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RESTAURANTS | DRIVE-BY DINING

For those who prefer it shaken, not dipped

Arby's brings back the shaker for its popcorn chicken.

July 26, 2007|Dog Davis | Special to The Times

MCDONALD'S pioneered fast-food shaker technology in 1999 with the McSalad Shaker, a salad-in-a-cup with a lid in which simple shaking effectively distributed dressing to all parts of the lettuce while allowing the customer to pretend to play a maraca. Sadly, salad eaters, by and large, lack a sense of whimsy, and the shaker met its maker.

Arby's is attempting to bring the fast-food shaker into the 21st century with the introduction of the Popcorn Chicken Shaker. It already serves popcorn chicken with dipping sauces, but now you can combine them in a shaker cup and shake 'em up to your heart's delight. At least you can for the next few weeks, when this limited-time offer ends and you're forced back to dipping the chicken into the sauce the way they did in the pre-shaker era.

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Arby's Popcorn Chicken Shaker

Taste***

On the chicken nugget scale, Arby's popcorn chicken ranks ahead of nuggets at Burger King and McDonald's, but not quite to the level of Wendy's and KFC. It falls under Arby's "Chicken Naturals" banner, meaning the all-white-meat chicken is processed without water or preservatives, though, like most nuggets, it arrives at the store pre-breaded and frozen. The Buffalo sauce has a nice hint of cheddar and blue cheese, and the barbecue sauce has a subtle smokiness.

Diet Watch**

Arby's website lists the shaker at 584 calories by combining the calories found in a large order of popcorn chicken (531) plus the calories in the Buffalo sauce (10) and the calories of the barbecue sauce (44). Though the math is off by one calorie, we won't quibble. However, we don't recommend adding two sauces to a single shaker because you could suffer the consequences of condiment overdose. (No one likes a soggy nugget.)

Portability**

Popcorn chicken has always made less-than-stellar car food because dipping sauces are messy. The shaker, which fits in a cup holder, eliminates some of the mess, but first you have to pour the sauce inside the shaker, which is difficult in traffic. Then, after you shake it and remove the lid, you get sauce all over your fingers unless you had the forethought to ask for a fork at the drive-through.

Hype-o-meter***

The TV spot features NASCAR's Matt Kenseth, who drives for Arby's racing team. Though he lacks charisma, we root for him because Arby's gives out free curly fries every time he wins. Anyway, the ad's successful in spite of him, because the shaker's a cute marketing gimmick. Still, the next time we go to a restaurant and order something from a shaker, it's going to be strained into a cocktail glass and garnished with olives.

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*Ratings are on a scale of one (lowest) to four (best).

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