Fast Food Nuggets That Aren't 100% Pure Chicken

By and large, the clear craze of the early 1990s – when clear-colored or supposedly pure products were all the rage – is little more than a bygone fad from the halcyon pre-internet days of the late 20th century. But the notion of food purity as a positive nutritional trait hasn't diminished. In fact, the push to consume whole, unprocessed, so-called pure foods has only grown since then, causing many modern consumers to scrutinize any and all menu items for impurities — including fast food chicken nuggets.

Chicken nuggets have been an American tradition since Robert Baker first created the food in a Cornell University lab in 1963. This mass-produced product is often made with other ingredients blended into the chicken during the manufacturing process. Frankly, even if you're consuming a fast food nugget or tender that tastes like pure poultry, well ... there's a reason the go-to shorthand for mystery meat is often "it tastes like chicken."

We're sure some fast food nuggets and tenders consist of unadulterated chicken meat, but we're not interested in those examples for this article. So stick with us until the end as we reveal fast food nuggets that aren't 100% pure chicken.

Burger King

When Mashed asked readers to identify the worst fast food chicken nugget in a 2022 survey, nearly one-third of the votes went to Burger King — an ignominious victory that wasn't wholly shocking. After all, while we love many menu items sold by the self-proclaimed monarch of fast food burgers, the chain's chicken nuggets have often fallen short of its royal standard. But perhaps the explanation as to why many consumers find Burger King's product so lackluster comes down to its ingredients, as BK's nuggets contain far more than just chicken.

The issues begin right away, as the very first ingredient for Burger King's chicken nuggets is breast meat with rib meat. While we often enjoy the succulent, rich flavor of rib meat when cooking a whole chicken in, say, a Crockpot, it's less enticing when included in chicken nuggets. The various seasonings and preservatives listed under the heading of "flavoring" don't inspire confidence either.

The clearest example of Burger King's chicken nugget problems may be demonstrated by the off-putting inclusion of chicken fat, though. Quite frankly, it's the type of additional ingredient that seems immensely unnecessary — particularly for a food cooked in greasy, artery-clogging oil.

Carl's Jr.

When we researched this article, we strove to use ingredient lists offered straight from the horse's mouth whenever possible. And while many fast food chains do provide an unfettered account of what's in their chicken nuggets or tenders, other restaurants are less forthcoming (for seemingly obvious reasons). This includes Carl's Jr., which doesn't appear willing to share the makeup of its nugget-like chicken stars with the world — perhaps because it would reveal a plethora of non-chicken ingredients to consumers.

From what we were able to find, Carl's Jr.'s chicken nuggets — err, chicken stars — are loaded with additional ingredients. In fact, the simple act of biting into one of the chain's chicken stars reveals a highly processed, alien-looking interior texture — it doesn't look remotely like regular chicken.

A rundown of the likely non-chicken items used to make this product further solidifies its impurity to customers. In particular, the baffling inclusion of beef flavor (followed by the laughably vague "flavor") makes us wonder whether any actual chicken is used in the production of Carl's Jr.'s chicken stars. It appears that some percentage of the "meat" in these stars is actually hydrolyzed soy protein as well.


We sort of expected a pizza place like Domino's to falter when it came to its chicken nuggets — or its boneless chicken, as the item is plainly (boringly?) labeled on the menu. Still, we can't give the fast food pizza chain a pass simply because its main focus is fast food Italian fare. You shouldn't expect your boneless chicken order from Domino's to be made with just chicken.

While it's undoubtedly true that Domino's boneless chicken includes additional ingredients, many of these — like wheat flour and various types of starch — appear to be components in the breading. The sodium phosphates in the recipe are food additives meant to preserve or enhance the item's flavor and texture over time. In other words, the reason the chain's chicken isn't solely poultry appears to be related to the crispy breading and the need to ensure a long shelf-life without losing quality — a fact likely true of most fast food nuggets that aren't 100% pure chicken.

Does this excuse the incorporation of so many ingredients besides chicken and seasonings? Not entirely — we're not sure the recipe needs multiple types of yeast and nebulously-defined natural flavoring. But it does make it less confusing when trying to decipher why Domino's is unable to offer boneless breaded chicken products sans those additional ingredients.


If you're aware that canned ham labels often note a percentage of water is held inside (in addition to the ham itself), you likely know this isn't designed to trick customers into paying for a partially liquified piece of pork. Rather, it's simply alerting consumers to the presence of a water solution that helps ensure the ham remains moist after it's prepared. We have a feeling some fast food chicken nuggets and tenders aren't 100% pure chicken for a similar reason — like Whataburger's chicken strips, which include as much as 12% non-chicken ingredients.

We don't have any proof, per se, to back up our hunch regarding the specific reason why additional ingredients are added to Whataburger's chicken strips. But it seems reasonable to assume that the product includes a solution of water, isolated soy proteins, salt, and sodium phosphates so that the chicken remains moist and flavorful after it's cooked and served.

Obviously, we're not here to provide any nuanced defenses for fast food nuggets and tenders (or strips) that aren't 100% pure chicken. So while we may understand the logic behind the extended ingredient list of Whataburger's chicken strips, we're still obliged to mention their not-quite-pure status in this article.


Everyone knows that Arby's has the meats — but what exactly is in those meats beyond cooked animal muscle is less clear from afar. Arby's chicken nuggets may not be nearly as processed as the chain's various cold cuts (given the highly processed nature of salted and cured sliced meat). But that doesn't mean its chicken nuggets — which the fast food chain proudly declares are made with chicken breast – are 100% pure chicken, either.

Similar to a number of other entries in this article, the main culprit for the impure nature of these fast food nuggets lies in their water and seasoning solution, which contains both anti-dusting and anti-caking agents (we guess nobody wants dusty nuggets). The list of breading ingredients is also quite large and includes several leaveners and natural flavors.

Realistically, no matter what's contained in Arby's chicken nuggets beyond chicken, the question remains: why would you choose to visit one of its locations without ordering a simple roast beef sandwich and curly fries? Even if you trust the restaurant's capabilities, it just seems sort of silly to deviate from its signature selections. You wouldn't go to Chick-fil-A to order a burger, after all.

Dairy Queen

When Dairy Queen announced plans to discontinue the cherry dipped cone in May 2023, many fans were left devastated by the decision. After all, if there's no cherry dipped cone incentivizing consumers to take a trip to President Joe Biden's favorite fast food spot, what's going to draw them in? It certainly isn't Dairy Queen's chicken strips — a fast food nugget-like product that's purportedly prepared with exclusively white meat, but contains additional ingredients beyond chicken.

Dairy Queen's chicken strips are made with a solution of water, hydrolyzed soy protein, salt, and sodium phosphates — a mixture likely added to help improve their texture and retain moisture. The solution may comprise as much as 18% of the total mass of the chicken meat. In fact, since the remaining ingredients appear to be related exclusively to the item's breading, it seems the water solution is the only additional ingredient in the poultry portion of DQ's chicken strips.

Although the seasoning solution may count as minimally processed by the standards of this list, it's impossible to declare that this menu item is 100% pure chicken. In addition to the water solution, the list of breading ingredients is so long that it reads like an essay.


A fast food burger chain known for using minimally processed, never-frozen beef patties is guaranteed to provide customers with a mouth-watering burger upon request. Of course, since that commitment to quality generally extends to all menu items at such an establishment, you're likely to find delectable non-cow protein options available, as well, like chicken nuggets or tenders. But even a top-notch restaurant may not offer a 100% pure chicken nugget — or tender, as in the case of Smashburger, which serves chicken tenders made with more than just chicken.

Actually, if you go by the Denver, Colorado-originating chain's word, each of its tenders may contain as little as 80% chicken. That's not even accounting for the additional mass taken up by the breading. Since as much as 20% of each chicken tender is comprised of water, various seasonings, and preservatives — along with any additional ingredients required for the breading — it's crystal clear the smashed-burger-centric establishment isn't slinging pure fried chicken pieces to customers.

It's possible customers may find some saving grace in Smashburger's claim of using all white meat in its chicken tenders. Then again, "all white meat" doesn't automatically equate to "all chicken" — so don't expect solely chicken when purchasing tenders on your next visit to the restaurant.


There may be no more famous or popular version of chicken nuggets than the corporate-branded McNuggets sold by the world's best-selling fast food chain. We can't imagine any readers are unfamiliar with the consistently shaped deep-fried nugget pieces sold by McDonald's (whether or not they're apt to inhale a 10-piece box when the mood strikes). Yet the ubiquity of McNuggets leads us to our larger point — namely, that the composition of these fast food nuggets is far from pure chicken.

McDonald's claims to use chicken breast meat exclusively for the meat portion of its McNuggets, and that does, indeed, appear true. But the restaurant doesn't simply take a chicken breast and slice it up into chunks to batter and fry. Rather, it grinds and blends the breast meat into a gross-looking goop that's then used to create one of its four signature nugget shapes – hence the tremendously unnatural texture you're sure to notice when glancing at a McNugget's interior.

More disturbing than the behind-the-scenes details of how McNuggets are manufactured, though, is the fact the company's ingredient list plainly states the product contains a mere 45% chicken meat. In other words, while we've never been fooled into believing McDonald's chicken nuggets are 100% pure chicken, the fact they're less than half chicken in total means we may never eat another one again.


Are we running the risk of Dave Thomas's ghost booking a haunting session or two in retaliation for including his beloved Wendy's chain on this list? Perhaps. But spectral concerns aside, it's not our job to gloss over the truth simply because we find it moderately inconvenient or distressing. In that sense, while we didn't plan on including Wendy's among fast food nuggets that aren't 100% pure chicken, the proof is in the pudding (or the company's ingredient list).

Quite frankly, it's difficult to describe our disappointment upon discovering Wendy's chicken nuggets contain a mere 65% chicken breast in the final product. While this ratio of chicken to overall nugget isn't nearly as bad as McDonald's, it still seems staggeringly low for such a popular item. We should note that this figure is for the U.K. version of Wendy's nuggets (the U.S. Wendy's site doesn't list meat percentage), but it seems likely that the overall composition of Wendy's nuggets is similar in both countries, even though the ingredient lists are slightly different.

How, exactly, a chicken nugget can be called a chicken nugget if it's made with less than two-thirds poultry in total is beyond us. Yet the why is less important for our purposes than the what — and there's no denying what's inside Wendy's chicken nuggets is not 100% pure chicken.


Of all the fast food nuggets and tenders we learned are made with less-than-100% chicken, we were most shocked to discover what was contained in the chicken tenders from Culver's. The chain touts the wholesome, all-natural environment in which it raises the chickens slaughtered for its tenders, after all. But Culver's public commitment to avoiding additional animal byproducts in its tenders doesn't mean it's committed to avoiding using any other ingredients in the preparation of its chicken tenders.

With ingredients such as modified tapioca starch, salt, and sodium tripolyphosphate, it's clear Culver's chicken tenders aren't made solely with chicken. However, since a large number of listed ingredients appear to be used for seasoning — including spices and flavor enhancers like onion powder, garlic powder, and autolyzed yeast extract — the high ingredient count may simply be a means to maximize flavor.

Considering the bland, borderline-agonizing experience of eating plain, unseasoned chicken, perhaps the additional ingredients simply make this fast food restaurant's tenders a toothsome delight. So while there may be more than just chicken in your Culver's chicken tenders order, when you ponder the alternative, it's not the worst problem to encounter.

Jack in the Box

For whatever reason, we've often found a marked difference in quality when patronizing Jack in the Box versus other well-known fast food chains. Perhaps we're being unkind — and we recognize personal taste, like beauty, is highly subjective. Either way, if we're looking to enjoy a fast food nugget that minimizes non-chicken components, it seems we'll stay ahead of the game by avoiding Jack in the Box, which offers nuggets that aren't 100% pure chicken.

To Jack in the Box's credit, the vast majority of its chicken nuggets' non-poultry ingredients appear to be contained in the breading rather than the chicken portion. This means the chicken itself may be less processed than expected for a fast food nugget, as the poultry is mainly enhanced by a salt and preservative water solution.

One particular issue to keep in mind before buying Jack in the Box's chicken nuggets, though, are any potential allergies you may have. The fast food chain's ingredient list boldly (as in, it's in bold lettering) warns consumers that its nuggets contain dairy, gluten, and soy products — essentially tripling down on the item's impure chicken status for allergy sufferers.

White Castle

Cheap food made fast and consistently has been White Castle's bread and butter since it originally opened — meaning we wouldn't expect the fast food chain to sell unadulterated chicken nuggets to consumers. Unsurprisingly, then, White Castle's chicken nugget-type menu item — which is shaped like rings for some reason — appears to be precisely what we expected, as a review of the ingredients shows it's hardly pure chicken.

At first glance, there doesn't appear to be anything all that unusual about White Castle chicken rings' composition — at least when compared to other less-than-100% pure fast food nuggets. But one specific item stood out like a sore thumb: "powdered cooked chicken." Quite frankly, we're utterly baffled at how White Castle's chicken rings could be improved by the addition of a dried, pulverized chicken product.

Then again, we're not interested in analyzing the underlying rationale for why certain non-chicken ingredients are added to fast food nuggets (though we suppose powdered cooked chicken is technically chicken). So we'll simply point out the absurdity of such an ingredient — and note the numerous other ingredients that steer White Castle's chicken rings away from poultry purity, as well, including carrageenan, preservatives, and flavor enhancers.