On Wednesday, McDonald's released its first new chicken nugget since the launch of the original chicken McNugget in 1983: the spicy chicken McNugget.
It's bad times all around for the food industry. But fast food is doing alright, and fried chicken is hot hot hot — business at Popeyes and Wingstop has been popping, and Taco Bell is even testing chicken wings at one California restaurant.
So it's no wonder that McDonald's wants to up its chicken game at a time when the stakes are so high. But there's already a spicy chicken nugget favorite on the market: Wendy's. The latter brought back its spicy nuggets after overwhelming fan demand last year, and didn't miss the chance to mock its rival on Twitter after McDonald's announced it would launch spicy nuggets.
"Must have scraped up all of BKs leftovers and slapped mcprice on it," Wendy's Twitter account posted on August 26.
Not even a pandemic and a crippling existential crisis can keep this omnivore from pitting two fast-food items against each other. I hopped on my e-scooter and zoomed my way to the nearest McDonald's and Wendy's to compare their spicy chicken nuggets.
First, I popped into a McDonald's and picked up a 10-piece order of spicy chicken McNuggets.
At my McDonald's in Brooklyn, New York, 10 spicy nuggets cost me $5.49 before tax.
They also come with their own sauce: "mighty hot sauce." A scan at the ingredient list reveals the usual suspects: chili, vinegar, sugar ... apricot concentrate?
First, I tried one nude. Right off the bat, I noticed that these have a slightly crispier, more delicate outer structure than your plain McNugget.
The outer shell is lovely and crunchy, but the nuggets were otherwise kind of dry and bland.
Where's the spice? There was chili in there somewhere, for sure, but it was perhaps a little shy.
The mighty hot sauce, however, was bold. Perhaps a little too bold, like your theater friend who bursts spontaneously into song.
The sauce certainly packs the heat in a way the nugget itself doesn't, but it's altogether not very appealing. It tastes more like a marinade than a dipping sauce.
Next, I scooted on over to a Wendy's a few blocks away.
A 10-piece order of spicy nuggets cost $3.36 at this Brooklyn, New York, Wendy's.
The most obvious difference is the texture of the nugget. McDonald's nuggets have a tempura-like crispy coating, while Wendy's has a dappled breadcrumb coating.
Everything about Wendy's nuggets is more substantial: flavor, spice level, and even heft. They feel heavier in your fingers and in your mouth.
The chicken is more moist without sacrificing the outer crunch of the thicker breading layer. And a Wendy's nugget is pretty spicy on its own.
That's why Wendy's nuggets don't need a special sauce to punch up their spice levels. You'd be justified ordering a cooling sauce like ranch or honey mustard to go with them.
Even the cream-based sriracha sauce is relatively light, and pairs well with the spicy bites.
I firmly believe that there's no such thing as a bad chicken nugget. Any nugget can be salvaged with sufficient honey mustard.
But some chicken nuggets are simply better than others. And McDonald's newest nuggets just don't pack the heat or flavor that Wendy's nuggets do. Plus, they cost more.
McDonald's new nuggets may be enough for the chain to snatch a tiny slice of that sweet, sweet fried chicken pie, but it isn't enough to convince me to buy them again — as long as a Wendy's is around.