Chef Bob Das stopped by Food & Wine to discuss the launch of the new smokey mountain BBQ sauce.
Later this month, KFC will release its newest sauce, Smokey Mountain Barbeque. The sauce—subtly sweet, salty, and finished with a hint of smoke—can be slathered on the chain’s chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, and signature fried chicken. KFC’s head chef, Bob Das, stopped by Food & Wine to chat about the inspiration behind his newest concoction, which draws its flavors from across the country’s most respected barbecue regions.
“We wanted to create something that would be appealing to the masses so we went through the barbeque belt,” Chef Bob, as he calls himself, told Food & Wine. “We took the sweetness from Kansas City, we took the vinegar notes from the Carolinas, and then we took the dry rub that gives you texture from Memphis.”
Chef Bob says that he has his team often plan what he calls “food safaris,” in which the chefs travel across the country sampling the signature cuisine of the area to draw inspiration for potential KFC dishes. They’ve been to Seattle, Portland, Austin, and Chicago on past trips.
KFC chefs are constantly taste testing potential additions to their menu, but the process from initial formulation to launch usually takes more than a year. For the Smokey Mountain Barbeque sauce, Chef Bob and the rest of the KFC chefs tested around 60 iterations of the sauce before they settled on the final version. While working on the recipe, local taste testers came in and evaluated the sauce for sweetness, spiciness, and smokiness. More than once, the chefs had to start from scratch when the recipe wasn’t working.
“I also have a quarterly chefs council where our supplier chefs will come in and work with me on the bench for three or four days, coming up with crazy ideas,” Chef Bob says.
He explains that the team experiments with flavors and methods of cooking. They get to taste everything before setting it in front of their “leadership,” for approval.
Chef Bob has been with KFC for 19 years—“If its been done with chicken, I’ve probably seen it once or twice before,” he says—but he even after all that time, he still gives props to the original “11 herbs and spices,” recipe.
“That recipe is under lock and key in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s just a recipe that is impossible to replicate,” he says.
If you do want to try to recreate KFC fried chicken at home, Chef Bob has three essential tips before you get started:
1. Marinate your chicken before hand.
2. Be sure to season the flour.
3. Cook the chicken at a medium high heat so that it gets crispy but doesn’t burn.
Food & Wine has the perfect recipe to try out here.
And if you're still a little intimidated by the notion of cooking fried chicken at home, you can try the sauce for yourself on January 29, at KFC locations across the country.