McDonald's has finally overcome its 50-year resistance to the notion of animals having bones. And the results are kind of awesome.
The company has spent nearly half a century working as hard as it possibly could to separate "eating" from "animals" in the mind of the public. Starting in the late 1970s, when Ray Croc was perfecting his system of peak food service efficiency through the use of a near-limitless pool of disposable, unskilled teenaged labor, the chicken McNugget was born.
It was a celebration of modern food processing, a space-aged flash-frozen chunk of mechanically-separated (a phrase that has always conjured up mental images of semi-sentient robots with Battlestar Galactica-style glowing red Cylon eyes tearing live chickens limb from limb) mashed-up chicken parts that, when all went according to plan, almost never contained any bone fragments. Freed from the shackles of having to navigate their exhausted lips around challenging chicken bones, customers could inhale McNuggets a dozen at a time, preferably with a side of honey mustard.
McDonald's softened their "bones don't exist" position slightly with the introduction of the McRib in the 1980s, a ground pork puck stamped into the shape of a half-rack of baby backs. In what can only be perceived as the ultimate gesture of dominance over the humble pig (or more likely, the disassembled parts of hundreds of different pigs, all ground together), the restaurant even stamped a relief of bone-shapes on top. The overall effect managed to at least suggest bones, while still removing the "rib" from the experience of "eating ribs."
Now, in 2013, after a successful test run of the unfortunately-named "Mighty Wings" in Atlanta in 2012, McDonald's is finally ready to concede the impossible: that animals can have bones, still be delicious, and still be eaten with one hand while driving your car at dangerous speeds. Available in three, five, and ten-piece versions, the wings weigh in at just shy of 100 calories a piece, which when ordered as a meal with fries and a soda, can rack up some staggering calorie counts. We'll let the McDonald's press release take it from here:
McDonald's "Mighty Wings"
The Pitch: "Mighty Wings are a natural bone-in chicken wing that comes in two varieties, a drummette or a wingette. They are lightly breaded providing a crispy bite of home-style flavor seasoned with cayenne and chili pepper delivering a solid spicy kick. For a customized flavor experience, customers can pair their wings with one of nine sauces, ranging from sweet to tangy to bold & spicy."
Available: Now, for a limited time.
In addition to introducing us to the word "wingette," as well as making us never want to read the phrase "customized flavor experience" ever again*, the corporate blurb makes a lot of promises for a chicken wing that outprices the Buffalo wings available at your neighborhood bar's happy hour by at least 300%. If these wings could deliver anything even approximating "home-style flavor," or could muster even a bit of crunch, we'd have been surprised. Expectations firmly in check, we settled on the three-piece, served solo, for $2.99. And by "solo," we mean "with a side of fries and another side of double cheeseburger."
*You mean like "eating," right?
Flipping open the lid revealed our three wings, all of the previously described "drumette" variety. They are heavily caked with crunchy, lightly spicy batter, which crumbles and breaks away to reveal a meaty wing that retains all of its moisture in spite of what is doubtless a fairly traumatic cooking process. Though three (!!!) dunking packets of ranch sauce were included with the order, we didn't find ourselves using them to "customize the flavor experience." The wings are well seasoned enough on their own with black pepper and cayenne to deliver the promised "solid spicy kick," without mucking around with soggy sauces.
Remember when Beck released Midnight Vultures, just to be kind of show-offy about how he could make a better Prince album than Prince himself had ever recorded? That's kind of what's happening with McDonald's Mighty Wings.
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The chain violently seized one of KFC's core offerings, and made it spicier, more flavorful, more perfectly fried, and using better cuts of chicken — as if to suggest that it's only a matter of time before the chain dominates every available level of the fast food universe. McDonald's even manages to serve their version hot. It's an outlandish taunt, both toward anyone who thought chicken wings from McDonald's seemed kind of unnecessary, as well as toward other vendors of drive-thru chicken. And, in a rare move, it's a product that McDonald's seems to have gotten almost exactly right.