Fast Food Fried Chicken Buckets Have Gone Through An Oily Evolution

The first fast-food chicken bucket was developed by KFC in 1957 when the owner of a KFC franchise bought 500 paper buckets from a traveling salesman. About a decade later, an enterprising KFC cook — none other than Wendy's Dave Thomas — persuaded the colonel to dress it up with red and white stripes, and also to add a revolving giant bucket-shaped sign outside the restaurant. In 1969 the bucket featured the friendly face of Colonel Sanders alongside the company's "finger lickin' good" tagline and its traditional red-and-white stripes. Since the early days, the buckets have become a cultural icon, and they've undergone quite a few design changes along the way. KFC's bucket looked much the same in the carefree 1970s, but the colonel's face was drawn in great detail. By the 1980s, the Colonel had taken on a noble, black-and-white portrayal (even featuring on mini buckets for gravy and mashed potato). In the 1990s the buckets seemed far more modern, showcasing the KFC initials and red stripes resembling thin strips of sunlight.

KFC's buckets have received special festive makeovers since 1966, and the notion of serving chicken in a bucket has been adopted by other chicken chains. Jollibee's, surely coincidentally, also features red-and-white shaded buckets, but turns standard chicken into sweet and saucy combos. Harold's Chicken, meanwhile, revitalizes the pleasure of enormous chicken bucket portions, boasting up to 24 pieces. On the other hand, Popeyes won't even entertain chicken buckets in the U.S. because of KFC's influence — but uses them in China and the Philippines.

Chicken buckets are cultural icons

Even though chicken buckets are very practical for carrying larger quantities of food and a great way to share a meal, they have also become culturally significant. In Japan, many people share a KFC bucket at Christmas rather than cooking a meal, and during a shortage of chicken in U.K. restaurants in 2018, KFC buckets were sold on eBay to fans desperate for their fried food fix. In the U.S., vintage KFC buckets are being sold on eBay as collectibles. 

KFC has really embraced the popularity of chicken buckets, changing them from a mere food container into a publicity symbol. Its corporate website features the outline of a bucket as its logo, and showcases used containers being worn as hats by Australian cricket fans and turned into light-up stories for children in South Africa. They even offer a t-shirt printed with a drawing of a bargain bucket, which sells for an incredible $31.95.