Sunday, October 27, 2019

I Tried McDonald’s Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Does the new(ish) fast food burger bring the heat, or is it literally a weak sauce sammich?

By: Jimbo X

When it’s all said and done, I think future generations will reflect on 2019 as “The Year of the Chicken Sandwich.” Even now I’m not entirely sure how and why a C-tier fast food restaurant like Popeye’s managed to get the biggest “follow the leader” corporate format war since the ill-fated “translucent cola” trend of the early 1990s going, yet here we are — months after the release of Popeye’s much ballyhooed crispy chicken sandwich — still gripped in the clutches of the Great Chicken Sandwiching of ‘19

It’s a bizarre form of commercialized mass hysteria that’s kind of like that one time the Dutch tulip market inexplicably exploded in the 1630s. For whatever reason — sociological, psychological, psychosocial, I can’t even make sense of it anymore — the social media hivemind just agreed to go buck wild over the Popeye’s sandwich (perhaps as a backlash to the conservative Christian leanings of Chick-fil-A, perhaps?)  which, almost out of Pavlovian impulse, goaded seemingly every other major fast food chain out there to release their own newfangled chicken sandwich product.

Of course, we here at TIIIA like to think KFC had EVERYBODY beat to the market with their splendid Cheetos co-branded chicken sandwich from earlier this summer, but alike the high-sodium, mass-marketed poultry-burger analogue to Green River and The Melvins, it just looks like that particular LTO is going to have to play second fiddle to Popeyes’ Nirvana-in-1991-esque chicken burger.

Which, of course, brings us to the 800-pound gorilla of the United States fast food market, McDonalds, who were pretty much required by United Nations protocol to counter the Popeye’s chicken sandwich wehrmacht with a poultry-themed mega burger of their own. 

The end result ended up being something they call the Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich, which appears to be an attempt to ape Chick-fil-A’s Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Chicken Sandwich, except, uh, without the bacon. Or cheese. Or hardly any of the other ingredients, except for the part about chicken and sauce.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that McDonald’s is also offering customers this accompanying LTO side item called the Spicy BBQ Glazed Tenders, which appear to be elongated nuggets consisting of slightly darker poultry churched up in a nice, glowing red jumpsuit of barbecue sauce. Alas, I didn’t try those items, so I have no idea what they might taste like. The variation in aesthetics alone leads me to believe the gustatory difference would be quite pronounced, but who knows? For all we know, they just rolled a buncha’ tendies in excess McRib sauce and called it good, which, to be honest, doesn’t really sound like that bad of a limited-time-only product at all. 

Right off the bat, I can tell you that the aroma on this burger is fierce. It don’t matter how hard they closed that cardboard burger holder, unless you have major league sinus problems you’ll have no problem picking up that syrupy, oniony scent wafting off the sandwich like stinklines off Linus from The Peanuts. Of course, it’s not an entirely unpleasing scent — to me, it almost borders on being a sweet chili sauce odor, the kind so alternately hot and sugary that it almost makes you feel like you have gobs of sriracha sauce encrusted in your nostrils — but that onion stench is just overwhelming. So before you even think about slapping six dollars on the counter to give this one a taste-test, take heed; if you abhor onions, this thing is most definitely not for your target demographic.

Obviously, the most noteworthy thing about the sandwich has to be the tremendous girth of the chicken patty (or filet — you’d be amazed by the number of emails I get from people berating me for getting that particular nomenclature wrong.) Usually when you go to Mickie D’s the chicken patties are about the size of a hockey puck, maybe a small Frisbee if they’re feeling generous. Well, kids, I can safely say this is without question the LARGEST chunk of chicken I’ve ever gotten out of the fast food behemoth, to the point I was legitimately aghast it just how friggin’ big it was. All four corners of the filet poke out of the bread like the rings of Saturn, to the point it probably wouldn’t be too much hyperbole to say the patty itself is almost TWICE the size of the breading — which, yeah, is something I’m definitely not accustomed to saying about McDonald’s burgers.

As for the dressings, you get a pretty bare-bones assortment here (which, again, considering the size of the chicken patty, really isn’t surprising, just considering the sheer economy of scale here.) Basically, this sandwich, outside of the aforementioned protein, comes with three primary ingredients: onions, pickles and a shit-ton of spicy BBQ sauce. So, yeah, I guess you could say there actually IS some truth in marketing on this one, for a change. The quartet of ingredients, on a superficial level, seems to be an attempt to imitate some better-known chicken sandwich specialty, but off the top of my head, I really can’t pinpoint any fast food burger competitors McDonald’s seems to be aping here. Furthermore, I can tell you straight up this isn’t a Southern cuisine staple, since I’ve never had a spicy BBQ chicken sandwich this inundated with onions anywhere in my life, and I’ve eaten at a LOT of hole-in-the wall barbeque places in the metro-Atlanta sphere of influence in my day. I suppose McDonald’s just plain over-ordered their supply of onions for Q3, and this is their furtive way of getting rid of the inventory, perhaps.

Oh no, motherfucker, I was not kidding you about the overemphasis on onions. This HAS to be the most oniony sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life, and even worse, the scoundrels at McDonald’s HQ didn’t even have the decency to flambe them in olive oil grease and try to pass the shit off as grilled or marinated product. Granted, I do have a pretty pronounced personal bias against onions in general, and I am aware that there are people out there who I actually enjoy them almost as much as I detest them. I guess they’re pretty flavorful and fresh by McDonald’s standards, but there’s no way you can’t convince me that they ROYALLY overplayed their hand on the onions on this product. Onionphobes, take note — you are gonna’ want to steer MILES away from this sucker.

And that brings us to the barbecue sauce itself. I didn’t really expect anything too world-changing from McDonald’s batter, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance of the sauce. It definitely had a pronounced high-fructose corn-syrup taste and mouthfeel to it (i.e., it’s identical to the BBQ sauce packets they dole out with their chicken nugget sarcophagi), but they clearly changed up the formula with a spicy, quasi-mesquite flavoring.

I can’t quite put my finger (or, in this case, taste bud) on what the key ingredient here, but I want to say the active ingredients are cayenne pepper and some form of Creole seasoning. Of course, the chicken patty itself also comes speckled in a lighter dusting of the same type of seasoning, but the overall heat index is substantially more noticeable in the congealed red goop all over the buns. It probably wouldn’t win first place at a real barbecue competition, but I think most of the laiety would be surprised, if not mildly impressed, by how much better tasting the sauce is than it probably has any right to be; if nothing else, McDonald’s would be wise to keep the formula on hand, just in case they’re in a pinch for a solid LTO sauce down the line. 

Which, naturally, brings us to the $1 million (or, technically, $5.49 plus taxes) question: is the McDonald’s Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich actually worth a good goddamn, in any way, shape or form?

Well, I’d put it this way — both yes and no. Yes in the sense that, compared to the usual McDonald’s LTO fare, the sandwich does pack a pretty good tongue tingle and it does have a more idiosyncratic flavor than its chain cohorts. But at the same time, I’d have to give it a thumbs down due to that needless overindulgence of onions and a geneal lack of creativity when it comes to toppings.

There’s no denying the sauce is better than average and the chicken patty, by McDonald’s standards, is goddamn excellent (and the pickles did seem crunchier than what I’m used to from the chain, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part.) But the high price point and the glaring lack of extra dressings (No cheese? No bacon? No mushrooms?) makes this one feel like a special edition item that’s not quite deserving of the marquee lettering treatment. Now, if the thing was going for, like, $3.49, my opinion would be totally different. But for a “premium” priced item, this thing hardly feels like an offering worth the extra moolah. It’s not the worst attempt at cashing in on the success of the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich (hey, Burger King is still a thing, isn’t it?) but on the whole, this thing just feels like a half-hearted marketing stunt with some decent parts that ultimately adds up to one rather unremarkable (if not instantly forgettable) whole.

And in today’s cut-throat, chicken-eat-chicken battle for fast food supremacy, I’m afraid a product like this just ain’t going to fly with middle America, McDonald’s; I mean, shit, you might as well just roll out the Tomato Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich import from Cuckanada again if this is the kinda’ counterpunch you’re going to lob at the competition.


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