It is an indisputable fact that I have eaten more chicken nuggets than the average human. In fact, chicken nuggets were and are the solution to practically everything in my life. Refusing dinner as a kid? Chicken nuggets. Bribery to be social? Chicken nuggets. Pure and utter boredom? Chicken nuggets. High cholesterol? More of a cause than a solution, but, alas, chicken nuggets. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if I started to grow feathers.
So it goes without saying that I am practically the chicken nugget connoisseur of the world, dubbing the end of every week as Fried Chicken Friday so I can order a dozen or so of the delicacy and kick my feet up to enjoy greasy, salty, crunchy, dippable bliss (with honey mustard, of course).
It’s quite difficult to mess up a chicken nugget. Poultry is, of course, a very neutral protein that can easily be breaded and cooked in oil, though you can probably fry anything at this point and I’ll likely eat it.
Real chicken nugget lovers know, however, that there are nuances to the carnivorous entrée, especially when it comes to frozen, mainstream brands. While I’ll always prefer mine fresh out of the fryer, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures (i.e. 2 a.m. hunger pangs after way too many tequila sodas).
These are the seven varieties, made in the oven and following the brands’ exact cooking instructions, that I sampled for this week’s taste test.
7. Tyson Chicken Nuggets
The “crispy” in its marketing is false advertising because these were absolutely the soggiest of the bunch. They also were an unappetizing shade of gray when bit into, which kind of triggered my gag reflex. I couldn’t find one redeeming quality, unfortunately, making them the biggest miss of the bunch. In fact, I don’t even think I’d eat these if I was desperate, which is sad because, as I mentioned, chicken nuggets are literally my life.
6. Applegate Naturals Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets
What Tyson lacked in crispness, Applegate lacked in balance. These were just far too chewy for my liking. I mean, I’d absolutely house them if starving, but they’re never going to be my go-to.
5. Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Nuggets
This is going to make sense to some of you and not to others, but I hate chicken that tastes like chicken. I don’t want it to be gamey or meaty or anything that reminds me of consuming an actual animal. I need it to assume the flavors of its coating and seasonings and then serve as a vessel to my sauce of choice. What I loved about these chicken nuggets is that they are thick and juicy, but the occasional nugget gave off that “I’m definitely an animal” flavor that was a major deterrent for me. So if there was a way to filter the good from the bad, I’d be all in. Otherwise, it’s somewhat of a pass for now.
4. Perdue Simply Smart Organics Breaded Chicken Nuggets
Do the ‘due. But seriously. This was an above-average nug — one that I’d be completely content with eating on the regular. I appreciate the brand’s commitment to healthier ingredients, especially when it didn’t stray too far from the OG in taste and texture. Of course, I feel like Perdue’s “freshly prepared” variety still reigns supreme, but this is a reliable frozen option that will remind you of the ones from your childhood.
3. Nature’s Promise Free from Breaded Chicken Nuggets
These surprisingly gave major McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets vibes. And while I’m not saying that’s the standard by which we should judge all chicken nugget products, it did feel nice to crunch into something that felt and tasted familiar. All that was missing, frankly, was some Hot Mustard Sauce (the best condiment from the golden arches; I’ll fight you on this).
2. Trader Joe’s Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets
These admittedly tasted better in the air fryer than the oven, but I was a huge, huge fan of Trader Joe’s take on the timeless classic. I also appreciated how they were of varying sizes (making them feel less manufactured) and with the lingering flavor of garlic and onion powder. They also boasted an excellent crispness, which is a far departure from some of the spongier (I know, that word also grosses me out when describing food) options on this list. All in all, a very a solid choice and one that I’ll consider during my next TJ’s run.
1. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Nuggets
Whole Foods has been letting me down lately with these taste tests, so I was delighted to see one of the store’s products make a triumphant return to the No. 1 spot. These just tasted the most natural, plain and simple. while an intoxicated me is more inclined to favor something fried and filthy in the wee hours of the morning, everyday me has a lot of respect for the nugget that is healthier and places an emphasis on the protein (sans the aftertaste found in number five). Good on you, Whole Foods. Now don’t disappoint me next week.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com