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Marinated in pickle juice + air fried to perfection, these air fryer chicken nuggets (next to a side of fries, of course) are the tastiest childhood throwback meal ever!
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets Recipe
These nuggets. Wow. They are special. This was one of those recipes (much like the air fryer sweet potato fries) that got gobbled up in the Fed and Fit kitchen well before the end of the workday. Amber really created a work of art with the nuggets, and then (AND THEN!) Cassy whipped up the sauce of our dreams, and we ate saucy nuggets until our stomachs hurt. That was a good, good day.
What are Chicken Nuggets
Chicken nuggets are, essentially, small chunks of chicken that have been breaded and fried. While fast food chain (or even sit-down restaurant) nuggets are often made up of different parts of the chicken (not just chicken breast meat), our chicken nuggets are made with chicken breast tenders.
Most often, chicken nuggets are deep fried to crispy perfection, but we actually achieved the same crisp with the air fryer, making these a healthier every day option!
What is the difference between chicken nuggets and chicken tenders?
The biggest differences between our chicken tenders and chicken nuggets are the size and the breading. Our chicken tenders are made from long strips of chicken breast meat (chicken breast tenders), while our nuggets are made from the same meat that’s been cut into 1-inch chunks! Crushed cornflakes make an appearance in the breading for our tenders, while our nuggets stick to a more traditional flour and breadcrumb mixture.
Air Fryer Chicken Nugget Ingredients
You’ll need several ingredients for this recipe, but many of them are likely to be in your pantry already! Here’s everything you’ll need:
For the Nuggets
- Chicken Breast Tenders – to start, you’ll need about 1 pound of chicken breast tenders cut into 1-inch chunks. If you can’t find chicken tenders, feel free to grab an equivalent amount of chicken breasts!
- Pickle Juice – in order to make the chicken nice and juicy (and give some really great flavor) you’ll need about 1 cup of pickle juice.
- All-Purpose Flour – a ½ cup of all-purpose flour (we used THIS one for gluten-free!),…
- Breadcrumbs – …a ½ cup of breadcrumbs,…
- Spices + Seasonings – …½ a teaspoon of paprika, 2 teaspoons of salt (divided), ½ a teaspoon of garlic powder, ½ a teaspoon onion powder, ½ a teaspoon of cayenne, and a ¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper make up the breading for our nuggets!
- Eggs – before breading the nuggets, you’ll dip them into a combination of 2 whisked eggs and…
- Milk – …2 tablespoons of milk!
- Olive Oil Spray – one of the great things about air fryers is that you need a really minimal amount of oil in order to achieve crispy, delicious results. For this recipe, we used olive oil spray, but if you don’t have that, you can use about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil instead.
For the Dipping Sauce
- Mayonnaise – the base of this creamy sauce is a ¼ cup mayonnaise. We love Primal Kitchen Foods mayo as a store-bought option.
- BBQ Sauce – 1½ tablespoons of BBQ sauce lends the perfect bit of smoky sweetness to the finished sauce.
- Yellow Mustard – a ½ tablespoon of yellow mustard brings a slight tanginess to mix.
- Honey – 1 teaspoon of honey perfectly sweetens it all!
How to Make Fresh Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
The air fryer makes things easy-peasy, y’all. Here are the step-by-step instructions that you’ll need to follow:
- Marinate the chicken in the pickle juice – place the chicken and pickle juice in a bowl, then cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours (longer than that and the pickle juice will start to break down the chicken). The longer you marinate the chicken in the pickle juice, the more pronounced the pickle flavor will be.
- Drain + salt the chicken – once you’re ready to make the nuggets, drain the juice from the chicken, then sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the chicken and toss to combine.
- Whisk together the flour, breadcrumbs, and seasonings – in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, black pepper, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt until fully combined.
- Whisk together the eggs and milk – in a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
- Dip the chicken in the egg mixture – dip the chicken in the whisked egg and milk mixture, making sure each piece is fully coated.
- Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture – remove the chicken from the egg mixture, letting the excess egg drip off, then dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, making sure the chicken is coated on all sides.
- Air fry the nuggets – place the chicken nuggets in the air fryer (you may have to work in two batches depending on the size of your air fryer), then spray or brush with oil. Cook for 7 minutes at 375°F.
- Flip the nuggets – after 7 minutes, flip the nuggets and spray or brush with oil. Cook for an additional 6 minutes, until browned and crisp.
- Make the sauce – whisk together the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl until fully combined.
- Serve + enjoy – serve the nuggets alongside the sauce and enjoy!
How to Cook Frozen Chicken Nuggets in Air Fryer
This recipe is for making your own nuggets from scratch, but if you’re looking for directions on cooking frozen, store-bought nuggets in the air fryer, we’d start with 8 minutes at 400°F (knowing that you may need to add more time if needed).
Are chicken nuggets healthy?
While chicken nuggets aren’t typically a “health food,” they sure are tasty! We use really great ingredients in these nuggets, so I’d say that they are on the healthier side as far as nuggets go. Remember, everything in moderation, so let yourself enjoy your nuggets guilt-free!
What to serve with air fryer chicken nuggets?
For the Nuggets:
- 1 pound chicken breast tenders cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 cup pickle juice optional
- 2 teaspoons salt divided
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour gluten-free all-purpose flour will also work here
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Olive oil spray or about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the Dipping Sauce:
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Place the chicken and pickle juice in a bowl, then cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. The longer you marinate the chicken in the pickle juice, the more pronounced the pickle flavor will be. (Note: if you don't like pickles, just skip this step!)
- Once you're ready to make the nuggets, drain the juice from the chicken, then sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the chicken and toss to combine.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, black pepper, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt until fully combined.
- In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
- Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, making sure each piece is fully coated.
- Remove the chicken from the egg mixture, letting the excess egg drip off, then dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, making sure the chicken is coated on all sides.
- Place the chicken nuggets in the air fryer (you may have to work in two batches depending on the size of your air fryer) then spray or brush with oil. Cook for 7 minutes at 375 F.
- After 7 minutes, flip the nuggets and spray or brush with oil. Cook for an additional 6 minutes, until browned and crisp.
- To make the sauce: whisk together the ingredients for the sauce in small bowl until fully combined.
- Serve the nuggets alongside the sauce and enjoy!