What Is In a Chicken Nugget?

Find out what's lurking in processed chicken nuggets.

Dinosaurs. Stars. Tiny drumsticks. Breaded, formed chicken nuggets come in all shapes and sizes and are almost universally loved by kids, but most varieties barely resemble meat at all and consumers might be surprised to discover what’s in them.

Generally, two types of “nugget” sit in your grocer’s freezer: whole meat and formed. Whole meat is just what it sounds like—chunks of chicken that are usually battered, breaded, fried and frozen. Formed products, on the other hand, contain chicken “trimmings”—the meat left over or cut from larger whole pieces. This meat is not necessarily inferior, it is just too small, miscut or doesn’t look as pretty as the whole chicken breast you’d buy to make Chicken Parmesan. The trimmings are finely chopped and mixed with a solution of water, salt and phosphates that binds them into a sticky paste and adds juiciness. A forming machine molds the paste into whatever shape manufacturers—or kids—want, and the resulting nugget is dusted, battered, breaded, deep-fat-fried and frozen.

Some processed nuggets can have almost double the calories, five times the fat, and six and a half times the sodium as an equal amount of regular skinless chicken breast.

Pictured Recipe: BBQ Chicken Tenders

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner