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Do fast-food nuggets beat frozen?

By J. Scott Wilson
Published On: May 16 2011 02:33:10 PM CDT
chicken nuggets

Imagine you're a chicken processing plant owner, and you're looking for a new product. You've done strips, boneless breasts, wings, leg quarters and every other permutation of flightless avian structure you can imagine. But your bottom line isn't quite what it should be.

In a flash, you come up with a use for all the bits of chicken that don't quite fit other uses and you invent the chicken nugget.

That may not be how it actually happened, but it sure sounds plausible. Nuggets are the one chicken product that looks nothing like nature and can come in custom shapes such as dinosaurs, hats and the like.

Despite the unnaturalness of the whole thing, Americans eat nuggets by the millions. Granted, a fair portion of those are fed to the under-10 set by parents desperate to get some protein down a gullet that would prefer to consume solely sugar-coated breakfast cereals, but most adults will, if properly interrogated, confess to the occasional nugget binge.

Most of us without kids know of nuggets only as an occasional drive-through indulgence. But if you've got short people running around, it's a safe bet you've got a bag or box of chopped, pressed and formed chicken stashed in the freezer.

In this test, we'll compare four drive-through nuggets against three of their grocery store counterparts. Each entry was judged on taste, texture and appearance and given a grade of A through F. Nutritional information, where available, is given for each entry. As portion sizes vary, those will be noted along with the nutritional info.

Fast-Food Favorites

Wendy's (10 pieces): 460 calories, 30 grams fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 1,040 mg sodium, 24 grams carbs.While Wendy's chicken sandwiches are outstanding, it falls far short when the chicken's cut in small pieces. The breading was thick, heavy and somewhat tough to bite through. The meat was dry and flavorless. Final grade: F

Burger King (4 pieces): 190 calories, 11 grams fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 440 mg sodium, 9 grams carbs.These crown-shaped nuggets had a nice peppery flavor but were overly salty. The texture was light and pleasant, and the meat was fairly tender. Final grade: B-.

Chick-Fil-A (12 pieces): 400 calories, 19 grams fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 1,250 mg sodium, 15 grams carbs.It's almost not fair to lump these in with the other offerings. These are like chunks of actual fried chicken, with a light, flavorful breading and impossibly tender meat. They don't need sauce or any other taste enhancements. Adults will not feel embarrassed eating these in public. Final grade: A+

McDonald's (10 pieces): 460 calories, 29 grams fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 1,000 mg sodium, 27 grams carbs.McDonald's basically invented the concept of the chicken nugget and is certainly responsible for their presence in almost every fast-food joint's menu. The ones you'll get today are a far cry from the much-maligned chicken-like objects of the past. The breading is light and the meat is very tender. They could use a bit more flavor, but still came out with a solid B+.

From The Freezer

Banquet Chicken Breast Nuggets (5 nuggets): 220 calories, 13 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 14 grams carbs.Banquet is the biggest name in that freezer favorite, the pot pie. In the nugget world, however, the company's offering is strictly middle-of-the-pack. The breading was flat and characterless, and the meat was moist but a bit gummy in texture. Final grade: C

Fast Fixins Chicken Breast Nuggets (6 pieces): 230 calories, 14 grams fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 610 mg sodium, 15 grams carbs.One tester compared the texture of the meat in these perfectly round, uniform nuggets to the "sharkmeat" fake scallops found on some low-end seafood buffets. It was rubbery, and the breading didn't do it many favors. Final grade: C-.

Tyson Chicken Breast Nuggets: (5 pieces): 270 calories, 17 grams fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 470 mg sodium, 15 grams carbs.This was really the only of the grocery store nuggets that would give fair competition to the fast-food options. The breading was light and crispy, and the meat was tender with the texture of actual chicken. Final grade: A-.While the Chick-Fil-A nuggets are in a class by themselves when it comes to flavor, they are also the most expensive of the available options. For a best buy, the Tyson nuggets are the clear choice, giving the best combination of price (cheaper per serving than any of the fast-food choices) and quality.