Until recently, the chicken nugget biz was a two-player game. McDonald's ruled the roost with their all-powerful tempura style, while Wendy's occupied a smaller cult market with a more "breadcrumby" version. Both have their merits and their die-hard loyalists, but now two new competitors have entered the ring: Burger King and Jack in the Box. The former can't seem to ever copycat anything properly, while the latter is adding yet another item to their curiously diverse lineup.
Upon seeing that both the King and the Box were releasing their own nuggets, I sensed something must have been afoot. Chicken nuggets have been around and violently successful for ages, so why hadn't these guys copied this idea already? Did some McDonald's intern forget to renew the nugget patent for another 20 years? Could the world even handle the fast-food fracas that would ensue with two new nuggets entering the market? A rigorous Google search proved fruitless on the patent front, so it was time to hit the streets. Determined to find out if the apocalypse was truly nigh, I ventured out to try them all ... in one day.
Price: $2.80 for six ($0.47 per nugget)
Appearance: Unchanged for decades, you've got the familiar circle, diamond and boot shapes. Once upon a time, McDonald's used dark meat for the boots, and they were fantastic. These days, it's all white meat thanks to Morgan Spurlock's ode to the obvious, Supersize Me. The outer batter is a tempura shell, with tough yet smooth ridges running the length of the nugget.
Taste: Crunchy outside with warm chicken on the inside. The formula's been the same since the dawn of time. For a fast food nugget (huge qualifier), they're above average. Moderately salty, but never overpowering, these nuggets stand pretty admirably on their own, but pair well with a dipping sauce too.
Price: $1.61 for six ($0.27 per nugget)
Appearance: Wendy's has the standard boot and circle, but mixes in a heart shape every now and then, because they care. The outer texture resembles actual breadcrumbs as opposed to a molten batter.
Taste: The best of them all. There's something great about the texture and saltiness of the Wendy's nugget that puts it over the top. Ignore the fact that there's a giant hole running through the one in the photo above, this one's definitely the one to go with. You can dip if you want, but these ones don't beg for it like some of the others.
Price: $3.13 for 10 ($0.31 per nugget)
Appearance: All boot, all the time. Burger King's nugget scientists have engineered this nugget to look exactly like the McDonald's version.
Taste: Burger King's going to have to find a bigger plot of land to stack up their giant heap of failures. While these nuggets do their best impression of McDonald's on the outside, the taste is not even close. A slightly rubbery crust yields to an even more rubbery inside. The taste is nonexistent, which would explain why they offer 10 thousand different sauces in which to dip the vapid ingots. A swim through a tiny tub of Buffalo did precious little to help the subpar nugget from falling completely flat.
Jack in the Box
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Price: $2.71 for 10 ($0.27 per nugget)
Appearance: Boots and diamonds rule the box in Jack's rendition. The nuggets appear to be a little smaller than all the other competitors, while the breading on the nuggets bears an uncanny resemblance to KFC's Original Recipe in both look and feel.
Taste: Perhaps it was brilliant powers of suggestion, but these nuggets actually tasted somewhat similar to the Colonel's secret flavor profile. More on the chewy side, the nuggets lacked the bite of Wendy's and McDonald's, but for a rookie effort these were pretty decent in addition to being a solid value. Bonus points to Jack in the Box for having a fireplace in the dining room, so if you want to impress that special somebody but not look like you're trying too hard, then you're set.
Four fast food titans, bored with slugging it out in the burger arena, have now migrated to the tiny nugget world. Wendy's, Jack in the Box and McDonald's (in that order top to bottom) stand tall, while Burger King flashes its rather spare attempt with wild ineptitude. I think the lesson we can all take away from this study, however, is that it is very possible to completely overthink the chicken nugget and very unwise to chow down on 32 of them in one day.