Grilled chicken is a food that’s often recommended as part of weight-loss plans, because it’s low in fat and high in protein, which helps promote satiety. However, that seemingly innocent chicken breast you ordered at Subway or Burger King is not really the healthy item it masquerades as, despite the grill marks on the meat.
That’s because few fast food restaurants are willing to actually grill. Instead, these chicken breasts are cooked with an industrial process and branded with char marks to make it appear as if the meat might have once touched a grill. The only major fast food chains we know of to actually grill its chicken are Chick-fil-A and Chipotle, while McDonald’s, Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King and Taco Bell all opt for fake char marks.
So how is this meat prepared? In a centralized factory before it’s shipped to franchise locations. First, it’s “marinated” in a cocktail of sodium, sugar, oils and other fats, with a few other chemicals. This adds weight to the meat, in addition to flavor and preservatives. The bath differs from chain to chain. For example, the meat found in Panera’s Chicken Salad Sandwich contains beef extract. The breasts are then positioned on a large conveyor belt, and convection-cooked with hot air. Only after this process is completed are the char marks burnt onto the surface of the chicken, using an industrial charring machine with branding wheels. Finally, it’s frozen and packaged for shipping.
It’s no big surprise that fast food isn’t healthy, but chain restaurants are scrambling to make their offering appear better for you. It’s important to remember that just because a fast food item may appear freshly prepared, they’re still the product of an industrial process, and this isn’t likely to change any time soon.