How McDonald’s chicken nuggets are actually made: Truth explained and rumors debunked

Maddy Kinkead
mcdonalds chicken nuggets

McNuggets are one of McDonald’s most iconic items, and people have been speculating for a long time about how McDonald’s chicken nuggets are actually made and why they taste so good.

There have been rumors circulating about McNuggets for over a decade, but we’re here to dispel the fake news and give you the real truth.

If you’ve ever believed the rumors that McNuggets are made from pink slime, you’re about to be relieved.

How are McDonald’s chicken nuggets made?

According to McDonald’s website: “We start with all white-meat chicken cut from the tenderloin, breast and rib and mix it with a marinade for flavor and juiciness and to help them keep their fun shape.”

chicken mcnugget shapes

McNuggets are not just shaped randomly. McDonald’s goes on to explain the four signature nugget shapes, “Once everything is mixed, we create the four famous Chicken McNuggets shapes—bell, boot, ball, and bone. They’re coated in a light tempura batter, partially fried and quickly frozen to preserve flavor. Once in our restaurants, they’re fully fried and served hot to you with a delicious taste that is full of flavor.”

They are, of course, fried in oil before they are served to you, but so is pretty much everything at McDonald’s. The good news? McDonald’s fry with a mix of rapeseed and sunflower oil, just like you can buy in supermarkets.

What is in McDonald’s chicken nuggets?

McDonald’s are upfront with their ingredients, too. They list that McNuggets contain:

“White Boneless Chicken, Water, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Bleached Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Vegetable Starch (Modified Corn, Wheat, Rice, Pea, Corn), Salt, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Calcium Lactate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Spices, Yeast Extract, Lemon Juice Solids, Dextrose, Natural Flavors.”

mcdonalds chicken nuggets
McDonald’s McNuggets contain real chicken breast.

This may read like a lot of scientific jargon, but dieticians have broken these ingredients down and confirmed that McDonald’s uses good quality chicken meat, mostly from chicken breast, as well as binders, natural flavorings, and some secret spices that go into the batter.

“All in all, eating some Chicken McNuggets every once in a while is not going to break your healthy eating pattern,” Pflugradt says. “McDonald’s has made many changes to their chicken nugget recipe over the years to use better quality products and meet the consumer’s desires for a more natural but still tasty and low-cost convenience food.”

What about the infamous pink slime?

A rumor circulated way back in 2011 that McDonald’s used ‘pink slime’ or ‘pink goop’ in its burgers and chicken nuggets. This is not true. Pink slime was never used in McNuggets.

The ‘pink slime’ in question is a byproduct known in industry as ‘lean, finely-textured beef’ which is essentially odds and ends animal product that has been treated with ammonium hydroxide to get rid of any bacteria.

McDonald’s did previously use this type of beef in their burgers, as did many fast food chains in the US at the time, but since 2012, they stopped using this altogether.

McDonald’s McNuggets did contain ‘mechanically separated chicken parts’ up until 2003, but this was swapped out for the 100% chicken breast meat used today.

However, ‘pink slime’ is still used in low-cost meat products, like the hotdogs you get in jars.

Did McDonald’s chicken nugget recipe change?

Yes, it did. Since the recipe went through major changes in 2003, it stayed pretty much the same up until 2016 when McDonald’s decided to improve the nutritional value of their McNuggets.

Mcdonald's chicken nuggets
McDonald’s made sure everyone knew there’s nothing artificial about their nuggets.

Along with a promise that all its chicken was now free of “antibiotics important to human medicine,” McDonald’s removed some of the more questionable ingredients from the McNuggets recipe, boasting that McNuggets no longer contain artificial preservatives.

McDonald’s chicken does contain antibiotics, as do most fast food chains chicken, but they don’t use antibiotics that are vital to humans. Chick-fil-A recently changed to the same regulation, much to the dismay of their customers.

So, there you have it. When it comes to McNuggets, they really are as healthy as they can be when you consider that they are little chunks of (delicious) chicken molded into unnatural shapes and deep-fried. There’s nothing nasty hiding in there, so you can dip until your heart is content.