Life

We Tested And Ranked Every Fast Food Nugget We Could Possibly Get Our Hands On

The world of fast food moves, well… fast, for lack of a better word. In March of this year, we ranked the 10 best chicken nuggets in fast food in an effort to separate the good from the bad. Now here we are, five months later, and that list is already woefully outdated. It might seem crazy to drop a best nuggets list two times in a single year, but there are new nuggets on the scene, and a few we missed the first time around, so we’ve expanded our original ranking from 10 to 16 entries (that’s more than 50% more nuggets!), making sure to hit up every nugget on the West Coast. (Thank god our chicken tenders ranking still stands the test of time.)

Clearly, we tried to be as thorough as possible. We included new chains that recently launched nuggets, included grilled options, and even hit other fried chicken anomalies like Burger King’s Chicken Fries in order to give a comprehensive picture of what’s out there and what’s worth eating. Because I’m based in California and COVID-19’s Delta Variant (which sounds a little like a soda that Taco Bell would make) has put all travel plans on hold, there are still some missing entries here — namely, White Castle’s Chicken Rings and Whataburger’s Whatachick’n Bites. We promise to add those in as soon as we get out to those chains.

For now, let’s rank what we’ve got!

16. Dairy Queen — Rotisserie-style Chicken Bites

Dairy Queen

Calories: 160

Nope, just nope. I can’t for the life of me figure out why the hell Dairy Queen thought that the fast food space was missing rotisserie chicken nuggets. DQ doesn’t even have fried chicken nuggets, just these. It’s bizarre. Boston Market, the kings of rotisserie, haven’t even dropped a rotisserie nugget.

Why not, you ask? Because literally, no one wants this.

No hate to rotisserie chicken, it’s great, but part of what makes it good is that the whole chicken is slow-cooked on a rotating spit creating a tender and juicy texture that effortlessly falls of the bone. There is no bone here and we doubt it was slow-cooked, so we’re not sure what makes it rotisserie at all and this chicken couldn’t be further from juicy.

It’s almost shockingly dry and the flavor is a bland mix of onion powder and salt with a slight hint of rosemary on the aftertaste. You couldn’t pay me to eat these again and I literally get paid to eat fast food. I’d rather have only Burger King (our original bottom pick) for the rest of my life.

The Bottom Line:

Run! You won’t find a worse nugget on this planet. These are agessively bad.

Find your nearest Dairy Queen here.

15. Burger King — Chicken Nuggets

Burger King

Calories: 482 (10 piece)

Welcome to your new spot in our ranking, Burger King. It’s not number one, but it’s also not the bottom! Something that I’ll never get over is the fact that $1.89 will buy you a 10 piece order of Burger King’s chicken nuggets. It sends alarm bells clanging in my head. What the hell is in these nuggets that they’re this cheap? [As our editor often says, “If you can hatch a chicken, raise a chicken, slaughter a chicken, shape a chicken into nugget-like objects, bread them, fry them, box them, bag them, and sell them with two sauces for this price and still turn a profit, a number of humans and animals are likely being mistreated along the way.”]

Well, according to the BK website: boneless chicken breast with rib meat, water (so far, so good), isolated oat product (I’ll look past it), potato starch, seasoning, salt, sodium phosphate… so, nothing too out of the ordinary compared to its chicken nugget brethren. Regardless, these aren’t good. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone because this is Burger King we’re talking about.

Here is what’s wrong with this entry: the meat has a strange wet and sweaty texture, that always comes out bad no matter how fresh you get them. Also, the outer shell never really crusts as much as you’d like them to in order to produce a pleasing audible crunch (a necessity in a good nugget).

They’re always just… slightly soggy. Or perhaps floppy. Or… sweaty, if you’d prefer that nomenclature.

The Bottom Line

Order the Chicken Fries instead!

Find your nearest Burger King here.

14. Arby’s — Premium Nuggets

Arby

Calories: 470

This year, Arby’s launched their new Premium Nuggets and I have to admit, I was pretty psyched to try them. Along with the Popeyes nuggets, these new nugs were behind my motivation to update this list so early. Arby’s is a seriously underrated fast food establishment. Yes, joking about it being bad is easy, especially with its whole “we’ve got the meats” slogan and stubborn stance against all things plant-based, but what other drive-thru is going to offer you a roast beef or French dip sandwich and actually be able to deliver those flavors?

Arby’s gives us variety in the fast food universe, and that’s what we need more of. What they don’t need to do is attempt fried chicken. These premium nuggets are dry and the batter is so crumbly that it’s almost powdery. On top of the poor texture, these are also horribly seasoned. They’re so bad I actually had to utilize a salt and pepper packet just to make them palatable — I can’t remember the last time I did that.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t be lured by your curiosity, Arby’s doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing when it comes to making chicken nuggets.

Find your nearest Arby’s here.

13. Chick-fil-A — Grilled Nuggets

Chick-fil-A

Calories: 130

If you absolutely insist on going the healthy route and ordering grilled nuggets over fried, these are your safest bet. My advice would be to ditch Chick-fil-A entirely and just head to El Pollo Loco, where you can get flame-grilled chicken that actually has the charred flavor of fire, unlike these — which only look like they’re charred.

Part of what makes Chick-fil-A’s nuggets so good (more on this later) is the delicious batter they’re breaded in, so these grilled nuggets take the worst part of the nugget — the chicken — and put it forward as the centerpiece. I’ll admit that they’re juicy and not nearly as dry as they look, but the overall flavor is just so bland and boring. You can’t get through an order without dipping them in sauce, and a good nugget doesn’t need a sauce to make it tasty — it’s supposed to use dipping sauce to enhance the experience. It’s just hard to love these in comparison to something deep-fried.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re gonna get grilled nuggets, get these I guess… but it doesn’t come anywhere close to being as good as its fried counterpart.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

12. Sonic — Jumbo Popcorn Chicken

Sonic

Calories: 490 (medium order)

Sonic’s Jumbo Popcorn Chicken is a significant step up from our last entry. The chicken isn’t nearly as dry and the batter is crunchy and keeps its crispiness after being dunked in sauce. The nugg features a strong pepper-forward flavor that also pairs well with just about every dipping sauce in the game. Like a good nugget should.

This chicken lives up to its name, too. These are indeed “jumbo bites” — popping a whole one in your mouth will be too much chicken to chew at one time, defeating the purpose of a nugget.

Still, if you’re at Sonic your money is better spent on some of their other sides, like the mozzarella sticks, chili cheese tots, or jalapeño poppers.

The Bottom Line:

Not bad, but easily one of Sonic’s weaker snack offerings.

Find your nearest Sonic here.

11. Carl’s Jr — Chicken Stars

Carl

Calories 270 (6 piece)

It seems almost rude to rank Carl’s Jr’s weird star-shaped Chicken nuggets higher than, well, anything. But unsettling shape aside, these things actually have a pretty good flavor. Yes, the chicken inside is spongey, with a webby appearance that is so off-putting we suggest you don’t look directly at it unless you want to instantly ruin your appetite, but they do have a great crispy outer coating and it’s fun to eat them one star point at a time. Am I the only one who does that?

The only weak point we find in these nuggets is that the shell gets harder the longer you wait. So if you order these, eat them quickly.

The Bottom Line

Chicken the way you’ve always wanted it — in the shape of a star. Really? Just me?

Find your nearest Carl’s Jr here.

10. Rally’s — Chicken Bites

Rally

Calories: 760 (half pound chicken bites box)

If you want chicken nuggets from Rally’s, you have to order an entire half-pound box, no exceptions. That doesn’t make this meal expensive, but it does make it excessive. In most cases, asking for a small order of nuggets is a great way to indulge and get an extra side to accompany your fries and burger. At Rally’s, the chicken bites are the meal.

Luckily (considering how many of them you’re stuck with), Rally’s chicken bites are pretty good. They have a crispy-almost-dusty-dry batter that soaks up sauce excellently and the white meat chicken inside is a considerable step up in terms of quality (especially compared to Carl’s Jr’s mystery meat). Sure, you can’t dip the former entry one star point at a time, but we can’t have everything, can we?

Unfortunately, by the time you’re done with the box, you’re going to be burnt out from these things. If chicken is going to be your whole meal at Rally’s, we suggest you opt for the Mother Cruncher chicken sandwich instead. If only so that you can say “Can I get a Mother Cruncher, please?”

The Bottom Line

Good, but not good enough to make it through an entire half-pound order.

Find your nearest Rally’s here.

9. Burger King — Chicken Fries

Burger King

Calories: 429

I’ve always thought these things were weird, they’re sort of halfway between a chicken strip and a nugget, and they have this odd overly peppered flavor that lingers on your mouth for way longer than you want it to. Seriously, a full soda couldn’t even erase this taste from my mouth. But as strange as Burger King’s Chicken Fries are, I have to admit, they’re leagues better than BK’s nuggies.

The meat doesn’t have that weird sweaty texture that Burger King’s nuggets do and the batter stays nice and crispy, adding a good bit of crunch to every bite. They pretty much act as an improvement in every way to the OG nugs.

The Bottom Line:

Burger King’s best chicken product. Yes, that’s right, this is better than those horrible sandwiches they launched a couple of months back. Mostly because there is less actual chicken to eat.

Find your nearest Burger King here.

8. Wendy’s — Chicken Nuggets (non-spicy)

Wendy

Calories: 222

We probably wouldn’t think twice about whether or not these nuggets are good if their spicy counterpart didn’t exist. Without that spicy exterior, Wendy’s non-spicy nuggets don’t have the addicting lingering heat that helps to mask the weird spongey texture of this chicken meat.

The batter is a slight improvement, it’s lighter than the spicy version and doesn’t have that same jagged texture, and overall the meat is a little juicer and less dry. But the overall flavor just isn’t nearly as good. I don’t believe that spicy always trumps non-spicy, but in this case, the experience isn’t even close.

The Bottom Line:

Order the spicy nuggets or grab a chicken sandwich over these. Easily Wendy’s lowest-ranked chicken product.

Find your nearest Wendy’s here.

7. Jack in the Box — Chicken Nuggets

Jack in the Box

Calories: 238 (5 piece)

When Jack in the Box first dropped their version of the chicken nugget in 2012, I thought to myself, “Wow, this tastes just like Jack in the Box chicken tenders but in a different shape!” But preferring the form factor of the tender (who doesn’t?) I never ordered them again. Then, sometime last year, Jack in the Box quietly changed the recipe of their chicken tenders and now I hate them. This means I’ve since turned to the Jack in the Box nugget to satisfy my JiB chicken needs (I eat a lot of Jack in the Box, perhaps because I write about weed).

I really like the batter here, it’s not as crispy as I’d like it to be but it has a great flavor, with heavy notes of black pepper and subtle undertones of garlic powder, plus a little onion powder that lingers nicely on the palate and cuts through the sauce. Still, I can’t help but think about how delicious those tenders used to be.

I wish we could have them back. *Sigh.*

The Bottom Line

These taste great paired with Jack’s BBQ sauce or Buttermilk Ranch and even better doused in Frank’s Red Hot.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

6. Popeyes — Chicken Nuggets

Popeyes

Calories: 225

That batter here is fantastic, it’s well seasoned with the perfect mix of garlic powder, salt, and pepper, it’s crunchy and provides a nice sensory experience while eating it that makes you even hungrier, and the chicken inside is considerably moister than the lower-ranked nuggets. But that’s where all our praise ends.

What holds these nuggets so far back is the awful, and I must reiterate for emphasis, awful texture that the actual meat inside has. It’s cubey, and chunky, providing a straight-up off-putting mouthfeel that totally ruins the experience. The batter is classic Popeyes though, and that’s good enough to rank it higher than much of the competition.

The Bottom Line

Yes, these are much better than some of the lower-ranked nuggets on this list, but they aren’t good. Order any other chicken product from Popeyes, like spicy or mild tenders, but don’t take a chance on the nuggets. They have one of the weirdest textures of all time. Don’t take this review’s word for it, hit my full review to get a comprehensive understanding of why these miss the mark.

Find your nearest Popeyes here.

5. KFC — Popcorn Nuggets

KFC

Calories: 690

KFC’s Popcorn Nuggets — wait a minute, since when were these things called “Popcorn Nuggets?” Is this a Berenstain Bears Mandela thing? I did the research and no, it’s not. For whatever reason KFC rebranded its Popcorn Chicken as Popcorn Nuggets in 2015. Why? Are nuggets easier to sell than regular chicken? KFC has since changed its formula from its original ’90s popcorn recipe. The pieces these days are thicker, giving you a meatier bite of white meat chicken in KFC’s extra crispy style batter.

The meat feels pretty high quality here, too — at least as far as fast-food fried chicken goes. It looks, smells, and tastes like chicken, and really, what more can you ask for in a chicken nugget (the bar isn’t set too high)? Still, if you’re at KFC, you should probably just get the Original Recipe fried chicken and call it a day.

The Bottom Line

A strong and solid mid-tier nugget, but if KFC offered it in Original Recipe it would be a significantly better experience.

Find your nearest KFC here.

4. Shake Shack — Chick ’n Bites

Shake Shack

Calories: 300

I used to think Shack Shack’s Chick ‘n Bites were severely underrated, but after having them on a good handful of occasions, I have to bump them down a slot or two. One thing I love about these nuggets is that they. are noticeably hand-breaded — which we can’t say for any other nugget on this list. They’re also incredibly crispy, with a cornstarch-based batter that is extra crunchy but keeps the chicken inside moist and flavorful and made with antibiotic-free whole muscle chicken, sous-vide cooked! I love that on paper. But in actuality, if they aren’t piping hot, they’re soggy and the batter falls apart easily.

Inside you’ll find easily some of the juiciest, highest quality chicken nuggets in the fast-food universe. But once the outer batter gets weirdly wet and they just fall apart, and for that, I have to rank them lower than the classic McNugget.

The Bottom Line

Delicious but forgettable. That says something about these nuggets we can’t quite articulate, but it’s proof they don’t deserve the number one spot.

Find your nearest Shake Shack here.

3. McDonald’s — Chicken McNuggets

McDonald

Calories: 420 (10 piece)

The Chicken McNugget is arguably why chicken nuggets are even a thing in the fast food space. The McDonald’s McNugget is every kid’s favorite fast food treat (grown-ass millennials are all over them, too — thanks to Pokemon and BTS, of all things) and if this ranking was built purely off of nostalgia, these babies would certainly land in the number one spot.

But we didn’t rank these nuggets based on nostalgia. And even though McNugget has come a long way since its questionable beginnings (these nuggets used to be made with a blend of chicken meats, rather than white breast meat), they’re still not quite to the quality deserving of a position higher than this. Don’t get us wrong, when McNuggets are good, they’re great! A fresh McNugget is hot enough that you can’t really zero in on the weird texture of the spongey chicken meat inside and features a crispy batter that is still pretty much unbeatable. It’s airy, flakey, absorbs sauce perfectly, and is layered on in perfect ratio to the chicken inside.

Unfortunately, McDonald’s is pretty hit or miss. When you get a bad McNugget the experience is bad enough to turn you completely off from chicken nuggets for a good grip of time. The texture of a stale nugget is akin to packing material, it’s almost flavorless and will reintroduce its bland aftertaste every time you burp for the rest of the day.

The Bottom Line

Ordering a Chicken McNugget is a gamble, but when they’re good, they’re great.

Find your nearest McDonald’s here.

2. Wendy’s — Spicy Nuggets

Wendy

Calories: 470 (10 piece)

It took a viral tweet from Chance the Rapper to convince Wendy’s to bring back the beloved Spicy Chicken Nugget in 2019 and since then it looks this spicy treat has earned back its permanent spot on the Wendy’s menu. As we alluded to in our breakdown of Wendy’s regular nugget, these are such an improvement over their non-spicy counterparts that it makes Wendy’s other nugget seem like a straight-up waste of money. What makes the spicy nugget so great is that they actually deliver on the spice with strong cayenne and black pepper flavors that will have you reaching for a swig of soda to help tamp down that lingering heat. That sensation is exactly why these nuggets are so damn addicting.

The chicken inside isn’t great. It has that same unappealing spongey-and-overly-processed texture as Wendy’s other entry and they’re considerably drier than the OG version, which is why Wendy’s is smart enough to let you pick up an order of just four. Four nuggets won’t give you enough time to bother yourself over thinking about what’s actually inside of them and how dry they are, you’ll be too busy dealing with that heat.

The Bottom Line

The spiciest nugget in the game. So spicy that it masks the nugg’s lesser qualities in the best way.

Find your nearest Wendy’s here.

1. Chick-fil-A — Nuggets

Chick fil A

Calories: 250 (8 piece)

Trust me, I hate heaping any praise on Chick-fil-A. I really do. But I have to give credit where credit is due: these are great. The chicken nugget is Chick-fil-A’s best contribution to the fast-food space. Made from boneless chicken breast marinated in pickle brine and seasoned with a mix of black pepper, salt, paprika, a dash of chili powder and… we swear we can taste lingering notes of sugar in there, Chick-fil-A’s nuggets pack a great flavor with a crispy hand-breaded batter that locks in the chicken’s juiciness.

What sets Chick-fil-A’s nuggets in another class against the competition — aside from actually marinating it — is the brand’s use of peanut oil to fry their chicken, which keeps it crispy and golden brown thanks to the oil’s high smoke point but leaves it juicy and perfectly cooked without drying out. If they were a bit crispier or had a thicker batter they’d be even better, but from a pure flavor standpoint, it’s hard to beat Chick-fil-A’s nuggets.

The Bottom Line

The best chicken nuggets in the entire fast-food universe and Chick-fil-A’s greatest menu item.

Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.

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