Chicken nuggets have been a staple of fast-food restaurants & grocery store frozen food sections for a long time. But, contrary to popular belief, McDonald’s did NOT invent the chicken nugget. So, where did they come from? Well, some parts of the chicken nugget’s origin story may be up for debate, pretty much every source agrees it all began with a guy named Robert C. Baker.
Robert Baker was a poultry & food science professor at Cornell University n the 1960s, who explored innovative ways to make chicken exciting again for Americans. During World War II, the U.S. government rationed a bunch of food items like beef, pork, sugar, oil, canned meats, and more. Cheese & cream were later added to the list of rationed items, but milk, eggs, and poultry were not. And that made chicken dishes popular for many households during the war.
Poultry demand declined drastically after the war, though, since chickens were usually sold as whole birds & that was inconvenient for families. Some butchers were willing to cut their chickens into smaller pieces to make them easier to cook, however. But, being the same food innovator responsible for frozen French toast & chicken hot dogs, Robert Baker wanted to find a way to overhaul the process & make it a lot easier.
First, Baker created what was known as the chicken stick, which was ground up chicken breaded in an egg batter that could be fried even after it was frozen. And, when he sent those to local grocery stores, they were an instant hit, with some places selling up to 200 boxes a week.
Baker still felt that there were more ways his process could be improved upon, though, so he happily let others give it a shot. And, instead of patenting his chicken sticks, he published his entire process in an industry publication & had copies of it sent to poultry companies & food scientists across the country. Robert C. Baker never received any monetary benefit from the success of the chicken nuggets he helped create, but his place in poultry history did lead him to become known as the “George Washington Carver of Chicken”.
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