Actually, McDonald's Didn't Invent The Iconic Chicken Nugget

Many fast food chains and food brands make chicken nuggets, but no matter what most of us probably associate them most with a specific ubiquitous fast food chain. Think about what happens when you take a bite of a nugget: Chances are you immediately compare it to a Chicken McNugget. And if you look up a recipe for chicken nuggets online, many of the results that come up are described as a "McDonald's copycat," meaning that the McDonald's version is the real deal. Somehow McDonald's chicken McNuggets have become the representative — maybe even the standard — of all chicken nuggets. 

Because of this, you'd think that McDonald's must have invented them. But History explains that it's actually Robert C. Baker, an agricultural scientist who was trying to discover a way to create a commercial food product that simplified the cooking and transporting process. The product that Baker came up with in 1963 is now known as chicken nuggets. As for McDonald's, it wasn't until 1981 that the chain introduced McNuggets to a few locations before rolling it out nationwide in 1983.

McDonald's may have came up with the name for chicken nuggets

When Robert C. Baker invented what eventually earned the name chicken nuggets, they were actually called chicken crispies, according to Time. Depending on their shape, they were also sometimes referred to as chicken sticks. Despite creating such an innovative way to prepare ground chicken, Robert C. Baker did not patent chicken crispies or chicken sticks, because his goal wasn't to profit from them. Instead, he shared and sent out the recipe to companies who could use and modify it as they pleased.

Without a patent, chicken crispies could legally be sold by other companies and marketed under different names. McDonald's doesn't credit Baker for inspiring its Chicken McNuggets, but whether or not the chain was aware of his recipe's existence or not, it was well within its right to call its product McNuggets instead of crispies. McNuggets were received so well by the American public, that other fast-food restaurants followed suit. By the end of the '80s, Chick-fil-A, Jack in the Box, Wendy's, Checkers, and Rally's all had "chicken nuggets" on their menus.

McDonald's version of the story

Despite the fact that the Chicken McNugget came along almost 20 years after Robert C. Baker's chicken crispie, McDonald's claims to have invented the McNugget on its own. According to the company's website, the creation came about because McDonald's was working on a recipe for Onion Nuggets, which we can only assume was McDonald's spin on onion rings. Onion Nuggets were made with nugget-sized pieces of onions that were then coated in batter and deep-fried. After a limited-time test run between 1978 and 1979, Onion Nuggets proved to be unpopular.

After Onion Nuggets were scrapped, it was back to the drawing board. Instead of starting entirely over, Fred Turner, the chairman at the time, advised executive chef René Arend to modify the existing recipe by swapping the onions for chicken. The original McNugget recipe that Arend came up with in 1979 did not use ground chicken like Baker's 1963 recipe, but rather cut-up chicken. McNuggets ended up having a successful first test run, but McDonald's discovered that making chicken nuggets with cut-up chicken was hard to accomplish on a large scale. Realizing ground chicken was the solution, McDonald's turned to Keystone Foods, who would debone and process the chicken to streamline the process for fast food. 

Having made the switch to ground chicken, McDonald's started pumping out the molded, boneless, ground chicken blobs (i.e. chicken crispies) that are now a ubiquitous piece of their menu and brand.