10 False Facts About McDonald's Chicken McNuggets You Probably Thought Were True

McDonald's Chicken McNuggets
McDonald's Chicken McNuggets - Bloomberg/Getty Images

There are a lot of items on the McDonald's menu that you could feasibly term as "iconic." The Big Mac, the McRib, and, of course, the chain's french fries are some of the most well-known foods around the world, and virtually everyone knows what they taste like. In our opinion, though, these menu items all pale in comparison to Chicken McNuggets.

These small morsels of breaded chicken were introduced to the McDonald's menu in the early 1980s and immediately became a sensation, with customers queueing around the block to try them. Chicken McNuggets have remained one of McDonald's top-selling items ever since, and as they're available in tens of thousands of locations worldwide, they contribute significantly to the company's mammoth yearly revenue, which hit $23.18 billion worldwide in 2022 (via Statista).

However, Chicken McNuggets have not been without controversy -- and questions remain to this day about what each bite-size piece is made of. Are Chicken McNuggets really just made from chicken breast? Are they bad for you? Is the infamous "pink slime" picture an accurate depiction of how McNuggets are made? You wanted answers, so let's debunk some of the most persistent myths and deliver the McNugget facts.

Read more: The Ultimate Ranking Of American Fast Food Restaurants

False Fact: McNuggets Are Made From Pink Slime

McDonald's employee making Chicken McNuggets
McDonald's employee making Chicken McNuggets - Bloomberg/Getty Images

The claim that the meat in Chicken McNuggets is made from pink slime is one of the longest-standing myths about the food item out there. It all started when an infamous picture began circulating the internet, showing a gloopy pink paste with an ice cream-like consistency being squeezed into a box. The image quickly became connected with Chicken McNuggets, with the rumor mill going into overdrive about it being the filling for each piece and claiming that McNuggets were being made with mechanically separated meat.

This claim, however, has been debunked by McDonald's, which addresses the rumor on its website directly. McDonald's flatly refutes the allegation that the picture is of the meat in its chicken nuggets and states that it doesn't know where the picture originated from in the first place. Instead, each of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets is made with boneless white meat chicken, specifically from the animal's breast, tenderloin, and ribs.

If that wasn't enough proof, the documentary series "How It's Made" went behind the scenes at a McDonald's facility and showed the process of how Chicken McNuggets are made. In the video, it's pretty clear that there's no pink slime to be seen -- just ground chicken pieces, shaped into nuggets and cooked. We've gotta say, we're pretty relieved.

False Fact: McDonald's Nuggets Are Random Shapes

Chicken McNuggets in box
Chicken McNuggets in box - James D. Morgan/Getty Images

If you're not paying close attention, your box of Chicken McNuggets could seem like a thrown-together assortment of randomized shapes. Zoom in a little, though, and you'll see that there's a distinct uniformity to each nugget's dimensions. Chicken McNuggets aren't just thrown together, as commonly thought, but rather every piece is instead stamped into one of four shapes. Each shape even has its own name: the "ball," the "bell," the "boot," and the "bowtie."

Ensuring that each nugget is cut to a specific shape means that every piece cooks at the same rate, which contributes to the consistency of each box worldwide and also ensures the food is always safe to eat. Having four different shapes also gives a touch of variety and stops your box of nugs from becoming boring. As well as this, the slightly distinct dimensions of each nugget shape bring their advantages. The boot and the bowtie, for example, have slightly irregular edges that make them perfect for scooping up your dipping sauce. The ball, meanwhile, is ideal for popping straight into your mouth, with no tricky corners to stop its trajectory from your hand to your tongue.

False Fact: McNuggets Are Super Unhealthy

McDonald's sign on blue sky
McDonald's sign on blue sky - Ermingut/Getty Images

There's simply no getting around the fact that McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are fast food -- and highly processed food items like these are rarely going to work wonders on your health. It's a mistake, though, to believe that McNuggets are the unhealthiest thing you'll ever eat. The fact of the matter is that McNuggets provide a fairly moderate amount of calories and saturated fat per portion, with 170 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat in every four-piece box. They also deliver a useful amount of protein, with 9 grams per four nuggets.

Now, it's worth pointing out that other things about them aren't as pleasing. The sodium content of four McNuggets, for instance, is 330 milligrams, roughly 15% of your daily value. It's also important to note that these amounts are for the smallest serving size, and if you're ordering a 10- or 20-piece box, it will naturally take up more of your daily allowances. McNuggets are far from the unhealthiest item on McDonald's menu, though. When you consider that the McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes clocks in at 1,340 calories, 24 grams of saturated fat, and 2,070 milligrams of sodium, it puts the nutritional value of Chicken McNuggets into perspective. ‌

False Fact: McDonald's Uses Poor-Quality Chicken In Its Nuggets

Chickens in chicken farm
Chickens in chicken farm - Pidjoe/Getty Images

Because so many Chicken McNuggets are made (and eaten) per day, you'd be forgiven for thinking that McDonald's wants to cut corners -- and one way to do so could be to use cheaper or lower-quality chicken. If you've ever heard this, though, you may have heard wrong.

McDonald's is pretty transparent about its standards when it comes to its meat and pays close attention to what goes into the animals that its food items are made from. One area that it's especially careful about is antibiotic use. The company has a "Chicken Antibiotics Policy," focusing on eliminating the use of antibiotics in its chicken supply for its biggest food markets worldwide. It should be pointed out, though, that this elimination is still in process and is slated to be completed in 2027.

However, there's no getting around the fact that McDonald's food items are cheap and mass-produced, and therefore the chickens that are farmed for their meat are unlikely to be reared in the most humane conditions. It's probably best not to hope for too much from the restaurant, but it has made some concerted efforts to improve the quality of its meat. ‌

False Fact: McDonald's Invented Chicken Nuggets

Chicken nuggets in basket
Chicken nuggets in basket - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Chicken nuggets are so bound with the image of McDonald's itself that many people assume that the company invented them. However, the truth is that they were around long before McDonald's started selling them. Chicken nuggets were invented in the early 1960s and are widely attributed to Cornell University-based agricultural scientist Robert C. Baker. Baker specialized in processing meat products and creating brand-new items out of them. His efforts greatly benefitted the American poultry industry, as chicken's popularity had waned considerably following World War II.

After Baker helped to revive the flailing image of chicken, nuggets truly began to take off in the late 1970s. When Congress released the document "Dietary Goals for the United States," which addressed the risks surrounding red meat consumption and promoted eating chicken instead, poultry to became even more popular. Chicken nuggets were one of the most attractive vehicles for the meat (despite, somewhat ironically, being heavily processed, which bears its own health risks). Spotting its opportunity in the wake of this sea change, McDonald's introduced Chicken McNuggets to its product line in the early 1980s. They were an immediate hit, and they've remained one of the chain's mainstay menu items ever since. ‌

False Fact: McNuggets Were Always Made From Chicken

Chopped onions on cutting board
Chopped onions on cutting board - Amarita/Getty Images

To consider that there may have been a time when Chicken McNuggets weren't chicken feels like looking into a hall of mirrors. However, McNuggets were originally made from onions. Several years before Chicken McNuggets made it to the menu, McDonald's was working on its Onion Nuggets, an effort spearheaded by former executive chef for the company René Arend. It was when chairman Fred Turner mentioned to Arend that chicken might be a better primary ingredient than onions that the chef pivoted to poultry. This resulted in the Chicken McNuggets that we know and love today. We have to be honest: We're pretty glad that Turner and Arend had that conversation.

Interestingly, while McNuggets have been made from chicken ever since, there seem to be plans in motion to advance the product further. In 2023, McDonald's introduced plant-based McNuggets in its German restaurants, presumably as a reaction to the ever-increasing demand for plant-based meat product alternatives. While no form of plant-based nug is currently available in the U.S., we may well see vegetarian McNuggets in the future.

False Fact: McNuggets Have Always Been Made With White Meat

Raw chicken breasts
Raw chicken breasts - irina2511/Shutterstock

Bite into any Chicken McNugget, and you'll be greeted with a pearly-white mass of meat underneath its breaded coating. The filling inside wasn't always made from white meat, though. They used to contain a combination of white and dark meat, but in 2003, McDonald's made a meat swap to improve its McNuggets, electing to remove dark meat from the product entirely. This change was accompanied by a significant ad push to try to acclimatize customers, specifically kids, to the new recipe, using the slogan "change is good."

The change was due to a shift in perceptions around meat, and a growing feeling that white meat was healthier, leading to new consumer demands. "It's clear now that consumers prefer white meat, so we started to work on how we might evolve the McNugget to a situation where it is now all white meat," McDonald's vice president of menu innovation Wendy Cook said in 2003 to the Chicago Tribune. Although, at the time, this was a risky thing to do, the change hasn't seemed to affect the popularity of Chicken McNuggets in the long run.

Interestingly, this change took way longer in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, McDonald's still made its Chicken McNuggets with dark meat until 2023, when it decided to remove thigh meat from the recipe. ‌

False Fact: McDonald's Only Makes Its Nuggets In One Flavor

McDonald's Spicy Chicken McNuggets
McDonald's Spicy Chicken McNuggets - McDonald's/Facebook

Chicken McNuggets are reliably tasty wherever you get them, and it's their predictability that keeps people coming back for more. It's easy to believe that they only come in one flavor, though -- and that's not true. McDonald's is well-known for its limited-edition menu items, and while McNuggets have historically been untouched, in 2020 it decided to start offering Spicy Chicken McNuggets.

This was the first time McDonald's had offered any new flavors since it introduced McNuggets in the early '80s, and the difference was immediately noticeable. Spicy Chicken McNuggets had an orange-tinged breaded coating, thanks to the cayenne and chili pepper mixed into the batter (although reviews noted that they weren't that spicy and instead provided a mild heat). These fiery morsels were only on the menu for a limited time, but they were such a hit with customers that the company decided to bring them back in 2021, 2022, and 2023 for limited periods. The Spicy Chicken McNuggets were also only offered in certain locations around the country. Here's hoping McDonald's brings them back everywhere, and for good -- we need to try these. ‌

False Fact: McNuggets Are Raw Until They're Cooked In The Restaurant

Fry baskets in restaurant kitchen
Fry baskets in restaurant kitchen - Parilov/Shutterstock

For some people, food safety is a constant worry, even with a brand as big as McDonald's. If you've ever been concerned about how well your Chicken McNuggets are cooked, though, you should feel safe in the fact that they're pretty rigorously cooked -- and it all starts before they get to the restaurant. Once the nuggets are shaped and battered in the factories they're made in, they're then par-fried. This par-frying helps to seal the batter and the shape of the nugget and give it a head start on cooking, although the meat inside still stays largely raw.

Once the nuggets have been par-fried, they're then frozen and bagged, which helps to prevent any spoilage. They're then prepared for shipping and sent across the country. When the McNuggets are ready to be made in-store, they're removed from the bags, placed in a deep-fryer basket, and fried until they turn golden brown, crispy, and cooked throughout. McDonald's also has its own internal food safety guidelines to ensure that its poultry is cooked to a safe internal temperature, so you can feel safe in the knowledge that your McNuggets are good to go. ‌

False Fact: McNuggets Have Always Had The Same Dipping Sauces

Chicken McNugget with barbecue sauce
Chicken McNugget with barbecue sauce - McDonald's/Facebook

If you can eat Chicken McNuggets without dipping sauce, then you're someone that we don't wanna know. Okay, we're kidding, but let's be real -- the dipping sauce is one of the best parts about McNuggets and gives them some all-important moisture, as well as textural contrast.

If you've been told before that McDonald's dipping sauces have never changed, though, that's a straight-up lie. When McNuggets were originally introduced, there were four sauces available to customers: Sweet and Sour, Honey, Barbecue, and Hot Mustard. Over time, though, more dipping sauces came into the fray, and nowadays there is a wealth to choose from, from Spicy Buffalo to Creamy Ranch to good old ketchup.

Unfortunately, though, McDonald's can get rid of its dipping sauces as quickly as it introduces them, and over the years, some fan favorites have been discontinued. Zesty Italian, Chipotle BBQ, and Sweet Chili have all been given the chop, and even Hot Mustard, one of the original dipping sauces for McNuggets, has also come off the menu. There's no need to give up hope, though: As McDonald's loves to bring items back for another spin, we could still see these dipping sauces again one day.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.