McDonald's axed its best new menu item for the holidays

Our nation is in crisis, and I'm not talking about the nuclear standoff with North Korea or even the staggering number of serial harassers hiding in plain sight in America.

I'm talking about a crisis unfolding in towns large and small across the country: After getting us hooked on its salty chicken strips, McDonald's is swiping the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders from our greasy little fingers! The ostensible reason for this betrayal is demand. A spokeswoman for McDonald's emailed me to say that "demand far surpassed our expectations. We will soon take a brief break from serving them at our restaurants."

The break is happening now, as tenders start to disappear from Mickey D menus across the land. I'm told that they will return by the end of December, right when most of us are dealing with the stress of post-holiday credit card debt and the prospect of facing an entire month without alcohol. They will return, in short, when we're most vulnerable to mindless caloric snacking.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd say this was a Clown Scheme to create an artificially low supply, which will then spike demand, or at least a hearty appetite, allowing McDonald's to raise the price of its tenders without any underlying increase in costs. But a McDonald's representative says the price will remain the same when those tenders reappear by year's end.

You read it here first: The price will remain the same. Print this out and slam it on the counter should the reality in late December not match the PR spin! (On second thought, just hand the paper gently to the cashier and remind him that promises were made; we have enough false bravado in this country as it is.)

So what is a poor tender-addicted schlub to do for a month while the chicken strips are AWOL? It seems like the perfect time to try the competition over at Wendy's, which introduced a tender of its own in October. The chain, of course, earns a demerit for witless imitation, the fast-food equivalent of the kid who starts wearing camo pants because some model paraded a pair down a runway.

Regardless, the first is not always the best. So I drove to my nearest Wendy's and dug into a four-piece box of chicken tenders, which run about $4.20, give or take a few pennies. (Three pieces cost around $3.50.) The first thing I noticed was the box: It didn't have the cool little pop-out holders for sauce, like the one at McDonald's. Wendy's, the old scold, clearly doesn't want you playing with your food.

The second thing I noticed was the grease. There were pockets on these strips of breast meat (now with "rib meat"!) where oil had collected, turning a couple pieces into rubber chickens. The deep fryer at this particular location, I'd guess, has been working overtime, which in turn has lowered the oil temperature and prevented the tender's surface from crisping up as needed. One tender wasn't even cooked all the way through, its center still cool, almost cold.

This is why fast-food dining is a crapshoot: No matter how much R&D a chain like Wendy's puts into a new product, the company is always at the mercy of employees who are expected to take pride in their work, day in and day out, for hourly rates that don't amount to a living wage. (Those ready to deploy their proud teenage labor experiences - when they had Britney Spears posters on their bedroom wall under Mom and Dad's roof - can just jump to the comments section and get their rants out of the way.)

That said, the strips that had somehow emerged from the fryer without obvious slicks were decent enough: meaty, moist and crisp, with a pronounced sodium bite. They were even better when dipped in Wendy's S'Awesome sauce (I couldn't bring myself to say the name when I placed the order), which has a decided smokiness thanks to the "natural smoke flavors" listed among the ingredients.

On another day, with another fry cook, I'm sure I would have been a more ardent advocate for Wendy's tenders. But for now, I'm just waiting for the day that the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders return to McDonald's.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Food

Standing up to the heat: Wines for chipotle-salmon tacos
Standing up to the heat: Wines for chipotle-salmon tacos

This dish, with its rich, smoky and spicy qualities, needs a wine that can stand up to it. In addition to having enough ripe fruit for the job, these three whites — from Spain, Oregon and California — also deliver various herbal and spicy notes all their own. Make this: Chipotle Salmon Tacos Rub cooked salmon fillets (10 ounces) with 1...
Pork fried rice perfect for leftovers
Pork fried rice perfect for leftovers

Fried rice needs to be crisp and flavorful. That’s the key to this pork fried rice. Chinese restaurants use special equipment to get their woks very hot. For home cooking, add the ingredients and let them sit for one or two minutes before tossing. This allows the wok to return to a high heat after the cold food has been added. This is a perfect...
Recipe of the Week: How to turn roasted carrots from a side to a main
Recipe of the Week: How to turn roasted carrots from a side to a main

Healthy eating resolutions can be hard to keep, especially if you’re trying to make a dramatic change in your diet. At first, it might be hard to think of roasted carrots as a main dish. However, as Kathryne Taylor points out in “Love Real Food: More Than 100 Feel-Good Vegetarian Favorites to Delight the Senses and Nourish the Body&rdquo...
Dukkah, the spice that crunches and fills

Growing up, I remember thinking it rather odd that the spice traders of yesteryear would subject themselves to such danger and hardship in search of cooking supplies. But life experience, such as when I recently found myself trapped in a kitchen with a glut of tomato sauce and cauliflower, has helped me to understand. It was a perfect pantry storm...
Try these hot and comforting foods when the temperature nosedives
Try these hot and comforting foods when the temperature nosedives

Need something to fight the brutal cold? Yeah … us too. It’s time to warm up with soothing comfort food. Nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot chili, soup or stew on frigid days like these. Here, we’re featuring three Test Kitchen recipes to get you through this current cold snap — one soup, one chili and a tasty roast. Feel...
More Stories