The Surprising Invention that Made Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Chicken Taste So Good
The technology behind the juicy, taste of our grilled chicken
Here’s a question for you: What happens when you add seven years of development, more than 1,200 recipes, one new innovative grill and a $50-million-dollar investment?
The answer: One of the tastiest, most nutritious options available in fast food – Chick-fil-A’s grilled chicken.
Chick-fil-A may be known for its original hand-breaded chicken sandwich, but its grilled chicken menu items are also customer favorites. So why does Chick-fil-A’s grilled chicken taste so good?
The secret: A mix of science -- and art.
“When the [Grilled Chicken Sandwich] was relaunched in 2014, we could not work just on the technology for the grill or just on the recipe for the chicken. It was going to take a combination of the two to provide the best meal for our customers,” says David Farmer, vice president of menu strategy and development at Chick-fil-A.
THE PERFECT PAIR
The result was an unconventional pairing that melded taste and technology. Chick-fil-A wanted to serve a grilled chicken breast that tastes like it came off a backyard grill, but the technology simply didn’t exist at the time.
So, Chick-fil-A’s engineering team invented it.
The new, patented high-tech grill cooks the chicken quickly and keeps it moist by locking in flavor. How? With a hydraulic system to lift the lid and lower it – but gently so it doesn’t put too much pressure on the chicken and release the juices.
Its proprietary cooking surface has the biggest impact for customers. Unlike your grill at home, it cooks both sides of the chicken at the same time, so it’s done fast and you don’t have to wait. And like your grill at home, it leaves actual grill marks on the chicken, adding to the flavor and experience.
“That’s the real magic of our grilled chicken,” says Farmer.
A PINCH OF SEASONING
Before the chicken is grilled though, it is seasoned and marinated. And finding the perfect recipe wasn’t easy. In fact, it took several years for Chick-fil-A’s culinary team to test 1,200-plus seasoning combinations.
“Our previous grilled chicken was good, but not great. We needed to create something better,” Farmer says.
The blend had to satisfy a lot of requirements: Complement the smokiness the grill provided, hold flavor after being cooked, and be able to be replicated every day in all Chick-fil-A kitchens across the country.
Ultimately, Chick-fil-A’s menu team chose a seasoning with simple ingredients: a blend of sea salt, lemon, garlic and savory herbs.
Once the grilled chicken is cooked, it’s placed on a toasted multigrain bun with green leaf lettuce and tomato for the Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
Since the recipe revamp of 2014, grilled chicken has been a staple of the Chick-fil-A menu, popular for lunch and dinner on sandwiches and salads or as nuggets. And recently, Chick-fil-A introduced grilled chicken to the breakfast menu.
CHICKEN FOR BREAKFAST
It may sound crazy, but, “Customers told us that lunch and dinner weren’t the only times they wanted healthy options,” says Paul Trotti, director of menu strategy and packaging at Chick-fil-A.
In July 2016, Chick-fil-A began serving the Egg White Grill, a breakfast sandwich made with grilled chicken, egg whites and cheese on a toasted multigrain English muffin.
It was the first new breakfast entrée in six years.
“Having the new grill in the restaurant gave us the ability to offer something different – and healthier – at breakfast, and we’re really excited about it,” says Farmer.