When Popeyes debuted their chicken sandwich on an unsuspecting public some two years ago, they unleashed what’s now known as the chicken sandwich war. A sandwich slug fest like no other, with brand after brand proclaiming victory. For what it’s worth I’ve pretty much tried them all and for my money the Popeyes original still stands supreme.
A few weeks back, Popeyes announced their next move, a foray into the chicken nugget world. The hook was simple, they would take the chicken sandwich’s core appeal and convert it into poppabale bites; Popeyes state the new nuggets are freshly prepared, beginning to end in restaurant everyday, marinated for 12 hours, hand-battered in a buttermilk coating. The restaurant also states the Nuggets use whole-muscle chicken breast with an irregularly cut and shape to prevent them look “cookie cutter” as Amy Alarcon from Popeyes told Restaurant Business online in a recent interview.
At my local store in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Nuggets sell in the following sizes and price:
- 8 pc – $3.99
- 12 pc – $5.99
- 24 pc – $10.99
- 36 – $15.99
- 48 pc – $19.99
Those prices are for the ala carte nuggets with no extras. Popeyes offers a range of combos and dinners, as was as a 4pc and 6pc kids meal with the new nuggets.
So. Drumroll. How life changing are the new Popeyes Chicken Nuggets? Are we about to start the see of a new Chicken Nugget war?
Initial impressions are good. Popeyes have created new packaging for the product release, unlike some companies that stuff their premium new product in the same old boring bag. The Nuggets come in an eye-catching Popeyes-orange container that proclaims, “Y’all never had nuggets like these before!”
On opening the box of my 12 piece order, I spied that same Popeyes breading that launched their chicken sandwich to iconic fame. It’s a crunchtastic (its a word, just don’t Google it) casing that remains notably crisp and shattering even after the nuggets have cooled off. It’s full of flaky ridges and if nothing else it looks a million bucks. You’re unlikely to find a better looking Nugget on any fast food menu. P.s. join our free newsletter here and you’ll be the first to know if we find better!
The chicken interior is of good quality, again like the sandwich that came before it. It’s not too salty and it’s demonstrably poultry. The overall taste is a mild one, very mild actually; apparently this is a design feature according to Alacron in the above linked interview. The idea is for the Nugget to be palatable to the whole family, kids and all, which means holding back on powerful seasoning or spice. That results in a surprisingly bland Nugget overall. It’s not bad, but it lacks that X factor that propelled the chicken sandwich along.
Which is why you will want to look towards Popeyes range of sauces and dips. There are currently seven available:
- Bayou Buffalo
- Blackened Ranch (pictured here)
- Cocktail Sauce
- Mardi Gras Mustard
- Sweet Heat
- Tartar Sauce
As I tore through the carton, I started to notice that in the bite size format does differ from the sandwich experience in more ways that that. Here without the bun and pickle lending a helping hand (and arguably a different batter to chicken ratio) the coating is more prominent in the flavor mix; it starts to weigh heavy towards the end of the meal. I wouldn’t call the batter greasy, indeed its a drier finish, but it was more weightier on the palate compared to the sandwich. This all underscores the brand’s marketing campaign pushing their range of sauces above, definitely go in armed with your favorite sauce.
Overall these are mighty fine Chicken Nuggets and make no mistake. They are about as far removed from the industrial pink-slime processed Nuggets of old as you can imagine. This is of course, all fabulous news. Sadly the Nuggets are not the light year jump forward that Popeyes sandwich represented way back in 2019.
TL;DR: very good, but not transcendentally life changing. But hey cmon, it’s a chicken Nugget.
What else is out there?
We’ll have to wait a little longer for a chicken nugget that re-invents, errrr, nugget world. Until then several other brands do compare favorably here, some of our favorite recent nuggets we’ve tasted include:
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic Salt Lake City, and a former freelance restaurant critic. I’ve worked extensively with local, regional and national food and drink organizations. I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have been writing about food and drink for more than fifteen years. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. I don’t mind admitting to a certain secret obsession with fast food as well – and that’s where Menu And Price comes in…