We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Frozen Chicken Nuggets and They All Said the Same Thing

published Jan 11, 2024
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Close up shot of Betty Crocker chicken tenders on baking sheet.
Credit: Photo: Jason Rampe | Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe

Let’s be real: Even if you don’t have kids, you likely have a bag of frozen chicken nuggets chilling in your freezer. They’re perfect for when hanger strikes, a break-in-case-of-emergency, ready-for-anything food that is hard to beat. And as I found out, professional chefs can’t seem to get enough of pre-made frozen chicken nuggets, either. 

Overwhelmingly, the chefs I chatted with all chose the same chicken nuggets as their top pick, one you’d likely never guess. “So I don’t buy a ton of store-bought nuggets, but when I do it’s purely for the nostalgia factor,” says Matt Wilson of OyBar in Los Angeles. “And then of course, I choose Yummy Dino Buddies (but I deep fry them).” 

Yes, you read correctly: Dinosaur nuggets. 

A lot of careful research was involved in these chefs’ discovery of their top pick, too, with a lot of standards to uphold, as was the case for Wilson. “I’ve tried other nuggets, and while they’re more chicken-y,” Wilson says. “I’m not necessarily looking for that when I want a nugget. Also, I don’t have little heads and limbs to bite off!” 

Even chefs who got their start by making legendary homemade nuggets still opt for the ferocious nugs, as was the case for chef Kiki Aranita. “Yes, I am supposed to tell you that you should be making chicken nuggets from scratch because that is literally what built my career as a chef in Philadelphia. The reality is I do buy Perdue Dino-Shaped chicken nuggets… they’re juicy and cute and taste like actual chicken. They also get an incredible crust when you sear them in a pan with a generous amount of olive oil.”

As parents likely know, picking the best chicken nuggets in the frozen aisle can be a true family affair. Even amongst chefs, certain members of the clan tend to steer the ship when it comes down to picking out the best chicken nuggets: their kids. “My daughter will ONLY eat original Yummy Dino Buddies,” says chef Jackie Freeman. “We have tried many different types of nuggets… Nothing else will suffice. Consequently, those are the only chicken nuggets we (the chef grown up and family) eat.”

Chicken nuggets are equal parts nostalgic and satisfying in half a dozen ways, often leading these chefs down their own culinary rabbit holes, as is the case for Wilson who is currently developing a chicken nugget recipe reminiscent of the McDonald’s dark meat chicken nuggets of the 90’s (which I selfishly hope he is successful in doing).

Chef Aranita credits chicken nuggets for her early start in cooking, too. “I did not know how to cook in college,” Aranita says. “I would get the Perdue chicken nuggets, sear them hard and put them into a King’s Hawaiian Roll with melted cheddar and mayo. Is it representative of my skills now as a chef? Absolutely not. But I do still make this chicken nugget sandwich. It still does satisfy.”

When you think about it, where would our freezers really be without a bag of dinosaur chicken nuggets? A sadder place, for sure, and with a whole lot fewer chances for chicken nugget parm, chicken nuggets and waffles, or chicken nugget tacos.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this chicken nugget-talk has me hungry enough that I could break the world-record for most chicken nuggets eaten in a minute (19!). 

Buy: Yummy Dinosaur-Shaped Chicken Breast Nuggets, $7.76 for 21 ounces at Instacart

Are you #TeamDinoShape too? Tell us about it in the comments below.