I’ve long maintained that Kentucky Fried Chicken has better sides than it’s given credit for, and now my time has come to rank them.
I visited my local KFC and ordered one small serving of each fixing, plus a bucket of chicken. For good measure, I also got every dipping sauce.
Having officially secured my bag, I ran home to begin my journey of ranking every side from the fast-food chain from worst to best.
First impression: This option appeared to be the lightest thing on the menu, though I’m not sure that says a lot.
The beans were swimming in the water, and I felt like I already knew these would be over-sodium-ed and under-seasoned, forcing me to instinctively close my eyes while I eat them.
Review: These were by far my least favorite side. I felt like I took one for the team trying these. The beans almost disintegrated before passing my gums, except the fibrous part, which I had to chew for what felt like three years.
They also had a weird aftertaste that was almost like a botched wine reduction.
First impression: I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I had a genuinely great coleslaw. Though I can’t remember the last time I had a lousy batch, either.
The vinegar smell wafted toward me as I opened the lid, which was a good sign. The order had a diner-slaw vibe, putting my mind at ease until the cabbage made me pause.
I prefer strands of the veggie rather than squares, so I wasn’t sold on the cut, but ultimately figured that shouldn’t matter.
Review: This coleslaw was too sweet and had too much mayo, so I would have doubled down on the vinegar base instead. Even though I liked it well enough, the more I ate, the worse it got.
There weren’t enough of the other vegetables to add flavor to the cabbage. Still, coleslaw is as hard to screw up as it is to make really excellent, and the same was true here.
Mashed potatoes and gravy
First impression: The potatoes looked very bland. If I knew what pure white, Norwegian snow looked like, I’d probably compare the two.
I was especially curious to see how much the sauce enhanced these mashed potatoes, if at all.
But the gravy was soupy and not thick, which I considered a bad sign. I’m a huge fan of the topping, but I didn’t have very high hopes for this take.
Review: I take it back, these potatoes had flavor. They were buttery.
Plus the gravy tasted like somebody added pepper to the very last drop of a good stock. I got a nice jolt from it, which constituted a positive review in my book.
Barbecue baked beans
First impression: This option made me feel like I was sitting in a run-down diner somewhere. I didn’t know what to expect, but they smelled pretty lovely, almost like sugar.
However, I was skeptical about the sauce-to-bean ratio.
Review: These baked beans won’t win any awards at a pig race, but they were very sweet, as if KFC dumped sugar in a can.
I recommend cutting them with another side like the mac and cheese or mashed potatoes.
Though not the same taste at all, the experience was like eating just the inside of an Oreo — it’s the best part, but eventually, you need the cookie to balance everything out.
First impression: I feel like every American restaurant, fast food and otherwise, has a “secret recipe” for fries, which I’m pretty sure is just different levels of spices.
That said, these smelled pretty good, the seasoning mixing in with the cardboard. I figured they would be a step below the fries from your neighborhood fast-casual spot.
Fries aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of KFC, but I was game for these. They also provided an excellent opportunity to try all of the sauces, which I looked forward to doing.
Review: These had a mealy interior and crunchy outside, which made them perfect fast-food fries. The oil coated my mouth, and I instinctively reached for another after finishing the first.
They weren’t covered in a ton of salt, but they had a lot of sodium. Is that the secret?
Bonus condiment review: You don’t just go to the chicken chain for the fries, but they were also a perfect conduit for the sauces I tried, so I took the liberty of reviewing each.
- A great addition to the fries, the barbecue sauce had a Southern sweetness that I was super into.
- The KFC sauce was a combination of every flavor I enjoy, primarily ketchup, sweet mustard, and mayo.
- The honey mustard was nowhere near the quality of some other chain’s but was still quite respectable. The sauce should typically have a kick, but KFC went too heavy on the honey.
- I’ve never really been a ranch guy, but KFC’s was solid, even though it felt like another version of something that other fast-food chains do way better. I liked how cooling it was and the fact that the sour taste stayed in my mouth for a bit after swallowing.
First impression: Like mac and cheese, fast-food biscuits are always good. These smelled buttery and flaky, and I expected them to be one of my favorites on the list.
Review: These were crispy on the outside and beautifully springy and cakey on the inside.
Their hint of sweetness led me to believe that a Keebler elf came when everybody was asleep, giving every biscuit a goodnight kiss and tucking it into bed.
The buttery flavor was quite subtle, but the whole thing floated through my mouth like a melody.
Mac and cheese
First impression: The inverse of green beans, fast-food mac and cheese seemingly always turns out great, so I was very much looking forward to eating this option.
Review: I feel like I don’t need to write anything besides “fast-food mac and cheese.” It’s like telepathy since you would know exactly what I mean.
Mac and cheese is the only dish in which it’s OK for pasta not to be al dente, and this batch was perfectly soft and paired with cheese that tasted like a box mix. It really couldn’t get any better.
The final takeaway
If you’re going to KFC, go big. There’s no use wasting stomach space on green beans and mashed potatoes.
The mac and cheese was clearly the best side followed by the biscuits and, much to my surprise, the fries — carb on carb on carb.
That said, the next day, I woke up with a lingering headache, feeling like somebody had dried me out under a heat lamp. So maybe don’t try them all at once.