What Makes Dairy Queen's Chicken Strips So Good?

Chicken strips with fries
Chicken strips with fries - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

When you think about Dairy Queen, chicken may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But the fast food chain wants to change that perception, and after a press trip to visit its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I'm reconsidering that assumption, too. While it's known for its sweet treats, notably its legendary Blizzards -- which are not actually made from ice cream, contrary to popular belief -- the brand has steadily been expanding its savory menu item options. Of those savory options, the chicken strips are especially excellent.

Items like Dairy Queen's chicken strips thrive due to a few values upheld by the company, namely family, connection, convenience, and affordability. But when crafting individual products like these strips, Dairy Queen also focuses on taste and quality. Additionally, I was quite impressed with the brand's commitment to research and development, and its focus on customer feedback.

The chicken strips basket is a value for consumers, but it also has a lot going for it, notably in the texture and tenderness departments. While it isn't the boldest-flavored chicken strip out there, it certainly makes up for this with its sauces and dips, which are integral to the success of this menu item. Read on to discover what makes Dairy Queen's chicken strips so good.

Read more: 15 Tricks For Making The Most Crispy Chicken Thighs Ever

Made With Real Chicken

Chicken strips in basket
Chicken strips in basket - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

When Dairy Queen introduced its chicken strips in 1993, it was the first quick-service restaurant to use real chicken meat versus a compressed chicken product. To better understand the importance of this, it is crucial to differentiate between chicken strips and chicken nuggets. While all of these are technically made from real chicken meat, nuggets are formed by grinding together various chicken parts, including breast meat, nervous tissue, connective tissue, bones, tendons, and fat, along with fillers and preservatives. These are subsequently formed into the desired shape before being breaded and fried.

Dairy Queen's chicken strips, by contrast, are made from 100% real breast meat, more specifically meat from the tenderloin of the bird. While not all chicken strips are made from tenderloin meat, those that are tend to be more juicy and have a less stringy texture. This is the case with the chicken strips at Dairy Queen. When properly fried, they are quite moist and tender, something I often find lacking in chicken strips from various quick-service restaurants.

Not Excessively Breaded

Breaded chicken strips in bowl
Breaded chicken strips in bowl - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Another criterion that can make or break a chicken strip is the quantity and texture of its breading. Chicken strips that are excessively breaded with a dense layer of crumbs can easily become soggy, even when fried at the correct temperature. On the flip side, not adequately breading chicken strips can leave them spongy and lacking in texture. For this reason, I was pleased to discover that the breading used on the chicken strips at Dairy Queen was carefully applied and well-balanced.

The breading, while simple and not overly fussy in the flavor department, is tasty. It isn't heavy-handed, and it's evenly distributed over the chicken tenderloins. This creates a perfect insulator for the delicate tenderloins, helping to keep them moist as they fry, and develop a pleasant crunch that juxtaposes the juicy meat. And, while I sometimes enjoy a bit more color on my chicken strips, the golden brown crust adorning these is cooked to a specific color every time at every location (as designated by corporate protocol) ensuring consistency in the doneness of the chicken and the crust.

Rigorous Quality Control

Dairy Queen location exterior
Dairy Queen location exterior - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Speaking of consistency, a corporation with roughly 4,000 locations in the United States and 7,500 franchises globally must maintain rigorous quality control to ensure that customers at every location are enjoying the same meal -- whether they dine in California or North Dakota. This was something I got to witness first-hand when touring the corporate headquarters of Dairy Queen. The attention to quality at every step of the production process, from research and development to distribution, is very meticulous. Nowhere was this more evident than in the chicken strip department.

Everything from the size, shape, weight, color, and uniformity of the chicken strips is evaluated constantly to guarantee that the product you are consuming meets the established criteria for quality that Dairy Queen has predetermined. Nothing is left to chance, and if something does not meet the fixed standards, the product is not distributed.

It's one thing to understand this, as it isn't exactly novel. It is another thing entirely to witness how it happens on a day-to-day basis. Every major food service establishment has some type of quality control to guarantee consistency, but this was quite rigorous. As a consumer, this gave me a sense of peace of mind, and an added degree of confidence that what I am spending my money on is worth every penny.

Every Batch Is Hand-Tossed

Sauced chicken strips in bowl
Sauced chicken strips in bowl - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Though Dairy Queen's chicken strips are not breaded in-house, every batch is freshly fried and hand-tossed in the sauce. One of the more enjoyable, and surprisingly challenging, activities we had the chance to experience was learning to toss the freshly fried chicken strips in sauce. What may seem like a relatively mundane task actually takes some finesse and a hint of hand-eye coordination to master the correct technique that results in chicken strips that are uniformly coated in the correct amount of sauce.

When the hot chicken came out of the fryer, we added a precisely doled-out portion of the Honey BBQ sauce to the strips in a bowl. After popping a lid on the bowl, we were instructed to swirl and toss the chicken, using some gyrating hip action. What we quickly discovered was that the chicken is so tender that it can easily tear during the saucing and tossing process, resulting in chunks, rather than strips. All of this is to say that sauced and tossed chicken strips are more impressive than you might think. The next time you order them, you'll have a newfound respect for the perfectly coated, whole strips of chicken in your basket.

Carefully Crafted Sauces

Assorted sauces and dips
Assorted sauces and dips - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

As noted earlier, while the chicken strips are well-executed in terms of juiciness and breading, they are not necessarily assertively seasoned. That said, Dairy Queen is banking on the fact that its sauces and dips are going to be mixed and matched to elevate these moist chicken strips to the next level. They are not wrong.

While at headquarters, we had the opportunity to sample a wide cross-section of the sauces and dips that Dairy Queen currently offers, and a few in the works that you'll have to wait patiently for. Among the offerings that are commonly used for the sauced and tossed chicken wings are the Honey BBQ and the Garlic Parmesan sauces. While the Honey BBQ is always on the menu, the Garlic Parmesan was a limited-time-only offer that I hope is brought back. It had umami-rich notes that were not overly salty and a richness that wasn't pasty.

As far as other dips and sauces go, a number are made in-store daily, including the ranch and the Southern-style gravy. The ranch dressing is always a fan favorite. Like other iterations made in-house, this one does not disappoint. This sauce has that extra punch of flavor that restaurants usually achieve better than us home cooks. And, if you like a classic, thick Southern-style gravy, you will enjoy the one from Dairy Queen. For my palate it was a little salty, so I preferred the Honey Mustard and the Zesty Queso.

Generous Portion Sizes

Chicken strips basket with sides
Chicken strips basket with sides - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

Dairy Queen chicken strips come in a basket with six hearty pieces. Each basket includes French fries, Texas toast, and a dipping sauce of your choice. You can get the chicken plain or sauced and tossed. While prices may vary depending on location, the portion size of this meal is definitely not skimpy. In fact, I found it to be more than adequate for even those with bigger appetites. As far as value is concerned, you can't go wrong with the chicken strip basket.

At first, I was a bit skeptical about the Texas toast, as it seemed like an unnecessary addition to the meal, but customers love it and it does make for a nice option if you want to turn the chicken strips into a sandwich, along with the dipping sauce. That said, the crispy French fries are the star accompaniment. They are an abundant serving and their texture perfectly complements the crunchy chicken strips. While I don't know the exact secret to how Dairy Queen achieves the ideal texture of these fries, like those offered by many other chains, these restaurant fries are in many ways better than homemade ones. They're not overly salty or greasy, either.

Delicious Sides

Dairy Queen fried cheese curds
Dairy Queen fried cheese curds - Monika Sudakov/Daily Meal

While the chicken strip basket comes with crispy, golden French fries, and Texas toast, I would argue that you should never visit Dairy Queen without getting an additional side order of cheese curds or onion rings. Frankly, you should get them both, because they each elevate chicken strips to a whole new level.

The cheese curds are a unique menu item that hearkens to Dairy Queen's Midwestern origins. One of the differences between mozzarella sticks and cheese curds is that cheese curds -- which are breaded and fried to flaxen perfection -- have a distinctive squeaky texture that makes them pair beautifully with the juicy, crunchy chicken strips. This squeakiness starts like a pop that bursts against your teeth and then becomes chewy. When breaded and fried, these cheese curds do soften a bit, but they retain this quintessential texture that sets them apart from any other dairy product.

Another side that I wouldn't skip is the onion rings. These onion rings are better than what most can achieve at home, and superior to a lot of others out there. Made from real onion slices, rather than some pulverized onion wannabe, these have a delectable allium taste that perfectly juxtaposes the chicken strips. And their crust is darn near perfect. The batter is not overly thick or falling off, and they are fried until crunchy, but not burnt. They also aren't greasy, the way many onion rings can be, a personal pet peeve.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.