For years now, McDonald’s has been teasing us with the idea of spicy chicken. Rumors came back from overseas and Canada about hot wings, spicy chicken sandwiches, and even spicy Chicken McNuggets, but all we got here in America, the land where McDonald’s originated, were a half-assed Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich and two equally half-assed breakfast offerings: Chicken McGriddles and McChicken Biscuit. (It was a small comfort to hear that the U.K. Spicy Chicken McNuggets were not very spicy or even that good.) Meanwhile, every other fast food chain had upped its spicy chicken game to the point that when McDonald’s announced that it finally, finally was about to launch Spicy McNuggets here in the U.S., Wendy’s responded with a tweet implying that they would be made from actual garbage. Which only increased the suspense. Would McDonald’s deliver? Or would it flop (again)?
Now the Spicy McNuggets have arrived and we can taste them for ourselves. And, as a bonus, they come with Mighty Hot Sauce. (A name that, unfortunately, just brings to mind the ill-fated Mighty Wings, last seen in 2013.)
Unlike other forms of spicy McChicken, the Spicy McNuggets actually have spicy breading instead of relying on a dunk in a spicy sauce. The spices, according to the McDonald’s website, are chili pepper and “aged cayenne” (that is, cayenne peppers that have been fermented). They give these McNuggets a distinctly reddish tinge that distinguishes them from the regular McNuggets. So here’s to you, McDonald’s, for actually delivering on the promise of spiciness instead of tossing in a few flecks of black pepper and calling it a day.
The spice, unfortunately, is rather one-note: the cayenne drowns out just about every other flavor. On the plus side, that means the nuggets are genuinely hot. But a dunk in the Mighty Hot Sauce actually improves them. The sauce is vinegar-based, which adds some complexity to the hotness and some welcome sourness to the usual—and highly addictive—McNuggets combo of salty and sweet. It did make me wonder, though, how they would taste with some of the other dipping sauces, namely ranch and honey.
It should be noted that I am a white person who was brought up on a bland white-person diet. So sinus-clearing spicy for me may not be sinus-clearing spicy for you. It may be just a tickle. But it is a great deal spicier than earlier McDonalds’ interpretations of “spicy,” and if these Spicy McNuggets are a success, it will say something about how the taste buds of Americans have evolved thanks to the absorption of non-European foods into our collective diet, and also how fast food executives have grown to understand that appeal to the masses doesn’t necessarily have to mean bland.
As for texture, the Spicy McNuggets felt a little more rubbery than regular McNuggets usually do—closer to Wendy’s nuggets, as a matter of fact—but that also may have had something to do with how long they’d been sitting under the heat lamp, so I’m not completely ready to write them off for this just yet.
They pair well with fries. But then again, just about everything does.