No food is perfect, yet the masterpiece of molecule gastronomy well-known as chicken nugget is aggressively imperfect. This is through design. Say what you will about the McDonald’s quarter Pounder; the hamburger patty is do of nothing however USDA-inspected beef. The McNugget, by contrast, is one amalgamation of end 20 discrete ingredient — rib meat, chest meat, botanicals, chicken skin, sodium phosphates, autolyzed yeast extract, sodium acid pyrophosphate, safflower oil, dextrose, and also other oddities — that are mixed, cut, molded, and also fried in vegetables oil laced through the ominous-sounding (but innocuous) anti-foaming agent recognized as dimethylpolysiloxane.

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And yet, the McNugget is the much more delicious creation. Biting right into a quarter Pounder mimics the emotion of chomping down on one oil-soaked sponge. However dipping the engineered and also salted protein disc the is the McNugget right into a peel-away plastic-container filled through pure honey (and nothing else) is nearly a peerless fast-food experience. Till you try a much better version at Wendy’s.

I’ll take it a chicken nugget any day over a chicken tender. If the tender is more pure product, an ext Jonathan Waxman, the nugget is more food science, much more Wylie Dufresne, more manipulation — a polite method of saying an ext processed. It is cooking as transformation. The is an ext charcuterie 보다 steak (albeit more mystery meat 보다 artisanal sausage). The nugget is a food that many high-minded establishments (or weeknight cooks) shy away from. The nugget, with its multisyllabic emulsifiers and also stabilizers, is virtually exclusively the domain of quick food.

The nugget is a gateway drug, a young child’s unwitting indoctrination right into the corporate culinary industrial complex. Ns knew what a nugget was long prior to I was introduced to kale or capon. In fact, it is just one of the very first two dishes i remember eat on this planet (the other dish to be baked Peconic bay scallops, a dish the fits my life time narrative more elegantly).

The nugget is a mysterious MRE-style foodstuff the restaurants can serve, through minimal outrage, in the shape of a disc, star, fry, doughnut, and, in the situation of a Taco Bell items that’s being test-marketed in locations of the country with a lower thickness of permanent food writers, a nacho chip. It is right, a nacho chip made from chicken. Ns can’t wait to shot it.

A highly Accurate and Definitive perform of the Best Nugget Dipping Sauces*

1. Pure honey (McDonald"s): There"s nothing far better to reduced through the saltiness that a nugget.

2. Sweet heat (Popeyes): The hottest "sweet" sauce I"ve sampled at a fast-food outlet. Finishes with a gorgeously bitterness olive note.

3 (tie). Ranch (Popeyes): The creamiest and tangiest of the ranch dressings.

3 (tie). Ranch (Chick-Fil-A): probably a touch thicker 보다 Popeye"s ranch, with distinct garlic and onion overtones that recall the classic Doritos chip.

4. Nacho Cheese (White Castle): Thick, melty, nacho cheese; that would"ve ranked if there was a warmth element.

5. Tartar Sauce (Popeyes): Creamy white sauce with an assertive punch of dill.

6. Buffalo Sauce (Chick-Fil-A): much more acidic and also spicy 보다 the McDonald"s Buffalo sauce, and closer to the brand-new York initial that go on wings.

7. Mardi Gras Mustard (Popeye"s): The only quick food mustard sauce I recognize of that in reality tastes like mustard.

8. Sriracha (Wendy"s): little of an unwelcome sour keep in mind up front, but the heat becomes extreme as you proceed to dip.

*McDonald"s Sweet and Sour and Chick-Fil-A’s nugget sauce didn"t do the perform after that was figured out they weren"t good enough to recommend at all.

This is my fifth fast-food evaluation for — or sixth, if you count David Chang’s quick-service NYC point out Fuku. Ns cover these venues because that a basic reason: people eat in ~ them. Show up at a Wendy’s in new York in ~ 11:30 p.m. On a weeknight and you’ll wait in line. Having spent a little bit of time at various outposts of Popeyes, burger King, and elsewhere, I have the right to say there is no equivocation that you’ll encounter a much more diverse group there than you would at many of the restaurants we critics cover.

(And due to the fact that there’s occasionally talk about culinary establishments as neighborhood gathering places, it’s worth noting among the many reliable places for complimentary wi-fi and a warm meal under $10 after ~ midnight, when Shake Shack is closed, is most any type of late night McDonald’s in brand-new York.)

None that this is come gloss end the machinations of fast food, an sector that has actually historically payment its workers so poorly that brand-new York feel compelled to develop a separate, minimum wage for staffers in ~ White Castle, Wendy’s and elsewhere, currently collection at $12/hour. (Nationwide, the typical wage of a fast-food chef is around $9.50/hour, much less than $20,000/year.) It’s likewise an industry known because that dumping fat and sugar–laden fare, on the cheap, in communities that lack a variety of healthy options.

But a high-minded film reviewer have the right to keep his spirit while finding mankind in Furious 7 (or vacuity in The Avengers); a food critic is surely qualified of the very same balancing act while assessing the Hollywood the the cook world. If mine profession hopes to stay relevant to diners because that whom $20 represents dinner for two (rather 보다 a single cocktail), it would certainly be well served to offer advice top top not just ambitious local venues or jet-set location spots, but additionally the ubiquitous and accessible chains, locations where numerous Americans walk for dinner, leaving happy, and return for breakfast the next day.

So top top the topic of chicken nuggets:

The definitive list, ranked indigenous worst come best


9. White castle Chicken Pretzel Donut shaped Rings: A hybrid the three totally unrelated foodstuffs — or four, if you counting the nacho sauce that it’s combine with. Castle taste choose neither chicken no one pretzels, and while each ring is shaped prefer a doughnut, it’s no clear why flattening chicken parts into a circular form is an ext conducive come deliciousness than a nugget. The ring is predictably crunchy, however it’s also the just pretzel product I recognize of the lacks many maltiness and saltiness. That is unique awful. What’s worse: While smaller sized sizes space available, the default bespeak is 20 ring ($5), which defines the heart-stopping nutritional information you’re around to see: Calories: 1,760. Fat: 158g. Sodium: 2,020mg.


8. Citizens King standard Nuggets: No good. This is a disappointment, because some of my fondest fast-food chicken memories come native digging into a juicy burgess King chicken sandwich if wearing a golden paper crown. These aren’t nuggets you’d explain as having any form of compelling crunch, moisture, or texture; the flavor evokes a watered-down variation of the KFC summer sprouts mix. The nuggets smell prefer a mix that fries and wood chips; as soon as you eat them, they leave behind a dusty residue, together if you simply dredged her fingers with a carpenter’s workshop. Calories (six nuggets): 260. Fat: 16g. Sodium: 470mg.

Nick Solares
7. KFC Popcorn Nuggets: When I first tried this novelty in the 1990s, ns literally finished up with a crate of fried chicken “crust.” there was nearly no discernible meat. I currently cherish that memory, due to the fact that I prefer to think of it as an early encounter v the currently-in-vogue practice of offering repurposed food waste. Two years later, there’s an ext fowl in this perennial novelty, however the main attract of popcorn chicken no the chicken, but the popcorn — the spiced crust. The an easy way to obliterate her palate v the Colonel’s an enig blend of herbs and also spices — monochromatic onion powder, garlic powder, and also enough salt to send a racehorse right into AFib. After each bite, an eerie metallic flavor lingers in mine mouth. And true to form, part nuggets don’t appear to contain a modicum the fowl. My kidneys hurt afterward. Calories: 620. Fat: 39g. Sodium: 1,820mg.


6. White lock Chicken Donut Rings: The second-best nugget because that dipping after the McDonald’s version, thanks to its significant lack of spices, or fairly frankly, flavor. This creation isn’t nearly as crispy together the fast-food chain’s pretzel donut rings, yet are distinctly meatier and plumper. The right move here is to pair the rings v White Castle’s recommended side: warm nacho cheese sauce ($0.65), which to add a gorgeous wallop of, well, warm nacho cheesiness. Keep in mind that White Castle’s most significant beverage supplying at the moment is 2 cans the Monster power for $4, i m sorry is a an excellent deal if you gain knocking earlier a NyQuil-flavored beverage come overdose the caffeine. Calories: 530. Fat: 47g. Sodium: 610mg.


5. Burgess King Chicken Fries: Like a mini Slim Jim make of chicken, this is yes, really a gorgeous means to serve a nugget — even if it’s no a nugget, as it maximizes the proportion of crispy coating to MSG-laced meat. The bronzed exterior is spiked through onion, paprika, turmeric (!!!), and also a different application the monosodium glutamate (why not). The heat is gentle however persistent, favor a significant dose of white pepper. Castle paired through a concoction recognized only as “chicken fried food sauce,” i m sorry I intend is a beneficial name if you blackout drunk while piloting a Medevac helicopter and you need to figure out i beg your pardon of the eight sauces in her bag yes, really goes with the chicken fries. No matter, chicken fries are ideal enjoyed like regular fries, through nothing on them, together they’re fast-food perfection in their own right. calorie (nine fries): 280. Fat: 17g. Sodium: 850mg.

4. Popeyes Chicken Nuggets: A true popcorn nugget by texture; this is by much the crunchiest and juiciest specimen, with a gentle however noticeable cayenne kick on the finish. Just one issue: once I place my nose over the nuggets, the sensation that follows is akin come inhaling year-old potato chips that’ve been microwaved in plastic wrap. Ns thought about penalizing Popeyes because that this, but a well-respected food writer speak me that “smells choose home,” citing it together the chain’s signature scent. Alas, ns grew more accustomed to the bespoke odor during a second visit. This aren’t as seasoned together Popeyes’s traditional cajun blend, unfortch, but that can be corrected with the intensely spicy sweet warm dipping sauce. Calories: 230. Fat: 14g. Sodium: 350mg.

3. Chick-Fil-A Nuggets: What you’d suppose at a high college in a high-income zip code whose cafeteria adopted the simulacrum the healthiness. These aren’t so lot nuggets together they space knobs of irregularly cut breast meat v a light coating of almost crispy breadcrumbs — a true sheep in wolf’s clothing. They sports a nutty sweetness from the peanut oil fry and an wild salinity native over-seasoning. It’s all an extremely Shake ‘n Bake, which is to say all really average, though average is a compliment in the as whole junk food spectrum. calories (standard size): 260. Fat: 12g. Sodium: 990mg.

2. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets: therefore handsomely blonde, it’s together if you’re eat a golden lab. Ns tempted come say the breakable crunch evokes an excellent tempura, however one the the four nuggets in my order to be gnarled, practically as if it was partially chewed before frying. The structure is pure Goldilocks, not rather firm however not totally squishy, and also the odor is patent neutral; without any type of overtones that pepper, garlic, or spice. Over there is no aftertaste. This is there is no a doubt the vodka the the nugget world, a plain, occasionally too level conduit for various other flavors. Pros know that the ideal of those conduits is pure honey; the musky mead is good counterpoint to saltiness that the chicken. Calories (six nuggets): 280. Fat: 18g. Sodium: 540mg.

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1. (tie): Wendy’s Spicy and Non-Spicy Chicken Nuggets: These room America’s best chicken nuggets. (I must disclose this is the very first and only fast-food venue where I ever before got a full comp. Mine father and I were driving earlier from a wedding in Scranton around six years ago when we swung through Wendy’s because that some hot grub. The outlet to be closed, yet the drive-thru worker was sympathetic, therefore he tossed us about six nuggets, which to be hot and also juicy and delicious.)

The morsels weren’t any less compelling once I ordered lock in Midtown Manhattan critical week: exceedingly crunchy (like eat cereal) and nearly too warm to eat. The internal texture of both ranges are together soft as weisswurst, through a pleasantly braided exterior (and juicier interior) on the classic nugget. The spicy nugget assaults the diner with a level of heat that builds and stings prefer no other dish in the contemporary fast-food industry, also at Taco Bell. The cayenne sucker beat lasts because that a hard 30 seconds. It calls because that a good Riesling or an ice-cold beer. Calories (regular, six nuggets): 270. Fat: 19g. Sodium: 580mg. Calorie (spicy, 6 nuggets): 280. Fat: 17g. Sodium: 720mg.

Ryan Sutton is NY"s chef critic and also data lead. Nick Solares is NY"s restaurant editor.Editor: Erin DeJesus