Sometimes you just can't make it into the kitchen to cook. Dr. Gourmet has reviewed some common convenience foods, ingredients, and restaurant selections so that you know what's worth eating - and what's not. View the Index of all Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

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Bell & Evans Frozen Chicken Products

Gluten-Free Chicken Strips and Chicken Nuggets

People eat a lot of chicken nuggets and chicken strips. Not being someone who eats at fast food restaurants, I will admit that it has been at least 30 years since I ate a Chicken McNugget, and that experience was bad enough to make me not want to eat more nugget-like meals at all - so I have been avoiding the Bell and Evans versions for some time as a result. Looking at the package in the market, I was encouraged, however, and decided that enough time had passed (meaning that my memories of just how bad Chicken McNuggets are has waned).

Generally chicken nuggets are made in a way that defies logic, with manufacturers grinding the chicken into a paste and then forming that back into a nugget or chicken shaped strip. One judge, writing in his judgment of a suit against McDondalds, called the process "McFrankenstein."

Even so, such techniques are not new, and chefs have been making pates and mousses for centuries by blending or forcing meat through a food mill and then reshaping it. They don't generally add a lot of fillers, chemicals, binders and preservatives, however, as McDonald's does, and this is where the flavor and texture of products like McNuggets makes them taste like artificially flavored chicken-cardboard.

Bell and Evans Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets ReviewI was heartened when reading the label on the Bell and Evans product. The only item that might look unfamiliar to you is xanthan gum. This is a natural thickening agent (derived from a bacteria), which is used as a binder or thickener in many products and especially in gluten free foods (which these Bell and Evans are, although they do make a non-gluten-free version). Here's the ingredient list:

ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS: No Chemical Additives or Preservatives. 
Chicken Breast Meat Tenders, Water, Sea Salt. Breaded with Rice Flour, Water, Yellow Corn Flour, Xanthan Gum, Evaporated Cane Juice, Sea Salt, Soybean Oil, Yeast, Ascorbic Acid, Whole Egg, Spice. Flash fried in soybean oil to set breading.

Really simple, and the Nutrition Facts box showed that 4 ounces of the chicken nuggets come in at 190 calories. There is not a lot of sodium (470 mg) or saturated fat (1.5 grams).

Compare these with an order of Chicken McNuggets. The six-piece serving (3.7 ounces) comes in at 280 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat and 540 mg of sodium. There are a fair amount of ingredients that are definitely not familiar or understandable - meaning they have no place in our food - but they are likely part of the manufacturing process.

It is a similar picture when comparing similar portions of Chick-fil-A and Bell and Evans chicken strips:

Chicken Strips Bell and Evans Chick-fil-A
Calories 210 350
Saturated fat 1.5 grams 3 grams
Sodium 440 mg 830 mg
Price $2.50 $3.39

Bell and Evans Gluten-Free Chicken TendersWe cooked the Bell and Evans in the oven, according to their instructions. It calls for baking for 25 to 30 minutes, and we turned them twice: once at 10 minutes and again at the 25 minute mark. (There are pan frying instructions that call for added oil, but why would you want to do that, when the oven method is so simple?)

Quite simply, these came out pretty darn good! The chicken is made from whole, real chicken pieces and is moist and meaty. The gluten free coating is light and crispy and there is no chemical flavor. The only complaint that tasters had was that the products were just a little too salty and the chicken strips were far more preferred than the nuggets. There is a higher chicken to breading ratio and the chicken flavor comes through better.

This is a product that we can easily recommend. The chickens are raised in a humane way, they aren't fed antibiotics, and they are fed an all vegetable organic diet. Two chicken strips would make a great sandwich on a hamburger bun with lettuce and tomato.

Now for the real argument: the price. These might seem expensive at $7.50 per package ($2.50 per portion), but they are actually less expensive compared to products from McDonalds and Chick-fil-A. These are a bargain when compared to feeding your kids (or yourself) the much less healthy Chicken McNuggets at $2.99 or the Chick-fil-A at $3.39.

Keep these in the freezer and bypass the fast food joint. You will save money, they are far better for you and they taste so much better.