Originally, this was going to be a much more straight-forward review of Popeye’s new chicken nuggets.  But, as I ate them, I realized there wasn’t a ton I could say.  The varying sizes (2 were basically tenders) and the texture of the meat inside made it obvious that they were real chunks of chicken breast, and not the reconstituted paste shaped into whimsical lumps served at many other fast food places.  Everything else, from the crispiness of the breading to the flavor, is exactly what you would expect from (mild-recipe, as far as I know they don’t make spicy nugs) Popeye’s chicken.  If your go-to at Popeye’s is tenders, this is an equally impressive vehicle for your dipping sauce of choice.  In short: they are good.  

But to stop my thoughts on the matter there would be short-sighted. Did those first few to get their hands on the infamous sandwich know what carnage it would reap? (According to a receipt I found recently, apparently I actually managed to get my first sandwich a few days before the nation-wide reveal.  So I guess the answer to that is a no from me.) 

What I’m trying to say here is that nuggets could be the next step in the evolution of the chicken wars.  

On one hand: many people are starting to get chicken sandwich fatigue.  Sandwiches had their 15 minutes (almost 2 years) of fame, and it almost seems like everyone that tries to release a sandwich at this point is just blasé.   But nuggets?  Just as familiar as a sandwich, but without any of the pretension.  And, in the case of many fast food joints, there’s a lot of room for improvement.  To the extent of my knowledge, no major chain (I fought back and forth on whether or not I could call the Chick’n Bites at Shake Shack a “nation-wide” offering, and any place offering whatever the hell “popcorn chicken” is is just being contrarian) has tried offering a premium nugget until about a month ago, with chicken underdog Arby’s.  Yeah, no, really, Arby’s threw their little cowboy hat into the ring and turned the whole game on its head by saying “nuggets are the thing now, actually.”  I remember seeing ads for them at the time and being underwhelmed; it’s only now, with Popeye’s nuggets, that I and the rest of the world are truly seeing the light.  

I also want to point out something that customers probably don’t think of (that the workers definitely do): the cook time.  I can say from personal experience as both a line cook and as a customer that a pounded-out chicken breast can easily take up to 10 minutes to fry and cook all the way through.  When I first tried to order Burger King’s Ch’King, the order-taker told me they were all out, but then when I pulled around to the window the cashier said “they lied, they just didn’t want to make it.”  And, upon finally bothering to make another attempt to get it, they gave me the ol’ “pull-ahead-and-wait-over-there” maneuver, as it took them about *gasp* 10 minutes to make my sandwich.  But nuggets fry up in a fraction of the time and can also be thrown in their container without the assembly that a sandwich would require, meaning shorter wait times for customers (and precious seconds shaved off the drive-thru timers, which for some reason the people at corporate care a lot about), and less anxiety for workers.

But there’s one major obstacle for widespread nug glow-ups.  When I said nuggets are familiar earlier, that kinda goes both ways.  As much as I don’t usually like the whimsical lumps of reconstituted chicken paste, there are a lot of people who do. There could be a lot of backlash from picky nugget fans who insist that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” if premium nuggets came to outright replace their old favorites.  Considering the fact that most places are still currently offering fancy chicken sandwiches alongside the dollar menu cousins, I doubt that would happen.

I could be entirely wrong about all of this.  But I have a good feeling that even if we get bored of sandwiches, the chicken wars are far from over.

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