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Taste Test: Taking on the KFC Double Down

3 minute read
Joel Stein

My first bite of KFC’s Double Down made me question why I ever used bread for sandwiches. By replacing the bun with two fried chicken breasts and putting bacon, cheese and glorified Thousand Island dressing in between, this culinary invention made me feel, for perhaps the first time in my sandwich-eating life, completely free — my fingers greasy, my mouth a mess, my testosterone pumping like Henry VIII eating a turkey leg and demanding a new wife to behead. It inspired me to plan a whole diet of breadless sandwiches: a hamburger that consists of two meat patties and an inner layer of condiments; a BLT that packs lettuce and tomato between crisscrossed pieces of bacon; a pastrami sandwich that entails my just shoving pastrami in my mouth.

(Watch Joel Stein eat the Double Down.)

The Double Down made its debut on April 12 as a limited-time-only item. But on May 19, KFC announced it was extending that time indefinitely and that it expects to sell its 10 millionth Double Down by the end of the month. Why are so many people buying this gooey, tangy, ugly salt bomb of a sandwich? Because it’s delicious. Seriously. It tastes like America — our own chicken cordon bleu, with soggy bacon to provide some smokiness and tasteless cheese for texture.

(See the 10 worst fast-food meals.)

My only problem with the Double Down is that it’s the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten that wasn’t salt. I may be particularly sensitive to salt, but it’s still weird to wake up at 3 a.m. so thirsty that I had to down nearly two pints of water before I could go back to sleep. Of KFC’s 11 secret herbs and spices, I’m guessing 12 are salt. The sandwich also comes in a grilled version, which you’d think would be healthier but has even more salt.

The Double Down has gotten trashed by all those who care about your health. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine even wrote an open letter shaming KFC for it. But aside from the 1,380 mg of sodium, which exceeds the daily amount needed to clear ice from a mile-long driveway, the fried Double Down has fewer calories and less fat than Burger King’s Tendercrisp chicken sandwich or five of McDonald’s chicken strips.

In other words, if the Double Down had bread, the food police would never have noticed the sandwich existed. It also would have been too big to put in your mouth.

But the Double Down is aptly named: when you order your first one, it really does feel as if you’re gambling. Which is what fast food should feel like — a crazy, fun carnival treat, with the same nutritional shocks to the system as a high-end restaurant’s butter-and-salt-laden tasting menu. I rarely eat chicken, but I like the extremity that KFC is delivering. There’s a reason the perfect burger bun is tasteless, thin and airy: it gets in the way. KFC has solved that with this breadless sandwich. I’m only sorry that Dr. Atkins died from slipping on ice instead of from inhaling a Double Down.

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