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How Much Better for Me Is a Chick-fil-A Grilled Nugget Than the Hallowed McNugget?

I mean, they’re not even made out of pink sludge anymore

One of the few advantages of the year I spent working out of a tiny consultant office on Five Mile Road was being within walking distance of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Every day around noon, I would step out of the front door, walk about 50 yards to the west and make an immediate left turn into the cramped KFC waiting area. 

Ordinarily, I would never have regarded KFC as a viable option for midday refueling. But this just so happened to be in the middle of 2009, when KFC was rolling out its since-discontinued grilled chicken option. It was easily deduced that KFC’s grilled chicken breasts were markedly healthier in almost every conceivable respect than their fried predecessors, containing 180 fewer calories each. Overnight, KFC turned into perhaps the most convenient place in the country to snag a relatively healthy pre-cooked chicken breast for a guy like me who was too lazy to avail himself of any cooking instruction on his own.

Ever since, I’ve had it deeply etched into my brain that any form of grilled fast-food chicken is easily going to be healthier than any variety of fried fast-food chicken. But have my opinions on the matter of quick-and-dirty chicken preparation been prematurely shaped by much too small of a sample size? 

To help reach a better informed conclusion, let’s compare the most iconic chicken nuggets in existence — Chicken McNuggets — with a supposedly much healthier alternative — the Grilled Nuggets at Chick-fil-A. 

So which nuggets are healthier?

This is one of those frustrating instances where the two companies have clearly grouped their offerings in numeric quantities that don’t overlap. They probably did this to limit the extent to which their products might be confused with one another. But if you’re like me, and have nothing better to do, you can still figure it out:

On a nugget-for-nugget basis, this appears to be an easy victory for the Chick-fil-A Grilled Nugget, especially if your primary goal is to maximize your protein intake while ingesting the bare minimum number of calories. Still, there are a few other elements worth considering, one of which is that the consumption of chicken nuggets is intended to be a pleasant, handheld experience requiring individual morsels of food that are easily separated, while Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets are prone to clumping and there’s a good chance that you’ll end up eating them out of the carton with a fork, which defies the spirit of what a nugget is intended to be. 

Nevertheless, we aren’t here to put Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets on trial to determine whether they’re authentic nuggets, or simply pre-cut pieces of chicken breast that have been tattooed with grill marks and dumped into a carton (although that’s definitely how I’d vote); this is all about which nugget is healthier. Well, this comparison wouldn’t be wholly complete unless we compared Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Nuggets to their more traditional brethren from the Chick-fil-A menu:

So not surprisingly, there seems to be a clear difference in healthiness between fried nuggets and grilled nuggets across the board, but there also seems to be a significant advantage enjoyed by Chick-fil-A’s chicken across most categories vis a vis Chicken McNuggets, aside from the massive uptick in sodium content once their chicken is fried. Case in point: Chick-fil-A offers a 30-piece box of nuggets that barely has any more calories than a 20-piece box of Chicken McNuggets.

I think we all know what this means: Beyond Chick-fil-A more than living up to its “Eat mor chikin” slogan, the Colonel needs to throw his Stetson into the ring and bring back his grilled chicken menu options ASAP.