It began, one imagines, as a simple question, posed conspiratorially around a gleaming boardroom conference table in an upper floor of AFC Enterprises headquarters in Sandy Springs, Ga.: Why settle for chicken fingers, when you could have an entire horrifying rheumatoid chicken hand that you grimly rip apart like the antagonist of some grisly fucking torture-porn movie?
Thusly was conceived the Rip'n Chick'n, the first and only mass-produced foodstuff that, should the need ever arise, could function as the business end of a sadly ineffective short-range grappling hook.
The cashier at your local Popeyes gives you a little huh, how 'bout that? smile when you order your Rip'n Chick'n, either because you are the first person to actually order a Rip'n Chick'n at that particular establishment, or because you are the first person to order a Rip'n Chick'n at that particular establishment who was not wearing a hospital gown and a thickly-wrapped head wound when doing so. Rip'n Chick'n is a ridiculous thing to say to anyone, particularly if, as a symptom of your vain and doomed sense of linguistic propriety, you unthinkingly honor those very deeply stupid and needless apostrophes. Rip'n Chick'n. Go ahead and say it. It is ridiculous. I'd like a Rip'n Chick'n, please. Somehow, it becomes marginally more natural-sounding if you swap out that please in favor of a vigorous motherfucker. I'd like a Rip'n Chick'n, motherfucker. That's better. I bet that's how you're supposed to say it. I bet they'll appreciate you doing it the right way.
The Chick'n you will be Rip'n turns out not to look very much like the Chick'n in the advertisements: Its fingers are thicker, even gouty; they vary more dramatically in both length and girth. Most distressingly, they splay at odd angles, some curling around each other, others jutting out, clearly dislocated at the knuckle. There seem to be seven of them, although it's difficult to tell in some instances if you're counting two separate fingers, or one that has been bifurcated. You could almost—almost—imagine that a seven-fingered circus freak ran afoul of his bookie. Way afoul. Or, you could imagine that you are holding a deep-fried alien facehugger.
Which, OK, sure. Complaining that your Rip'n Chick'n is less appetizing in appearance than the one you saw on TV is more than a little bit silly—Y'know, I really must say, when I ignited it, I really expected a much more pleasant-smelling dumpster fire—and anyway, if you were looking for a particularly photogenic foodstuff when you sauntered into your local Popeyes and uttered the, um, "words" Rip'n Chick'n, look, there's no nice way to put it, but you're a psychotic person. The Rip'n Chick'n's looks only matter (to the extent that anything related to a gimmicky octopoid fast-food chicken snack can be said to matter, which is to say, [throws smoke capsule at feet] [runs away]) in the context of how tasty the Rip'n Chick'n is to eat. Allow me to explain.
The Rip'n Chick'n, once you get down to the unsavory business of ripping its fingers apart, dunking them in the accompanying ranch dip, and eating them, is delicious. Wildly so. Deliriously so. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside and salty and buttery and exactly piquant enough to make you really, really fucking excited for the next bite. But, here's the thing: Ultimately, it tastes like—it tastes precisely like—Popeyes chicken. Because it is Popeyes chicken: marinated in all the same stuff, breaded in the same stuff, fried in the same stuff. Sawed from the same birds. This is not a complaint: Popeyes chicken is a very good thing to be. If boots were made of Popeyes chicken, you would eat at least twice as many boots as you already eat. Which is great news for the Rip'n Chick'n, even as it raises a disturbing question.
Who is the Rip'n Chick'n for? That is to say, since it tastes exactly like the other Popeyes chicken offerings, one might reasonably assume—and the advertisements suggest—that its selling point is not hey, here's this new thing that tastes different from and better than all of our other things!, but rather, hey, here's this new thing that tastes just like all our other things, only better because lookit, it's a profoundly unsettling polydactylic chicken-hand, just like you always wanted! Follow the implication there and see if it doesn't lead you to your nearest gun store. Is there some heretofore-untapped demographic of people out there who love the taste of good fried chicken, but just can't be persuaded to go out and buy some unless it's shaped like a miniature effigy of Cthulhu's head? What else don't we know about these people? How did Popeyes learn of their existence?
Generally speaking, a fast-food offering should leave you with a full stomach; the satisfaction of having transgressed mildly against your long-term wellness for the sake of short-term self-indulgence; and bombastic, nigh-crippling flatulence. It should not leave you with the lingering sense that the world is a darker, more mysterious place than you ever guessed, and that maybe you ought to pick up some batteries and canned goods on the way home, and also that your home could really benefit from the addition of a pike-lined moat.
Of course, there's an alternative to the notion that Popeyes developed the Rip'n Chick'n in response to discernible consumer demand for a chicken preparation that, if it suddenly took off skittering across your tabletop and launched itself through your glass window, would prompt you to shrug and say, "Well, that kinda makes sense." And that's that there is no consumer demand for the Rip'n Chick'n, but rather investor demand for new product lines, no matter how preposterous, and some desperate, sweaty-palmed R&D drone, in a moment of white-knuckle panic in a meeting with his many bosses, just blurted out, "Uh, how about, like, chicken fingers, but, like, attached? And you kinda rip 'em apart and dunk 'em in something?" And then they just slapped the dumbest goddamn name they could think of on it and sent it on out there, because, who gives a fuck? If their great rival in the fried chicken game can sell a goddamn "sandwich" made out of two pieces of chicken with a slab of bacon stuck between them, why even think things anymore? Why not just get a pinboard, cover it with cutout photos of random foodstuffs and animals and anthropomorphic shapes, and throw goddamn darts at it? A chicken hand! A chicken hammerhead shark! A box of fried chicken thighs that the checkout lady winds up and whips directly at your crotch! These fucking people will buy anything!
They're probably right. If it tasted good enough, you'd eat your own head. Rip'n Chick'n fhtagn.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Illustration by Devin Rochford.