I went to six fast-food chains in pursuit of this perfect chicken nugget. The competitors were: Shake Shack, Chick-fil-A, KFC, Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King. All prices were what I paid in the New York City location I visited.
SHAKE SHACK — 6 PC CHICK'N BITES, $4.99 — I don't come to Shake Shack because it's a good value, but opening up this box of meager morsels was disappointing. After tax, they were practically a dollar each.
The batter and breadcrumbs were very crispy, and the chicken was tender and juicy.
But they were way too salty. I had to dip them in sweet honey mustard in order to balance them out.
I also noticed that they had a slight kick to them. Overall, though, I was disappointed at the quality and quantity for the price.
CHICK-FIL-A — 8 PC CHICK-FIL-A NUGGETS, $5.09 — I have yet to be especially impressed by any one item at Chick-fil-A. Yes, its tables have fresh flowers, but its food is just OK.
These were slightly bigger and more generous than Shake Shack's nuggets, but they were coated in just breadcrumbs, no batter.
They weren't quite as crispy as Shake Shack's nuggets. The breading felt secondary, almost like the nuggets had been grilled then coated in carbs. They weren't that juicy, either.
But despite the lackluster texture, these had a solid, robust flavor that capitalized on all the savory charms of chicken.
KFC — POPCORN NUGGETS, $5.89 — These are more like popcorn chicken than the other brands' nuggets. They're also only sold in one size: large.
Even though the quantity was large, the nuggets themselves were tiny, tiny, tiny.
They were coated in a salty and near-impenetrable layer of batter crust.
The chicken inside was tough, dry, and completely tasteless. I reached for more honey mustard.
WENDY'S — 10 PC CHICKEN NUGGETS, $4.09 —When I think of Wendy's I think of beef, not chicken.
They were coated in a combination of batter and breadcrumbs that made for a delightfully crispy outer shell.
The chicken was juicy and soft. It was still processed but tasted like real white meat.
These had the exact texture that chicken nuggets should have, and they were balanced and mild without being flavorless.
MCDONALD'S — 10 PC MCNUGGETS, $5.99 — These are the nuggets I think of when I think of chicken nuggets.
They come in four shapes: bone, bell, ball, and boot. They're more processed than they let on...
Although they're nice and crispy on the outside, the chicken is dry, bland, and tastes pretty processed.
They're a consistent vehicle for sauce, but don't have any flavor of their own to offer.
BURGER KING — 10 PC CHICKEN NUGGETS, $4.59 — Burger King's Chicken Fries are arguably more famous than their nuggets, but both have the same adorable cartoon chicken on their packaging.
At first glance, these looked like a slightly dryer, more beige version of the McNugget.
That's exactly what they were. These were also unbelievably stale and dry. After finishing my first nugget, I had no desire to pick up another one.
The award for best nuggets goes the spectacular specimens at Wendy's. They had an enticing texture and full flavor while still being perfectly dippable. Crispy, juicy, and balanced, these were better than their competition in every way. They were also the best value for money, making them an easy choice for nugget fans.