A Brief History of the Invention of Chicken Nuggets

A Brief History of the Invention of Chicken Nuggets


It has been documented that in the year 1977, the federal government’s first dietary guideline urged US citizens to eat less fat and less red meat. In turn, burger sales fell, and McDonald’s began looking for an alternative to keep their customers loyal. Executives figured their best bet was in poultry. Outsourcing and pouring in the resources, the golden arches concocted a batter that would cling to poultry and fried. The dish, served with a side of sauce, McDonald’s chicken nuggets were a hit, and the rest was history. Or was it?

Several years before McDonald’s’ golden arches presented the chicken McNugget, a food science professor by the name of Robert C. Baker was whipping up poultry bites coated in batter from his test kitchen at Cornell University, although this is too often forgotten.

Baker passed in the year 2006, but his technique for creating poultry pieces that could be fried without breading falling off was concocted in 1963, several years before the McDonalds of the chicken nugget became a cornerstone in America’s fast-food diet.

Robert Baker’s prototype chicken nugget was developed with his student Joseph Marshall and mastered two food engineering problems: keeping the ground chicken together without putting skin around it and keeping the batter attached to the nugget of meat despite the shrinkage caused by freezing and the explosive increase in temperature of frying. The two had solved this first problem by grinding raw poultry with vinegar and salt to draw out moisture and proceeded to add a binder of powdered milk and pulverized grains. The second problem was solved by shaping the sticks or nuggets, freezing them, coating them in an egg batter and crumbs of cornflakes, and then freezing them again to -10 degrees. With lots of trial and error, the chicken nuggets stayed intact.

Robert Baker began experimenting with chicken to boost the sales of poultry. This lean meat was being highly demanded during the Second World War as troops ate it, but the industry took a big hit when the war had ended. Robert’s task was to turn poultry into a convenience food that would appeal to home cooks that were time-crunched.

It is too often forgotten that Robert Baker and his student were the pioneers for chicken nuggets, and even at his own university, he is more well known for a barbeque sauce he created, but what we can say is that without his help, the poultry industry would not be the same as it is today.

Six Sisters Stuff has delicious recipes for great home-cooked meals and even has a homemade baked chicken nuggets recipe that the whole family can enjoy.

Edward Powell