Thursday, June 22, 2006

Char-marked fast food chicken

The June issue of Fast Company has a great article entitled "The Char Mark Conspiracy" that reveals how fast food grilled chicken breasts are really cooked.

American's, especially the health conscious ones, have gravitated towards the grilled chicken breast in recent years. Many health & diet groups extol its' virtues over beef. But the fast food grilled chicken is a little different than what we'd grill at home. Consider these examples:
  • Burger King's Tendergrill fillet contains added chicken fat and more than 30 other items.
  • McDonald's Grilled Chicken fillet has up to 20% "solution" by weight.
  • The chicken in Panera Bread's Chicken Salad Sandwich includes beef extract, for extra chicken-y goodness.
And actual grilling is expensive on a large, fast food, scale. As a result it is quite rare in the fast food industry. Most chicken is 'grilled' with jets of hot air. This convection cooking, as opposed to actual grilling over an open flame, provides the highest "yield," retaining the marinade and maximizing the weight of the final product.

Subsequently, something must be done to 'brand' the chicken so that it at least looks like it has been grilled:
To create the "appearance that the product may have been cooked on a backyard grill," the newly baked chicken fillets are often branded with "char marks," explains Jan Gaydos, director of marketing at FMC FoodTech, a manufacturer of industrial cooking equipment. The company's CM-40 II Charmarker uses red-hot branding wheels to burn grill marks onto the surface of chicken breasts as they emerge from the oven.
The photo above, from FMC's website, shows the work of the CM-40 II Charmarker.

This is reminiscent of, but not quite as scary as, the fake ribs in a McRib patty!

The chicken for 9 of the top 10 fast food restaurants is char-marked by Pilgrim's Pride. The only major fast food chain that actually grills chicken is Chik-fil-a, for their Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich.

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