7 Fast-Food Chains That Use Real Chicken for Their Tenders—Not That Mystery Meat
If you're a fan of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, it's probably best you never watch any of the videos that pop up when you Google how they are made—or any fast-food chicken nuggets for that matter. Also, best to avoid said videos if you easily grow queasy. Yes, McNuggets are made using real chicken meat, but the meat is sourced from all different parts of the bird, it's chopped and blended and mixed with marinade, and it's extruded into those four distinct McNugget shapes.
Oh, and probably best not to do too deep a dive into Burger King's Chicken Fries, either. In both cases, it's…not pretty.
This is not to say that any butchery of meat is, but when it comes to the chicken tenders we're featuring here today, at least you can rest assured that the meat used is minimally processed. The seven fast-food spots on our list make their chicken strips with whole strips of chicken that are cut and breaded, with no blending or extrusion involved.
It's not surprising that a fast-food chain that is all about chicken uses whole pieces of chicken meat for its chicken strip. The boneless, breaded chicken strips from Chick-fil-A are seasoned and then pressure-cooked in peanut oil, which imparts much of the flavor.
Popeyes definitely uses whole strips of chicken meat for its tenders, there's no doubt there. But Truth In Advertising raises a question: are they actual tenders? Technically, a chicken tender is a separate part of the bird from the chicken breast, per The Kitchn—it's that little strip that hangs off the breast and is indeed more tender in texture. So while these (and the others featured, by the way) may not be true "tenders," know they are whole strips of white meat.
As uniform in shape as McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are, KFC's Chicken Tenders are not; you'll get bigger tenders, smaller ones, and pieces in irregular shapes, and that's a good thing because it lets you know these tenders are made from whole cut pieces of chicken meat that's then battered, spiced, and deep fried.
For a chain known (and named) for its burgers, Whataburger offers a surprisingly good chicken strip. The restaurant's Whatachick'n Strips are cut from whole pieces of white breast meat and, at last check, a three-piece order comes with a soda, fries, and Texas Toast for just $7.99—which is a great price for a fast-food meal these days.
The favorite chicken strip with a reviewer from Uproxx, Raising Cane's is highly committed to excellence in chicken. The chain uses fresh, never frozen meat that is marinated for a full day, hand cut, hand-battered, and fried to order.
The menu at Church's Chicken is about as simple as it gets: there's a chicken sandwich, there's bone-in chicken, and there are chicken tenders. Everything can be made into a combo, and everything can be original or spicy. The sandwich is made from breast meat, the "mixed" meals come with drumsticks and breasts, and the tenders are whole cuts of white meat. Simple, sure, but it's been working since 1952.
Carl's Jr. (which is the same chain as Hardee's on the East Coast) may not have the best reputation for quality in the whole fast-food world, but the restaurant's chicken tenders are actually pretty reliably good. They are cut from whole strips of breast meat, hand-dipped in buttermilk, hand-breaded, and then fried.