The Best Major Fast-Food Chicken Nuggets, Ranked
Chicken nuggets are a beautiful thing. Small, compact, and bursting with juicy flavor, these little crispy gems are the backbone of any good fast-food restaurant, the key to Usain Bolt's completely insane Olympic record. Burgers come and go, but a nugget is a nugget is a nugget, through and through. Now, which chain rules the roost?
We Thrillist staffers take our fast food very seriously. So, naturally, we decided to pit the three bigs -- Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s -- against each other in a cut-throat showdown. It left us yearning for backseat Happy Meals and late-night munchie runs. Our illustrious National Food & Drink editor, Carrie; Tyler, a project manager over on the tech team; and yours truly each judged the nugs in terms of flavor, crunch, juiciness, and finish with 10 points each for a total possible score of 30/30 in each category (120 overall). We also kept it blind to make sure we weren’t bringing any deep-seated brand loyalties to the table. And by the end of it, we came to a consensus. Three nuggets may have entered the room, but only one emerged victorious.
3. Burger King
To put it in the gentlest terms possible, BK’s nugs were less than desirable. While they smelled fine at first, they tasted like they came straight from the freezer aisle, sort of bland and weirdly acidic at the same time. The worst part, though, was the texture -- simultaneously mushy and dry, like soggy white bread at the bottom of a lunch bag. Would not recommend.
Tyler: I just dipped it in ranch and it made me feel horrible. You’ll probably want to eat this one with BBQ sauce, just so you can mask the flavor completely.
Tyler: I don't even get the impression that this was ever crispy, like I don't think it suffered from being in the bag or anything.
Carrie: I am not enjoying this anymore.
Carrie: It feels like, foreign to the mouth. Like it doesn't belong in there. This just doesn't feel like what I understand juicy to mean.
Tyler: It's just grease on grease on water on bread.
Meredith: I feel like if I were a nugget, I’d be embarrassed.
Overall Score: 19/120
With its utterly distinctive taste, McDonald’s hit upon a sweet spot for all of us. From the french fry scent to the sourdough-like aftertaste to the soft, juicy, white meat and the signature long lasting oily finish, every bite of those boot-shaped McNuggets were pure nostalgia. It’s just too bad nostalgia wasn’t a part of our rating system.
Meredith: Oh man, nothing tastes like that. Nothing else has ever tasted like that.
Carrie: This was what I wanted. It's really gross, but it's like, the nugget I dream about. These are like scratching an itch.
Tyler: I think this one did suffer from travel, because these are usually way crispier.
Meredith: It's not a bad level of crunch -- it's not as much as I would want, but I don't think it's doing a poor job.
Carrie: Very juicy. Might be the juiciest.
Meredith: It is surprisingly juicy. A nice surprise. The last one was oily -- in reality it was dry, it was just covered in oil, like a trick.
Meredith: The thing about the finish -- I knew it was going to happen, but these always coat my mouth in a greasy film, and I really don't like that.
Tyler: I ate another of the first batch while we were sitting here and I still taste the third one.
Carrie: Yeah, it's greasy -- there's no question about that. But still love it.
Overall Score: 72
Wendy’s was the all-around favorite, drawing high marks from even the most resolute McDonald’s devotees in the room (cough, Carrie, cough). They were indulgently salty, the definition of crispy, warm in the center, and left us feeling, strangely, like humans and not neglected grease traps.
Carrie: Wow, it’s like it’s made from an actual chicken breast. It’s not really the chicken nugget of my youth. Like, you don't immediately feel guilt. It tastes like food.
Tyler: It’s maybe a little spicy? And super salty.
Carrie: Mmm. Mmm hmm.
Tyler: I think it's the crumbs on the outside that does it -- they add the crunch, instead of it being the whole membrane... is that the word?
Meredith: Sure, yes. The membrane itself is nice and tender. A tender membrane.
Tyler: Hmm, I don't know if it was super juicy.
Meredith: There was more breading than actual chicken, which kind of counts against the juice factor.
Tyler: It was straight up salt, so I like that.
Carrie: I’m with you. And I want more.
Overall Score: 90.5/120
The jury has spoken and Wendy’s is the clear winner, beating old Micky D’s by nearly 20 points. Dave, you evil genius, you came, you crunched, and you crushed the nugget game. Now, for our next taste test... where’s the beef?
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