8 KFC Menu Items From The 1980s You Probably Forgot About

kfc bag box interior store
kfc bag box interior store - Summer_Wind/Shutterstock

By the end of the 1970s, Kentucky Fried Chicken had seen a dip in sales, a slip in quality, a falling out with Colonel Sanders, and its parent company Heublein Inc. sharpen its focus elsewhere — on a Mexican chain called Zantigo. As the following decade began, KFC was looking to right the ship. "You are only as good as you are today," then-CEO Michael A. Miles told the New York Times in 1980. "Tomorrow you have to start over." With a renewed focus on its core menu items, KFC also sought to think outside the chicken bucket and on its future with new menu items it hoped customers would think were just as "finger lickin' good" — one of many famous food and drinks slogans.

The new items KFC launched in the '80s included early risers like biscuit sandwiches, lunchtime fare like chicken sliders, chicken nuggets to compete with McDonald's own, non-fried chicken options, and a revamped take on fries. Sadly Colonel Sanders didn't live to see or try any of these items, having passed in 1980 at the ripe old age of 90. Perhaps you were also unable to try them, but even if you did, let's travel back in time to that magical decade and reminisce about those KFC menu items from the 1980s you probably forgot about.

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Biscuit Sandwiches

two KFC breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches
two KFC breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches - KFC/LAX

Biscuits have been a Kentucky Fried Chicken staple since the early days of the franchise. By the 1980s, some locations offered breakfast — and of course included biscuit items to help customers rise and shine. There were options like biscuits and gravy and hearty biscuit sandwiches featuring whole hog sausage, cured country ham, and steak battered in milk and eggs

In 1982, KFC filled a biscuit with something more familiar — chicken. The simply named Chicken-in-a-Biscuit was advertised to customers with the tagline, "You just can't resist it!" Apparently they could, as it didn't last much longer on menus. Two years later, some locations offered up Creamed Chicken in a Biscuit, which had creamed chicken, peas, and carrots sitting on top of a buttermilk biscuit. In 2019, the Biscuit Slider was introduced abroad. While breakfast is no longer an option at nationwide KFC's, it is served at a few airport locations. If you happen to catch an early flight out of LAX, there are several biscuit sandwiches available, including a classic bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit.

Chicken Littles

KFC's Chicken Littles sign
KFC's Chicken Littles sign - Facebook

Kentucky Fried Chicken set its sights on making a square meal for lunchtime eaters with its Chicken Littles mini-sandwiches. Each one featured a 1-ounce chicken patty housed in a boxy roll bun with a dollop of mayo and cost only $.39. The line was given a trial run and tested alongside shoestring fries in the Louisville and Dayton, Ohio markets in early 1986. Richard P. Mayer, then-chairman of Kentucky Fried Chicken Corp., told the Citizens' Voice the following year, "It's a new product category — a low-priced, great tasting chicken sandwich that gives value-conscious consumers a choice between chicken and red meat."

Chicken Littles went nationwide by the end of August 1987. Initial returns were positive, with 117.5 million of them sold in just under two months' time. These chicken sliders hung around for at least a decade before they were phased out as KFC was cutting into the bone business. David Neal, president of the KFC franchise association at the time, told the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1997, "There wasn't any profit in Chicken Littles. Basically, for a 39-cent sandwich, franchisees had to work so hard to make any money, it wasn't worth it."

Many fans missed the item, including Jake Gyllenhaal, and called for its return. In 2012, KFC revived the Chicken Little, but this iteration wasn't exactly the same — it included a crispy chicken strip, pickle slices, mayo, and was housed on an oblong bun. It's still on the menu, but it's more rounded these days.

Chicken Filet Burger

KFC's Chicken Burger
KFC's Chicken Burger - KFC

Kentucky Fried Chicken's Chicken Littles didn't exactly lure in as many customers as the company had hoped, so it tried a different route with a larger sandwich. Hoping to also get a jump on McDonald's relaunch of the McChicken, KFC tested the Chicken Filet Burger in Norfolk, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee in 1988.

KFC had released chicken sandwiches before, and the "burger" wasn't exactly new either, as there was a chicken sandwich at U.K. locations as early as 1985. The U.S. Chicken Filet Burger was an all-breast chicken filet, seasoned with the original KFC recipe, topped with lettuce and mayonnaise, and housed in a sesame seed bun. There were options to add cheese and/or bacon. By 1989, the Chicken Filet Burger's availability expanded, and KFC was gloating that it had won blind taste tests versus the McChicken in Louisville. In a print ad, the company questioned how McDonald's even made its sandwich and suggested that burger makers were perhaps not best suited for working in the realm of chicken.

The Chicken Filet Burger hung around the U.S. until at least 1991, but KFC eventually abandoned the moniker for future sandwiches. However, the name lives on at global locations. Australia has a super extensive selection of burgers including some where the filets are the bun, the U.K. offers up "tower" options, the Netherlands serves Veggie Burgers, and Italy has one named after the founder with its Colonel's Burger.

Country Fried Steak

Country Fried Steak deal
Country Fried Steak deal - KFC

Although KFC's emphasis has always been on chicken, the term "Kentucky Fried" has lent itself quite well to other down-home fried items the chain has introduced, like fried gizzards and livers. Another such item is Country Fried Steak, which may have been tested on menus as far back as 1982. Starting in 1984, KFC's Country Fried Steak became more widely available, and the dish continued to be introduced over the next four years in other parts of the country.

KFC's take on Country Fried Steak started with a cut of 100% grade A beef, which was breaded in-house with the Colonel's secret herbs and recipe mix and then fried. It was mostly served as a "Complete Dinner" plate, which included thick milk gravy, a side of mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw, and a buttermilk biscuit. There was even a sandwich version of Country Fried Steak, which was topped with lettuce and barbecue sauce and housed in a sesame seed bun. While the availability of KFC's Country Fried Steak has waned in the ensuing decades, it still can be found today at certain locations as a once-a-week plated meal special.

Kentucky Fries

KFC's Kentucky Fries wedges
KFC's Kentucky Fries wedges - Robson90/Shutterstock

French Fries have long been a staple side item accompanying Colonel Sanders' famous fried chicken, even when it was first franchised in the 1950s. In 1981, Kentucky Fried Chicken literally drove a wedge into its fry recipe to come up with something entirely new called Kentucky Fries. It started with slicing a whole potato into larger wedges while retaining the potato's skin. They were then fried up, which kept the exterior crispy but left the interior more potato-y. An order netted 268 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of fat, 2 milligrams of cholesterol, 81 milligrams of sodium, and 5 grams of protein.

The name Kentucky Fries was eventually dropped, and by 2003, KFC's trademark on that name was canceled altogether. However, the item remained on the menu as Potato Wedges. While the chain briefly flirted with Funnel Cake Fries in 2014, six years later, the wedges were replaced by Secret Recipe Fries.

Kentucky Nuggets

KFC's Kentucky Nuggets
KFC's Kentucky Nuggets - KFC/YouTube

While Kentucky Fried Chicken was long a leader in all things chicken in the fast food wars, it somehow found itself playing from behind in the chicken nugget game after McDonald's launched McNuggets in 1983. A year later, it began testing its own chicken nuggets in five Louisville locations, before expanding to eight other markets later that summer, and then nationwide soon after. Again, the company took aim at "hamburger places" in its ads and suggested they didn't know what they were doing and were just "winging it."

Kentucky Nuggets were made from boneless chicken, seasoned in the not-so-secret blend of KFC's 11 herbs and spices, and fried up. They were available in very familiar sizes of 6, 9, or 20 pieces, and came with a choice of dipping sauces: barbecue, sweet and sour, horseradish, or honey. KFC Nuggets hung around for quite awhile, still listed on menus as late as 2004. In 2022, the chain tested a newer take, Kentucky Fried Chicken Nuggets, which were permanently added to the menu a year later. Their success led to another evolution — Saucy Nuggets.

Oven-Roasted Chicken And Char-Grilled Chicken

man eating KFC grilled chicken
man eating KFC grilled chicken - KFC/YouTube

For a company that prided itself on all things "fried," both in name and in its food, KFC had a change of heart in the tail end of the '80s. In 1989, the company's then-president John Cranor III told Reuters, "Chicken consumption is greater than beef and yet consumers are increasingly concerned about fried foods. We have an opportunity to add to our consumer appeal by adding some non-fried chicken items."

In 1987, KFC started testing Oven-Roasted Chicken at locations in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando, Boise, Idado, and Louisville, where its headquarters is located. Upstart rivals like El Pollo Asada took notice of the massive chain's move — the company's vice president of marketing at the time, Donn Seidholz, told The Arizona Republic, "We could indeed be in the middle of a chicken war." The Oven-Roasted Chicken was peppery, had a golden skin, and was sold as leg-thigh quarters, breast-wing quarters, and halves. Eventually, KFC expanded Oven-Roasted Chicken's availability to all markets, even as far as Guam, and hung around menus until at least 1998.

In 1989, KFC also tested a line of Char-Grilled Chicken in regions like Louisville and Las Vegas. It didn't seem to gain much traction beyond that (although Signature Grilled Chicken has appeared on menus in Singapore as recently as 2018). In 2004, KFC gave oven-roasted chicken another go, introducing them in strips and the Twister Wrap form. The latter was relaunched in 2024, but in lieu of healthier fare, it includes a beautifully breaded chicken tender within.

Sensational Salads

KFC's garden salad
KFC's garden salad - KFC

In 1988, in a bid to offer healthier options, Kentucky Fried Chicken introduced a trio of Sensational Salads — the Large Garden Salad, Chicken Topper, and Small Side Salad, retailing respectively at $1.69, $2.49, and $.99. The Large Garden Salad featured fresh lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, purple cabbage, and carrots. The Chicken Topper was essentially the Large Garden Salad topped with pieces of KFC's signature seasoned white chicken meat and grated American cheese, and the Small Side Salad a lesser version of the large one. Each came with a choice of dressing: Country French, 1,000 Island, Blue Cheese, Buttermilk, or Vinaigrette.

It appears that these salads had a limited run in the year of their release, and in select markets like Oklahoma and Indiana. Salads have come and gone on KFC's menu ever since, but these days in the U.S., the side item closest to it is its coleslaw.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.