In today’s over-saturated, quick-serve food game, you need that popular hook to remind people who you are. The easy way is to have a signature sauce that people really love. Shake Shack and In-N-Out both have their sauces, and of course there’s McDonald’s and their unforgettable Big Mac sauce. Chick-fil-A was a little bit late to the sauce game, but they’ve more than made up for lost time. The eponymous Chick-fil-A sauce celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2018; but that’s only its 10th anniversary as a national release. Chick-fil-A sauce is actually more than 35 years old, and what a journey it had from a small store in a mall to the most beloved sauce at America’s most beloved quick-serve chain. If you’re a fan of Chick-fil-A or their famous sauce (and really, who can have one without the other?) keep reading to find out about this sauce’s crazy roots.
How it happened
Chick-fil-A lets everyone know they invented the chicken sandwich, but they were also pretty early in the nugget game. First introduced in 1982 — which was a year before the national roll out of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets — Chick-fil-A’s nuggets were lacking a little something; specifically a sauce. Shockingly, the nugget debuted with no dipping sauce accompaniment. This caused a bit of a dilemma, and Hugh Fleming, owner of a Chick-fil-A franchise in Fredericksburg, VA, realized it. It came to a head when the store continued to receive requests for sauces to accompany their nuggets — including a very large order for a department store. Rather than tell them a sauce wasn’t available, Fleming put his sauce-inventing hat on and went to work.
It was an accident
Fleming didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, at least not at first. The original sauce he created to accompany the department store order was simply a homemade honey mustard dressing — but everyone loved it. "Those employees loved it and kept coming back. So we made it for them, and then other customers started asking for it. That was the birth of the Chick-fil-A sauce right there," said Fleming. Soon after that, they incorporated it into their store in the Spotsylvania Mall. It proved just as popular with their regular everyday customers, but this was only "Chick-fil-A sauce" version 1.0 — a happy accident made it even better.
An employee on a lunch break mistakenly mixed in barbecue sauce with their CFA sauce, but instead of a disaster, it was delicious. Suddenly, they had something special.
The other ingredients are up for debate
The Chick-fil-A sauce we all know and love is at its base honey mustard and barbecue sauce. But what else is in there? It contains a bit of the Chick-fil-A coleslaw drippings — or at least it used to, according to Fleming’s original recipe. That makes sense when you look at the official ingredients, which contain everything you need to make coleslaw except the diced cabbage.
Chick-fil-A claimed in a tweet that the "other part" was actually ranch dressing. So are they telling the truth and the ingredients have been swapped somewhere along the way? Or are they trying to derail our efforts to make our own delectable CFA sauce? Few people really know the truth — and they’re not sharing.
It was a HUGE hit
To say people liked the sauce is an understatement of epic proportions. According to Fleming, people would literally leave their food at the table uneaten if he ran out of the sauce. At one point, his crew whipped up 18 gallons a day and they even employed a single person to simply fill the small cups the sauce came in. Eventually they placed the sauce in a pump bottle so customers could just serve themselves, and additionally sold it by the jar. If you didn’t feel like actually buying the stuff, you could always just empty your soda cup out, rinse it, and then fill it to the brim. And yes, people really did that.
It was nameless for a long time
Of course we all know Chick-fil-A sauce by name now — it’s not hard, if you know where you are, you know the name of the sauce — but originally that wasn’t what people called it. It’s name was… well, actually there wasn’t one. "That special sauce" or "Mr. Fleming’s sauce" were common things people yelled out when they wanted more. Officially, there was no name; Fleming never got around to coming up with one. The fact that it achieved the popularity it did without even having an official name is a testament to how good it really was.
Chick-fil-A made a copycat
Chick-fil-A certainly took notice of all the sauce success and wanted in on the action. The problem was Mr. Fleming’s sauce was just that; it was the brain child of Mr. Fleming’s, not Chick-fil-A. That meant the folks in Atlanta had to come up with their own sauce that would be similar to the addictive stuff from Virginia. They came up with a Honey Roasted BBQ sauce, often paired with the Grilled Chicken Sandwich. It’s not bad, but it’s also not what Hugh Fleming created. The Chick-fil-A copycat came out thicker than the original, and it really isn’t a "dipping sauce." Even though it’s still available today, it can’t hold a candle to what we all know now as Chick-fil-A sauce.
Chick-fil-A got the formula for free
It turns out all that "My pleasure" stuff isn’t just some cunning ruse, a lot of the Chick-fil-A folks really are like that. Hugh Fleming had been in the Chick-fil-A biz for close to 27 years when in 2007 he decided to finally retire. Not the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, Fleming realized that if it wasn’t for Chick-fil-A, his life would have turned out much differently, so he just went ahead and gave the secret formula to corporate — for free. Despite the large sums of money he could likely have made on the deal, Fleming said, "It was, as far as I was concerned, a shared credit as far as making it successful. It was my way of paying the company back."
It went nationwide in 2008
It took about a year for Chick-fil-A to get the sauce mass-produced, and in 2008 it rolled out nationwide as Chick-fil-A Sauce. In what can only be described as a case study in burying the lede, the Atlanta Business Journal saved the Chick-fil-A sauce mention for the sixth paragraph in its new products write up and described it as a "smoky mustard dipping sauce." If you think that sounds nothing like it, you are correct. Regardless, it piqued the curiosity of CFA fans. Managers often passed it out shortly after it’s release and suggested customers try it, and one taste was usually all it took. It wasn’t long before CFA fans around the country were hooked.
It was a HUGE hit (again)
The success of Mr. Fleming’s sauce in Fredericksburg was duplicated around the country after it’s nationwide release. Immediately, Chick-fil-A sauce became the number one sauce available at Chick-fil-A. A third of all sauces given to customers is Chick-fil-A sauce; which is well over 285 million packets annually. With seven sauces available, that makes Chick-fil-A the overwhelmingly favorite. Chick-fil-A sauce has not only been named the best sauce at the restaurant in several taste-testing competitions, but also the best sauce at any restaurant.
It’s not just for nuggets
This may seem pretty obvious, but Chick-fil-A sauce isn’t just a dipping sauce. You can add it to a sandwich, a breakfast item (like a chicken, egg, and cheese bagel), or just skip the ketchup and use it for your fries. Ketchup is so 1980s on fries, and really any Chick-fil-A sauce will do the trick, but there’s something about the Chick-fil-A sauce and a waffle fry that just works. The design of the fry holds the sauce in place to get it on every bite.
It’s drowning in calories
Like most things that taste great, it’s not exactly good for you. We don’t want to dwell on the negative, but that little one-ounce packet of deliciousness is… we hope you’re sitting down… 140 calories. That’s a lot of calories — especially since no one actually uses just one packet of sauce. In fact, if you use two packs of sauce, you’ve eaten more calories in sauce than in nuggets, since one order of nuggets is just 260 calories. It also packs 170 mg of sodium, which is roughly the same amount of salt that’s in a small piece of bacon.
You can buy in bulk
There are a few different ways to get your mitts on some Chick-fil-A sauce. Just ask, and the pleasant person behind the counter will give you a package or four. You could additionally purchase an 8 ounce tub — the same ones that come with a tray of nuggets or strips; price varies from store to store. Or, if you’re convinced that you can bathe in the stuff, you can purchase a box of tiny Chick-fil-A sauces. Ask a manager at a store and they will indeed sell you the box. There are stories on the internet of people buying the stuff in bulk and lo and behold it’s true. I asked a manager and he said yes, indeed, if you wanted to purchase an entire box they would likely sell it to you, providing it did not leave them short of their supply of sauce.
How long does it last?
You probably have at least one Chick-fil-A sauce packet at your house right now — or you might have a giant pile of them (don’t judge). You may use it on home-made chicken, frozen chicken nuggets, or even as a sandwich topping. The big question is, how long will it last before it spoils? According to a Reddit AMA, a team leader said the sauce will last "a few months" before you need to toss it. Also, no need for refrigeration! You can just leave it out in a bowl as a decorative display on your countertop. No, that’s not weird at all.
You can make your own
The truly easiest way to get your hands on some Chick-fil-A sauce is to make it yourself. This helpful little how-to will show you all the tricks of making some Chick-fil-A sauce at home, or even out at other restaurants. You can make it with ranch instead of coleslaw drippings, as Chick-fil-A claims anyway, but if you want to go the original real deal follow that little step-by-step and you’ll have the greatest sauce ever concocted at your fingertips at any time.