When you think of iconic American products, maybe items like coca cola or Ford trucks come to mind. What about the chicken nugget? Ryan Sutton, chief food critic from Eater, wrote a definitive ranking of U.S. fast-food chicken nuggets. He sat down with us to discuss his list and to do a taste test, of course. Here are a few of his takeaways on the fast food staple:
The difference between a chicken nugget and a chicken tender:
A chicken nugget is slightly more complicated than a piece of chicken that’s simply battered and fried. The simplest way to break it down is a chicken tender is probably something you can usually make at home. A chicken nugget is something that most people would not make at home and that’s why it’s so good to eat it out at a delicious fast food establishment.
On the chicken nugget being a quintessentially American product:
[When] you think of old America, you’d think of manufacturing the chicken nugget is not necessarily you know gastronomy the way it is manifested today. You know by you know celebrity chefs with artisan products who cut things with their hand manipulate it minimally and then cook it or riot and serve it beautifully. Chicken nugget is part of the larger food industrial complex. It’s a quintessentially American product to me because it has been manipulated. It has been taken from its natural state and it has been transformed.
Why he decided to rank chicken nuggets in the first place:
Probably the catalyst for me to review chicken nuggets on this particular month was [that] one of my editors told me that Taco Bell was making chicken nuggets in the shape of a tortilla chip or in the shape of a nacho and I thought well that sounds tasty, or at least that sounds interesting. I tried to find the tortilla chicken nugget [and] I couldn’t because it’s being test marketed in areas of the country where there is a lower density of full time food writers. There is probably a reason for that. [So] I decided to just review all the other chicken nuggets and put things in perspective.
On how people have been reacting to the rankings:
I’m a professional food critic. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I can say reasonably nasty things about extremely high profile restaurants in New York, where dinner for two can easily cost over $800, and I’ll have sometimes reasonably few comments on those pieces. But the second you start talking trash about someone’s fast food chain? Whoa, you better hide out for a while because people have serious opinions, because fast food is the type of food that people grew up with. I think more importantly, for a lot of people of many different income brackets, this is how they primarily interact with food outside of the home. It’s a place for them to go, quickly eat food, leave and it’s cheap.
I think that’s one of the important things about food criticism. If we’re going to continue to exist, [and in] the next decade as journalism downsizes, [it’s important] to simply be more ecumenical in our criticism. If film criticism can regularly have Hollywood movies as a steady dose of their diet, arguably food critics can do the same with the Hollywood of their own industry.
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio above.