Chicken Nuggets And Tenders: What's The Difference?

Even adults love kid-friendly tendies, but like their child audiences, chicken nuggets haven't been around for very long, either. Chicken nuggets were invented in 1963 by Robert C. Baker of Cornell University as an attempt to restimulate American consumer demand for poultry after WWII-era rationing ended and folks started buying too much red meat (via History). Apparently, Baker's efforts were a massive and enduring success. According to the National Chicken Council, U.S. consumers in 1965 ate roughly 36 pounds of chicken annually, which has grown to 98 pounds of chicken per person in 2021. During the same period, beef consumption dropped from nearly 75 pounds per person to about 59 pounds.

Today, chicken nugget fever has only continued spreading. Fans can get their hands on the product everywhere from fast food spots like McDonald's to organic grocery store Trader Joe's. Last month, household-name chicken giant KFC finally jumped on the bandwagon by releasing chicken nuggets, per ABC. But many fans use the words "nugget" and "tender" interchangeably to refer to the same thing: Is there a difference after all?

It's all about the cut of meat

True chicken tenders, says Simply Recipes, are made from a cut of meat called the "pectoralis minor," meaning "inner filet." It's a small area just below a chicken's breast, and it's what sets tenders apart from nuggets or strips. Chicken nuggets, on the other hand, are typically made from ground chicken meat, which includes cuts from the breast or thighs. John A. Marcy from the Center Of Excellence For Poultry Science at the University Of Arkansas agrees, and is adamant about the division: "There is certainly an official difference," Marcy maintains, via The Takeout. "Nuggets are a broad spectrum... [But] a tender or tenderloin is a very specific muscle, which lies under the large breast or flight muscle."

Ultimately, the USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book has the definitive answer. Per the USDA, "Nuggets are irregularly shaped, usually bite-sized meat and/or poultry products which are usually breaded and deep fat fried and intended to be used as finger foods." Nuggets are made from a solid piece of meat, which can be chopped and formed. Conversely, a tender is "the inner pectoral muscle which lies alongside the sternum (breast bone)" of a chicken. So, next time you're and your friends are hungry for a 10-piece or a basket of tenders, you'll know which is which and how to call them by their proper names.