Veins, Bones, and Skin? Turns Out Chicken Nuggets Are Much, Much Grosser Than You Feared

In case you needed a reminder, the stuff inside chicken nuggets is horrifying.

What exactly is in your chicken nuggets? (Lucas Jackso/Reuters)

Oct 7, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When you break down a chicken, there isn’t a ton of leftover. Once you pull off the breast, legs and wings, you’re left with a vessel of a carcass, the breastbone sticking up like the prow of a ship. But that fat, skin, gristle, bones, nerves and blood vessels aren’t the base for a soup in an industrial kitchen: It’s the beginning of your chicken nuggets.

Now, if you’re still under the impression that nuggets are made by breading and frying small pieces of meat cut from an actual chicken breast or leg, we’re sorry—what follows will come as a shock. And for those of you who have long considered the nugget to be a highly dubious food, we now have facts to back up your suspicions, courtesy of a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine. According to analysis of fried chicken purchased from two national fast food chains in Jackson, Mississippi, your “chicken” is an amalgamation of some actual muscle blended with fat, blood vessels and nerves, or fat, cartilage and bone.

Which is to say, fast-food chains are out-thrifting the most dedicated whole-hog, farm-to-table bistro in the most disgusting of ways.

"What has happened is that some companies have chosen to use an artificial mixture of chicken parts rather than low-fat chicken white meat, batter it up and fry it and still call it chicken," Dr. Richard D. deShazo, one of the study’s authors, told Reuters Health.

"It is really a chicken by-product high in calories, salt, sugar and fat that is a very unhealthy choice. Even worse, it tastes great and kids love it and it is marketed to them," he adds.

The National Chicken Council, a poultry industry trade group, points out the obvious: that the study is infinitesimally small. Furthermore, they say nuggets are “an excellent source of protein, especially for kids who might be picky eaters,” and thereby undercut what could have been a legitimate criticism of the study.

And to that point, deShazo never intended to reveal some mass chicken conspiracy. Rather, the intention is to show—to remind—that our impulses can lead us to very unhealthy (and frankly gross) foods if left unchecked.