In 2013, a grim portfolio by Brooklyn-based photographer Henry Hargreaves made the rounds on the internet. Called "No Seconds," it featured the birds-eye-view re-creations of the death row inmates' last meals. Hargreaves’ photos were unabashed, stark visions of what the final meal truly looks like when you order it. John Wayne Gacy, for example, ordered a dozen fried shrimp, french fries, a pound of strawberries and a bucket of KFC's Original Recipe chicken.
The portfolio of last meals was the first thing that came to mind when we hovered over of a tray of KFC’s new Smoky Mountain BBQ Chicken. The heavily sauced chicken fingers, floppy pickles, dry biscuit and mashed-potatoes-and-gravy Jell-O felt like the real meal you get after your imaginary death-row order of Nashville Hot Chicken, dill pickles, mashed potatoes and gravy and a biscuit.
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The Smoky Mountain BBQ Chicken debuts at KFC on Jan. 29 as part of the restaurant's “Southern-inspired” flavors. The container was labeled “Flavors of the South,” but I’m not sure which South because the mashed potatoes tasted more Southern than the candy-sweet chicken fingers. In truth, a chicken parmesan sandwich at Olive Garden might be more Southern than KFC’s new option. The sauce that caked the fried chicken clusters, deep in the smoky mountains, was sugary enough to cause one Observer editor to say it “tasted like chicken that marinated overnight in McDonald’s barbecue sauce.”
KFC is best enjoyed when booze is present in your system, but the first-place award for this goes to Whataburger, of course. KFC under the fluorescent light of an office break room is bleak. Eaten in front of a TV after a night of beer-drinking, KFC can shine a little brighter. The macaroni and cheese, for example, is excellent at sopping up lots of beer. A bucket of KFC’s extra-crispy can clear a head of gin and tonic like a flamethrower.
The new take on "barbecue" chicken, in its little sauce-soaked plastic container, tasted more like your local emergency room’s finest. Grey's Anatomy called, and it wants its chicken back. Because it's called barbecue, we’re forced to imagine Texas Monthly's Daniel Vaughn destroying the chicken with a limited-edition Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar. There a few other questions about the name that are important to address as well: Smoky Mountain BBQ Chicken? Was “Tennessee Hot Appalachian Blake Shelton Strips” not available? Maybe “Grand Ole Opry's Smokin’ Rootin’ Tootin’ Burny-Burny Burnt Ends"?
There are three categories of fast food: Surprise-Good (Popeye’s), Bad-Good (Taco Bell) and Dumpster Fire. Smoky Mountain BBQ Chicken is part of the latter. Everyone who sampled the meal — KFC allowed certain media outlets to try the new chicken option early — basically licked the mashed potato and gravy bowls clean, though. It’s hard to deny the power of fast-food mashed potatoes, y’all.