December 31, 2012 1:17 pm
Whether dipped in plum sauce, barbeque sauce or honey or enjoyed all by their greasy selves, chicken nuggets—processed, breaded and deep-fried meat of unknown origin—are a symbol of modern American eating.
But where did these deliciously disgusting meat morsels come from? For Slate, Maryn McKenna dug into the origins of the nugget, tracing the long arc back to the 1963 work of a certain Robert C. Baker, a “professor of poultry science, and a chicken savant.”
Writing on her blog, McKenna says:
In 1963, Baker and his colleague Joseph Marshall proposed a first-ever “chicken stick,” made of ground, blended and frozen chicken. Keeping the stick together without a sausage-like skin, and keeping the breading on through freezing and frying, were major advances, and they appear to have inspired many subsequent creations made of what is now called “comminuted” (minced, ground, mashed and variously stuck-together) chicken.
It would seem that Baker loved chicken. He turned chicken into weiners and chicken into thin-cut slices. He came up with a barbeque sauce for chicken and made chicken meatloaf. All in all, says McKenna, Baker worked out “more than 50 other edible items made from eggs and chicken [that were] made to look like something else.”
Years after Baker’s pioneering work, says McKenna, McDonald’s independently arrived at a similar creation, the Chicken McNugget, a response to the calls of the federal government that people should be eating less red meat.
Baker never patented his creation and so did not benefit from the billions of nuggets McDonald’s has now sold. “By the time he died in 2006, his connection to them had mostly been forgotten, and only a few obituaries noted it,” McKenna writes. But for better or for worse, we know who to thank—or blame—for the birth of the chicken nugget.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Can a Picky Eater Change Her Ways?
Food and Beverage Packaging: The Good, the Bad and the Weird
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