Every fast food chicken nugget ranked worst to best

What's better than a good chicken nugget? Sometimes you get a craving and nothing will keeping you from having them — except the fast food line. Cornell professor Robert Baker invented the nugget in 1963, but it was McDonald's that made them insanely popular with the addition of the chicken McNugget to their 1983 menu. But truly, which are the best? How can you even tell? It's not like you're going to run out and purchase every nugget possible and figure out which tickles your tastebuds with the most… um nuggetness, are you? No, that's what Mashed is for. Five volunteers sat down for the buffet to end all buffets — here is every chicken nugget, ranked. You're welcome.

Here's the rules

We can't just go blindly into a nugget ranking contest without some parameters, so here's the criteria as to what qualifies as a "chicken nugget" and what doesn't. The restaurant has to be a quick service restaurant. As much as I love Steak 'n Shake, there's nothing really fast about them — and despite the fact they have a drive thru, let's be honest, if you're using it for anything other than a milkshake you're just asking for a 15 minute wait. Also, only nation-wide establishments were used. That eliminates popular regional chains like Krystal or White Castle.  

That also means regional spots — even those that are great at chicken like Zaxby's or Raising Cane's are verboten. This is strictly places that a reasonable person would go to if they had a hankering for chicken. That also means two national chains aren't on the list: Checkers/ Rally's and Carl's Jr./Hardees were both purposely left out because let's face it, they're burger places — you're not heading there for chicken nuggets.

The actual procedure

We tested every chicken "nugget" available from the following restaurants: Chick Fil A, KFC, Popeye's, Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Sonic, and Arby's. If a restaurant offered up more than one, we tried them both. We cut up each serving to approximately the same size and randomly blindly tested each one. The age range of the testers went from "I can almost see a PG-13" to "I more than qualify for the senior discount." To keep it as simple as possible, all five scored each nugget on a 1-5 scale with five being the best.

So with that, I present the top finger-held "nugget or strip" quick-service restaurant chicken dishes. In reverse order.

12. Burger King chicken fries

Are you nostalgic?  Have you ever said, "Man, I'd love a piece of chicken that tastes exactly like the kind I got in 4th grade!" Burger King's like, "Hold my sauce, I got this." Bland, an overwhelming flour taste with enough spice to try and cover the cafeteria flavor, the Burger King Chicken Fries did not impress. It didn't do a lot for the kids tasting either, getting remarks like, "Meh" and "There's not a lot to it."

I have a cat that loves chicken — he turned his nose up at the BK Chicken Fries. If Carter Meowford won't eat your chicken, Burger King, you've got a problem.  

11. Chick-fil-A grilled nuggets

"Is this really nuggets? It just tastes like chicken." You know when you're expecting to take a sip of Coke and you accidentally grab someone else's Dr. Pepper, and when that unexpected taste hits your lips and you recoil like you just tasted strychnine? Well, that happened.  

It's not that the grilled nugget is bad — unless you're a child because the kids hated them — it's just not the flavor you're expecting in a blind test. The comments ranged from "Ah… I'm going to vomit," to "That was the worst thing I ever tasted." It's a bit dramatic, but calling a skinless small piece of chicken a "grilled nugget" is stretching the ole nomenclature a tad. If you're in the mood for nuggets, this isn't a go-to.

10. KFC popcorn Nuggets

Yikes. Flour, pepper, and kinda just there. The main taste was the coating, not the chicken, which is never a great thing. This was pretty surprising to me, and everyone else tasting; we all took a little guess on which would finish in the top three and KFC was right there. If you're big on the stuff around the chicken and not the actual chicken itself, KFC is a winner.

9. Popeye's handcrafted tenders

It's still okay if you "Love that chicken from Popeye's," but this didn't hold up too well versus other brands. It was crunchy, that's for sure, but for a company that advertises themselves as a "Louisiana Kitchen," there wasn't a whole lot of spice going on at all. The main flavor is crunchy, which last I checked isn't a flavor. The big problem for the testers was the lack of anything else besides crunch — even the chicken was underwhelming.  

8. Arby's prime-cut chicken tenders

You might say, "Why would I go to Arby's for chicken tenders when I wouldn't go to Hardees?" I can see your argument, but the truth is that Arby's is a lot more than just roast beef. The biggest problem with the Arby's chicken tender is that it didn't have a lot to offer other than "Hey, we're chicken!" Despite the claim of "prime cut," that actually doesn't mean anything when it comes to actual culinary terminology — in fact, it felt almost vacant, as if it was more "parts" than a prime-cut of one piece of chicken. It really didn't have a lot of taste to it at all.

7. Burger King chicken nuggets

Burger King surprised everyone with a pretty moist nugget. It was bland; lacking flavor and depth, but the nugget presented as edible — not really chicken-like, but moist. At $1.49 for 10 of them, it'll get you by in a pinch for sure. In fact, you could argue that the difference between Arby's and Burger King is that one is in strip form and costs $4.06 and one is in nugget form and costs $1.49.  

6. Wendy's chicken nuggets

Did not see this one coming. Wendy's has a real good rep for putting out quality food, and often gets a high score for their nuggets. These nuggets tasted like tempura seafood. Before we started, as mentioned, we all gave guesses as to which would be in the top three. Two of us (including myself) predicted that Wendy's would win out. Sixth place isn't bad, but the gap between six and five in our scoring chart was tremendous.  

5. McDonald's chicken McNuggets

The adults didn't like it very much, but the kids love it. Say what you want about the Golden Arches, but they know where their bread is buttered. There's not a lot of spice to it, but that's not a bad thing. What you have to give McDonald's credit for is finding the exact blend that makes kids whose taste buds haven't matured enough to go nutzo for stuff. The McNugget is all white meat chicken, however it's worth pointing out that it's "made with" white meat, not made of. It is at least white meat — kinda. So if you can live with that, keep that in mind to fix your nugget craving.  

4. Sonic jumbo popcorn chicken

Oh Hai Sonic? Has there ever been a quick service restaurant with over 3,500 stores with a quieter impact than Sonic? The drive-in model is a throwback, they have employees on roller skates, it's like "Hey, 1952 called, they want their restaurant back." But you know what? Sonic is pretty darn good. Sonic hit all the things you want in a nugget; crunchy, chewy, and moist. The flavor overall presented as mild, but certainly not devoid.

3. Sonic Super Crunch chicken strip

Look at Sonic bringing it! Where did that come from? So what's the vast difference between the strip and the nugget from Sonic? It's actually the chicken, not the crunch. The strip had more of a chicken flavor than the nugget — it might seem obvious because it's a bigger piece of chicken, but remember we sampled these in small pieces, so that (in theory) should not have factored into the final ruling. But the strip, although devoid of spice, just edged out the Sonic popcorn chicken with an overall meaty flavor.  

2. Chick-fil-A chicken strip

There shouldn't be much of a difference between a Chick-fil-A nugget and a strip, but for some reason the spice really tasted balanced on the strip. It was subtle, but just enough to hit the back of your throat as you swallowed down the chicken. It's not hot, but it's not bland — it's just a middle of the road flavor that really works. The chicken strip at Chick-fil-A is probably an afterthought to the popular nuggets, but they certainly should move up on your priority list as something to mix into your Chick-fil-A routine. 

1. Chick-fil-A nugget

Three people said, at the same time, "This tastes like chicken!" And it does. Somehow, the crunch and chicken worked better than the Chick-fil-A strip did. It presented as an easier to eat piece of chicken than the strip. The crunch, spice, and overall flavor of.. chicken made the Chick-fil-A nugget the clear winner. It really wasn't close. Chick-fil-A as a whole scored much higher than any restaurant — the blind test doesn't lie, Chick-fil-A is the best nugget you can get for your quick service buck.

In conclusion

The truth is that everyone's tastebuds are different, and there is no worst offering ever. That's why Kiss put out four solo albums; as Dennis Miller said, "One man's Peter Criss is another man's Ace Frehley." So you can eat whichever you'd like, but if you're in a quandary on which to use to curb your craving, just follow the list.