Will Popeyes’ new chicken nuggets cause a ruckus?

Popeyes knows how to turn chicken into an event, so we had to try this latest release.

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Overhead view of Popeyes Chicken Nuggets in their takeaway box
Photo: Dennis Lee

Popeyes released its newest menu item this week: chicken nuggets. While an announcement like this wouldn’t seem like a big deal at other chains, it’s hard not to think about the sheer chaos the Popeyes chicken sandwich initially caused just two short years ago. Not to mention the tidal wave effect it had on the fast food industry as a whole, because in 2021, we’re still catching up on trying as many chicken sandwiches as we can. Man, my jaws are getting tired.

What’s interesting, though, is that for all their chicken dominance, Popeyes really hasn’t done much with nuggets before. There have been popcorn chicken offerings, and a very brief nugget appearance on menus in 2012, but other than that, a PR rep for Popeyes confirmed that nuggets haven’t really been part of the operation since the 1980s (and those were a different recipe). I imagine the success of the chicken sandwich gave the brand some swagger, because it started talking some big game in the press release about the new menu item. Sami Siddiqui, President of Popeyes Americas, said:

Just like our game changing Chicken Sandwich, our new Chicken Nuggets are unlike anything you may have experienced before. We aim to show the world once again the magic of Popeyes chicken with our new Nuggets. We believe that these piece(s) of crunchy, juicy delicious chicken will have guests question how they ever enjoyed chicken nuggets before this.

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Damn. Apparently I’ve been enjoying chicken nuggets the wrong way this whole time.

Though the release date is today, July 27, my local Popeyes started offering the nuggets a few days early, so I sailed through the drive-thru and got a 12-piece with no wait (yet). A dozen nuggets was $5.79 a la carte. The smallest size is an 8-piece, and the largest order is 48 pieces (though you can get kids meals with either a 4-piece or 6-piece too). When I got home and took a gander at the box, it felt a little small, even though it was packed pretty tightly with piping hot chicken.

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Turns out the new nuggets are pretty good, for what they are. They feature that light, crispy breading that I really enjoy, with all the delicate craggy bits, and the chunks of chicken breast are fairly juicy throughout, without a dry nugget in the box. They ended up tasting exactly how I imagined they would, in a positive way. But there’s nothing about them that changes the game. They’re just good white meat chicken nuggets, and that’s pretty much it, which is the least you can hope for.

Popeyes chicken nugget next to Popeyes chicken strip on sheet tray
Chicken Nugget vs. Chicken Strip
Photo: Dennis Lee
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For comparison’s sake, I bought some chicken tenders too. Hands down, the tenders are better. I don’t know if has to do with their size or shape, but they just had a much more dramatic crunch to them. You can even see the textural difference in the photo above; the crags are deeper on the tender. Plus, you can get tenders made spicy, while the nuggets only come in the standard mild format.

You might also wonder whether Popeyes nuggets could possibly dethrone McDonald’s signature style of spongy, emulsified meat product, and it really just comes down to your preference. If you’re looking for a bite of chicken that contains a single piece of breast meat all the way through, well, that’s a no brainer. Go with Popeyes. But McNuggets hit a different type of craving entirely, don’t they? We know exactly what they are, and yet sometimes nothing else will hit the spot quite like them. Comparing the two products really doesn’t do either one justice. The fact that you drove up to a Popeyes instead of a McDonald’s already tells you what you’re really in the mood for.

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The presence of the nuggets on the Popeyes menu, while fun to see, wouldn’t deter me from ordering the spicy bone-in chicken, which has always been my go-to (and the red beans and rice!). But if you’re someone who prefers boneless wings to a bone-in version, these are definitely for you. They’re good, they’re just nothing you haven’t seen before. So there’s no need to rush out and cause historic levels of mayhem just to order some.