Two deep-fried, heavily processed chicken filets, two pieces of grease-dripping bacon, two slices of cholesterol-packed cheese and no bread – yet you’re supposed to eat it like a sandwich.
Is that a joke?
Was that made on a dare or a bet?
Who would eat that?
Anyone wanting to consume about ¼ of the average grown man’s daily caloric intake.
With its April 12 national debut, KFC’s Double Down stirred up a media frenzy, finding itself fodder for culinary critics, health experts and anyone curious enough to try a 540-calorie sandwich – about the same as a McDonald’s Big Mac – with no bun.
Rumors of the sandwich’s conception began trickling online in the summer of 2009. Website and blog posts began reporting sightings of the Double Down.
Some sites, such as the blog Foodgeekery, posted photos as proof to quell the nae sayers of the existence of a sandwich with two pieces of meat and no bun.
After what KFC stated was a successful test market run, the Colonel and company took an unprecedented approach and promoted the Double Down before it arrived in stores.
“The Double Down created such a buzz as a test market item and it already has such a higher consumer awareness, we toyed with the idea of making a commercial that just said ‘It’s here,’” Javier Benito, KFC’s vice president of marketing and food innovation, said in a press statement before the Double Down’s release.
“… We don’t typically talk about our products before they’re available in our restaurants. But we expect Double Down to be in great demand when it becomes available April 12, and we want fans to have time to rearrange their schedules in advance for a visit to KFC to try this legendary sandwich.”
Outside the preemptive strike with the news media and blogosphere, KFC ran 30-second TV commercials, which latently pushed the Double Down’s macheesmo factor.
In the air spots, men speaking in “Alvin and the Chipmunks” pitches lament their desires to find sandwiches with more than “puny chicken.”
After a round of exasperated interjections revealing their jubilation of no buns with double everything else, a broad-shouldered man in a rugby shirt points a trigger finger to his Double Down, and in a raspy baritone he utters: “Now this is a sandwich.”
And that sandwich comes with stats.
In one meal, the Double Down crams in 540 calories, 32 grams of fat, and – at 60 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily intake – 1,380 milligrams of sodium. The grilled variety eases on the heart a little, with 460 calories, 23 grams of fat, but is even saltier at 1,430 milligrams of sodium.
The Double Down’s calories are comparable to a McDonald’s Big Mac, but with a few hundred more milligrams of sodium.
And come April 12, the reviews, good and bad, filled up newspapers, lit up TV screens and sent bloggers running for their keyboards.
As True/Slant writer Sara Libby pointed out two days after the KFC Double Down’s release, the two-pieced tower of fast foot found itself an investigative target of journalists, critics and celebrity personalities. Reviews appeared in the pages of The New York Times to the TV screen on Entertainment Weekly to the air waves on Carson Daly’s radio show.
The nutritional value wasn’t ignored.
The Huffington Post’s Dr. Susan Albers honed in on the food’s life-shortening qualities and implored KFC to show some morals and consider a “black box” for the Double Down.
“The black box proposed is much like those we see on cigarettes and bottles of wine,” Albers wrote. “‘WARNING – Eating meat can contribute to obesity in children, and can increase their risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.’ Would this make you put down the sandwich or think twice?”
The Los Angeles Times questioned whether the Double Down was an April Fool’s joke and offered this narration of the meal:
“By the time the Double Down made it back to the Times, the bottom of the bag was soaked with grease,” the newspaper’s staff wrote on its Comments Blog. “While we’re not food critics here on Comments Blog, we will say the Double Down did go all the way down, though not an easy task, but it required lots of water. Sadly, within 10 minutes the sandwich caused some physical distress – what more would you expect after eating two fried chicken breasts, a sauce that we still can’t identify, a mix of cheeses that we’re not comfortable confirming as pepper jack or Monterey Jack, and bacon that got a quick zap in the microwave?”
Food facts and scathing reviews aside, the unique Double Down caught some attention.
Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal reported that the menu item, while having a shelf life on its popularity, couldn’t stay in stock.
“Business Insider stopped by a location in NYC this evening and confirmed that demand is through the roof,” Weisenthal wrote on April 14. “Last night the restaurant, located near Union Square, ran out of the sandwiches by 10:00 PM (the store closes at 1:00 AM). Tonight they’ll run out again due to a shortage of cheese. Both of the employees we talked to confirmed that they’ve never seen anything like it.”