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I’m a fast food chicken nugget expert — here are the best, ranked by taste

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We say they’re for the kids, but fast food chicken nuggets not so secretly remain a favorite well into adulthood for many Americans.

And why not? These bite-sized bundles of fun are not only well suited to our grab-and-go, hit-the-drive-thru lifestyle, they also pack a protein punch that fills you up like a lot of other fast food can’t.

Best of all, consumers now have choices galore, with nearly every fast-food chain in the country offering some version of the traditional treat.

An order of nuggets at Shake Shack. How did they stand up against the rest? Read on. Shake Shack

Not surprising, considering 5% of us eat chicken nuggets every day, and 30% of us choose them for dinner once a month, according to Statista.

The pros at Eat This, Not That put seven of the biggest restaurant brands to the test — ranking them in order of deliciousness. See which nuggs got the ultimate nod below.

7. Popeyes

Popeyes

On paper, they sound great — hand battered white meat chicken breast, breaded in a buttermilk coating. Popeyes has great sauces, too. They even arrive looking extra enticing, taster Amanda Mactas noted, “super crispy and pefectly fried.” But that’s where the fun stopped.

“Personally, I prefer less breading to really allow the chicken itself to stand out. You can taste the oil and grease on these, which I also don’t love,” Mactas noted.

“However, the chicken inside is delicious. You can tell it’s real chicken and it’s wonderfully tender and juicy. Breading aside, the chicken itself was probably the best cooked of the bunch. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much seasoning on these nuggets and they could really benefit from some pepper or something similar to give them a tiny kick of extra flavor.”

Ulitmately, it was a no from the pro.

“These nuggets were crumbly and messy to eat because the breading fell off when you ate them. Afterward, I could really feel these nuggets just sitting heavy in my stomach. I probably wouldn’t order these again,” she said.

6. Burger King

Not to be confused with the chain’s famous (infamous?) chicken fries, the order showed up dark and overcooked, the taster reported.

“The texture here is what really ruined these nuggets for me The flavor was good but there was really no crunch whatsoever when biting into these nuggets, she said.

“The texture made me think that they weren’t made fresh, but instead sat under a heat lamp for a while. I wouldn’t say they were dry, but they certainly weren’t juicy. Even though I enjoyed the flavor of these, the lack of any crunch made the texture disappointing and hard to overlook.”

5. Shake Shack

At $6.99 for six pieces, one is forgiven for needing a lot from these nuggs. But the bougie burger chain simply doesn’t deliver, sending out a “crispy and greasy” order that looked too oily just by sight.

“As I guessed, these bites were greasy, but thankfully not as greasy as Popeyes. They were certainly crispy and a bit messier than some of the more standard-sized nuggets on this list,” Mactas said.

“It tasted as though the chicken was seasoned in addition to the breading, which was a smart choice. Sadly, however, these were some of the driest bites of the bunch—they could have benefited from a sauce. That, coupled with how greasy they were, made me rank these lower than I was expecting to going into the tasting.”

4. KFC

KFC

You know they’ll taste pretty good, since they get the same hand-breaded, Colonel’s original recipe seasoning treatment as the regular chicken, but how do these 100% white meat bites turn out in the end?

First of all, they’re “rather small,” according to Maclas, compared to some of the competition. The trademark breading is also scant and erratic. Not off to a great start. What’s the verdict?

“Despite their small size, these nuggets had great flavor. There was a lot of seasoning and spices in this mix, but they weren’t spicy at all,” the taster said.

“Like I expected after seeing these, they were not too crispy. In fact, these nuggets might have been a bit soggy in their container because there wasn’t any crunch to them which was a bit disappointing. The meat inside, though, was juicy and tasty, but not quite as juicy as Popeyes’ nuggets. These were also a bit greasy, but not overwhelmingly so,” she said.

3. McDonald’s

Burger King

These are the chicken nuggets everyone knows from childhood; what they may not know is how much effort has gone into making them better for you — sans preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, these are also 100% white meat, and have been since 2003.

The nostalgic taster appreciated the uniform, golden brown appearance, and how each nugget seemed to be perfectly crisp.

“I don’t know if it’s because I grew up with these nuggets, or it’s because they’re really that good, but I just can’t turn down the version at McDonald’s,” she said.

“These nuggets are crispy on the outside and both juicy and tender on the inside. The exterior gives just the right amount of crispness without being too bready or overwhelming. Plus, I love that these don’t taste overly salted. Do these taste particularly chickeny? No. But those classic flavors of childhood really make me enjoy them.”

2. Wendy’s

Wendys

Also using 100% white meat, these breaded bites are served with a choice of six different sauces. The taster’s order came out uniform in size, crunchy looking, and golden brown to the point where they appeared to be a little overcooked. False alarm, it turned out.

“There was a great outer layer of crispiness and breading on these, but not so much as to make the ratio off,” Maclas said.

“These didn’t crumble and weren’t very greasy, which is always a plus in my book. There was a lot of pepper and spice, giving these nuggets a bit of a zesty kick. To me, they seemed like a more flavorful version of the McDonald’s nuggets,” she admitted.

1. Chick-fil-A

chick-fil-a

Now, here’s an order of nuggets worth cackling about. Bite-sized and made of boneless breasts, the nuggets at this fast-growing chain are pressure-cooked in 100% peanut oil. They’re not cheap, either, with the NYC-based taster paying $9.19 for eight pieces cooked to the “epitome of golden brown.”

“These small bites are cooked to perfection with tender chicken inside and a crisp exterior,” Maclas said of the winning nuggets.

“Although they aren’t as crispy as the runners-up, the flavor here more than makes up for it. There’s a slight tanginess to these chicken bites and the saltiness brings out all of the flavors of the seasoning. I love that the meat wasn’t overwhelmed by the breading, making these nuggets a balanced bite. This won’t be the last time I make a pit stop at Chick-fil-A,” she said.


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