What you don't know about McDonald's famous chicken McNuggets

People love themselves some McDonald's chicken McNuggets. If this wasn't evident by the option of buying them 50 McNuggets at a time, it was definitely made clear when the company announced in April 2018 that McNuggets would be made available at breakfast. As popular as the McNugget has been for McDonald's, the menu item as also seen its share of controversy over the years. From questionable ingredients to rumors about the pink slime used in its manufacturing process, the McNugget has had to change with the times.

Whether you love McNuggets or won't go near them, this little chicken item has been extremely profitable for McDonald's. The company saw its McNugget sales jump 10 percent alone after it removed artificial preservatives in 2017. Where exactly did the McNugget come from though, how has it changed over the years, and who's eating the most of them? It's time to answer some questions on these popular chicken bites.  

​McNuggets were launched because people were eating less beef​​

As popular as burgers are, people haven't always on board with eating beef. There was the mad cow disease scare of the '90s and '00s, and even as recent as October 2018 there have been reports of beef salmonella recalls. What's bad for beef, however, can be very good for chicken.

Just as McDonald's was hitting its stride with burgers and on the way to becoming a global sensation, people started getting beef-phobia. By the early 1960s, the American public became a little wary of beef because of the health conditions associated with it. Words like  "cholesterol," "saturated fat," and "heart disease," were used throughout a report by the American Heart Association and beef was the boogieman behind them. The report called for people to eat less beef and more fish and poultry. Understandably, this didn't sit well with McDonald's.

Ray Kroc suggested shifting the focus to a new side item, a bite-sized onion ring or "onion nugget," but McDonald's chairman of the board, Fred Turner had a better idea. *drumroll*... The chicken McNugget! Just five months later, in 1983, a McNugget prototype hit Tennessee locations and smashed all expectations. A new multimillion-dollar factory dedicated solely to cranking out McNuggets was launched less than half a year later and the rest is McHistory.

McNuggets weren't McDonald's first chicken item

As popular as chicken McNuggets are on the Golden Arches' menu today, McDonald's was initially cautious about trying them. That's because McDonald's had tried chicken items in the past and they didn't work. McDonald's has had plenty of failed menu items over the decades, including a few poultry items that just didn't pan out. The first was a deep-fried chicken potpie type of food that never even made it past the testing phase. After that came McDonald's version of fried chicken. While fried chicken is almost always a winner, Kentucky Fried Chicken was all the rage at that time, and McDonald's simply didn't think it would be able to compete with the Colonel and other fried chicken competitors.

It was up to McDonald's chef Rene Arend, a man who had once had the privilege of cooking for the Queen of England, to solve the poultry dilemma. As for why the McNuggets invented by a gourmet chef don't exactly taste gourmet, well, it's all about who you're cooking for. '"We have to cater to the American public," Arend confessed. '"I am 31 years here, nearly as long as McDonald's. I have also become Americanized."

The quality of the chicken has dogged McNuggets for years

McDonald's wants to make absolutely certain that you know its chicken McNuggets are made with "100 percent white meat chicken." Drilling that message home to the general public has been at times rather difficult though for the fast food behemoth.

A 2013 study published by The American Journal of Medicine (via NPR) found that many commercially sold chicken nuggets contained only about 50 percent meant. The rest of the contents was a hodgepodge of (try not to gag) "ground up bone, blood vessels, nerve, and connective tissue." While the fast food chains where they bought the nuggets were not revealed, it's easy to see how this study might ruffle the feathers of McDonald's.

McDonald's stands by its claim that it only uses chicken breast meat, but it's possible that this is misleading. Researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center suggests that it's likely more of a "meat slurry," made up of the similar ingredients found in dog food.

In order to combat the bad publicity McDonald's sprang into action and launched a campaign called  "Our Food. Your Questions." Part of this included a visit to a processing plant to dispel the rumors surrounding theat manufacturing process behind the McNugget. While some customers were assured by the campaign, others were definitely not.

The pink slime rumor wasn't good for business

Maybe you've seen the nauseating photo of pink goop that is actually mechanically separated chicken parts. It quickly swept through the internet in 2010 and put McDonald's on high alert after it was associated with their McNuggets. The company responded to the photo, releasing a statement defending its McNugget making process. "We do not use the process known as mechanically separated chicken, nor do our Chicken McNuggets ever at any point, look like this photo," read part of the statement.

A press release isn't always convincing, however, and McDonald's saw a one-third drop in quarterly profit in 2014. The company's then-CEO, Don Thompson, said that part of that was due to image problems. "McDonald's is in the business of satisfying customers and that will never fall out of favor," Thompson said. That same year McDonald's tried to assure customers that there was no pink slime in its chicken McNuggets with a video that showed a tour of one of its supply plants and how the McNuggets are made.

The video and the "Our Food. Your Questions" campaign only yielded mixed results for McDonalds and sales continued to drop in 2015. "When you've been around for multiple decades like McDonald's has, you can't change on a dime," restaurant market analyst Mark Kalinowski said.

McNugget ingredients come from all over the world

Questionable chicken meat wasn't the only thing that critics pointed to when it came to the McNugget. The sources of all its ingredients were also under the microscope. In a 2011 report that focused on just how global food manufacturing had become and its impact on the environment, it was revealed that the ingredients to make a chicken McNugget came from all over the world. 

McNugget bread crumbs originated in the United Kingdom, and the wheat was imported from Canada, Australia, Pakistan, and Paraguay. Some of the vegetable oil was processed in the United Arab Emirates, but the canola seeds used are imported from Canada.

As for the dextrin that was used to give the McNuggets their crispiness, that originated in China. As for the actual chicken, well, that can come from places as far apart as Canada and Brazil — though a large portion of it does come from the US.

The McNuggets used for this report were served at a McDonald's in the UAE, and it stands to reason that the sources of the ingredients for your McNuggets will depend on where you are when you order them. Still, this example shows how unlikely it is that they'll all come from the same country.

When you consider how many McDonald's there are in the world and that many of those countries may not have operations to produce all the ingredients needed for a McNugget, it's not all that surprising that it's a truly global food. 

McNugget shapes have official names

If you assumed that McNuggets were just McNuggets and plopped out of the McNugget machine in some random shape, then you're so very uninformed. This is McDonald's we're talking about, nothing is ever random! Every little minute detail is a calculated cog that keeps the massive franchise spinning — McNuggets included.

Other chains might have random chicken nugget shapes, but the Golden Arches has four precise shapes of McNuggets. Those shapes even have special names to identify them: the "ball," the "boot," the "bow-tie," and the "bell." According to McDonald's, the four shapes were chosen as "the perfect equilibrium of dipability and fun. Three would've been too few. Five would've been, like, wacky." All of your McNuggets will always be uniform in size, too. Like we mentioned, nothing is random with McDonald's. As for consistency in taste, well, the company strives for that, but of course, that's largely going to be subjective to each person.

A McNugget once sold on eBay for $8,100

If there was ever any truth to the old idiom "a sucker is born every minute" it has to be this story. In 2012, 23 suckers bidders competed to win a three-year-old chicken McNugget because they believed that it resembled George Washington. The only thing more stupifying than people trying to outbid each other for an old chicken nugget is that the winning bid was $8,100. You could take a seven-night Caribbean cruise and still have money to buy hundreds of McNuggets when you returned with eight grand.

Considering that McNuggets come in four distinct shapes, one that sorta looks like a fried George Washington is a little odd. The McNugget was strange enough to get the attention of Rebekah Speight of Dakota City, Nebraska who decided to store it in her freezer for three years until the time was right to throw it up on eBay. The bidding started at a respectable $100, but after multiple news outlets picked up the story her post received more than 40,000 views and the bids began rolling in.

The lesson here: Look a little closer at your McNuggets because a Trump, Nixon, or Obama McNugget could translate into a nice payday.

People have found some less desirable chicken parts in them

Considering that McDonald's uses around  46 million pounds of chicken a year — and that's just in Canada — there are going to be a few bumps in the meat processing process. The company doesn't like bad press and there's not much worse than biting into a McNugget and finding a piece of chicken that's not supposed to be there.

That's what happened to Raquel House of Elkhart, Indiana who claimed she bit into a McNugget and found a chicken feather. "I started to feel like there was hair in my mouth... and I looked at my food and there was feathers coming out the nugget," House said. McDonald's told the local news that they would open an investigation to collect the facts about the McNugget feather. A follow-up by the news station with a local chicken feather confirmed that it was indeed a chicken feather.  

Considering that McDonald's inspects each chicken McNugget, how the feather ended up in House's food is a bit disturbing. Of course, this is hardly the first time somebody's gotten an unwanted surprise in their fast food order.  

There's a world-record for most McNuggets eaten

The world of competitive eating is a strange place. There are accounts of competitive eaters gorging themselves on everything from Big Macs to Shamrock Shakes and even stale McDonald's french fries. Basically, if it's on the McDonald's menu, there's probably somebody out there trying to see how much of it they can cram in their face to set some sort of trivial record.

When it comes to the McNugget, however, the man who holds the honor is Nadder "FreakEating" Reda. The original record for eating McDonald's McNuggets in a single-sitting was 155 held by FoodMeetsBeard. (No, we're not making these names up either.) Reda set out to put the old record to shame by attempting to consume 200 McNuggets, and of course he Facebook Live-streamed the event. Because who wouldn't want to watch a guy potentially barf up 100-plus McNuggets?! In the end, Reda didn't hit his 200 McNugget mark, but came in at a respectable — well, depending on who you ask — 170 McNuggets to set a new record.

Usain Bolt ate 1,000 McNuggets during the Olympics

Eating 170 McNuggets is one thing, but it's pretty small potatoes when you compare it to devouring 1,000 of them. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt reportedly ate at least 1,000 chicken McNuggets. Bolt, who was 22 at the time, didn't feel like eating Chinese food so he instead hit up a McDonald's every chance he got.

"At first I ate a box of 20 for lunch, then another for dinner," Bolt wrote in his memoir Faster Than Lightning. "The next day I had two boxes for breakfast, one for lunch and then another couple in the evening." The Jamaican gold medalist estimated that over the course of 10 days he ate at least 100 McNuggets a day. That's around 47,500 calories in case you were wondering. So maybe he didn't eat 170 all at once, but then again, Nadder "FreakEating" Reda hasn't ever been dubbed the fastest person on Earth.

The chicken McNugget is evolving

McDonald's has never been a company to completely rests on its laurels and is continuously trying to push forward with new products and refining the ones they already have. Whereas they might have had some setbacks with the pink slime scandal, the company is learning from its competitors how to make sure the McNugget doesn't slide into irrelevance. That big competitor that it's learning from would be none other than chicken phenomenon, Chick-fil-A. According to one 2016 consumer satisfaction survey, the chicken giant is America's favorite fast food. So maybe McDonald's really could learn a thing or two.

To do this the company is taking what it calls a "Better Chicken" approach. In 2017, McDonald's said that they would stop serving poultry with antibiotics and remove artificial preservatives from McNuggets. They also rolled out Southern-style chicken sandwiches that look similar to their Chick-fil-A inspiration. Chick-fil-A claims that their nuggets are all hand-breaded at each store, so they could still have McDonald's beat in that department.

Considering that people are eating more beef than chicken, it's probably wise for McDonald's to refocus on improving their McNuggets. According to McDonald's U.S. president, Chris Kempczinski, this includes everything from "the proteins that we use, to the equipment in our kitchens, to our cooking procedures."