It was a good day when the school cafeteria provided chicken nuggets. Now that you’re older, you have to deal with the drawbacks of adulthood (bills, work responsibilities, an acute awareness of your own mortality). The one bright side, though, is that you can make any day Chicken Nugget Day.
There has never been a time when chicken nuggets were more popular (or more inventive in the kitchen) than they are today. We visited more than a dozen of the top restaurants in the nation that provide the simple, delicious chicken bites you know and love, to help you select which drive-thru to pull through next. We evaluated them based on factors such as how juicy the chicken was, how unique the recipes were, and how tasty they were altogether.
These are the top ones in the United States.
1. Nuggets on the grill from Chick-fil-A
We can’t have these chicken nuggets on the menu if they’re oily, slimy, and unappetizing. Chick-fil-A is obviously playing us for fools in a way reminiscent to the plot of The Producers. For the simple reason that nothing else would necessitate their existence.
2. Chicken Nuggets for the Barbecue
You should skip the chicken nuggets at Cook Out. The breading has good seasoning, but that’s about all I can say in its favour. The flesh is mushy, and this serves as a nice reminder that fast food chicken nuggets aren’t exactly cooked with the freshest chicken. The nuggets are doomed no matter which of the six sauces you pick (Cook Out Sauce, BBQ, Honey Mustard, Polynesian, Ranch, or Buffalo).
3. Dairy Queen, Rotisserie Chicken Bites
It would be awesome if behind the counter at DQ there was a rotisserie with little chicken nuggets whirling around on it, but alas, wishes are not reality. Although the bits’ size has led some to make similarities to Chick-fil-A, the parallels end there. The good news is that even though there is no breading on these chicken bites, they are still very juicy. However, they veer too much toward the soggy side of the juicy-soggy spectrum. One mouthful may consist entirely of gristle, while another may taste like it was soaked in a vat of frying oil for hours before being served. Despite DQ’s ingenious marketing for its “rotisserie chicken bite,” you’ll find yourself pining for a more traditional breaded nugget.
4. Served at Sonic’s Drive-In: Chicken Popcorn in Giant Size
These popcorn nuggets are better described as “cardboard chicken nothings.” The flesh within the nugget is dry and lacklustre, but it doesn’t have the gristly texture of a cheap nugget. The abundance of black pepper spice in the breading prevents it from tasting bland. The next time you drive up to a Sonic, treat yourself to a burger and a frosty slush, blast, or shake. Ignore the weed.
5. Wendy’s Spicy Nuggets
Wendy’s seems to have forgotten about the nugget component of the “spicy nugget” and instead concentrated on the spice. Although the nugget lives up to its promise of being spicy (and the heat lingers for a while after you’ve finished eating), and most of the pieces are crisp, the whole is disappointing. It’s quite lean, yet it’s dry and full of gristle. Its sole redeeming attribute is the heat it produces. It would be more pleasurable to lick the spice off a Wendy’s Crispy Nugget than to eat this overcooked piece of meat.
6. Chicken Rings,White Castle Menu
White Castle gets major props for innovating a ring-shaped chicken nugget out of the standard nugget design, even if the execution leaves much to be desired. Ours looked like discs made of chicken and had a hole punched in the centre. We were curious about the significance of the ring form before we dug in and tried one of these nuggets, which is unusual for conventional nuggets. But after taking that first mouthful, everything started to make sense. We aren’t very good at math, but we think it has to do with surface area. Greater breaded surface, and hence more crispiness, may be achieved by going with a flat ring form with a circular punch out in the centre. Though the outside is delightfully crunchy, the chicken within is dry, flat, and flavourless, making it impossible to fulfil a yearning for chicken nuggets.
7. Carl’s Jr., The Chicken Superstars
Have you ever considered eating a starfish that washed up on the shore? Neither of us does, but this chicken nugget in the form of a star is considerably better. Even if the stars aren’t very juicy (and Carl’s should really think about adding some kind of flavour), the chicken-to-breading ratio is fine, the breading is crisp on each nugget, and there’s a certain satisfaction to be had in slowly chewing one. This is the nugget for you if you are mainly a visual eater. One of the chain’s enormous burgers may be a better choice if you’re starving.
8. Chicken Bites, Checkers
Chicken tenders are sold by the half pound (with fries), which is fantastic since their size and crispiness make them perfect for snacking. You’ll have a mountain of bite-sized vehicles for the BBQ, Honey Mustard, Ranch, and Frank’s RedHot Buffalo sauces that come on the side, and the breading will hold up nicely in the cardboard container in which they’re stored. Many of them, like many fast food chicken pieces, have excessive breading and few discernible chunks of chicken. There wasn’t always a lot of chicken in them, and the ones that did tend to be dry and gristly, necessitating ever-increasing amounts of sauce. Serve them some Frank’s Buffalo sauce. I hope you brought it, because you’re going to need it.
9. Nuggets from Burger King
It’s a bit of a paradox to argue that a chicken nugget has the flavour of real chicken. Indeed, don’t all chicken nuggets have a consistent chicken flavour? No, that’s not the case at all. The breading in many fast food nuggets is salty and deep fried, and there may even be a tinge of black pepper. On the other hand, chicken is out. For that reason, this piece of information from BK is like a breeze. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it. The pieces are crispy enough, and there is more chicken here than in skinnier nuggets elsewhere, but that’s about it. However, this item is higher on the list because, quite simply, the nugget provides greater chicken tastes. This fast food nugget is a standout among the others since it has a particularly strong chicken flavour.
10. Whataburger’s Whatachick’n Bites
Don’t be fooled by the lack of an apostrophe in the title of this gem. Despite seeming like a plant-based chicken alternative in grammar, they are the closest thing to the genuine deal as chicken as you’ll get at any fast food restaurant. There won’t be any of that pink slime, hyper-processed, similarly shaped melancholy here to serve as vehicles for dipping sauce. Instead, they’re like Mini Me versions of the popular Whatahick’n Strips. Available in six- and nine-piece boxes, they’re hot and juicy on the inside, audibly crunchy and well-battered on the outside, and excellent entirely on their own merit. But for us, naked nuggets require a saucy companion and you’ll find 10 different sauces to choose from, including hot, black-peppery gravy. Order them as a meal and you’ll even get two triangles of buttery Texas toast to dip in that sauce between bites or provide the foundation for an impromptu DIY chicken sandwich project.
11. KFC: Popcorn Nuggets
We all know the world-famous chicken chain loves to kid around, as evidenced by its commercials and its Twitter account. So it should be no surprise that an order of KFC’s popcorn chicken is housed in a bright red, movie popcorn-esque box. Things get even better from there. The breading surrounding these nugs is exemplary—a 20 out of ten. Some nuggets have so little chicken in them that it’s become a morsel of fried, crispy bread. You will not care. And while the chicken isn’t particularly juicy (and there is some gristle in each box), overall you get a full meal-sized amount of nuggets that pair great with a side of mashed potatoes or its Finger Lickin’ Good sauce. Colonel Sanders would be proud.
12. Wendy’s: Crispy Chicken Nuggets
Unlike the chain’s Spicy Nuggets, its Crispy Chicken Nuggets are worthy of having a cult following. They’re much thicker nuggets that pack plenty of chicken into each one. The best nuggets have mastered the perfect chicken-to-breading ratio, and Wendy’s has solved this eternal riddle. The black pepper seasoning is noticeably delicious, and adds a subtle kick. Maybe one day the brand will offer a half spicy and half crispy nugget deal, letting you experience both spicy heat from one and superior chicken from the other.
13. Jack in the Box: Chicken Nuggets
The glorious nugget was invented in the ‘60s, with McDonald’s popularizing them in the ‘80s. And yet, Facebook existed eight years before Jack in the Box added chicken nuggets to the menu. The chain has been around since the ‘50s. Considering how delicious these suckers are, it’s shocking it didn’t happen sooner. The white meat nuggets appear so small it seems unlikely there’d be much chicken in there. But there’s plenty of chicken in each bite, and almost no residual gristle, along with a delicious breading that’s been well-seasoned with black pepper. The nugget is so crisp, and the chicken is so juicy, you won’t even need a sauce—though the chain does have Frank’s RedHot. Added bonus: You can snag an order of nuggets even during breakfast hours. If you think eating nuggets for breakfast is weird, take a trip to your local Chick-fil-A for one of those transcendent Chicken Minis.
14. McDonald’s: Chicken McNuggets
It tastes like your childhood, and this nugget doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. (If you thought these were made with “pink slime,” you’re wrong.) It doesn’t have to change. It’s a McNugget: hot and crispy, with a unique tempura breading. No, it’s not the juiciest chicken around, and it should be illegal to eat it without dipping it in honey mustard first, but it’s a menu item that’s stood the test of time. It was the first popular nugget in fast food. It represents American ingenuity, convenience, and loads of flavor, all for a couple bucks. In a world where the status quo changes on a dime, the McNugget is always there. It’s still fantastic. And its enduring popularity says something about its quality.
15. Chick-fil-A: Nuggets
Let’s put that unpleasantness with the whole “grilled nuggets” thing behind us and focus on what Chick-fil-A does best: breaded chicken nuggets. Why are these so good? Is it the MSG in every bite? Is it because it’s pressure cooked? The hand-breading? The high quality chicken that’s practically gristle-free? You probably know the answer: it’s all of these things.
Each bite is perfectly juicy without being oily. The breading is uneven, and in some spots on the nugget, there’s barely any—a stark contrast to the uniform breading in almost every other fast food nugget. This should be a ding against the Chick-fil-A nugget, but it’s not. If there’s not a ton of breading in one spot, that’s just dandy because you’re going to get a mouthful of crispy, delicious chicken. It doesn’t even need sauce (though there are solid options).
16. Popeyes: Nuggets
Popeyes is relatively new to the fast food chicken nugget scene, having only just launched this menu offering in summer of 2021. At the time, the chain boasted that the nuggets are made in the same way as the chicken on its sensational fried chicken sandwich, instantly setting extremely high expectations for itself. Turns out the hype is real. These are some of the bets chicken nuggets you can get right now.
Part of why we love them so much is that unique, signature Popeyes fried chicken flavor that’s fried into each one. The seasonings are there. You can detect the buttermilk in the breading. The chicken itself is tender, though not particularly juicy, like a lot of Popeyes chicken tenders we’ve eaten over the years. But, wow. That flavor. If you’re craving a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, but want a little less food for one reason or another, these nuggets will do the job. Our only wish is that they weren’t so greasy. Then they’d be absolutely perfect.
17. Arby’s: Premium Chicken Nuggets
Usually, brands slap the word on “premium” on products that are merely above average just to squeeze a little more money out of you. That’s not the case with Arby’s Premium Chicken Nuggets. They’re the real deal. In fact, they’re the best chicken nuggets in all of fast food right now, according to us at least.
The curly fries purveyor absolutely nails the chicken here. The meat—something Arby’s has a little experience with—is tender and probably as juicy as you can possibly make it in such small pieces. Then again, these nuggets aren’t exactly small. They remind us more of stubby chicken tenders than anything, and that’s a good thing. And unlike most nuggets we’ve tried, Arby’s keeps the overall amount of breading in check. providing just enough for the necessary crispy and crunch in each bite. You simply won’t find any nuggets that are mostly breading here. You’re getting mostly chicken, which is something other chains should aspire to offer in their nuggets. It’s weird that we even have to say that, but here we are.
Rethink your go-to stacked roast beef sandwich order, because Arby’s has set the standard for truly delicious chicken nuggets.