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First Look: Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich

photoYesterday I spent the afternoon inside the Chick-fil-A sanctum sanctorum — i.e., the company headquarters — with AJC business reporter Jeremiah McWilliams. A large group from the product development, marketing and public relations teams met us in the test kitchen, where one wall was covered with a red tarp to shield it from our view. I assume it was shelving filled with proprietary seasonings and spices, though I suppose it could have been a voodoo altar with pins sticking from a Double Down.

After a thorough presentation of the company’s research and development methodology, we learned how the Spicy Chicken Sandwich came to be. This new product — which officially hits Chick-fil-A’s 1400-plus stores on June 7 — has been on the boards since 2004, and in active development since 2008.

Chick-fil-A is milking the huge anticipation for this product — long requested by customers — for everything it can get. As you’ve probably heard, customers who signed up online were able to reserve free Spicy Chicken sandwiches to be picked up at specified time slots throughout next week. Everyone else must wait. This sandwich is nothing short of the fast-food iPad.

And so, after the dog and pony show, Jeremiah and I were each given a hot-from-the-fryer, freshly prepared sandwich. I have to say that watching the sandwich being made from raw ingredients did a little to alleviate my fast-food skeeze. Though I do find it distressing that one sandwich contains 72% of the daily recommended allowance of sodium (the Spicy version is saltier than the regular one).

A chicken breast (one that is not injected with a saline solution) first goes into a spicy marinade that is shipped to the stores as a powder and diluted with water. The mix contains “a blend of fiery spices.” (I’m guessing cayenne, paprika, salt, garlic and onion.) Then the chicken is dredged in a flour coating that gets a hint of spice from visible flecks of cracked black pepper, but is otherwise mild. Finally it goes on a buttered bun with not one and not three, but two pickle slices.

photo 2So how spicy is it? Not slap-your-grandma-then-go-on-a-rampage-and-beat-up-her-bridge-club spicy, but frankly so. Enough that capsaicin fanatics won’t find it a wuss out, and enough that some chile-averse souls will not be able to eat it. What impressed me is not how spicy it is, but the kind of round spice it presents — one that doesn’t hit you at first but then blooms, peaks and leaves a brief sting. That thin, orangey layer of marinade below the breading has a delayed-action kick.

After we took bites of our Spicy Chicken sandwiches, we were next served Spicy Chicken Deluxe, which came festooned with lettuce, tomato and pepper jack cheese. (This sandwich clocks in at 580 calories and contains 78% of the daily recommended allowance of sodium.) I liked the cool vegetables against the spicy meat but, personally, would lose the cheese.

photo 5Afterward, we went into a conference room and learned about a number of other new products currently in R&D. I’ll put up another post on those soon, but let it be known that the Spicy Chicken breakfast biscuit will soon be on its way to a restaurant near you. That should be an eye opener.

131 comments Add your comment

Don

May 27th, 2010
10:12 am

Tyler

May 27th, 2010
10:17 am

nice article

Tyler Pike

May 27th, 2010
10:18 am

One time….

Reds

May 27th, 2010
10:28 am

I will admit, i’m excited to try it on Tuesday. A co-worker and i are hitting on the Windward Chick-Fil-a, and expecting a crowd, but he’s allllll into hot and spicy, and I tend to like things a little milder, so it will be interesting. I don’t know if i like the sheer amount of sodium though…. >.<

Kar

May 27th, 2010
10:28 am

A spicy breakfast biscuit? That could be good.

Publik

May 27th, 2010
10:47 am

The problem with chick-fi-la is that is so addictive! And then you wake up and its Sunday…. I now know what Socrates is referring to when he mentions the “Human Struggle.”

Publik

May 27th, 2010
10:48 am

Enter your comments here

Rodney

May 27th, 2010
10:59 am

Those sodium counts are MASSIVE – it’s pretty much iceberg lettuce and water for the rest of the day after eating this sandwich.

That said, I’ll have to try it – CFA is my one fast-food splurge (especially those darn breakfast biscuits).

bbb

May 27th, 2010
11:00 am

I am locked in for my invitation Monday. I guess I will have to drink a gallon of water before and after to flush the sodium out of my system. Add that with fries and it is a deadly combination.

azcat225

May 27th, 2010
11:06 am

Reserving a sandwich? I would think if one showed up during non-peak hours during the rollout week, one could order and receive said sandwich with no problems. Looking forward to it, especially the slow-build-burn part, which is the best kind of spicy.

KEEPING IT REAL

May 27th, 2010
11:07 am

Yes, those sandwiches can get a bit salty…

JB

May 27th, 2010
11:11 am

Best run fast food company out there….They have standards quality of food, to training of their workers to cleanness of the property. Nobody comes close. Great product and the biggest secret is the on site PARTNER who has a financial stake in the store and has to be there and run it to their standards. This person more than likely did not apply but was picked out from working there and groomed
for this opportunity based on morals, work ethic, passion for the job and company and ability to carry our their mission. It’s not luck. They know what they are doing and they don’t make exceptions or cut corners. Yes, I ‘m friends with a unit partner. I’ve heard the story.

Vicki Franch

May 27th, 2010
11:16 am

Dear John, spell check didn’t help you, it’s ” altar” and I should know. :)

reservoirDAWG

May 27th, 2010
11:17 am

I’m excited to try it.

John Kessler

May 27th, 2010
11:20 am

Thanks, Vicki! It’s fixed!

Steve

May 27th, 2010
11:21 am

Love me some Chick-fil-a, even if their social standards are so high that I would not only be banned from working there, they’d form a prayer circle on my behalf.

jonnymack

May 27th, 2010
11:27 am

Can’t wait for the sandwich to come out. The breakfast biscuit sounds like the greatest hangover food ever.

Old devil

May 27th, 2010
11:27 am

I will be picking mine up on June 1st, between 11am and 2pm in the new south Warner Robins store. Pat Braski has invited me to try it before ya’ll can buy it! It sure is nice to have inside info. I will also be up front at the Roger Waters-The Wall show in November, again, it’s nice to have inside info.

JB

May 27th, 2010
11:31 am

Steve…..it might help you bro…………..This ain’t the last stop ….case you haven’t heard.

If Chick-Fil-A were on top of its game

May 27th, 2010
11:32 am

If Chick-Fil-A were on top of its game, it would be asking the author if he’s so quick to post the negative nutritional information about some of the entrees from the more traditional restaurants he reviews.

Carol

May 27th, 2010
11:32 am

Wanna bet your tongue-in-cheekiness about a voodoo altar is not going to sit with with Mr. Cathy???

Doug

May 27th, 2010
11:32 am

I’ve got my spicy sandwich reserved! Chick-fil-A is mucho selective about adding to its menu (unlike the other fast food giants), so I know this is going to be a taste well-crafted and tested. And bring on that spicy biscuit!

JB

May 27th, 2010
11:50 am

Mr Cathy knows that being “mocked” by an unsaved person about their faith is an honor in the Christian faith. It validates you commitment to Jesus. He’s not worried about this guy.

Rational Citizen

May 27th, 2010
11:52 am

CFA is a cult. That being said, I’ve been looking forward to this sandwich for years. It better not disappoint.

Ready for My Spicy Chick-fil-a!

May 27th, 2010
11:54 am

Frankly, Mr. Kessler.

You offended Mr. Cathy and a great many of your readers of various faiths when you made the voodoo reference in poor taste while attempting to be jovial.

Religion aside, many people find their Chick-fil-a addictions no laughing matter.

Otherwise, great read, Mr. K!

JoeV

May 27th, 2010
11:55 am

JB,

How’s the view from up there on your horse?

Chris

May 27th, 2010
12:02 pm

Enter your comments here

JB

May 27th, 2010
12:03 pm

Chris

May 27th, 2010
12:06 pm

I hate this stupid commenting system. That said…

CFA is not a cult. There were plenty of us that worked there that didn’t bow at an atlar for Jesus before every shift, if you catch my drift.

The sandwich most likely isn’t going to get additional seasoning from the breading. It sounds like the same stuff we were using 10+ years ago. Also doesn’t make any business sense to have two different milkwash and breading stations.

CFA was one of the best places to work. I also thank Mr. Cathy for my first year of college. I wouldn’t hesitate for my kids to work there as their first jobs.

GT tom

May 27th, 2010
12:07 pm

John Kessler,

We get it, you’re not a proponent of fast food. Either quit using condescending tones when you write about fast food or don’t write about it. You’re not breaking any ground with the concept that fast food is generally not the same quality as nicer restaurants. EVERYONE already understands this. You’re a tool.

Andre

May 27th, 2010
12:13 pm

Don’t call him a tool man, that’s just wrong. I’m not defending him because he writes great articles, I’m defending him, because you’re less of a man now for calling him names. Who looks more stupid? Anyways, back to the CFA article. I can’t wait to try it!!!!

joe

May 27th, 2010
12:15 pm

John, Can you ask the powers at be at CFA, if they every plan to come out with a low sodium chicken sandwich version? I’ve had to cut them out of my diet and I do miss them, but will not come back until they modify their salt amount. After researching salt levels in fast food sandwiches, surprisingly the only one that wasn’t so off the charts was Steak & Shake.

Rob

May 27th, 2010
12:16 pm

I love chick-fil-a but they have gotten way too expensive, I used to have it 4 lunch but now there are
better deals at Arby’s, Captain D’s and other fast food,also I can get a good buffet from Ryan’s cheaper Golden Corral is less than a dollar more. You would also think that a chicken sandwich would be a little healthier, but as article pointed out they have a ton of calories and sodium

Shayne

May 27th, 2010
12:22 pm

Chick-fil-a coupons can be found at http://www.HipAndSavvy.com!

Reds

May 27th, 2010
12:23 pm

I both love it and hate it when you are featured on the ajc.com page, JK. The crazies sure do come out. ;)

I’m excited abotu the new taste, but not the salt. Going to try it on Tuesday with a co-worker who loves anything spicy. I generally like less spice, but am excited to give it a try.

Ed Graham

May 27th, 2010
12:24 pm

If any of the AJC food critics were served a CFA in a white table cloth restaurant in Buckhead, they’d write with a completely different perspective. Remember the old saying about judging a book by its cover.

Emily

May 27th, 2010
12:27 pm

Their sweet tea is ADDICTIVE!

Robert Givens

May 27th, 2010
12:30 pm

I always douce my chick-fil-a sandwich with hot sauce. I’m looking forward to trying the new spicy version. If the one at Wendy’s is not so bad then Chick-Fil-A’s should be much better.

[...] Though Besha tried Chick-Fil-A’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich already, John Kessler tried it out at the fast food chain’s headquarters and provides a brief, tantaliz… [...]

GadgetGeek

May 27th, 2010
12:45 pm

Thanks for doing the groundwork for us John. The marketing plan, getting all of the info that they collected to “reserve” a sandwich was a coup for them I’ll bet?

I have one reserved, I’ll let you know if I think it is a worthy FF item…..

.

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

May 27th, 2010
12:49 pm

There’s a lot to love about Chick-fil-A, but I’m surprised that they aren’t concerned about the sodium content of their sandwiches.

As a diabetic. I appreciate their Diet Lemonade. A large one lasts me for about three hours–just enough to get through a grad school class.

Paul From Milton

May 27th, 2010
12:57 pm

CFA needs to fix the substandard, previously frozen, dried-out biscuits it serves for breakfast before putting out a new breakfast sandwich in them. Face it, any place that serves fresh baked biscuits for breakfast beats a store with those hockey puck biscuits.

Davo

May 27th, 2010
12:58 pm

Yet another lack-luster review of a fast food chain by ‘food critic’ Kessler. While one of the comments accuses him of being a tool…and rightly so…it is more appropriate to call him a coward. After all, how easy it must be to slam a corporation over its food than it is to critique an actual chef. Add to this the obvious derision he treats people of faith and their attempts to create and sustain a business upon those beliefs, and you see a ‘man’ who thinks much more of himself than he deserves.

M

May 27th, 2010
1:02 pm

Pass on to the Chick-fil-A folks this modest suggestion: offer a whole wheat burrito in addition to the regular burrito for the breakfast burrito; also, offer chicken sausage (a natural would you not think?) in addition to the pork sausage and the fried chicken offerings currently for the burrito. According to current conventional wisdom, those changes would result in a healthier product. Disclaim any compensation for the suggestion- those folks are sensitive about that.

Troglodyke

May 27th, 2010
1:06 pm

I liked the cool vegetables against the spicy meat but, personally, would lose the cheese.

No doubt. Why are most people so obsessed with cheese on everything? It’s not good on a chicken sandwich, people. The sandwich doesn’t need it.

It needs the spices, and the veggies, and yes, the 2 “crucial” pickles. No mayo, no other sauce. CFA is a great sandwich.

Though I am an atheist, I admire CFA for their commitment to true customer service and tasty food. However, they don’t do anything a more secular organization couldn’t. The religion aspect is not why they are so good. They serve a superior product that has a niche, and they do it with a real smile. You can tell they put more effort into customer service than other food companies.

I don’t know why more businesses don’t follow that model. I eat very little fast food (though I love it), and though Arby’s seems to be getting more “with it” in terms of customer service, CFA still outshines. Most places simply hire the worst of the worst and make up for their crappy customer service with huge volume.

I have my Spicy CFA sandwich “reserved” (nice gimmick) and can’t wait to try it.

Lori

May 27th, 2010
1:10 pm

I can’t wait to get my hands on one. If it’s too spicy, I’ll just top if off with a cookies-n-cream shake!!

SaWils

May 27th, 2010
1:13 pm

so many negative nancies!! if you don’t like his reviews, don’t read them. and if you don’t like CFA, don’t eat there! simple as that. =)

Troglodyke

May 27th, 2010
1:14 pm

Add to this the obvious derision he treats people of faith and their attempts to create and sustain a business upon those beliefs,

Huh? Where in this article did he deride anyone for their beliefs?

Some of you “people of faith” sure are thin-skinned. If you are going to defend an indefensible, irrational belief system, you might ought to grow a thicker epidermis.

There now…John didn’t slam your beliefs, but I just did. And I patronize CFA every few months in spite of the religious nature, and because they don’t hit patrons over the head with it. That’s good marketing.

Hilary

May 27th, 2010
1:15 pm

This is a food blog – not an official review of Chik-fil-a. I find it odd that someone would take a personal attack and not bother to do his or her homework. If you want to read restaurant reviews and see stars, go to a restaurant review. And I didn’t notice any “obvious derision” regarding “people of faith.” I’M ON TEAM KESSLER!

Ganners

May 27th, 2010
1:21 pm

….voodoo altar with pins sticking from a Double Down.

I love you JK.