We Tried McDonald's Spicy McNuggets to See How They Stack up Against Wendy's

Choose your fighter.

Edited -- Courtesy of Wendy's and McDonald's
Edited -- Courtesy of Wendy's and McDonald's

The fried chicken sandwich is having another moment now that chains like KFC, McDonald's, and Church's Chicken are finally catching up to Popeyes. Big, beautiful fried chicken sandwiches with thick-cut pickles and that perfect sauce dribble are taking over our feeds again, but that doesn't mean we should abandon the classics. Let's not forget the pure magic of a perfect chicken nugget.

This is especially important now that McDonald's—the purveyor of Chicken McNuggets since 1983—is again serving its new Spicy Chicken McNuggets and Mighty HotSauce after first adding them to the menu in late 2020. Of course, they aren't the only fast food nuggets that pack a kick. Wendy's Spicy Nuggets are a sensation in their own right, which presents a question: Which spicy nuggets are better?

We put the fast food rivals to the test in a head-to-head matchup. Who's the GOAT? Which nugs have the greatest heat? What about breading-to-meat ratio? We took it upon ourselves to answer all your burning spicy nugget questions.

Courtesy of McDonald's

Okay, what's the deal with McDonald's Spicy McNuggets? 

McDonald's spicy take on its McNuggets returned to menus nationwide on February 1 after a brief hiatus. But much like the nuggets' initial debut last year, this is a limited run and they'll eventually leave the menu again. That's pretty standard for fast food menu items, of course. Wendy's have similarly come and gone before settling on the menu in recent years.

The key thing to know about Spicy McNuggets, though, is that McDonald's introduced them with secret weapon: Mighty Hot Sauce. The sauce is sweet, garlicky, and full of genuine heat. Considering Wendy's doesn't offer a sauce specifically made to complement its spicy nuggets, this is a key differentiator to keep in mind. 

The Overall Nugget

You can easily tell the two nuggets apart. McDonald's has a more obvious crispiness and that recognizable McNugget look while Wendy's has a deeper golden hue and visible black pepper seasoning. And a first bite proves that they're exactly as they look. McDonald's has a thick, crunchy breading that's superior to its competitor, but the spice level is lacking—the heat only arrives as an aftertaste. The Wendy's nugget is the opposite: While it doesn't match the crispiness of the Spicy McNugget, it does send a real tingle across your tastebuds. It's a noticeable bite, though not too intense.

The Sauce

As we mentioned before, Wendy's Spicy Nuggets don't come with any sort of specialty sauce. You can, of course, request a side of ranch or ketchup or whatever condiment you prefer for dunking. McDonald's, on the other hand, has Mighty Hot Sauce, and this is what ultimately bumps the golden arches up the leader board.

Spicy McNuggets might be lacking in heat, but Mighty Sauce fixes that problem with crushed red and cayenne peppers and savory garlic flavor with a nice hint of sweetness. McDonald's nailed this pairing, which leaves us wondering why Wendy's hasn't gone the extra mile to create a sauce that does its nuggets justice. Sauces are important. 

The Chicken

A good nugget—spicy or not—requires quality, flavorful, tender chicken. McDonald's has come a long way on that front over the years. You'll find the exact same white meat, antibiotic-free chicken as classic McNuggets. The juicy chicken interior and the crispy breading exterior create a delightful contrast. The Wendy's nuggets don't achieve this because they're not quite as crispy, though the chicken itself is certainly juicy and flavorful—on par with McDonald's.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

So, which spicy nugget is the best? 

Wendy's has all but dominated the spicy chicken nuggets arena for years now, so it was only a matter of time before a formidable newcomer arrived on the scene to steal its thunder. With the superior crispiness of McDonald's chicken and the eater's ability to customize the heat level with the accompanying Mighty Hot Sauce, McDonald's Spicy McNuggets have done exactly that. To be clear, Wendy's Spicy Nuggets are still great and we commend for pigtailed fast food chain for its delicious contributions to chicken nuggets world. McDonald's simply takes the spicy nugget experience up a notch.

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.