The fried chicken revolution is here. Last April, Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer filed a trademark application for the name ChickenShack. By July, Shake Shack locations in Brooklyn were selling fried chicken sandwiches, and New Yorkers were losing their minds. Beginning today, Shake Shack restaurants across the country — from Manhattan to Miami, from Chicago to Vegas — will serve trademarked Chick'n Shack sandwiches for $6.29 a piece. (Shake Shack locations in JFK Airport and stadium Shacks will not offer the sandwich at this time.) Want a spicier sandwich? Shake Shack is also now stocking Louisiana hot sauce next to the ketchup dispensers.
In a release, Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti said: "The introduction of chicken marks a new era for Shake Shack, staying true to our core menu while continuing to innovate new items our guests have asked for." According to comments made by Shake Shack Culinary Director Mark Rosati, though ChickenShack (as it was called last year) was a hit, the team had some work to do in terms of sourcing, logistics, and training before it could introduce the sandwiches nationwide. Rosati noted: "It wasn't until we found the chicken sandwich to be as flavorful as our ShackBurger® that we knew we'd crafted something special that had earned its place on the menu."
By all accounts Chick’n Shack is right on time. Eater predicted the market for fast casual fried chicken was ripe last summer: In New York City, Danny Meyer and his culinary team seemed to be in a race with David Chang and his nascent Fuku fried chicken sandwich concept. In Los Angeles, an appetite for Nashville-style hot chicken has taken off and chef Ludo Lefebvre's LudoBird is expanding beyond its first brick and mortar shop. For the past 6 months, fast casual fried chicken concepts have been popping up in Charleston, Chicago, Portland, and Austin.
While Meyer and company have not opened a standalone Chicken Shack, they are giving chains like KFC, Popeye's, and Chick-fil-A something to think about in the way that Shake Shack's burgers (and fan base) are forcing Big Burger to reconsider its tired, floppy patties. If Chick'n Shack is successful in stealing some marketshare from fast chicken, this could mean big things for the future of chicken agriculture in the U.S. On a smaller level, too, Meyer's Chick'n Shack is giving chef David Chang (Momofuku, Fuku) some early competition in the fast casual chicken game on the East Coast.
Of note: Chick'n Shack sandwiches are made with antibiotic-free chicken. This is not a label the big three — KFC, Popeyes, Chick-fil-A — can slap on their sandwiches. Of the big three, only Chick-fil-A — with just under 2,000 locations in the U.S. — specializes in fried chicken sandwiches. So here is a side-by-side comparison of Chick-fil-A's standard offering and Shake Shack's new fried chicken sandwich:
Product description: "A boneless breast of chicken seasoned with a spicy blend of peppers, hand-breaded, pressure cooked in 100% refined peanut oil and served on a toasted, buttered bun with dill pickle chips. Also available on a multigrain bun."
It's interesting that Chick-fil-A describes its sandwich as "breaded" when it appears to be battered, and then breaded. Chick-fil-A's signature chicken sandwich, the non-spicy version, is very clearly breaded and not battered. Eater New York's senior critic Robert Sietsema enjoyed the sandwich last October: "[It] totally rocks, partly because of its timidity and partly because of the elemental interplay of pickle and mayonnaise."
Price: Between $3 and $5, depending upon the location.
Product description: "A cage-free chicken breast—no hormones or antibiotics ever—slow-cooked in a creamy buttermilk marinade, hand-dipped into Shack-made batter, dredged through seasoned flour and crisp-fried... topped with pickles, crisp shredded lettuce and a tangy Shack-made buttermilk herb mayo made with chives, parsley and thyme... served on a pillowy potato roll."
Shake Shack's fried chicken sandwich gets a marinade, batter, and flour dredging before it's "crisp-fried" which is more of a marketing term than an actual cooking method; when properly deep fried, food should become crisp. Shake Shack's sandwich ends up being pretty juicy thanks to that buttermilk marinade and Eater New York critic Robert Sietsema liked its "lattice-like crisp coating." In addition to the pickles and mayo, this sandwich has the added crunch of a frizzle of shredded lettuce, which adds a fresh note to the deep fried meat within. This sandwich is about a dollar more, but that's a small price to pay for antibiotic-free meat.
Wonder what these folks in Syracuse, Ill. will think of this whole thing.