Chicken nuggets are a finger-food staple, but when most people think of making them at home they start with frozen nuggets from the store. I am here to tell you, "You can make a tasty nugget at home with no frying and minimal clean up!"
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets are my favorite way to make this light lunch, simple dinner, or after school snack for my kids (or myself, who am I kidding?!). They are crispy, flavorful, and so much better than any store-bought variety. The cleanup is SO easy!
Why Make Chicken Nuggets in the Air Fryer
I prefer to cook chicken nuggets in an air fryer because it doesn’t require any oil, which is a bonus for many reasons.
It creates a healthier snack and I still get a crispy coated chicken nugget. The cleanup is much faster! I don’t have to worry about hot oil, scrubbing a deep fryer, or oil splatters! Air fryers are super easy to use and easy to clean! Plus, I have little kids. It’s nice not to worry about a vat of hot oil if I have to turn my back for a second.
If you haven’t bought an air fryer yet, because you're just not sure which one to buy we reviewed a bunch of them and found some favorites. Check out our list of the 7 best air fryers in 2021.
Timing for Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
You will need to work in batches if you are using an air fryer for chicken nuggets. The nuggets need to air fry in a single layer with a little space in between each nugget so the hot air can circulate fully around them.
The good news is that you can have a batch of nuggets going in the air fryer while you work on breading the second batch! Once you get a system down, it goes pretty fast! If this is your first time whipping out your air fryer here is a first timer’s guide to everything air fryer.
To make sure the chicken is fully cooked through and has a crispy crust, I like to air fry my chicken nuggets at 350˚F for 6 minutes, then flip them and fry them for another 6 minutes.
You should still check the nuggets to make sure they are cooked through, but that should be more than enough cooking time. You can check them by cutting a thick one in half and ensuring it’s cooked through or using a digital thermometer to make sure the thickest nugget registers 165˚F.
How to Make Chicken Nuggets from Scratch
The worry with making chicken nuggets from scratch is the tiny cutlets of chicken can dry out easily while cooking. To solve this, I like to brine my chicken in pickle juice for about 30 minutes before frying. The brine will help the chicken retain moisture and give them a nice salty undertone.
Pat the brined nuggets dry with a paper towel before breading them so you can get that crunchy coating.
Next, for the breading, I like to keep it standard. Flour plus some seasonings goes in the first bowl, eggs in a second bowl, and then breadcrumbs in a third. For the breadcrumbs you can use plain, Italian, or even panko breadcrumbs. Dip your nuggets in flour, then eggs, and then coat them well in breadcrumbs.
Before you air fry them, lightly spray the nuggets with nonstick cooking spray. This will give them just a tiny bit of fat that will lead to a super crispy crust.
What to Serve with Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
A classic side for chicken nuggets is French fries, but I also like to serve these with some steamed broccoli or a crunchy salad! To change up your standard French fry side you can also try oven baked sweet potato fries, German Potato Salad or Green Beans with Bacon.
How to Make These Interesting for Adults
My kids always like to dip their chicken nuggets in honey, but I like to make a quick Honey Mustard Sauce for mine which elevates the flavors a little bit and makes them more interesting. You can also serve them with a spicy ranch (stir together 1/4 cup ranch with 1 tablespoon hot sauce) for a kicked-up dip!
Oven Baked Chicken Nuggets
If you don’t have an air fryer, you can bake these chicken nuggets on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
Bake chicken nuggets at 400˚F until golden brown, crispy, and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of at least 165˚F in the thickest part of the nugget, 20-25 minutes. Be sure to flip the nuggets once, halfway through the cooking time. They will not be as crispy as the air fryer version.
You can also fry the nuggets in a traditional deep fryer as well. Here is a list of the 7 best deep fryers you can buy so you’re not out there searching the abyss.
How to Freeze Chicken Nuggets
I think it’s best to cook these and then freeze them if you want to store them for later. Freezing the uncooked nuggets is possible but means that you will have to fry the frozen nuggets for longer and run the risk of under or over cooking them.
If you have leftovers though or want to make a double batch, freeze the nuggets on a sheet pan in a single layer. When they are frozen, you can transfer them to a zip top bag for up to three months.
How to Reheat Chicken Nuggets
Whether you are reheating the nuggets from the fridge or from the freezer, reheat the nuggets in a 350˚F oven until they are warmed through!
If you are starting with frozen, they will need 15-20 minutes to warm through. Coming from the fridge, they will need 6-8 minutes to warm through.
More Tasty Air Fryer Chicken Recipes
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
- For chicken nuggets
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
- 1 cup pickle juice
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups plain or Italian breadcrumbs
- Nonstick spray, for cooking
- For easy honey mustard sauce
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup honey
Cut the chicken into nuggets:
Cut chicken breast into nugget-sized pieces, about 1-inch long and 1/2-inch thick. They should resemble more of a plank than a cube. In a bowl, add the nuggets and pickle and marinate for 30 minutes or up to an hour. Don’t marinate them for any longer or they will pickle.
Make the dredging station:
In a medium bowl combine flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. In a second medium bowl, whisk eggs until smooth. In a third medium bowl, add the breadcrumbs.
Drain, dry, and bread the nuggets:
Drain nuggets from the pickle juice and pat them dry with a few paper towels. No need to rinse them.
Working with a few nuggets at a time, add to flour mixture and coat well, followed by eggs letting any excess egg drip off, and finally fully coat in the breadcrumbs. You can start cooking one batch of nuggets while you work on breading the remainder of the nuggets.
Air fry the chicken nuggets:
Spray your air fryer basket and the nuggets with nonstick cooking spray. Lay out your first batch of chicken nuggets in a single layer with some space in between each nugget. Air fry at 350˚F for 6 minutes. Then, flip all the nuggets and fry for another 5-6 minutes.
Chicken nuggets are done when the breading is golden brown and they reach an internal temperature of at least 165˚F in the thickest part of the nugget. Repeat with all chicken nuggets until cooked.
Make honey mustard sauce and serve:
In a small bowl combine the mustard and honey to make the honey mustard sauce. Serve the chicken nuggets while warm with sauce or your favorite dip.