Who Invented Chicken Nuggets?
Who Invented Chicken Nuggets? The chicken nugget has been a staple on fast food menus for decades. These fried pieces of chicken deliciousness were not invented by McDonald’s. Parts of the origin story of nuggets are disputable, as with many other dishes. However, most sources agree that they all started with Robert C. Baker at Cornell University.
Baker tried to invent new ways to make chicken more exciting for Americans in the 1960s. The U.S. government created a food rationing system during World War II. It was similar to that used in the UK. The list of restricted items included meat, pork, sugar, oil and preserved or canned meats. Although cheese and cream were later added to the list, milk, eggs and poultry were not. This made chicken dishes a popular choice during World War II.
According to Slate, the demand for poultry fell after World War II. Chickens were often sold whole, making it difficult for families to cook. Baker, who was a well-known food innovator and the inventor of frozen French toast and chicken hot dog, was interested in simplifying the whole process.
Baker first created the chicken stick, which was ground up from chicken and then fried in egg batter. Then, he frozen it. Baker realized that he could fix some of the problems food scientists were having by removing the skin from the chicken and making a batter that could still be fried after it had been frozen. His chicken sticks were a huge hit in the local grocery stores. Some sold up to 200 boxes per week.
Baker believed there were many ways his process could have been improved and refined and he was happy for others to try it. Baker decided not to patent his chicken sticks. Instead, he published the entire process in Agricultural Economics Research. Copies were sent to food scientists and poultry companies across the United States.
Steve Striffler, an anthropologist and author of Chicken: America’s Favorite Food: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food, stated that Robert C. Baker was both a result of changes in the poultry industry and a driver of them. “Industry leaders soon realized that real profits would not come from producing more chicken but rather by doing more with chicken. Further processing was the result.
History.com says Baker’s invention could not have happened at a better moment. Scientists and the U.S. government suggested that Americans reduce their intake of red meat starting in the 1970s. Too much could cause health problems like high cholesterol. Chicken was promoted as an alternative to red meat.
Although there is no way to verify that Ray Kroc, McDonald’s Corporation founder, read Baker’s original process reports, it was obvious that Kroc wanted to profit from this chicken push. Kroc wanted to make a chicken product that was convenient. “A boneless chicken piece, [sold] almost as French fries,” stated Fred Turner, McDonald’s chairman.
Kroc reached out to Keystone Foods, a meat supplier, to help him devise a method to automate the chicken-chopping procedure. To create the batter for the bite-sized chicken pieces, he also reached out Gorton’s Fish Sticks company. Mickey D’s introduced Chicken McNuggets in 1981. This was one of the most successful product launches in fast-food history. McNuggets account for around 10% of the restaurant’s sales.
Baker was also the first director of Cornell University’s Institute for Food Science and Marketing. Baker also invented a machine to debone chickens. Although he did not receive any monetary benefits from the success of his chicken nuggets, his place in the history of poultry led to him being called the “George Washington Carver” of Chicken.