KFC chicken

Pretty much everyone only ever goes to KFC for one thing: the chicken. You can’t go wrong, can you? It’s mostly decent, cheap, quick fried chicken that you can get — more or less — without a fuss. But the KFC menu is obviously home to far more than just chicken; aside from any promotional or limited items they’ve got on there, you’ll also find a whole range of sandwiches, sides, pies, drinks, and desserts.

Be careful, though, for here there be monsters. As with so many other fast food chains, the KFC menu features a bunch of items you’re better off avoiding, for any number of reasons. Many of them are shockingly unhealthy, containing enough calories and sodium to put you into a light coma. Others, meanwhile, are made with some truly disgusting ingredients. And some of it just isn’t as authentic (or tasty) as the company would have you believe. Either way, keep an eye out for these clucking calamities — they’re the things you should absolutely never order at KFC.

KFC’s chicken pot pie

KFC's Chicken Pie

First — and arguably worst — of all is the chicken pot pie. Now a mainstay on the KFC menu, the pot pie contains "tender bites of the world’s best chicken," diced potatoes, peas, carrots, and a savory sauce. The pot pie originally began as a limited-release regional dish before becoming a national regular in 2012. The marketing campaigns that accompanied its full introduction were all full of retro, old-school imagery, likely in an attempt to provoke nostalgia in the people who grew up eating chicken pot pie.

The only problem is that if you grew up regularly eating KFC’s chicken pot pie you’d probably be dead before you left puberty. That’s because it’s staggeringly unhealthy. It contains 790 calories, 45 grams of fat, and a genuinely mind-boggling 1970 milligrams of sodium. For what it’s worth, the American Heart Association recommends you consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day — with less than 1500 milligrams being the ideal amount.

But where the chicken pot pie really excels is with its saturated fat content; according to KFC, it contains a whole 25 grams of the stuff. Put in perspective, that’s the same amount of saturated fat as 17 KFC original recipe drumsticks, 25 Kentucky Fried Wings with honey barbecue sauce, five large orders of popcorn nuggets, or almost four entire Famous Bowls. In one pie.

KFC’s Famous Bowl

The Famous Bowl is another KFC staple. Introduced in 2006, when it was still somehow referred to as "Famous," this menu item contains a bed of mashed potatoes, bites of chicken, corn, gravy, and a cheese topping. It was inspired by a type of dish that may have first appeared in the ’90s, which often brought together the same ingredients for a convenient and generally healthy-ish ready meal. All these years later, the Famous Bowl still endures on KFC menus around the United States, suggesting that at least a few people out there are fans of KFC’s little bowl of mashed potatoes and chicken.

Here’s the kicker, though — the Famous Bowl is one of KFC’s least healthy menu items. You’ve got 710 calories in there for one, as well as 82 grams of carbs (thank the potato and cheese for that), 31 grams of fat and, incredibly, 2450 milligrams of sodium. Think back to your new friends at the American Heart Association and you’ll remember that’s well over the hard limit for an adult’s daily intake of sodium — so you’d better hope you’re not getting a side of hot wings with this one.

Even more impressive is that the nutritional stats for the Famous Bowl back in 2006, when it was released, are a little lower than they are today… so this one appears to have actually gotten less healthy as time goes on. What a trooper.

Any BBQ sandwich from KFC

BBQ and chicken are natural bedfellows. So it makes perfect sense that KFC would offer up all kinds of BBQ sandwiches on their menus, right? The year 2018 saw the restaurant introduce the Smokey Mountain BBQ Sandwich, for example, which they themselves describe as: "…crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and delicious on every side." Obviously, that wasn’t the first BBQ burger KFC have had on their menus over the years, and it wasn’t the last. There’s a good chance you’ve tried one of their past attempts at bringing a lil’ barbecue to their stores — something they try to revive pretty frequently.

Next time, however, you might want to give them a miss. In 2015, a Reddit thread asked fast food workers exactly what customers should avoid at their restaurants. One user responded: "Worked at KFC for [around] 4 years. The BBQ sandwich is actually made from chicken too old and stale to give to the homeless shelters, so they soak it in BBQ sauce until it can be pulled and then they keep it on the heater for a month."

It’s hard to know exactly which BBQ sandwich the user was referring to, but pulled chicken featured heavily in the Ultimate Burger, which was released only a few months before the thread was posted. Either way, it’s hardly encouraging to know that BBQ sauce is used to soak old chicken back to life — and it’s not hard to imagine some stores might still do something like this when there’s a barbecue sandwich on the menu.

KFC’s mashed potatoes and gravy

KFC’s mashed potatoes and gravy is probably the chain’s most iconic side — although they themselves insist they "won’t fight you if you want to call it a meal." Probably fair enough too, considering it contains 19 grams of carbs and 530 milligrams of sodium, but that’s up to you. The point is that this dish has been on the KFC menus for many years. The gravy itself even has something of a cult following, with some British families making it a tradition to pop out to buy some on Christmas Eve rather than making it at home.

Unfortunately, it seems like the mashed potatoes and gravy is one of the things you really, really want to steer clear from next time you’re at KFC. In 2018, a Quora user asked: "What item should I avoid at KFC?" One commentator had a hell of a story to tell.

"Each morning, after a full 12 hours of constant frying and cooking, the cook will arrive at 7am and begin draining the now black oil. The contents at the bottom of the fryer [are] just a black solution seeping with oil and dripping in fat."

"This pot is taken and emptied onto a tray, wrapped in Glad Wrap and stored in a freezer for up to a month. The employees refer to this as the ‘sh** stick’. Because that’s EXACTLY what it looks like. A frozen stick of crap. Until it is melted and served to unsuspecting victims."

And that’s where KFC gravy comes from… at least in Australia and the UK.

KFC’s potato salad

Another side, here — another winner for KFC’s potatoes. Although this particular side is mercifully free of black-fat-oil-crap-gravy, it’s still a real loser on the KFC menu — mostly because it’s shockingly unhealthy. According to the chain’s own nutrition guide, the potato salad contains 340 calories, 19 grams of carbs and 25 milligrams of cholesterol. Nothing too bad there… but we’re not done yet.

The potato salad from KFC also contains 28 grams of fat, a whopping 43 percent of an adult’s recommended intake. Oh, and 4.5 grams of those are saturated fats, too, which is around 23 percent of the guideline intake. Finally, you’ve got 290 milligrams of sodium. And if that doesn’t seem like a lot, that might be because so far you’ve only seen sodium in high enough quantities to kill a mongoose. The truth is, 290 milligrams is still 12 percent of your recommended daily intake of sodium, meaning the potato salad still makes a hefty dent on your body’s daily nutritional routine. Add in the fact that you’re very unlikely to be eating the potato salad alone, and you’re looking at some seriously sky-high figures.

KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken (and anything else that’s regional)

Authenticity is a funny old thing. Obviously, it’s something to be aspired to when it comes to cooking — nobody wants to eat a limp imitation when they could be having the real thing. But how reasonably authentic can you really expect fast food to be? It’s mass-produced, cheap, and quick, and nobody ever goes into it thinking they’re about to eat the best thing they’ve ever eaten. Still, though, it stands to reason that KFC (and similar chains) should make at least a concerted effort to inspire their menu items with some kind of authenticity, right? Right?

According to David Pemberton, a writer for Uproxx, KFC’s 2016 special Nashville Hot Chicken at least looked like genuine Nashville Hot Chicken. "The chicken breast," he writes in his review, "is much smaller than the enormous portions you’d find at Prince’s Chicken Shack in East Nashville but, other than that, it’s a spot-on replica."

But things quickly went downhill. He wrote: "I could feel my heart breaking. KFC’s bastard child looks like Hot Chicken, it smells like Hot Chicken, and up until my first bite, I had hoped that it would actually taste like Hot Chicken. But we live in a world of lies."

Obviously, Mr. Pemberton’s experiences will be familiar to anyone who has ever gone to a chain like KFC to try their attempt at recreating a beloved style of cooking. Here’s a tip, for you: stick to the things you know these places can do.

KFC’s dipping sauces

One thing that can be said for KFC is that they’ve got a hell of a range of sauces and condiments. Far from content to simply offer the standard ketchup/mustard/mayo combination, KFC’s menu features a whole range, including Sweet N Tangy Dipping Sauce, Summertime BBQ Dipping Sauce, Creamy Buffalo Dipping Sauce, and more. And although you might assume that condiments all tend to have a similar kind of nutritional value as each other, you’d be wrong. The truth is that, when it comes to clogging up your arteries, some sauces are more equal than others.

According to KFC’s nutritional guide, there is one Unholy Trinity of condiments that you ought to stay away from: Buttermilk Ranch Dipping Sauce, Finger Lickin’ Good Dipping Sauce, and Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce. One serving of each of these contains at least 100 calories, with the most calorific of all — the Finger Lickin’ Good Sauce — containing an impressive 130 calories. They all contain at least 10 grams of fat, and at least a gram of saturated fat each. They’re heavy in sodium too, with the Buttermilk Ranch Dipping Sauce hitting as many as 240 milligrams of the stuff. And if you’ve got a real sodium aversion, stay away from the Creamy Buffalo Dipping Sauce — it might not be as fatty or calorific as the others, but it contains a staggering 510 milligrams of sodium to make up for it.

Maybe that ketchup doesn’t seem so bad after all.

KFC’s potato wedges

McDonald’s fries have gotten a fairly bad rap over the last few years, and for damn good reason, too: they’ve got a history of nasty ingredients, lawsuits, and chemical nightmares that should be enough to turn anyone off. But here’s a fun fact, for you: if you look at the nutrition info, they’re actually better for you than KFC’s potato wedges!

Let’s do a quick comparison. A small portion of McDonald’s fries contains 220 calories. A portion of wedges contains 270 calories. There are 10 grams of total fat in the fries; 13 grams of fat in the wedges. You’ll find 29 grams of carbs in the fries; 34 in the wedges. And here’s the real shocker: a portion of McDonald’s fries contains 180 milligrams of sodium. Not bad, not great. But the KFC wedges contain a grand total of 700 milligrams of sodium. In one portion of potato wedges! Are they dousing these things in salt? Score one to McDonald’s, here. If you find yourself at a KFC anytime soon, maybe just skip the wedges and stick to the potato salad. No, wait, the mashed potatoes with gravy. No, hang on…

We’ll get back to you.

KFC’s desserts

Of course, we wouldn’t be giving KFC their dues if we weren’t hitting up their dessert menu, so here it is: the Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie is Colonel Sanders’ unhealthiest treat.

In fairness, though, there’s not a lot in it — the Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie isn’t a runaway winner for the title. At 300 calories, 17 grams of fat, nine grams of saturated fat (which, uh, really isn’t great), 33 grams of carbs and 22 grams of sugar, it just about beats out the majority of its competitors. The only areas in which it’s beaten are in the carbs, where the Oreo Cookies and Creme Pie squeak through with 35 grams — but that particular item comes with slightly smaller stats on everything else.

None of the restaurant’s desserts are genuinely good for you, obviously. The Chocolate Chip Cookie bottoms out the calorie count with 120, which really isn’t all that bad, but even that contains six grams of fat and three grams of saturated fat. Generally, the rule of thumb here seems to be that, dessert-wise, you’re okay going for pretty much any of them — but ideally you shouldn’t have anything at all.

KFC’s sodas

This obviously isn’t a problem exclusive to KFC — not by a long shot — but it’s still worth remembering next time you’re in there: sugary drinks are almost comically bad for your health. According to Healthline, there are as many as 13 reasons why sodas can mess you up inside.

First of all, they don’t make you feel full, so you’re more likely to consume more calories on top of them. Studies have shown that people who drink sugary beverages consistently gain more weight than those who don’t. Sugary drinks can also overload your liver, leading to excess fructose being turned into fat, which is obviously a no-no — especially if you’re trying to not get liver disease anytime soon.

Sugary sodas can also cause insulin resistance, a cause of metabolic syndrome and a "stepping stone" toward type 2 diabetes. Not to mention the increase in risk of heart disease, links to cancer, hugely detrimental effects on your teeth, and the fact that they’re outright addictive, too. Oh, and then there are the links to dementia, increased chances of contracting gout, total lack of essential nutrients, and the high chances of you gaining an increase in visceral fat, which accumulates in the belly.

You’re already doing enough damage with the fried chicken and sides, so maybe just get a bottle of water or something, yeah?

KFC’s chicken

Ah, yes — here’s the inconvenient, unpleasant, kinda irritating truth: if you really want to walk away from KFC clean of body and clean of soul, you’re best not eating any of their chicken at all.

Obviously, nobody is under the impression that the chickens who become KFC’s main dish lead particularly happy lives, but even so, the true extent of their suffering is shocking. In 2019, The Independent reported on a World Animal Protection report that found a number of mainstream fast food chains, including KFC, McDonald’s, and Domino’s, are "subjecting billions of chickens to lives of misery that end in a painful death."

The report itself, which followed a global investigation, found "an almost-universal disregard among the brands … for improving the treatment of chickens throughout their global supply chains." Each year, around 40 billion chickens are raised in factory farms, suffering from conditions such as lameness, skin lesions and heart failure. according to the report. Two-third of these chickens are intentionally developed so quickly that their legs cannot bear their weight, and are raised in dark warehouses so as to suppress their instincts.

Earlier that year, the WAP had approached KFC with a petition demanding better conditions for its chickens. But their report found that the company was lacking in transparency, and offered little information on how they were performing when it comes to chicken welfare.

As it stands, there is no indication that KFC is improving when it comes to the way they breed and farm their chickens. So if this is something that you care a lot about, you may just want to skip KFC altogether. Or maybe just stick to the coleslaw.