The real differences between chicken nuggets, tenders, wings, and fingers

Hollis JohnsonThere are lots of different options.
  • Chicken nuggets are “further processed products.”
  • Tenders are made from the tenderloin of the bird.
  • Boneless wings aren’t actually wings.

Whether you’re nostalgic for what you ate as a kid or just crave something greasy, fried chicken is classic comfort food. And although you think you know the difference between these fried delights, you may be surprised to know the differences between all the different types of fried chicken.

To learn about the difference between chicken nuggets, tenders, fingers, and wings, INSIDER spoke to Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, and Jon Sherman, CEO of Sticky’s Finger Joint, a New York City-based chain of chicken restaurants.

Here’s how various types of chicken differ from one another.


Chicken nuggets and patties are classified as “further processed products.”

Hollis JohnsonChicken nuggets.

Some chicken products, such as nuggets and patties, are not specific poultry parts. Rather, they have undergone processing at a factory before they reach consumers.

As Super told INSIDER, these items are classified as “further-processed products.”

“That’s their technical term,” Super said. “Something was done to the chicken before it left the plant, whether that’s cooking, a value-added marination, etc.”


Most nuggets are made from breast meat.

The Chicken Council identifies chicken nuggets as products containing split breasts of chicken and additional boneless meat from legs and thighs. In turn, the meat is ground up, formed into smaller shapes, breaded, and cooked.

“The vast majority of the nuggets that we consume and produce in the US are made from breast meat,” Super said.

He added that if a package is labelled “breast meat with rib meat,” that means the product you’re buying is accompanied with meat from the bird’s rib, a natural extension of the breast when it’s removed from the carcass.


Tenders are made from the pectoralis minor, or tenderloin, of the bird.

Hollis JohnsonChicken tenders.

In contrast, tenders – which were popularised at a New Hampshire diner in the 1970s – come from a specific part of a chicken: the pectoralis minor muscle, aka the tenderloin.

“The chicken tenderloin is a white meat subset of the chicken breast. It’s a piece that comes attached to the breast meat but it’s a separate piece,” Sherman said.

If your butcher shop or supermarket doesn’t stock tenders, you can make your own at home. The Kitchn writes that all you need to do is cut a boneless, skinless breast lengthwise to create several 1.5-inch-thick pieces.


The terms “fingers,” “tenders,” and “strips” are often used interchangeably to refer to breaded, fried chicken tenders.

Hollis JohnsonChicken strips.

Although sizes and cuts can vary, tenders, fingers, and strips all can be made from the tenderloin of the breast.

“It’s pretty comparable between whether you call [them] chicken tenders or chicken fingers or chicken strips,” said Sherman, noting that he decided to use “fingers” in the Sticky’s branding because it was the word he found the most fun.


Popcorn chicken is made from boneless white meat.

Hollis JohnsonPopcorn chicken.

Popcorn chicken, sold at KFC and in the poultry section of the grocery store, is typically made from “boneless bites of white-meat chicken,” Sherman said.


Wings are a specific cut of chicken.

Hollis JohnsonChicken wings.

Every chicken has two wings, and each wing can be broken down into three components: tip, flat/wingette, and drumette.


Boneless wings aren’t actually wings.

Hollis JohnsonBoneless chicken wings.

When you see a restaurant advertise “boneless wings,” what you’re ordering isn’t a wing at all.

“The confusion here is that boneless wings are by no means wings,” Sherman said. “They are not from the same part of chicken as the wing. They are generally cut up white meat.”

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