I love fake chicken nuggets. I’ve been a vegetarian off and on for 10 years, and chicken nuggets are the one faux-meat product I don’t get sick of, regardless of the brand. I chop them up and put them on salads, eat them plain, put them on buns like a weird little disjointed chicken sandwich. I received 100 frozen Nuggs—made by a company called Simulate, that’s trying to turn fake meat into a startup lab—as a gift for my birthday last year.
KFC started offering vegan chicken nuggets made by Beyond Meat at select locations on Monday, so on Monday, I went to my nearest KFC. Beyond has been around for a long time; the company was founded in 2009, and their beef replica patties and crumbles, made from pea protein and a bunch of other stuff, are decent. Beyond has inked deals with Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, in addition to KFC, to offer meat-analogues at those chains, too. Burger King has offered a Whopper made by a different company, Impossible, since 2019.
The ideal way to eat these new KFC veggie nuggets, IMHO, is around 4:30 p.m. after sitting in traffic for an hour, on a day when snow has fallen two days before and is still melting in tar-soaked streams, running down storm drains that sounds like heavy rain; ideally, what I’m saying, is that you need to do this hungry and excited but also kind of depressed and exhausted. Your spirits should be up but your expectations should be on the floor, and you should bring moral support if you can. I brought my boyfriend, also a vegetarian of disgusting tastes, who I’d picked up at Laguardia airport and sat in Brooklyn rush traffic with for the hour prior.
I’d checked the online menu of our nearest KFC location ahead of time to make sure they had the nugs; not every location would get them on the 10th, but the one close to us did.
I haven’t been to a fast food drive-thru in a long time (this is not a healthy living brag, I just haven’t had access to a car in a while) and was instantly overwhelmed; the last time I went to a drive through was to get the Impossible Whopper at Burger King, and was thrown completely off my game then, too. We knew what we wanted—a shitload of nuggets, plus a couple biscuits, coleslaw, fries, and one of those fucked up little chocolate cakes—but when I pulled up to the speaker I forgot it all. I’m going to blame this on the atmosphere: The KFC on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn has a drive through that’s situated in such a way that it winds around the back of the building into an alley, creating a liminal space of chaotic energies corralled in by a high, mildewy wall while you place your order. The menu listing for the Beyond nuggets looked like it had been there for a decade, somehow, despite this being day one.
I asked for two dozen nuggets. At the time, I didn’t know I would write this review; we had no real grasp on what 24 nuggets looks like, or the kind of burden that would have been, but it seemed like the right amount. I had to repeat “two dozen” multiple times, I think partially because the speaker system was shot to hell but also because the person taking the order was probably thinking “that can’t be right” and kept trying to get me to change it to six reasonable nuggets. I also fully blanked on the biscuits, as well as the cake. It was the scenario from that TikTok sound where the girl tries to order a blue raspberry slushie and the cashier says “sausage McMuffin?” We ended up getting one dozen nuggets instead of two (a kindness), plus two of every kind of sauce they have, and the fries.
I felt like I’d ingested several big smooth aquarium stones. He felt great. His review: “I would do it to myself again.”
The first thing you’ll notice about the Beyond nuggets is their shape. They’re square but not quite—a warped quadrilateral with rounded edges. I think if we’re going by McDonald’s nugget shape rubric, they’re close to the “bone,” but more square. They’re also huge. They make McNuggets look dainty. Burger King nuggets are a joke in comparison.
According to Beyond, they’re made with pea protein. This is odd to me, because the texture and appearance is exactly like the firmest slice of tofu imaginable—this is how Motherboard editor Jason Koebler described the sight of it when I sent him a photo. Emanuel Maiberg, another Motherboard editor, said it looked like an eraser. This is also spot-on texture-wise. I’m not saying any of this is bad. Who hasn’t looked at an eraser in childhood and desperately wanted to bite into it? The forbidden craft item. You get to live out that little oral fixation urge now, except it’s breaded and deep fried. Amy McCarthy at Eater described this density as “slightly rubbery to chew.” Also accurate!
The taste was not very chicken-y to me, less so than Nuggs or even Morningstar’s fake chicken. The breading seemed like it was seasoned less heavily than the regular KFC fried chicken, or at least, how I recall it tasting from the last time I had it 15 years ago. The breading separated too cleanly from the sharply square tile of pea protein when I bit into it.
All of that said, I ate four of these monsters and my boyfriend, having not eaten since 6 a.m., housed the rest. I felt like I’d ingested several big smooth aquarium stones. He felt great. His review: “I would do it to myself again.”
According to the nutritional facts on KFC’s site, four nuggets contain 960 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbs, and 24 grams of protein—the equivalent of four salty, carby eggs.
I posted the above photo to my Instagram story with the caption “I’m in pain,” and several vegetarian and veg-curious friends replied to get the full review. Several said they’d try it anyway. Anyone assessing fast food restaurants’ pivot to faux-meat options as being comparable to the real, formerly-alive thing is missing the point a bit: I don’t think it’s necessarily to replicate chicken, or beef, or whatever. Lots of vegans and vegetarians avoid meat precisely because they don’t like the texture and taste; companies pushing so hard for meat simulacra has always been odd to me, when plant based food can be great in itself. The reason the Burger King Impossible Whopper is decent isn’t because it accurately simulated beef. The regular Whopper patty barely does that, and it is beef. It’s good because all the rest of the stuff involved in being a Whopper—the buns, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, mayo, all of that—still tastes like a Whopper. The patty is mostly a sodium vehicle. The KFC Beyond nuggets don’t have anything to hide behind except for some breading, but the breading isn’t even that good, either.
All of this is to get people who haven’t been to a fast food drive through in years to visit for the first time since they were kids. Few people are going to go to KFC for the first time in decades to try the new chicken sandwich. If Twitter is any indicator, plenty of people went to KFC this week specifically to try these nuggets, and lots of people liked them a lot more than I did, which makes me happy. I am not a professional and this is only one vegetarian nugget-enthusiast’s opinion.
Someone needs to check on KFC’s french fry situation too, but that’s a different review.