In the ’50s and ’60s, more Americans than ever were suffering from heart attacks – and doctors were finally getting a clue that saturated fats and red meat might be a factor. For a burger restaurant like McDonald’s, that meant sales were dropping. To bring back consumers, the fast food chain started working on chicken items to round out its beef-forward menu, according to Time. The result: chicken nuggets.
Who better to formulate a recipe for the world’s biggest fast food chain than someone with royal experience? To help McDonald’s with a reputation-changing menu, the company called on Rene Arend, a Luxembourg-born chef whose resumé included making dinner for Queen Elizabeth II and the king of Belgium.
Even a chef with those credentials couldn’t be expected to create the perfect recipe on his first shot. His first idea was a deep-fried chicken pot pie, but it failed in testing. The team also tried fried chicken but couldn’t drum up excitement with restaurants like KFC dominating the market.
McDonald’s almost gave up on the chicken idea entirely and pulled out a completely different item: onion nuggets. Those hit the market in the 1970s and actually inspired the Chicken McNugget, which debuted in the early ’80s. The onion nuggets were pulled off the menu after their meaty cousin stole the show.
In a 2009 interview, Arend said that when McDonald’s first introduced the nuggets, they were such hot sellers that every franchise wanted to get their hands on them. At that point, McDonald’s couldn’t keep up with the demand, so the chef claims he created the McRib so other franchises would still have a new menu item – without requiring the low-supply chicken.
With the nuggets’ popularity rising, McDonald’s initially had a hard time keeping up with the high demand. To keep restaurants across the US chain from running out, the fast food company teamed up with Tyson Foods for its poultry supply. This is why McDonald’s chicken nuggets come in one of four shapes. In Australia, the local supplier is Ingham Enterprises.
Back in 2014, a video of ‘pink slime’ went viral. It supposedly came from McDonald’s and gave McNuggets a bad name, but the image wasn’t actually from the chain, who insists they’ve never used it. The gross-looking ‘pink slime’ is known as lean, finely textured beef in the meat industry, and plenty of suppliers use it. The goo looks gross and is treated with ammonia hydroxide, but it’s entirely safe to eat. Regardless, McDonald’s stopped using ammonia in its products (McNuggets included) in 2012, after a push from the public.
You’ve probably noticed that chicken nuggets always come in the same four shapes, but did you know each one has a name? The ‘ball’ is round, the ‘bone’ looks like a rounded rectangle, the ‘boot’ has an edge jutting out, and the ‘bell’ is diamond-like. No matter what you call it, a McNugget by any other name would taste just as good.
Albeit maybe not the most scientific reason. According to the McDonald’s Canada website, “The four shapes we make Chicken McNuggets in was the perfect equilibrium of dipability and fun. Three would have been too few. Five would’ve been, like, wacky.” Hard to argue with that logic.
If you’re in America, decide to visit McDonald’s and opt for the 40-pack, that is. The pile of 50 nuggets contains 7405 kilojoules – and when you consider the amount of food you’re getting, it’s well over double two 3480-kilojoule Double Quarter Pounder burgers. In Australia, the biggest serve of McNuggets is 24, which still packs a punch of 4430 kilojoules. With stats like this, you’re probably better off sticking with six McNuggets.
Right now, you can dip your nuggets into signature ketchup sauce, spicy buffalo, creamy Caesar dressing, Big Mac Special sauce, sweet mustard, honey, sweet ‘n’ sour, or tangy barbecue. But back in the day, you might have enjoyed pairing yours with discontinued options like Szechuan sauce, zesty Italian, green chilli salsa, or hot mustard.