Crappy Food Critic #08: McDonald’s Shakin’ Flavor Seasonings

Hey y’all, what’s shakin’? Chicken McNuggets, that’s what. Those little light brown crispy abominations—you either love them or you hate them. Me, I love them. I’m not super-happy about what that says about me, but it comes from the heart, so my aim is true. Other than containing gradually greater amounts of actual meat, McNuggets haven’t changed much since their introduction in 1983. Now, however, in addition to their venerable line of dipping sauces, McDonald’s offers a trio of flavor powders, applied to the outer surface of the McNugget via vigorous shaking.

I know right off the bat the above picture is going to upset some people because, yes, you have to apply the powder yourself. That’s like when you go to the movies and you order nachos, and you’re dreaming of a paper boat full of giant round tortilla chips with neon yellow gold spilling over the sides, but then the concession stand kid gives you a snack-size bag of Fritos (NOT EVEN SCOOPS) and a Dixie cup that doesn’t even contain enough radioactive goop to cover a Cheez-It.

Also, you can see that I received only one shake bag for three different flavors. BAD FORM, MCDONALD’S. I am not interested in a zesty chipotle garlic BBQ parmesan ranch Frankennugget. With nothing similar on hand, I got the powder out of the bag the same way I got it in: by shaking it (and also wiping it down with a napkin). It worked well enough, in that I didn’t detect any of the previous flavor when I went to try a new one, but I did go to a different McDonald’s for this batch than for the other ones I’ve had, and the other McDonald’s all had the good sense to give me a separate paper bag for each flavor. I’m not going to publicly shame the location that did this to me … this time.

When I’m faced with multiple flavors of a product, as in the case of the Daredevil Loaded Grillers[1], I try them in the order I think I’m going to like them, from most to least. That brought zesty ranch to the plate first. When it comes to shaking objects, my mighty arm can match the paint mixer at Home Depot in power and intensity, so the seasoning got pretty well distributed. (Before and after shaking below.)

The zesty ranch powder has an extremely prominent dairy component, along with equally powerful vibes of garlic and onion. McDonald’s must have more in mind than just chicken sandwiches when it comes to their recent commitment to using real buttermilk. I really like this flavor, but my wife had a very visceral negative reaction to it. It is so strong as to potentially set off a distant “fake” alarm in the back of the minds of some, so your tolerance for ranch will likely reliably predict how much you’re going to enjoy this flavor.

Next up came parmesan garlic. Of the three flavors available, this one misses the mark by the widest margin. The seasoning tastes almost stale, with too much of the “feet” profile and not enough of whatever it is that offsets that foot taste and makes parmesan palatable and pleasing. You might have had parmesan garlic “hot” wings before: if you have, you know that they’re all flavor and no heat, and if you mess up that flavor, you’ve got nothing.

Chipotle BBQ vindicated my decision to move from most- to least-anticipated, because I had the lowest expectations for it and it turned out the best, so I may have ended up liking it even more than I would have otherwise. The kick I got from the first chipotle BBQ nugget was a huge surprise. Right away, you feel an immediate yet enduring impact. It’s very smoky, but also kind of sweet. The only knock against it would be that after four or five of them, the artificiality of that particular flavor becomes more apparent than with the others—that high-fructose ketchupiness that signifies an inferior barbecue sauce. Those intolerant of any level of spice in anything whatsoever will want to avoid it. Their loss, though, because the chipotle BBQ seasoning totally bowled me over. It’s the only flavor of the three I would prefer to the total exclusion of the liquid dipping sauces.

Speaking of the sauces, I can’t recommend pairing a powder-laden nugget with any of them. The sauces are an “in your face” kind of proposition, while the seasonings are more earthy and tend to complement the McNugget rather than bury it. McNuggets in the past have been little more than a conduit for sauce consumption; if you’re not ready to confront the idea of an unadorned, undipped McNugget, I’d say don’t take the plunge until you are. None of the combinations of dust and sauce I’ve tried up to now have lit me up, though I should also note they didn’t drive me to misery either.

Overall, the Shakin’ Flavor Seasonings are a motley bunch, achieving wildly varying levels of success, sometimes seeming like a half-hearted and/or glib attempt at a boneless wing, other times shining a faint light on a road to a brand new era of McNugget possibilities. I get the feeling these won’t be around forever, though their availability in my area appears to suggest expansion from a few test markets, so they’ve at least got a foothold. If you enjoy doing things that work on both figurative and literal levels, you should shake things up and expand your McNugget paradigm with one of these flavors. Chipotle BBQ gets my highest recommendation, but zesty ranch runs a not-quite-close second.

[1] Worst Hardy Boys book ever.

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