — a 12-piece bucket of real fried chicken is only a bit more — the main target audience seems like meat eaters who really like mock meat, vegetarians who don’t care about their nuggs sharing oil with drumsticks, novelty seekers, and my cats.
This is of course hardly a problem unique to this menu item. Faux meat offerings from brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger largely remain luxury items inaccessible to many consumers, whether because of price or because they live in food deserts. When even fresh vegetables are in short supply in many communities, it’s probably hard for many shoppers to justify spending extra on imitation meat, which is still battling a reputation that it’s inferior to the real thing. (For their part, plant-based food manufacturers are trying to reach price parity.)
As for whether Beyond Fried Chicken is going to save the planet… that’s the wrong question. Chicken is much better in terms of carbon footprint than beef. But eating something other than meat is better still. The peas it’s made of are actually one of the most carbon-friendly, protein-rich foods. And from an animal cruelty standpoint, not eating a chicken is pretty much always better.
But consumer choices alone are a pretty poor proxy for holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for ruining the planet and forcing it to clean up its act. This is to say that if you drive to KFC specifically to try Beyond Fried Chicken, the gas you and KFC’s logistics network just used almost certainly makes a far bigger difference than if you’d ordered drumsticks instead. That makes the fight to wind down the industry frying the planet a lot more important than what’s being tossed in KFC’s fryers.