Chicken McNuggets used to be my favorite food. I still like them, but not as much as I did in my early 20s, when I would ask potential roommates, dates, and employers if they liked McNuggets. Back then I was so convinced of the McNugget's perfection that I figured I could accurately gauge a person's decency based on where they stood on the matter.
I've since realized that the world is full of perfectly lovely people who don't care for them, but I still think "Do you like Chicken McNuggets?" is a fair indicator of whether a person likes fast food at all. I am engaged to be married to a woman who does not like Chicken McNuggets, but she also doesn't like Whoppers or Wendy's chili and therefore has nothing relevant to say on the topic. I remain convinced that anyone who respects and appreciates fast food should like Chicken McNuggets.
But for all my appreciation for my favorite fast food chicken, I don't have a lot of experience with McDonald's other chicken options, most of which were developed after I'd already found my platonic ideal of a hand-held condiment vessel. I settled on the McNugget early on and saw no reason to stray, so I was a bit behind on the current state of McBird affairs when I noticed a sign for a popcorn chicken option they're calling McBites.
McDonald's currently lists 23 distinct chicken items on their website (18 when you discount the why-bother salads offered to people who like iceberg lettuce and self-deception). In addition to the classic Nuggets and Original Chicken Sandwich, you can now get your chicken grilled, crisped, chipotled, ranched, and wrapped in many more combinations that you'd ever dare dream.
This chicken surplus made me a bit skeptical as to whether there was really any need for a new product. I suspected that McBites would just be small, faux-irregularly shaped McNuggets, which would delight my lunch-eating sensibilities but disappoint my journalistic ones.
As soon as I opened the container—a thoughtfully engineered contraption that pops open to form a sort of highchair for the dipping sauce of your choice—I realized these weren't simply mangled mini-McNuggets. The exterior is a darker-colored, heavier breading not at all like the lighter, weirder McNugget batter. McBites look very similar to KFC's Chicken Poppers, whereas McNuggets don't look similar to anything.
McBites have clearly descended from McDonald's Chicken Select Strips (though they're a shade darker), which I've rarely bothered with due to the aforementioned McNugget fetish. The interior of a McBite looks like whatever mush they cram into the McNugget jacket. It has very little chicken character, lacking even the broth-injected taste I remember from McNuggets, but it hardly matters, because the exterior is so intense.
McBites are more reminiscent of real fried chicken, with a heavily salted and peppered crust that makes an afterthought of the little bit of white meat inside. The exterior has a great texture—crunchy, but not painfully or suspiciously so, as can be the case with other industrially designed foods—and a pretty good taste, but it overpowers the bland white meat to the point where you're effectively eating fried-fried rather than fried chicken.
And I have no problem with that on the face of it, if the fried is up to the task. But though McBites start out strong, after the first glorious fistful my mouth went numb. They're way too over-seasoned. There's a great deal of black pepper and even more salt. After about a third of the way through the 17-chunk, $1.99 "snack size," I was ready to drink the Tangy BarBeQue sauce.
McBites, like everything else in the universe, are nothing like McNuggets, but they're good enough to earn their menu spot despite being tough to eat unsauced and slightly inferior to the more delicate KFC Poppers.