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McDonald’s is an absolute powerhouse in the restaurant industry and the top fast-food chain in the country in terms of sales. But for a long time, one of the Golden Arches’ biggest rivals drew in fast-food lovers with a special menu item that McDonald’s lacked: spicy nuggets.
Wendy’s first introduced its beloved Spicy Chicken Nuggets in 2010 and they quickly became a big seller for the chain, according to Forbes. While Wendy’s did remove them from the menu in 2017, relentless pleas and outrage from customers—including famed hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper—inspired the chain to bring them back in 2019. They remain on the menu to this day, and many customers consider them to be one of the best items that Wendy’s has to offer.
Fast-forward to 2020, and McDonald’s gave Wendy’s some fresh competition by introducing its own Spicy Chicken McNuggets as a limited-time offering. As was the case with Wendy’s, McDonald’s spicy nuggets became an immediate sensation among customers. They were so popular, in fact, that McDonald’s faced a spicy nugget shortage just a couple of weeks after their release. McDonald’s has brought those fiery little morsels back on a limited basis several times over the years to the delight of fans.
I’ve tried Wendy’s and McDonald’s spicy nuggets separately in recent years and have fiercely enjoyed both iterations. But which chain serves the absolute best spicy nugget? McDonald’s gave me the perfect opportunity to answer that question once and for all when it brought back its much-hyped Spicy Chicken McNuggets last month. So, I recently set out to try the beloved spicy nuggets from both chains in an epic, mouth-tingling showdown.
As previously noted, I’ve already tried and enjoyed both of these spicy nuggets separately over the years. But until recently, I’d never tasted both at the same time. So, I recently grabbed a six-piece order from both McDonald’s and Wendy’s in order to compare the two side-by-side.
Taste was the most important aspect to me when I judged these nuggets. I wanted them to be well-seasoned, super flavorful, and spicy enough that I’d take notice. I also considered texture of the breading and chicken while rating the two chains.
Read on for my thoughts on each chain’s spicy nuggets, followed by my verdict on which takes the spicy nugget crown.
Per 6-piece order: 280 cal, 18 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 720 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (1 g fiber), 15 g protein
Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Nuggets are made with 100% white meat chicken that’s breaded and marinated in a “unique, fiery blend of peppers and spices,” according to the chain. I got an order of six for $4.04.
The look: The red-tinged coating on these nuggets immediately screamed “spicy” to me. They were all pretty evenly sized and shaped, with a rough surface from whatever type of breading they use. Both the regular and spicy nuggets at Wendy’s always look really well seasoned to me because of all the black pepper dotted around the outside.
The taste: The first flavor that hit me when I bit into these nuggets was salt, followed by some peppery spice. If I was to rank the heat level on a scale of one to 10, I’d say these are a three or four. The heat coated my mouth in a way I really enjoyed, but it wasn’t so intense that it left me sweating. Overall, the spicy seasoning blend Wendy’s uses was really tasty and the absolute best part about these nuggets.
However, I did have a couple of big issues with these. I love a super crispy nugget, but these only had a whisper of a crunch. Maybe it’s because I usually douse Wendy’s nuggets in sauce, but during this taste test, I also noticed the flavor and texture of the chicken inside more than I ever have before. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing—the meat was spongy and had an unpleasant taste that not even the salt and spices could cover up.
Per 6-piece order: 290 cal, 18 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 630 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (1 g fiber), 15 g protein
McDonald’s Spicy Chicken McNuggets have a crispy coating that’s spiced with a blend of aged cayenne and chili pepper. I got an order of six for $3.40.
The look: McDonald’s nuggets have a much smoother surface with some random craggy, crispy bits. They were about the same thickness as the Wendy’s nuggets, but longer and wider. The reddish color on these was also very noticeable and a clear indicator that they were “spicy.”
The taste: I’ve always thought that McDonald’s has the best chicken nuggets out of the major fast-food chains in terms of texture, but the taste can be a little underwhelming. With these Spicy Chicken McNuggets, McDonald’s nailed both the taste and texture.
The nuggets emitted an awesome audible crunch when I bit into them, even after they sat around for a while. The chicken on the inside had a cleaner flavor and a juicier, firmer texture than the Wendy’s nuggets. I also thought the spicy flavors on McDonald’s nuggets were stronger and more delicious than what I got from Wendy’s version. They were salty, peppery, delicious, and grew a little spicier with every bite (I’d rate the heat level at about a five). I relished polishing off the whole six-piece order.
As a longtime fan of Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Nuggets, it pains me a little to admit this: McDonald’s serves a superior spicy nugget.
As much as I enjoyed the spicy flavors on the Wendy’s nuggets, the lack of crispiness and unpleasant flavor of the actual chicken were both major detractors. But, McDonald’s Spicy Chicken Nuggets have all the best qualities of Wendy’s nuggets and more. They’re salty, flavorful, delectably crispy, and had a medium heat level that I really enjoyed. I really, really wish that McDonald’s would add them to the permanent menu, so I could enjoy them year-round.
Wendy’s deserves a big nod for the fact that it serves spicy nuggets year-round, unlike rivals McDonald’s and Burger King. And despite their flaws, the nuggets are still pretty tasty. I just think you need to pair Wendy’s nuggets with sauce in order to get maximum enjoyment out of them, while McDonald’s nuggets are delicious with sauce or simply on their own.