Why the clamor over Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets? Why has this one foodstuff cross the threshold into the pop cultural firmament? Why was Chance the Rapper pleading for its return?
The cynical among us might think Chance was in cahoots with Wendy’s marketing team. I’m not so sure. Anytime I write about Wendy’s, there’s always a groundswell of organic support for its spicy chicken nugget. It’s not quite as ironic as the Rick & Morty-level hysteria for McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce; the love of Wendy’s spicy nuggets, from my fast food perch, appears genuine.
On Monday, Wendy’s brought back it back on its menu (a week earlier than expected; it’s also a limited-time offer), and it can now lay claim as the only major fast food chain offering a spicy chicken in nugget form. “Nugget” is an important distinction. These aren’t strips of breast, or even any meat resembling muscle fiber—the nugget flesh is chicken forcemeat, pulverized into a paste somewhere in flyover country and reassembled into something rubbery and toothsome. (Personally, I love the nugget texture. It reminds me of beef balls in Vietnamese pho and Hong Kong-style curry fish meatballs, both having that “bouncy” consistency.) The nugget texture is tactilely satisfying, nothing more, and the flavor is derived entirely from the breading and the fry job.
So we can only judge Wendy’s spicy nuggets on that exterior coating. Unlike McDonald’s McNugget, which have a more golden-crisp hue, Wendy’s nuggets have a grittier breading, almost like fine cornmeal. There’s no crunchiness, just the vaguest idea of crispiness, and that bounciness once it reaches the molars. The spiciness presented is fast food-spicy, meaning it’s not hot enough to cause heart palpitations, but a stage of spice before one experiences tingliness. Perhaps the spiciness is on the upper limits for grandpa, but it’s a pleasant hot for most adults. It goes nicely with Wendy’s S’awesome Sauce, like a 2:1 barbecue sauce-to-mayonnaise with microdoses of cayenne.
This is a decent nugget. It’s missing the verging-on-crunchy shell exterior of a McNugget, but the spice novelty compensates somewhat. If McDonald’s is 1A in the nugget field, Wendy’s spicy nuggets makes the argument as 1B.