woman in yellow shirt dipping a McDonald's chicken nugget in sauce

April 27, 2022

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets 

 

It’s hard to imagine the McDonald’s menu without Chicken McNuggets, but the beloved handhelds weren’t always part of our core lineup. In fact, they didn’t make their menu debut until almost 30 years after the first McDonald’s opened back in 1955.

And get this: McDonald's Chicken McNuggets were a happy accident – the result of a fleeting conversation in the hallways of McDonald’s Headquarters. The iconic menu item has come a long way since then. 

The truth is, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets deserve their own chapter in our history book, which is why we scoured the archive to do them justice. Here’s a look back at the story of the Chicken McNugget and some of its milestone moments along the way.

1. It all started with an onion. Chicken McNuggets were first developed in the ‘70s by McDonald’s former executive chef, René Arend, who was recipe-testing Onion Nuggets at the time. In a passing conversation in 1979, Chairman Fred Turner suggested Arend ditch onions and start working with chicken instead. Soon after, the Chicken McNugget was born.

2. There was a Chicken McNugget SWAT team. To help bring the vision to life, Turner tapped Gorton’s Bud Sweeney, who helped McDonald’s develop the Filet-O-Fish years earlier. Sweeney assembled a dedicated team to help him perfect the breading, execute market testing and assemble the necessary technology.

3. Chicken McNuggets were added to US menus in 1983. At the time, the menu item was available in six- nine- and 20-piece servings.

 

4. The original Chicken McNuggets were accompanied by four sauces. Customers could choose from Honey, Sweet and Sour, Hot Mustard and Barbecue. Since 1983, more than 25 different sauces have been introduced to the US Market, including Green Chili Salsa, Cranberry Orange, Teriyaki and Habanero Ranch. 

5. They went international soon after. In 1984 – just one year after their domestic debut – Chicken McNuggets were introduced in Canada, Japan, France and Germany. They’d make their way to England in 1985 and Poland in 1997.

 

6. They even had their own mascot. The adorable characters appeared in several McDonald’s commercials throughout the late ‘80s and ‘90s – and they were eventually turned into Happy Meal toys that donned interchangeable costumes.  

7. The recipe was tweaked in the early 2000s. The white-meat Chicken McNuggets we know and love today were rolled out at the end of 2003. 

8. More changes came in 2016. McDonald's announced that it reached its commitment to serve chicken not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine* in the US, and that the Chicken McNuggets contain no artificial preservatives, colors of flavors.

 

9. They got hotter in 2020. That’s when we rolled out Spicy Chicken McNuggets in the U.S. These fan-favorite, limited-edition morsels were breaded in cayenne-flecked tempura and served with Mighty Hot Sauce for even more heat.  
 

10. Yes, they really do come in four distinct shapes. There's the Bone or the Bow Tie, the Ball, the Bell, and – our personal favorite – the Boot. Which one are you reaching for first? 

 

*Farmers still use ionophores, a class of antibiotics that are not prescribed to people, to keep chickens healthy.