Vegan Chicken Nuggets

Whether you’re craving fast food or want a new way to enjoy tofu, this vegan chicken nugget recipe is sure to satisfy. A few simple tricks yield super-savory, extra-crunchy tofu nuggets.

Vegan Chicken Nuggets Sprinkled with Salt Flakes on a Newspaper with Two Bowls of Sauces

Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

Every time I post a photo of a tofu recipe on Instagram, my DMs are flooded with “how’d you get it so crispy?!” It seems the tofu texture so many people crave is also the most elusive. 

My answer is usually one of three things: I tore it instead of slicing it, I froze it and then defrosted it, or I battered and fried it. And then it hit me: if I applied all three techniques to the same block of tofu, I would have the crispiest, craggiest, crunchiest tofu imaginable. And so I did just that—and vegan chicken nuggets were born. 

These protein-packed nuggets are super-savory, ultra-crunchy, and just as satisfying as the fast food favorite. Looks-wise, they could fool Ronald McDonald himself; they’re shaped, seasoned, and fried to mimic the real deal. Enjoy them on game day, serve with dips for dinner, or freeze a big batch to fry up as a late-night snack. 

Vegan Chicken Nugget Sitting in a Bowl of Sauce on a Plate with More Vegan Chicken Nuggets

Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

The Best Tofu for Nuggets (and How to Prepare It)

Extra-firm tofu, which is sturdy enough to batter and fry, is the best choice for these nuggets. To infuse it with flavor, I take the extra step of freezing and thawing it. The ice crystals that form in the freezer turn into small holes when thawed, making the tofu more porous and ready to absorb the marinade. This process also gives the tofu a chewier, meatier texture.

The day before you’re planning to cook, drain a pack of tofu, pat it dry, and tear it into pieces. Tearing gives you irregular, nugget-shaped pieces, an uneven surface for the marinade to cling to, and ragged edges that get extra crispy when fried. Freeze the pieces, thaw in the fridge overnight, then squeeze out any excess moisture. 

If you already have a block of tofu in your freezer, simply thaw and then tear.

Cross Section of a Vegan Chicken Nugget Sitting on More Vegan Chicken Nuggets

Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

Creating a Textured, Nugget-Like Breading  

Two smart steps will help you achieve the craggy crust synonymous with chicken nuggets: 

  • Add nutritional yeast to the flour mixture. Its light and flaky consistency is perfect for breading and its savory, cheesy flavor is also a big win. 
  • Stir a tablespoon of the vegan buttermilk into the breading. This creates extra texture in the form of small clumps which will cling to the tofu, making them especially crispy.

How to Make Vegan Chicken Nuggets in the Air Fryer 

Preheat your air fryer to 400°F for 5 minutes, ensuring it’s nice and hot when the nuggets go in. Shake off as much flour from the nuggets as you can, then coat all sides with nonstick cooking spray. 

Cook in a single layer, flipping halfway through, until crispy and golden-brown, about 12 minutes total. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of your air fryer. 

Vegan Chicken Nuggets Sprinkled with Salt Flakes on a Newspaper with Two Bowls of Sauces

Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

The Best Dipping Sauces 

No nugget is complete with a side of sauce. Here are a few of our favorites (substitute vegan mayo where necessary):

Vegan Chicken Nuggets

Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Freezing and Thawing Time 16 hrs
Total Time 16 hrs 55 mins
Servings 4 to 6 servings
Yield 16 nuggets

Include the optional cayenne pepper in the breading for lightly spicy chicken nuggets.


For the tofu

  • 1 (16-ounce) block extra-firm tofu, drained 

  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the spice blend

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the “buttermilk” marinade

  • 1 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk, like soy milk

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice 

For the breading

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional


  1. Tear the tofu into pieces:

    Blot the tofu dry with paper towels, then use your hands to break it into quarters. Split each quarter in half (revealing the center of the block), then tear in half the other way, creating 16 evenly-sized pieces.

    Tofu Block Broken into 4 Cubes on a Parchment Lined Baking Pan for Vegan Chicken Nuggets Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

    Tofu Block Broken into 16 Bite Size Pieces on a Parchment Lined Baking Pan for Vegan Chicken Nuggets Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  2. Freeze the tofu: 

    Place the tofu pieces in a single layer on a small parchment-lined baking sheet or dinner plate (whatever will fit in your freezer). Freeze until frozen solid, at least 4 hours. 

    The tofu will turn yellow-ish; this is okay! If freezing for longer, transfer the pieces to a ziptop bag for up to 4 months.

    Tofu Pieces on a Parchment Lined Baking Pan after Freezing in Refrigerator for Vegan Nuggets Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  3. Thaw the tofu:

    Transfer the tofu pieces to the refrigerator to thaw overnight. If they’re still frozen when you’re ready to start cooking, defrost them in the microwave at 50 percent power, flipping every minute.

    Defrosted Tofu Pieces on a Parchment Lined Baking Pan for Nuggets Vegan Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  4. Press the tofu: 

    Set aside the parchment-lined baking sheet. Sandwich the tofu between several layers of paper towels and press with your hands to release any excess moisture. Continue this process until very little moisture transfers to the towels.

    Tofu Nuggets in Between Layers of Paper Towels on the Counter for Chicken Nuggets Vegan Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  5. Make the spice blend: 

    Place the salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk with a fork to combine and set aside.

    Spice Mixture in a Bowl for Vegan Chicken Nuggets

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  6. Marinate the tofu: 

    Whisk together the soy milk, Dijon mustard, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of the spice blend in a medium bowl.

    Add the thawed tofu to the marinade, tossing to coat. Using the back of a spoon, press down on the pieces until mostly submerged. Let sit at room temperature, stirring halfway, for at least for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

    Bowl of "Buttermilk" Marinade for Tofu Nuggets Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

    Tofu Nuggets Marinating in Bowl of "Buttermilk" Marinade for Vegan Nuggets Recipe

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  7. Make the flour mixture: 

    While the nuggets are marinating, whisk the flour, nutritional yeast, and cayenne pepper (if using) into the bowl with the remaining spice blend. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the marinade to create small clumps throughout the mixture. 

    Simple Tip!

    You can also use this time to prepare any dipping sauces.

    Tablespoon of Marinade Added to Bowl of Flour for Vegan Chicken Nuggets

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  8. Dredge the nuggets: 

    Remove the nuggets from the marinade, giving them one final dunk and then letting any excess drip off. Dip them, one at a time, in the flour mixture until all sides are coated. Shake off any excess, then place on the reserved baking sheet. 

    Simple Tip!

    The nuggets can be breaded up to 1 day in advance; cover and store in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet until frozen solid, then transfer to a zip-top bag. Cook them directly from frozen, adding 2 to 4 minutes to the cook time. Make sure the oil is the right temperature so the center heats up and the breading doesn’t get too brown.

    Dredging Station: Tofu Nuggets in a Bowl of Marinade, a Tofu Nugget in a Bowl of Flour, and Vegan Chicken Nuggets on a Baking Pan

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  9. Fry the nuggets:

    Pour enough oil into a large, heavy-bottomed skillet so that it comes up the sides at least 1/2 inch. Heat over medium-high until shimmering and a pinch of flour sizzles when you drop it into the pan. 

    Use tongs to carefully transfer half of the nuggets to the oil in a single layer. Cook, flipping the tofu halfway through and turning onto its side if needed, until all 4 sides are crispy and golden-brown, 4 to 6 minutes total. Reduce the heat if the oil gets too hot. 

    Repeat with the remaining nuggets, adding oil to the pan and letting it come back up to temperature between batches (if needed).

    Vegan Chicken Nuggets Frying in Hot Oil

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

    Vegan Chicken Nuggets Flipped to Fry the Other Side

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

  10. Drain and serve:

    Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

    Vegan chicken nuggets are best served warm, but leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in a 400°F oven (or air fryer) for 5 minutes.  

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    Vegan Chicken Nuggets Resting on a Paper Towel Lined Plate

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

    Vegan Chicken Nuggets Sprinkled with Salt Flakes on a Plate with a Bowl of Sauce, and Next to Plate, Another Bowl of Sauce and a Table Napkin

    Simply Recipes / Ciara Kehoe

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
244 Calories
16g Fat
15g Carbs
12g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 244
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 21%
Saturated Fat 2g 8%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 575mg 25%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
Dietary Fiber 2g 9%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 12g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 264mg 20%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 208mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.