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9 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets

By Lana Kisner | November 27, 2023

Chicken McNuggets are one of the most popular items on the McDonald’s menu, and for good reason. They made their debut in the early 1980s to cater to a new dietary trend. Over the years, many rumors have surfaced about what’s in them and how they’re made, but they continue to remain a fan favorite. Here are nine fun facts you probably didn’t know about this popular menu item.

1. They Were Created as a Red Meat Alternative

In 1977, Congress announced that red meat was one of the culprits of many common health concerns of the time, urging the public to eat less of it. In their “Dietary Goals for the United States,” they advised Americans to favor lean proteins like poultry instead, and this announcement skyrocketed the chicken industry.

Of course, this wasn’t good news for many fast-food chains whose primary menu items were burgers with red meat. McDonald’s quickly reacted to come up with an alternative to cater to the new dietary trend and began working on a new chicken menu item.

2. They Are Made From Real White Meat Chicken

You may have heard rumors that Chicken McNuggets aren’t real meat, but they actually are. McDonald’s confirmed on its website that they are made with 100% white meat chicken and contain no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

3. No, They Don’t Contain Pink Slime

Alongside the rumors that Chicken McNuggets aren’t made from real chicken meat, there have been claims that they contain something known as “pink slime” or “pink goop.” Well, McDonald’s fans can rejoice. The restaurant chain publicly confirmed that there’s no pink slime in any of their menu items.

4. They Were Kind of Groundbreaking

Before the late 1970s, the chicken industry wasn’t nearly as large as it is now, and the practice of breading and frying small bites of chicken wasn’t commonplace.

When Ray Kroc, the owner of McDonald’s, began his search for his newest menu addition, he enlisted the help of Rene Arend, a well-known chef who had previously made dinner for both Queen Elizabeth and the King of Belgium. But even with such royal experience, it took several trials and reinventions before the Chicken McNuggets we know today were created.

The process began with a deep-fried chicken pot pie, followed by fried chicken. However, the pot pie idea was dropped after it didn’t go over well in testing, and the fried chicken couldn’t keep up with the thriving KFC franchise.

Fred Turner, the McDonald’s chairman of the board at the time, was adamant about a new chicken item and proposed boneless, bite-sized pieces of chicken instead. In 1981, Chicken McNuggets made their debut and quickly became one of the popular items on the menu.

5. McDonald’s Almost Stuck With the Onion Nuggets

Since Ray Kroc and Rene Arend had difficulties coming up with the right chicken recipe, Kroc nearly gave up on the plan and had Arend focus on the Onion Nuggets as an alternative. The Onion Nuggets were added to the McDonald’s menu in the late 70s, and at first, it was a hit. But when the Chicken McNuggets made their debut, the Onion Nuggets were discontinued.

6. Chicken Nuggets Were Already an Idea Before McDonald’s Popularized Them

McDonald’s is commonly credited for inventing chicken nuggets, but that credit isn’t entirely valid. The idea of a breaded chicken nugget can be traced back to 1963 when a professor at Cornell University proposed a prototype described as a frozen, breaded “chicken stick.”

Robert C. Baker was a professor of poultry science who worked with his graduate students to develop a variety of chicken-based products. Some of these products included chicken hot dogs, cold cuts, and meatballs. Together, they came up with over 50 new food items that were made from eggs and chicken rather than pork or beef.

7. They Have Four Distinct Shapes

You may have noticed that not all Chicken McNuggets look the same, but some look alike. Well, that’s not a coincidence but a result of how they are made.

To make Chicken McNuggets, the chicken meat is first ground, seasoned, and mixed. This mix is then pressed into one of four molds, each creating a unique shape. This process makes the nuggets cook evenly, and the shapes are a fun addition to the already fun-to-eat food.

There are four different shapes, and each shape has its own name based on its distinct form. For example, the “ball” is round, the “bone” is long like a rounded rectangle, the boot has a foot sticking out, and the “bell” is shaped something like a diamond.

8. Spicy Chicken McNuggets Exist, but You Can Only Get Them When Available

McDonald’s offers many limited-time menu items, but the Chicken McNuggets always got their flavor variety from the dipping sauces. But this changed in 2020 when the chain introduced the first new chicken nuggets flavor since their debut – the Spicy Chicken McNuggets.

They were made from the same tender white chicken meat and came in the same fun shapes, but the tempura batter was mixed with cayenne and chili peppers. They were also served with a signature hot sauce made from crushed red peppers and chili peppers.

The Spicy McNuggets were a limited-time menu item, but they came back multiple times due to popular demand. So, if you like spicy nuggets, be on the lookout and grab some when they’re available.

9. There’s a World Record for the Most Chicken McNuggets Eaten in One Minute

There’s a world record for many types of achievements, so it’s probably not a huge surprise that there’s one for the most Chicken McNuggets eaten in a minute. The record is held by Leah Shutkever, a British woman who ate 19 nuggets in one minute, which came to 352 grams weight-wise. Pretty impressive, right?

About the Author

Lana Kisner is a writer on the team with more than 15 years of experience in the food service industry. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, exploring new restaurants, listening to live music, and hiking with her dog.