Share on Facebook

12 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About McDonald’s Nuggets

Pop quiz: Can you name their four shapes?

London, England - April 25, 2014: Box of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, McDonald's is a fast food restaurant chain founded in 1940.Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock

They were invented because Americans were scared of red meat

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 joint 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.

Knife and fork crossed. Knife and fork with wood handleAleksandra Berzhets/Shutterstock

They were created by a chef who worked for the queen

Who better to formulate a recipe for the world’s biggest fast food chain than someone with royal experience? To help the McDonald’s reputation-changing menu change, the company called on Rene Arend, a Luxembourg-born chef whose resume included making dinner for Queen Elizabeth II and the king of Belgium. Find out what the first-ever McDonald’s menu looked like.

fried chickenkrechet/Shutterstock

They weren’t the first chicken dish

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.

Fresh onions. Onions background. Ripe onions. Onions in marketMartin Gaal/Shutterstock

They weren’t the first nugget, either

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. Check out these 11 other failed McDonald’s items you won’t believe existed.

Berlin, Germany - August 17, 2018: McDonald McRib sandwich.Robson90/Shutterstock

The McRib was created because there wasn’t enough chicken for McNuggets

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. Cooking at home? Here’s how to tell if your chicken is fresh. 

Chicken nuggets with sauce - unhealthy foodgowithstock/Shutterstock

Tyson helped keep up with demands

With the nuggets’ popularity rising, McDonald’s initially had a hard time keeping up with the high demand. To keep restaurants from running out, the fast food chain teamed up with Tyson Foods for its poultry supply. This is why McDonald’s chicken nuggets come in one of four shapes.

BANGKOK,THAILAND - MARCH 10,2018 : top view of Mc NUGGETS on brown desk with phrase For McDonald's Customer & Food OnlyRatana21/Shutterstock

They don’t contain “pink slime”

A viral video of “pink slime” that supposedly came from McDonald’s 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.

Chicken nuggets with sauce - unhealthy foodgowithstock/Shutterstock

Those iconic shapes have names

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. These are the McDonald’s secret menu items you need to order.

Chicken nuggets with sauce - unhealthy foodgowithstock/Shutterstock

There are four shapes for a reason

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. Here are 17 more secrets McDonald’s employees won’t tell you.

YORK, UK - JULY 18TH 2017: The recognisable McDonalds logo above one of their restaurants in York, UK, on 18th July 2017.chrisdorney/Shutterstock

They’re the highest-calorie item on the menu

If you get the 40-pack, that is. The pile of nuggets contains 1,770 calories—though considering the amount of food you’re getting, that’s not too far off from eating just one 1,130-calorie Double Bacon Smokehouse Burger. You’re probably better off sticking with six McNuggets. Check out these 75 mind-blowing facts about McDonald’s.

the various barbecue sauces in ceramic bowlsJiri Hera/Shutterstock

Its sauces have changed over time

Right now, you can dip your nuggets into signature sauce, spicy buffalo, creamy ranch, habanero ranch, honey 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 chili salsa, or hot mustard.

Flour close up background. A pile of flour on a white background. Spilled flour. Flour textureulrich22/Shutterstock

They contain 30 ingredients

There’s chicken of course, but their other ingredients include vegetable oil, flour, vegetable starch, and leavening agents. Don’t miss these 14 things you never knew about the Big Mac.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.

Newsletter Unit

CMU Unit

Subscribe & SAVE Save Up To 84%!