Gastronomicon: War of nuggets enters phase of novel failure

Don’t believe the #hashtag.

There’s something of a chicken nugget power struggle going on right now, easily seen in the escalating arms race between Burger King and McDonald’s. One side dumps McNuggets on you 20 at a time for $5, and the other responds by selling their cutely shaped chicken-pulp breading chunks at $1.50 for 10. We’re now a level above in the heat of this war. McDonald’s recently rolled out their Shakin’ Flavors for McNuggets, complementary with an order of 20, and Burger King reanimated their Chicken Fries, and with the accompanying ad campaign that would make you think they aim to make this transient menu item a cult good worthy of McRib levels of worship.

I’ll come right out and say that all of this, every wasted penny poured into these campaigns, should excite exactly zero people.

The chicken nugget is the bastion of the picky child, a bungle-proof order that no 15-year-old with a fresh work permit can find a way to slip a pickle into. There’s a reason they serve it with all of those sauces, and that’s because eating one straight reminds you that you’re eating bleached and pureed offal. Right away, the Shakin’ Flavors seem like they should have some promise, and apparently the dust has been a hit in Hong Kong since 2005.

I’m not so enthusiastic about it. I tried the flavor dusts twice, once with a group of picky fast-food lovers and then—because comparing tasting notes on Zesty Ranch packets isn’t depressing enough— alone. The whole enterprise is inefficient, which destroys half the value of eating at McDonald’s. You have to get a separate little shake bag, dump in the dust of your choice, dump in the McNuggets and then shake, shake. Since the shake bag is rather deep, you either have to stick your greasy, sweaty hands into the bag or pour out the McNuggets—either way, dust gets everywhere. Plus, you need space to lay out the separate parts, and your table mates, if you’re lucky enough to not be trying this while wheeling out of the drive-thru, will not appreciate the elbowing from your vigorous shakes. Both times sampling the dust, it only took a few tastings before going back to straight nugget-to-sauce action, as we’ve known it for centuries.

Through the nightmares of modern science, you can choose a packet of Chipotle BBQ, Zesty Ranch or Garlic Parmesan. All of these taste as if they’ve been scraped off of cheap, flavored potato chips, with the Garlic Parmesan having the extra benefit of reeking like smegma. Nobody has any idea how the dust sticks to the relatively dry nuggets, and honestly, I choose ignorance over the Lovecraftian horror in knowing the truth.

On to the reintroduced Chicken Fries from Burger King. For $4.99, you can get nine of these with a drink and french fries (the ones with mashed probably-potatoes instead of mashed probably-chickens). These Chicken Fries come in a trendy little box with #hashtags, suggesting that yes, your 20 followers want to see your honey-mustard-slathered fingers knuckling into this box with a cute little chicken face. I’m not too clear on the difference between these fries and the regularly offered nuggets, aside from the novel shape and what appears to be some seasoning.

Actually eating the things, all I sensed was the same watery, bleached pulp of wasted flesh. More or less without flavor, but ideal for dipping. Obviously, that’s the appeal. So much so that the trendy box opens to reveal a convenient cut-out holder for your sauce packet.

Do not put the sauce packet in the holder. This is a trap. It will ruin your favorite pants, or perhaps the fine carpet of your luxury vehicle, the moment that your paltry supply of Chicken Fries runs low enough to fail as a counterbalance. My buffalo sauce toppled and spilled as soon as I removed four fries.

But as disappointed as I am that these fries don’t taste very “special,” does that mean that I didn’t enjoy them? No. These remain a solid buy if you’re into that whole breaded-chicken-mulch-and-sugar-dip thing, unlike the Shakin’ Flavors, which deserve to remain buried in the history books of cheap novelty.

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