When fast food heavyweights go head to head, it’s always worth paying attention. Like Ali vs Foreman or Fury vs Wilder, the prospect of the biggest names in deep frying battering each other into submission is guaranteed to draw a crowd. So, now that two titans of the industry have both decided to release new fiery fried chicken options within weeks of each other, we shouldn’t be surprised that there have been fireworks. Let’s get ready to rumble.
When undisputed fast food kings McDonald’s unveiled their new Spicy Chicken McNuggets back in August, the whole industry took notice. While fans of crispy minced chicken parts were frantically queuing around the block, Maccies’ opponents were gathering their strength, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Just as it looked like McDonald’s spicy nugs had set the standard for heated highstreet dining, Kentucky fried crowd-pleasers KFC have decided to step into the ring. Not content with having the Golden Arches all over their chickeny turf, the franchise have unleashed their own answer to the hot nugget phenomenon, in the form of three new flavours of Daredevil Bites. Both options offer an affordable way to spice up your lunch, but which is better? In a selfless act of strictly scientific (and incidentally tasty) research, we decided to find out.
The first thing to say about the two chains is their branding. McDonald’s, despite their ambition of bringing the heat, serve their six nuggets in a £3.49 box that screams "church picnic" more than "Carolina reaper". No volcanoes, no chillies, no dragons. If it wasn’t for a tiny flame sputtering in the ‘p’ of “Spicy” you’d struggle to spot it wasn’t a normal nugget box. By contrast, KFC’s black pots of four for £1.99 are painted black, covered in skulls and feature huge spouts of flame, making them look like something served by a metal band who’s cooking could lead to a painful few hours on the toilet, in a good way. Once the lids are off, however, the battle really begins.
Any connoisseur will tell you that no nugget is complete without a proper coating. Here, McDonald’s are streets ahead. The jalapeno, paprika and turmeric-infused batter that surrounds the spicy nuggets is crispy and flavourful, even if it has all the heat of bowl of hummus. KFC’s breading, by contrast, just seems to be their signature blend of herbs and spices, which just seems a bit beige when you’re hoping to feel the heat.
When it comes to the sauce, both brands have big problems. KFC’s three flavours; Piri Piri, Sweet Chilli and Buffalo, mean that you at least have options - it’s just that some of them are pants. The piri piri is all acid and metallic tang, and tastes like you’ve rubbed your chicken along a rusty tap. The sweet chilli is tasty enough, but has way too much of the “sweet” and not nearly enough of the “chilli”. To top it off, the sauce is squirted straight onto the bites, causing the batter to become disconcertingly floppy after just a few minutes. On the plus side, the buffalo is genuinely fierce and delivers bags of flavour. Big thumbs up.
Love buffalo? Here's our recipe for Crispy Buffalo Chicken Pasta Pops:
McDonald’s, on the other hand, offer just the one suggested sauce pairing of “Spicy Tomato Salsa”. While, again, the sauce isn’t even slightly spicy, it does have a weirdly insipid, synthetic tomato flavour, like someone tried to remake tomato ketchup and decided to remove all the happiness. The nuggets themselves, however, could well be saved by the fact that they can be combined with any other sauce on the Maccies menu, meaning that you don’t have to subject yourself to joyless ketchup.
Both sides may have saucing issues, but there’s no contest when it comes to the chicken itself. While you know what you’re getting with a McDonald’s nugget, there’s no denying that blended meat can’t compare to the real deal. This is where KFC come into their own. Each Daredevil Bite is made with real chicken breast, which gives them a meaty clout that McDonald’s can only dream of. One taste of KFC and you know you’re eating chicken. With McDonald’s, you can’t be so sure.
Given all the factors in play, choosing one over the other is extremely tricky. Whatever you think of McDonald’s as a restaurant, McNuggets of all varieties are undeniably delicious. These are no different. And it’s true, KFC’s alternative is too soggy, has bland batter and doesn’t come with separate sauce. But, if you’re after some spicy, bite-sized chicken pieces for an on-the-go lunch, the Buffalo Daredevil Bites just edge out the competition. It’s a close call, but in this particular battle, heat has to come out on top.