Fast Food Chicken Nuggets, Ranked Worst To Best

What makes chicken nuggets so delicious? Their crispy coating, or their savory, juicy interior? Is it the chicken flavor we love, or are we just in it for the satisfying salty crunch? Either way, judging by the prevalence of chicken nuggets across fast food menus, it's clear that we're not alone in our love for them. 

It might have something to do with the fact that they were invented in a laboratory. Robert C. Baker invented the chicken nugget in 1963, perfectly dreamt up to be easily mass-produced, transportable, and convenient. 

Then McDonald's started selling chicken nuggets in 1980s, the first major fast food chain to do so. The original recipe was designed by McDonald's, Keystone Foods (which sold frozen hamburger at the time), and Gorton's, famous for their frozen fish sticks (and pioneers in getting breading to stick to food products). Together the three corporations came up with a little chicken morsel that's not very different from what we know today. 

These days, almost every fast food chain has its own version of the protein-packed snack — and some are definitely better than others. We've tasted nuggets from the most prevalent fast food chains, picking out the best of the best so you don't have to put your stomach to the gustatory test. We looked for flavor, crunch, and texture, determining once and for all which nuggets are worth your hard earned paycheck.

8. White Castle Chicken Rings

White Castle does a lot of things well. They've pretty much got a lock on fast food sliders and their breakfast menu holds its own against the big boys. When it comes to their chicken nugget offering — if you can even call it a nugget — they fall short. Let's go ahead and say what everyone is thinking — a chicken ring is just weird. It's probably best not to spend too much time pondering how White Castle molded chicken into a ring form, but it certainly goes against nature. 

As for looks and taste, well, the ring is pretty flat and it could easily be mistaken for an onion ring with its golden brown breading. It definitely tastes like chicken, but as far as its flavor profile, there really isn't much to make you want to reach for another one. Remember the chicken nuggets in those Kid Cuisine meals from your childhood? That's basically what these taste like, only with a hint of black pepper. Not a meal anyone would look forward to. 

7. Burger King Chicken Nuggets

Burger King's flame-grilled burgers may be top notch in the fast food world, but what about their chicken nuggets?

Burger King uses all white meat in their nuggets, which are coated in a "homestyle seasoned breading." The breading, however, is one of the main differences between a great nugget and a disappointment, and this homestyle breading falls short. 

The overall texture of the coating is dry and almost dusty, though it does have a nicely seasoned flavor profile. There are a few crunchy crumbs here and there but the nuggets are overall pretty soft, and the meat inside is soft and dry too, rather than firm and juicy like those at rival chains. 

That being said, Burger King is definitely behind the times when it comes to nuggets. While their rival McDonald's introduced the crispy chicken bits back in the '80s, Burger King didn't start serving chicken nuggets until 2013, when they replaced the chicken tenders formerly on their menu. 

The nuggets at BK are competitively priced, but sometimes you do get what you pay for. Maybe with a little more time under their belts, Burger King will be able to improve their recipe. 

6. Wendy's Chicken Nuggets

For all the hype surrounding Wendy's spicy chicken nuggets, their standard chicken nugget offering is a bit of a disappointment. The outer coating is a bit floury, and crunchy rather than crispy (there are firm, hard bits of coating, rather than a thin, crisp coating). Some may prefer crunch to crisp, but the coating is inconsistent, meaning that areas of the nuggets wind up soggy. 

Then, there's the meat. Wendy's chicken nuggets are made with 100 percent white meat, but for some reason it's oddly soft and squishy in this preparation. The meat is also under seasoned, while the coating is over seasoned to the point of being a distraction from the meat. 

It does get points for a natural appearance (you can tell it's chicken), and the dipping sauces at Wendy's are pretty tasty and well-balanced too (they also offer a couple of unique options, like Creamy Sriracha and Side of S'Awesome, which is a blend of ranch, barbecue, hot sauce, and other flavors). That being said, due to the textural inconsistencies and seasoning issues, these aren't the nuggets we'd reach for to satisfy our cravings. 

5. Sonic Jumbo Popcorn Chicken

Sonic may be known for its selection of beverages (did you know that you can make a total of 1.5 million combinations from the chain's flavors of slushes, coffees, and milkshakes?), but their snack game is pretty on point, too. 

Sonic serves Popcorn Nuggets instead of formed nuggets. They're made with all white meat chicken, then covered in a simply seasoned coating and fried. These nuggets are big, with a nice meaty bite, and a fairly satisfyingly crunchy outer coating. The chicken inside is juicy, too. 

The downfall of Sonic's Jumbo Popcorn Chicken is that it just doesn't get crispy enough. The coating is good, true, but it just doesn't compare to the texture of real fried chicken, and if you're going the popcorn chicken route instead of formed nuggets, that's usually what you're looking for. The pieces are also a little drier than is ideal, meaning you'll definitely want to pair them with one of Sonic's dipping sauces (buttermilk ranch, honey mustard, or hickory BBQ sauce).

4. KFC Popcorn Nuggets

If you're looking for a nugget that tastes a little more homemade, KFC is a safe bet. That's because instead of the usual uniform nuggets, they serve Popcorn Nuggets, like Sonic — although KFC's are smaller in size. These chunks of white meat chicken are covered in the chain's signature coating (made with the not-so-secret blend of 11 herbs and spices), then fried until golden and crunchy. 

KFC's popcorn nuggets are delicious when served hot. The crust is extra-crispy, the little bits of chicken are juicy, and it's nice that they retain the texture of traditional chicken meat, rather than that of nuggets that are made from meat that's been mixed with other ingredients and then cut-out, cookie style (like McDonald's does). 

Unfortunately, when the popcorn chicken is served cold, it can taste rather greasy. The seasoning blend used is also quite salty, and because the popcorn chicken has a higher ratio of crispy coating to meat than their traditional bone-in offerings, after about half a container it can start to seem too salty.

They're delicious, but eat them fresh and in small portions. 

3. McDonald's Chicken McNuggets

McDonald's started serving Chicken McNuggets in some of their stores as early as 1980, and they were available nationwide just one year later, meaning they've had a good amount of time to perfect their chicken nugget recipe. 

This classic nugget has gone under several changes. As of 2016, the chain listed a new, shorter set of ingredients for their McNuggets. These days, their crispy chicken bites are made with all white meat chicken, and contain no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. 

Each nugget comes in one of four shapes — a bone, a bell, a boot, or a ball. The nuggets have a uniform, crispy coating that almost melts in the mouth once you bite into them, without tasting too oily or greasy. The meat inside is dense, juicy, and well-seasoned, creating a lot of balanced, savory-sweet flavors into each small bite. 

Some might shun the very standardized nature of these nuggets, but McDonald's has stated that the uniformity helps ensure that every Chicken McNugget has the same cooking requirements, so they come out crisp and juicy every time — a method that seems to be working.

2. Jack in the Box Chicken Nuggets

Jack in the Box may have been around since 1951, but they didn't get started on chicken nuggets until fairly recently. They introduced nuggets to their menu in 2012, and now you can get them a few ways: a 10-piece order combo, a five-piece kids meal, or a five-, 10-, or 20-piece serving a-la-cart. 

Even though they got a late start, Jack in the Box serves surprisingly good 100 percent white meat chicken nuggets. Each one is fried to a deep golden brown, the crispy exterior salted and seasoned well. The meat inside is juicy, salty, and actually tastes distinctly like chicken, and it has a firm (but not rubbery or chewy) texture. You wouldn't mistake these for homemade nuggets — they're very uniform, and have that deep-fried fast food flair. But for a fast food nugget, they hit all the marks: crispy, hot, seasoned, moist, and identifiable as chicken. 

The dipping sauce options at Jack in the Box are pretty standard, but you can opt for teriyaki if you're looking for something that not a lot of other chains offer. The nuggets are good on their own, but that sauce can take them to the next level. 

1. Chick-Fil-A Nuggets

Let's not kid ourselves, when it comes to fast food chicken nuggets there are Chick-fil-A's and then there's just a list of wannabe nuggets trailing behind. No offense, McDonald's or Jack in the Box, but there's a reason the drive-thru line at any given Chick-fil-A regularly stretches into the street — it's all about those nugz. Those golden brown, deep-fried morsels of tender white meat chicken have been a staple on the Atlanta-based chain's menu since the early 1980s and they rise above the rest for a few reasons. 

Maybe it's the peanut oil the company cooks them in or the marinade (which may or may not be pickle juice) that adds to the juicy flavor before they're dipped in buttermilk during the breading process. Whatever the case, the result is a nugget that doesn't feel like it came out of a plastic bag and was then merely dropped in the deep fryer. Even those little deep-fried crispies in the bottom of the box are impossible to resist gobbling up. No wonder Chick-fil-A decided it was time to make its nuggets available in a 30-count. They have just the right amount of breading and taste deliciously consistent from bite to bite.