There are nugget people and there are tender people. I’m a nugget guy. Back in the school lunchroom, the best meal possible was the chicken tender basket. It was a couple of crisp chicken tenders with a side of fries and a little tub of ranch dressing on the side. To really class it up, we’d pour salt and pepper into the ranch until it was a dark gray color. The only way it could have been better was if those tenders were nuggets instead. Who is responsible for this amazing culinary invention? Who invented chicken nuggets? Did McDonald’s invent chicken nuggets? Let’s get down to business and find out who invented the chicken nugget!
Who invented chicken nuggets?
The most popular nugget out there is McDonald’s Chicken McNugget, so a lot of people assume that’s where they were invented. But McDonald’s didn’t invent chicken nuggets. That distinction goes to Robert C. Baker, a poultry and food science professor at Cornell University. Baker is credited with 40 different poultry and cold cut innovations including not only the chicken nugget, but also turkey ham and turkey hot dogs. He also created Cornell chicken barbecue sauce. He is a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame, which is a real thing.
When were chicken nuggets invented?
Robert C. Baker invented chicken nuggets in 1963. During World War II, the U.S. government instituted rationing. Things like beef and pork were hard to come by, so Americans ate a whole lot of chicken. Once rations were lifted, folks were sick of chicken. That’s when all the chicken scientists went into overdrive trying to come up with a big idea to get people excited about chicken again. Robert C. Hall began tinkering with processed chicken and in 1963 he came up with a “chicken stick.” This chicken stick was made of ground up, skinless chicken that was breaded in an egg batter then frozen. Sounds a lot like a chicken nugget to me!
The story of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets
By this point, we know that McDonald’s did not invent chicken nuggets, it was Robert C Baker. But McDonald’s sure as heck popularized them! In the 1970s people really began to freak out about cardiovascular disease. In 1977, Congress released “Dietary Goals for the United States,” which asked people to eat less red meat and more lean protein like poultry. Red meat sales plummeted and that really hit burger-happy fast food restaurants hard. While McDonald’s has great fries and tasty cokes, they’d always been first and foremost a hamburger place. They’d experimented with chicken, putting fried chicken and chicken pot pie on their menus, but it never caught on. They were working to develop an onion nugget, like an onion ring in nugget form, when they decided to try a chicken nugget instead. McDonald’s debuted the Chicken McNugget in 1981 and it soon became one of their most popular menu items. I would have liked to try that onion nugget, though.