Few pleasures connect us with our primordial ancestors like tearing meat from bone while grunting. In cartoons, it is the best illustration of a voracious appetite — Bluto inserts drumstick in mouth, removes bone denuded of meat in one impressive slurp.
So understand my flabber was positively gasted when I read a USA Today story several weeks ago. The story went behind the scenes of KFC's new nationwide rollout, the Original Recipe Boneless chicken. Quick context: Last summer, the chain introduced Original Recipe Bites — boneless pingpong-size two-biters — a grab-and-go snack-sized precursor to this month's launch. (The fast-food trend of recent years is the in-between-meal food, such as McDonald's successful Snack Wraps line.)
Then came the seismic news. The article noted KFC executives saw boneless as its core product going forward. Asked if its bone-in chicken might disappear one day, KFC U.S. President John Cywinski said: "Our consumers will decide that."
Growing up, my favorite KFC product was its Original Recipe wings. It's every bit about the tactile experience — biting the fried skin across the wing tip, maneuvering the fatty cartilage, slurping between the two parallel bones, gnawing your way around the drumette like it's a corncob. If consumers commit to eating something this unhealthy, perhaps it shouldn't be too convenient. The 45 seconds required to extract meat from crab legs is enough effort to justify dunking it in a cup of melted butter.
What KFC executives are banking on is its Original Recipe Boneless to become the chain's signature product. How does it fare?
To begin, the pieces come skinless, welcome news if you're hoping to save a handful of calories. But this defeats the central pleasures of fried chicken — peeling off the skin, crunching into that crisp, unctuous, slick and flavor-rich membrane. If you decide to eat fried chicken anyway, you might as well dive headfirst into Lake Cholesterol.
With drink and side, four pieces of boneless chicken will satiate the average American. The boneless chicken is available in white or dark meat. I wasn't a fan of the boneless white. It's essentially a chicken patty minus the sandwich buns. That familiar taste of 11 secret herbs and spices is present, but the breading is thin, lacking the textural satisfaction a skin-on chicken breast provides when biting. It's also sized too large to be handheld (about six Chicken McNuggets combined), which makes sauce-dipping an unnatural act. (KFC is pushing its mashed potato gravy as an accompanying sauce.)
On the other hand, the boneless dark meat is quite good. It's the moist, richer mouthfeel of dark thigh meat, and there seems to be more breading attached, more crunchier knobs, which fooled me into thinking it was fried skin. The dark-meat boneless is the ideal KFC wishes to achieve. It's no thigh or drumstick, but it's 85 percent there.
I think Colonel Sanders would haunt KFC execs from the grave if they ever abandoned bone-in chicken. As a business decision, I can almost see their perspective of a boneless-based business. Chicken McNuggets, after all, turn 30 this year.
Original Recipe Boneless white meat
Nutritional: 200 calories, 8 g fat, 610 mg sodium (per piece)
Original Recipe Boneless dark meat
Nutritional: 250 calories, 14 g fat, 850 mg sodium