Review: Wendy's New Saucy Nuggs Menu Coats Chicken Nuggets With Savory And Spicy Goodness

Calling all chicken nuggets fanatics, boneless wing enthusiasts, and Wendy's aficionados: The fast-food chain will soon be launching its new Saucy Nuggs across the United States. As the name suggests, the new menu items are the restaurant's upgrade on its chicken nuggets, tossing them in one of seven flavors. Sauces include Honey BBQ, Garlic Parm, Buffalo, and Spicy Ghost Pepper, with the first three options available in spicy-nugget versions, as well. 

Tasting Table was on hand for a late-May press event at a New York City Wendy's location to preview the new Saucy Nuggs, providing everything you need to know about the new menu items. Also in attendance was John Li, Wendy's global vice president of culinary innovation, who shared his saucy takes on the flavorful nuggets, which he called "a very big deal" for the company. He described the flavor profiles of the sauces, and offered some behind-the-scenes insight on the research and development required to create a new menu item. Li even hinted at a few things still in store, so stay tuned.

Recommendations are based on firsthand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by Wendy's.

What are Wendy's Saucy Nuggs?

Saucy Nuggs are Wendy's new line of sauce-coated chicken nuggets, available in seven flavors: Honey BBQ, Spicy Honey BBQ, Garlic Parm, Spicy Garlic Parm, Buffalo, Spicy Buffalo, and Spicy Ghost Pepper. While the sauces are new, the nuggets themselves are not; in fact, they are the same crispy chicken nuggets that Wendy's fans know and love. (Those labeled as "spicy" use the chain's spicy chicken nuggets as a base.) 

That said, if you're thinking you can simply buy Wendy's chicken nuggets, take them home, and toss them with whatever barbecue sauce you have in your kitchen, you will find that they do not come out the same as these. Li tells us that a lot went into the creation of the sauces — not only the flavor profiles, but the viscosity and mouthfeel, too. 

As for the flavors that Wendy's is releasing for the Saucy Nuggs, they are driven by consumer research and general food trends, says Li. In the process of developing a new menu item, Wendy's most specifically looked at the Gen Z demographic, and according to Li, "what they want to eat protein-wise [is] chicken, chicken, chicken." We already know that the restaurant Gen Z favors the most is Chick-fil-A, so while Wendy's "already own[s] bacon and ... fresh, never-frozen beef," Li says, there was room for improvement among the chain's chicken offerings. 

Where to find Wendy's new Saucy Nuggs

The Saucy Nuggs will be available in Wendy's locations across the U.S. by Monday, June 10. If you consider yourself an insider (and, if you're reading this, obviously you do), you will be able to purchase the Saucy Nuggs through the Wendy's app one week earlier, starting on June 3. However, Saucy Nuggs are not going to be temporary item, so you don't need to rush out and get them before they're gone (unlike Wendy's seasonal Frosty offers.)

Li also hinted that Wendy's is working on a slew of new sauces, but ample time is required before any announcement of such flavorful developments can be released to the public. Creating a new sauce "is at least a six-month process. It can take up to a year," Li said. "It's important to us to have and fine tune something ... based on what we know our fans like." 

How much do the Saucy Nuggs cost?

Wendy's Saucy Nuggs will be available in orders of four, six, 10, and 20 pieces. They will most likely cost slightly more than the chain's regular crispy and spicy chicken nuggets, but probably not by much; I was unable to get specifics on that during the press event. However, many individual franchisees have license to set their own prices, so the cost will almost certainly vary from location to location. And there's also Wendy's new dynamic pricing model to consider. 

Good to know: Every order of Saucy Nuggs will come with either a side of Wendy's own buttermilk ranch dressing or Ken's Steak House blue cheese dressing. (Li says that Wendy's is working on its own blue cheese dressing, but it was not ready in time for the launch of the Saucy Nuggs, and the company decided it was more important to launch the nuggets now and debut the blue cheese dressing in the near future.) 

Taste test: Honey BBQ and Spicy Honey BBQ Saucy Nuggs

A common theme among Wendy's new Saucy Nuggs is spice. Every flavor (other than the already-hot Spicy Ghost Pepper) is offered in a spiced-up version. Only the regular Honey BBQ and Garlic Parm sauces had low spice levels — and the latter still has a bit of a kick. We started off with the most mild selection, the Honey BBQ Saucy Nuggs, and found the flavoring had a great balance of sweet, smokiness, and tanginess — exactly what you would want in a barbecue sauce. Next up was the Spicy Honey BBQ. I liked the spice level of this option, but you definitely lose out on some of that sweetness.

The Honey BBQ sauce was not overly thick, so the nugget was not too heavy. According to Li, barbecue sauce always ranks highly among consumers' wants, so this was something they had to get right. I'd give them a stamp of approval. (Fun fact: Li said each of the sauces were developed with 10 to 15 prototypes as they tried to get the flavor profiles and textures just right.)

Taste test: Garlic Parm and Spicy Garlic Parm Saucy Nuggs

Progressing along, the Garlic Parm Saucy Nuggs and its spicy version were up next. I am a big fan of garlic-Parmesan wing sauce, but not everyone does it well. In fact, I've probably sampled more garlic-Parmesan sauces that let me down than ones I've enjoyed. The Wendy's Garlic Parm sauce falls into that latter bucket. 

Not overly saucy, Garlic Parm Saucy Nuggs are made with four forms of garlic that all play compatible roles. Garlic powder provides a base layer of flavor, minced raw garlic provides freshness, roasted garlic helps smooth out the rawness of the minced garlic, and garlic oil provides the aromatics. In the background, you get bits of Parmesan and herbs, including parsley and dill.

As much as I liked the Garlic Parm, the Spicy Garlic Parm might be even better. You still get plenty of garlicky goodness, along with a bit of umami from the cheese, and a good bit of spice adds more flavor to the party. (On a scale of one to five, Wendy's gives the Spicy Garlic Parm flavor three flame marks for spiciness.) While doing research, Wendy's found that Garlic Parm was one of the most-requested sauce flavors, so management knew it was one they had to add. These two Garlic Parm options were certainly the least saucy of the bunch, but I liked that they still had plenty of flavor; in fact, this even helped keep them extra crispy. 

Taste test: Buffalo and Spicy Buffalo Saucy Nuggs

If you're a fan of a classic Buffalo sauce, Wendy's has you covered. According to Li, this version follows in the footsteps of traditional fermented-pepper hot sauces, with just a bit of butter and vinegar rounding it out. Wendy's actually gave the Buffalo Saucy Nuggs one flame on its spice rating, which is the highest spiciness value of the non-spicy Saucy Nuggs options. But if you like a mild wing sauce, don't be scared off by this Buffalo; it isn't overwhelmingly piquant at all. Given the moderate nature of the sauce, I also found it went best with the provided dipping sauces. 

With the Spicy Buffalo Saucy Nuggs, Wendy's begins entering a territory that's not for the general consumer. On leaning into the spiciness, Li tells us, "I'd rather sacrifice the general mass sales and actually make the actual consumer that we're trying to reach way happier." He adds that during in-person focus groups, taste-testers continually noted that the sauces weren't hot enough, and so Wendy's is looking to give them what they asked for. I found the Spicy Buffalo option was only slightly hotter than the Buffalo Saucy Nuggs, but I really liked the flavor, and these would be among the first I would reorder.

Taste test: Spicy Ghost Pepper Saucy Nuggs

Onto the spiciest of Wendy's new Saucy Nuggs: the Spicy Ghost Pepper sauce. This was excellent — and many in the room even said these Saucy Nuggs were their favorite. The best part about them? They weren't just about heat for heat's sake. Yes, these Saucy Nuggs had a five-flame rating on Wendy's spice scale; yes, there are actual ghost peppers in it; yes, it does leave you with a lingering burn in your mouth, but there are a lot of other flavors in it, too. Cleverly, Wendy's incorporated ingredients that you would find in ranch dressing to help provide a more complex layering of flavors, not to mention a cooling effect. Beyond the ghost pepper, you can find dill, garlic, and onion.

Li says that developing this flavor was fun, and that there's a simple reason why the other seasonings were left out of the sauce's name. "We're just calling it Ghost Pepper, and specifically because that's what the fans want," he says, "They want the heat, but they don't want [it] to just be painful. They actually want it to be flavorful." Hence the addition of other ingredients, and I'd say Wendy's balanced the tastes brilliantly.

Are Wendy's Saucy Nuggs worth it?

I would absolutely try each of these Saucy Nuggs again. I would probably have to say the Ghost Pepper sauce was my favorite, but the Spicy Garlic Parm and Spicy Honey BBQ were right up there, too. While I am not in Wendy's target Gen Z audience, I am a big fan of spice, and think these nuggets did a great job of hitting those notes without strictly being hot and offering no flavor. My only critique is that I will have to pick which sauce I want next time I eat Saucy Nuggs, instead of being able to try the entire variety as I did at the press event.

Beyond the flavors, I found all of the sauces to have a great texture, too, and that's not by coincidence. "The number-one consumer complaint that you get in this world of sauce ... is chicken products not evenly coated," says Li. To make sure the levels of sauce application would be consistent from location to location, Wendy's had to really focus on the texture and clinginess of the sauces, Li added, saying his goal was "getting the right type of viscosity, not just the flavor profile."