Chick-fil-A’s newest sandwich looks just like its original, but it sure doesn’t taste like it.
On Monday, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain will debut a new Cauliflower Sandwich in three different markets.
It’s the company’s first plant-forward entree.
“We are committed to chicken, and chicken is the hero,” said Leslie Neslage, director of Menu and Packaging for Chick-fil-A. “But… it was becoming more and more prevalent that customers really want to find ways to increase vegetables in their diet.”
Customers can already order salads and other items without chicken, but Chef Stuart Tracy, senior lead culinary developer for Chick-fil-A, told USA TODAY, “We wanted it to be a purpose-built entree that was plant-forward.”
USA TODAY was invited to Chick-fil-A’s Test Kitchen to try out the new sandwich. Here’s what customers can expect.
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What is Chick-fil-A’s new sandwich made of?
The Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich may look like a chicken sandwich – down to the same seasoned breading, two pickle slices and toasted bun – but one bite and it’s clear the star of this sandwich is the cauliflower, which is fileted and marinated in a mild buffalo-style sauce, before being hand breaded and pressure cooked to a crispy finish.
What makes this sandwich different?
Unlike KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken and Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, which feature plant-based meat substitutes, this sandwich embraces the whole plant, which both Tracy and Neslage said customers in focus groups requested.
“Resoundingly over and over again, they were like ‘Hey, we need it to be identifiable as a vegetable. Like I don’t want to look at it and wonder what’s it made of,’ ” Tracy said.
He handcrafted the recipe, leaning on his background of fine and farm-to-table dining. “We didn’t know we necessarily wanted it to be similar to the chicken experience or the experience of eating a chicken sandwich, but we knew it had to taste like Chick-fil-A,” he said.
Chick-fil-A explored dozens of plant-centered concepts, including whole mushroom caps and fried green tomatoes, before honing in on cauliflower.
“This was the sandwich that customers absolutely fell in love with, and it scored head and shoulders above anything else,” Neslage said.
What does the Cauliflower Sandwich taste like?
I don’t generally like Chick-fil-A sandwiches because I personally detest chicken breast, but I ate every bite of that Cauliflower Sandwich. The flavors of the breading and marinade really came through. It didn’t need extra sauce.
I had been a little worried because the cauliflower is previously frozen, which can make it a little soggy, but it was perfectly pressure cooked with a nice crunch and hearty mouthfeel that didn’t weigh me down.
“A lot of the development timeline was like OK, how do we get it to not be like sweaty, mushy, stinky cauliflower, but also not like raw, dry, ‘I can’t even swallow this’ cauliflower?” Tracy acknowledged. “It was a fair amount of work.”
Is it vegetarian?
Chick-fil-A calls the Cauliflower Sandwich plant-forward, not vegetarian.
“This is made with cauliflower, pickles, bread, milk and eggs. If that works for your definition of vegetarian, awesome,” Neslage said. “But it is not isolated in our kitchens. We have chicken all day, every day, and that’s not going away, so we want to be very candid and open and honest with our customers.”
The company is meticulous about food safety, but there are no areas specifically reserved for vegetarian or vegan meal prep in its kitchens.
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Is it gluten-free?
Chick-fil-A does offer gluten-free buns, but this sandwich is not gluten-free because the cauliflower breading contains gluten.
Where can you buy it?
Starting Monday, the Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich will be available in Denver, Charleston, South Carolina, and the Greensboro-Triad area of North Carolina for a limited time, while supplies last.
Will it be available nationwide?
The Cauliflower Sandwich is currently in a testing phase. Feedback will determine whether it’s rolled out nationwide.
“We really want to make sure it’s the right thing for our customers, it’s the right thing for operators, it works well for our team members, it makes sense for the business,” Neslage told USA TODAY. If everything goes well and no changes are needed, she said it could be available nationally within six months to a year. “If we have to make some tweaks and changes, it takes a little big longer.”
How much does it cost?
Pricing varies by market location, but the starting price is $6.59.
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How long has this been in the works?
Chick-fil-A began developing the Cauliflower Sandwich in October 2018. Tracy knew he had something special right away, but it can take years before a concept is introduced to customers, if it makes it that far at all.
In this particular case, the chef said, “This is not something that was part of a product catalog that we pointed to and said, ‘Yep, do that. Sprinkle some Chick-fil-A magic dust on top of it and it’s ours now.’ ” He explained how they had to work with suppliers to grow and slice cauliflower to specific dimensions and also perfect the preparation process so it could be easily executed by team members in every restaurant layout. “We invented it from the ground up, pun fully intended,” he laughed.
Neslage noted it’s easier to test and roll out items like seasonal beverages more quickly because the infrastructure and similar processes are already in place, but this sandwich marks a whole new category for the company.
What was the last thing Chick-fil-A introduced?
Chick-fil-A is constantly exploring new menu items, but only a few make it to market.
Last year, the Autumn Spice Milkshake and Cloudberry Sunjoy debuted nationally while Chorizo Cheddar Egg Bites were tested in select markets. There hasn’t been a new entree introduced since the Grilled Spicy Deluxe sandwich in 2021.
Customers should note that not everything Chick-fil-A tests goes national. RIP, sweet potato fries.