Before we get into the less than 100% chicken meat of the matter, let’s make sure we’re all 100% on the same page when it comes to chicken tenders vs. nuggets vs. strips and such in the first place. Technically speaking, a chicken tender must be made from the pectoralis minor muscle of a chicken—it’s that smaller strip of meat that hangs just below the larger breast muscle.
Because this smaller strip of muscle is used less rigorously than other parts of the bird’s anatomy, it is less developed and thus really is more tender. So, a proper chicken tender is not just a large piece of white meat that has been breaded and cooked—usually by deep frying—but is made from this specific piece of poultry. As for chicken nuggets or strips? Those can be made with any chicken meat. The thing is, they’re often made with more than meat alone, and no, we’re not talking about what you’ll find in the breading or seasoning. For most nuggets, the meat is cut off the bone, ground, and then blended with seasonings and fillers.
If you have a hard time telling, err on the side of listening to what a restaurant is telling you, or not telling you. Most will shout from the rooftops that their tenders are hand-breaded and cut from whole tenderloins. If they don’t, they probably aren’t, proceed with caution.
Surprise, surprise! Those uniformly-shaped and uniformly-tasty McNuggets from McDonald’s are made with more than just chicken on the inside. But don’t worry, the pink slime accusations are just a myth, McDonald’s really does start with all-white meat chicken and then adds seasoning and chicken skin for flavor after the grinding process, according to Insider. Pink slime? No. Whole boot-shaped cuts of chicken? Also, no.
Burger King’s Chicken Fries may be very tender to the bite, but made with chicken tenders or even with 100% chicken meat they are not. This is surely no big surprise, as chicken does not come in fry shape, after all. These slender sticks of breaded meat feature, per Fooducate, “chicken breast with rib meat, water, seasoning (salt, modified corn starch, flavoring), modified potato starch, sodium phosphates.” And that’s the “meat,” not the breading.
You go to Whataburger for the burgers, and that’s as it should be. Because in the chicken strip “meat,” you’ll find “Southern style chicken breast fritter strips containing up to 12% of a solution of: water, isolated soy protein, salt, sodium phosphates.” Which is not 100% chicken, FYI. Also, the three-piece Whatachick’n Strips meal packs in a shocking 1,470 calories assuming you eat the chicken, the Texas Toast, the fries, the gravy, and you drink a soda. P.S. when you see the word “fritters” being used that gives away that these aren’t tenderloins and, thus, not 100% chicken.
Dairy Queen’s description of its Chicken Strips says “all white meat” but that actually only implies a lack of dark meat, not that what is inside that breading is all meat. In fact, the true story is one of “uncooked chicken tenderloin fritters containing up To 18% of a solution of water, hydrolyzed soy protein, salt, and sodium phosphates.”
We love Smashburger’s burgers. And the chain’s chicken sandwiches. And the new wings, even. But reading the chicken tender ingredient list is reason enough for us to skip ordering them. The “meat” contains: “Up to 20% solution of: water, modified food starch, sodium phosphates, chicken broth powder, chicken at, natural flavor, salt, seasoning, sunflower oil” and the list goes on for more than a dozen other ingredients.
If you’re keen to eat only meat in your chicken, get it from somewhere other than this dominant pizza chain. Though its front-facing description of its boneless chicken pieces may read: “Breaded chicken made with 100% whole white breast meat,” when you look at the more in-depth (and harder to find) ingredients page, you’ll find that means: skinless chicken breast chunks with rib meat, wheat flour, water, modified food starch. And yes, that’s before we get to the breading ingredients.
Go right ahead and crave those sliders all you want, but for the sake of your health, skip the Chicken Rings. First off, chicken doesn’t come in rings. And it definitely doesn’t come with these ingredients, all of which you’ll find following the “chicken breast with rib meat” and before the breading: water, salt, sodium phosphates, modified food starch (corn, potato) and carrageenan, powdered cooked chicken, sunflower oil, maltodextrin, chicken broth, buttermilk powder, and more …