It’s hard to have a discussion about KFC’s new “Georgia Gold” chicken, the pressure-fried chicken giant’s latest efforts to bring hyper-regional chicken sauces to the masses, without first talking about KFC’s “Nashville Hot” variety.
See, we love “Nashville Hot.” Like, really, really love it, in a deep and profound way that defies societal conventions about the ways in which man and chicken should comport themselves. KFC’s famous “Extra Crispy” chicken, doused in a cayenne-and-oil based sauce, served simply with coleslaw and a biscuit for around five bucks. We’ll even eat it in its “Chicken Little” version, bite-sized Hot Chicken sliders that are priced at about a dollar and come with a swipe of cooling mayo.
“Nashville Hot” marked one of the few times in fast food history where an effort to bring a regional dish to the mass market turned out to be a smashing success, though we certainly approached it with a firmly cocked eyebrow.
How could a massive chain hope to compare to what they’re cranking out every day at Pepperfire in Nashville? How could it possibly pay a debt of gratitude and respect to Prince’s? And worse, how can fast food, which notoriously needs to homogenize flavors to appeal to the greatest possible number of palates, deliver the kind of heat that Hot Chicken customers crave?
In a lot of ways, it can’t. But for those of us exiled in the mostly Hot Chicken-free Northeast, KFC’s “Nashville Hot” provides a way to scratch that Hot Chicken itch, without getting on an airplane. It may not bring the face-melting, thermonuclear heat of Nashville’s fried chicken, but it ain’t half bad, and the limited time offering turned us into people who ate at KFC once a year, into people who ate there once or twice a month.
We were nervous, then, to hear about “Georgia Gold,” KFC’s effort to duplicate the success of “Nashville Hot,” for those less tolerant of spice. The biggest question: Would the arrival of “Georgia Gold” spell the departure of “Nashville Hot,” and how could we hope to live in a world without oil-soaked drive-thru spicy fried chicken?
Thankfully, the answer seems to be no. For now, at least, KFC is offering the two varieties of chicken side-by-side. But how does it taste? First, from the website:
IT’S FINGER LICKIN’ GOLD. KFC’s all-new Georgia Gold Chicken with its delicious, tangy honey mustard BBQ sauce is now available with Extra Crispy Chicken, Extra Crispy Tenders, or on a Chicken Little sandwich. It’s gold! For your insides!
While “gold for [our] insides” certainly seems appealing, this promotional copy only barely adequately illustrates the company’s enthusiasm and high hopes for the new product. After all, KFC’s head chef, Bob Das, told Business Insider that the spicy dish was his favorite new menu item in his 16 years working at the chain. That’s a high bar. And a shitload of chicken.
We tried the two-piece leg-and-thigh combo, which includes coleslaw and a biscuit. Weirdly, our version came packaged in a plastic container bearing the “Nashville Hot” branding, and the similarities in presentation are very similar: KFC’s signature “Extra Crispy” chicken, tossed in a bright orange oil, topped with a few slices of pickle, and served with a packet of “Buttery” spread.
The crunchy, craggy skin pulled neatly from the moist flesh below, offering plenty of surface area for the “Georgia Gold” sauce to cling and pool. It’s a taste that’s instantly familiar to anyone that’s lazily dunked any old random chicken chunk into packaged, corn syrupy honey mustard, but the flavor notes are much more subtle. There’s more sweetness from the honey than sharpness from the mustard, and a tiny bit of black pepper warmth, but the flavors are overall much more dialed back from competitor’s run-of-the-mill gloppy honey mustard sauces, which kind of seem like kid’s stuff, by comparison.
For the first few bites, we kind of found ourselves wishing that this was the beloved “Nashville Hot” that has become a nearly weekly craving. But there’s a lot to love in “Georgia Gold,” too, especially for anyone that is looking for a blast of flavor, without a ton of heat. Overall, this feels like another positive step forward for KFC, and if we can expect more regional barbecue flavors to be this expertly tweaked and then rolled out to the masses? We’re on board for whatever’s next.