Food & Drink

Fast Food Review: Chicken McNugget McMimickry



I remember the days when Burger King used to mock McDonald’s and their Chicken McNuggets(TM?), introducing their competing chicken tenders by going on about how they weren’t “shaped” pieces, a statement which was, at best, deceptive. Because somehow those tenders ended up all being pretty much the same shape. What I think they meant was that it wasn’t all ground up and compressed.

“Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby” was the tagline (paraphrased from Coke’s tagline, somewhat), and they even mocked McD’s attempt to turn McNuggets into faux Chinese food (a brilliantly awful move, objectively speaking, and one they’d likely never do today for the same reasons that the Red Dawn remake doesn’t have Chinese villains; but it seemed cool to kids at the time).

(Even then, I knew calling sweet & sour and hot mustard “all new” sauces was a big fat lie)

Time tells the tale – nobody really does “tenders” any more, because we as a society decided a while back that we liked “strips” better, mainly because strips tended to be bigger, and this is America dammit. But times are a changin’ again, and now the nugget is back. It’s taken Burger King like three decades, but they’ve finally understood that in this particular category, imitation beats innovation. Just anecdotally, I’ve noticed that even three-year-olds know how to say “chicken nuggets,” but I’ve never heard a single one say “strips” or “tenders.”

When McDonald’s switched their McNuggets to “all white meat,” did you miss the greasy, dark-meat composite versions? I did. I’m not saying BK’s are from the dark side of the bird, not completely anyway, but they bring back the greasy, smooshed-together chunks in batter sensation that old-school Chicken McNuggets used to have. Oh, and that whole thing mocking McNuggets for going Chinese? One of the new sauces BK has is called “Kung Pao.” Or, as my palate knows it, hoisin. Beyond that, there’s a “roast jalapeno barbecue” which tastes like regular barbecue with some heat added. It’s not going to satisfy spice fiends, but as a gateway drug for kids, it could work. Then there’s also “zesty,” the onion-ring sauce that tastes to my tongue like Thousand Island meets horseradish. Plus all the usual options: buffalo, ranch, non-jalapeno barbecue, etc. Be forewarned that the jalapeno barbecue is in limited quantities; at lunchtime yesterday, I apparently got their last one, because, they say, everyone prefers the regular version. Everyone is wrong.


But as Burger King steps up, Jack in the Box continues their downward slide. I’ve been annoyed at JITB ever since they introduced “Seasoned While It Cooks” to all their burgers – translation being “More fuckin’ salt added to this sumbitch than you can motherfuckin’ handle, BEEYATCH!”, which killed my adoration of the Ultimate Cheeseburger. Jack still does the best jalapeno poppers of almost any restaurant, fast food or otherwise, but their new chicken nuggets? McMediocre…at best.

The first misstep is breading instead of batter. This makes for more crunch, less flavor. The bigger misstep is the processed chicken blend, a consistent kind of pasty thing. It does not beat “greasy lumps compressed together.” You’d think most things could. Stick to the grilled chicken, Jack. The pita sandwich is still your best and most unique spin on bird breast.

Also, bust out some new sauces if you want to step to the King, let alone the clown.

But maybe I’m unduly swayed – my Burger King just got in one of those Coke machines that has five flavors of every Coke product, including Mello Yello Zero, which I did not know existed. Peach Mello Yello? You had me at Mello.