Chicken has always been on the menu at BurgerFi, both as a grilled or fried breast as well as chicken tenders. But as part of a menu overhaul over the last year and a half, Chief Culinary Officer Paul Griffin saw a void.
“We had no spicy version of a fried chicken sandwich,” he says. Although he began R&D on the item a while back, Griffin admits that the current industry hype surrounding fried chicken sandwiches may have nudged BurgerFi’s entry forward a bit.
The fast casual’s Spicy Fi’ed Chicken Sandwich launched in mid-October, but the build took a year to perfect, says Griffin.
It started with the sourcing. The chain is committed to clean-label ingredients and partnered with Springer Mountain Farms, a producer that raises cage-free, antibiotic-free birds certified by the American Humane Society. The producer supplies the first cut off the breast in the 5- to 5 ½-ounce size Griffin specs. He also worked with Springer Mountain to develop a proprietary, all-natural brine for the boneless breasts.
The brine imparts a good level of moisture and tenderness to the breasts before they go into the fryer. Griffin also experimented with sous vide as way to promote moistness and tenderness, but the technique made the chicken too soft with an unappealing mouthfeel, he says.
Griffin then turned his attention to the pickles. He tried regular pickle chips, but wanted this component to be more of a differentiator for BurgerFi. The result is jalapeno-infused pickles made in-house, cross-utilizing ingredients already in inventory. The hot pickles soak in a jalapeno marinade for 48 hours and achieve just the right amount of heat that really sets the sandwich apart, he says.
“The pickles have become so popular that customers are requesting them as a side with other menu items,” Griffin adds.
To layer on more heat, Griffin developed a hot spicy honey. Two new SKUs are sourced to create this simple sauce—honey and ghost pepper sauce—which are blended along with salt and pepper. A spicy mayonnaise completes the build, along with more sliced jalapenos and a potato bun as carrier.
“Customers can tone down the spiciness by substituting other sauces or eliminating the jalapenos, but everyone seems to love the spicy sweetness of the flavor profile,” says Griffin.
Through the R&D process, Griffin tested other components, but they overcomplicated the sandwich. Instead of the potato bun, he tried a cheesy garlic bread. And in one iteration, he layered cole slaw on top of the fried chicken. But ultimately, his goal was to differentiate the Spicy Fi’ed Chicken Sandwich with unique components that were easy to execute.
The new chicken sandwich doesn’t require any special equipment to prepare. And training was accomplished in two to three weeks prior the launch.
“It’s a balancing act to be unique while keeping operations simple,” says Griffin. “We’re always trying to improve things for the franchisees to ease execution and maximize cost-effectiveness.”