By: Kevin Alexander
Although I've long considered chicken nuggets a side dish to order while you figure out what you really want to get, there is no doubt that they are an essential part of the fast-food experience. And, as such, it was only a matter of time before I tried to figure out which ones were the best.
After doing some initial research, I decided to judge the nuggets based on three tastes: once by themselves (this was weighted the highest, of course), and then once dipped in BBQ and once dipped in honey mustard. The reason for adding in the condiment judging was essentially because chicken nuggets are often thought of merely as a vessel for condiments (much like fries), and -- as such -- the quality of those condiments should be evaluated alongside. The reason for choosing BBQ and honey mustard was because they were available at all the restaurants and are most typical. This entire taste-test was done over the course of two days in October in and around San Francisco, CA.
10. A&W Hand-Breaded Chicken Tenders
The build: Three 100% all-white meat chicken tenders, which come with a choice of "signature dipping sauces" -- ranch, BBQ, honey mustard, and "spicy papa". I'm abstaining from making Latin Biggie Smalls jokes right here.
Wait time: 5min 31sec
Tasting notes: Few caveats here, before we get into the taste: first, they don't technically have nuggets. These things are tenders, and, as such, may get short shrift. And also, I wasn't originally going to include them, but they were right next door to the McDonald's I was going to, and, man, it JUST SEEMED LIKE FATE, OKAY?
But fate did not smile upon these things when I tasted them. There was just too much breading, they lacked punch or spice, and they tasted more like nuggets you might find in my high school cafeteria or a Greek pizza place in suburban Boston. The BBQ sauce was thick and overpoweringly smoky, sort of like KC's Masterpiece, and the honey mustard's faint creamy mustard flavor faded away almost mid-chew. Stick to the cheese curds and root beer floats.
9. Carl's Jr. Chicken Stars
The build: Crispy-breaded, star-shaped pressed chicken served with sweet & bold BBQ, buttermilk ranch, or honey mustard dipping sauce.
Wait time: 3min 14sec
Tasting notes: These things taste like childhood. And by childhood, I mean days when Mom was super busy and just microwaved a bunch of generic, over-salted frozen nuggets. Except they're crispy, and nobody's yelling at me to be quiet for just one goddamned minute so she can have some peace. The star shape simply makes me wish they were shaped like dinosaurs. Dinosaurs taste way better than stars.
8. Sonic Jumbo Popcorn Chicken
The build: All-white meat breaded in the popcorn style (also a spicy option), with buttermilk ranch, honey mustard, or hickory BBQ sauce.
Wait time: 2min 28sec
Tasting notes: Popcorn chicken is the best because, unlike those other stingy fast-food chains, you get a ton of them. Seriously, there must have been nearly a thousand (Editor's note: this is an estimate.) little breaded popcorn nuggets. The downside to this is that they're mostly breading. You're eating little bread hunks that sometimes have chicken inside. Also, the honey mustard kind of just tasted like yellow... sauce? On the plus side, they have a great black pepper snap in the finish, and the hickory BBQ is bold and tangy. If only you didn't feel like you were playing chicken roulette every time you bit into one.
7. Burger King Chicken Nuggets
The build: Made with premium white meat and coated in a homestyle seasoned breading. Choice of honey mustard, barbecue, Buffalo, or ranch.
Wait time: 3min 21sec
Tasting notes: Though the breading is fine and almost tastes like the breading on a thick-cut onion ring, the crunch was lacking. Of the actual nuggets in the taste-test, these felt the lightest -- the most insubstantial in terms of weight -- which made me feel like I could eat 30 of them relatively easily, which is alarming. The BBQ sauce came in its own container that was not prepackaged, which excited me, and it had a pepper bite at the end, which also excited me. I'M EASILY EXCITABLE, OKAY?!? The honey mustard, however, lacked any real flavor or tang.
6. Jack in the Box Chicken Nuggets
The build: "Crispy white meat chicken nuggets". Choice of barbecue, honey mustard, Frank's RedHot Buffalo, sweet & sour, or teriyaki.
Wait time: 2min 14sec
Tasting notes: Well isn't this just a pleasant surprise? Jack in the Box tends to finish in the bottom-half of these tastings, as they have positioned themselves as the food of people who want to eat a lot at 2am for various reasons that may not be medicinal, and those people tend to just want weird foods. But these nuggets really kind of did it for me. They have a crispy, almost hash brown-esque breading, and a subtle heat, which is also the tagline of the Miami basketball team's marketing and publicity strategy this year.
Of course, the chicken inside looked like shredded coconut, and that was somewhat off-putting, the BBQ sauce seemed more like ketchup with onion and garlic added, and the honey mustard was a brown color that made me nervous, and almost tasted like almonds, and isn't it when you taste almonds you know you're poisoned or something...? BUT STILL, let's not put a damper on an underdog moving its way up the ladder, okay?!!?
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