Chicken nuggets are a family favorite, but they’re not typically synonymous with a healthy meal and they certainly aren’t tailored to special diets. We’re here to change that! You can make super crispy, non-fried, gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free nuggets from finely crushed tortilla chips mixed with a few key spices. Read on for our simple cleaned-up version (complete with special dipping sauce) that is ready in under 30 minutes.
This post was originally published on October 11th, 2016. Updated on February 16th, 2021.
Baked Chicken Nuggets for the Win
Why do you nugget? We nugget because they are a sure-fire family win. Nothing feels better than making a homemade meal that everyone at the table will enjoy, kids and adults included. They’re easy, they’re fast, they’re familiar, and most importantly, they’re delicious.
These nutritious nuggets can fit into any special diet you may need, whether that’s
- Grain-Free (depending on which tortilla chips you use!)
It is really easy to get a coating that sticks just right and makes every bite crispy perfection. Read on to learn the two things that make these come out of the oven just right every time.
Ingredients to Make Baked Chicken Nuggets
You may already have everything you need to make these easy homemade chicken nuggets right now!
We love to make them whenever we have those tortilla chip remnants leftover at the bottom of a bag. You know, the tiny chip pieces that aren’t big enough to hold any of The Best Homemade Guacamole, but you still don’t want to throw them away because you just KNOW they have a purpose. Well, this is it. You’ll need 6 ounces of yellow or white corn tortilla chips to make 1 ½ cups of chip crumbs. Other than that, you just need some basic pantry items.
Do you have these ingredients on hand? Great, then you’re all set to get started!
- 1 ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 6 ounces yellow or white corn tortilla chips (or use your favorite grain-free tortilla chips to make them Paleo)
- Avocado oil or olive oil
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
How to Make Crispy Homemade Chicken Nuggets
It only takes 10 minutes to get your nuggets oven ready. Start by making the crispy coating. Take those aforementioned tortilla chips or bottom-of-the-bag chip crumbles and place them in a food processor (preferred method) to grind them an even-ish consistency. If you don’t have a food processor, you could just as easily crush the chips in a zip-top bag by hitting them with a rolling pin. Just be sure to get all the chips crushed to a similar size.
Dump the chip crumbles into a shallow baking dish or pie plate and stir in the seasonings. Pat the chicken chunks dry with a paper towel and then toss them in a bowl with the oil. Add the chicken to the chip breading, turning each chicken chunk over and really pressing each one into the coating to make it stick well.
Next, place the chicken pieces at least 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Mist the top of each nugget with cooking spray (this is key to crispiness) and bake them in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a pair of tongs to turn each nugget over. Spray each nugget again with cooking spray and pop them back in the oven for another 8 minutes. While this is happening, stir together the dipping sauce ingredients. That’s it, you’re nearly done!
Where’s the Dip?
You can’t have nuggets without the dip. The little handheld shape of nuggets are just calling out for a dunk in the sauce pool. In fact, we often like to serve them with a couple of different dunking options to make dinner extra fun (who doesn’t love dipping!?).
We especially love, love, love to dip these crispy nuggets in our easy Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce (see the recipe below). This recipe is made by simply stirring together mayonnaise and mustard with a touch of pure honey, dried thyme, salt, and a sprinkle of black pepper. You can whisk it up in less than 2 minutes, which is a perfect thing to do while the nuggets are baking. If you’re a fan of the special sauce from that popular chicken fast-food joint, consider this to be your clone homemade Chick-fil-A sauce recipe. It’s tangy and creamy with just a touch of sweetness.
You could use any store-bought or homemade dips you prefer, such as ranch dressing, honey mustard, dijonnaise, barbecue sauce, ketchup, garlic aioli, or spicy mayo. In addition to our Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce, here are some healthy dip options we recommend pairing with our homemade chicken nuggets:
Why Our Homemade Chicken Nuggets Are Better For You
The nuggets you could buy from a fast-food drive-thru or the frozen ones you could plunk onto a baking sheet are often made with “mechanically separated chicken,” which is a clue that they contain some chicken meat, but also all the bits and parts that are not sellable from a chicken carcass (bones, fat, and connective tissue). Yuck, right? Instead, our nuggets are made from all-white skinless chicken breast, which is tender, high in protein, and low in fat.
Our homemade chicken nuggets baked not fried, and our simple breading technique means you don’t need fryer oil to get that extra crispy coating.
Most commercial or homemade nugget recipes call for an egg or milk dip plus flour breading, but not this one. We use heart-healthy avocado oil or olive oil instead of eggs to get the coating to stick, and we use finely crushed tortilla chips to give you a delicious oven-baked chicken nuggets recipe that is egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free. If food allergies are a concern for you, be sure to check the label on your tortilla chips to make sure they’re not processed in a facility that also processes wheat, gluten, or nuts, to avoid possible cross-contamination. To make these nuggets grain-free and Paleo-friendly, use a grain-free tortilla chip, such as Siete Grain-Free or Late July No-Grain brands.
A quick note about homemade vs fast-food
While fast food may seem convenient, consider the time benefits of homemade, too. Since these nuggets come together really easily and bake fast (start to finish in under 30 minutes), these could actually be faster than the time it takes to buy sad, half warm, high-sodium, high-fat nuggets you’d get from a drive-thru, especially when you consider the time you’d spend driving there and waiting in line.
Can Baked Chicken Nuggets be Made in the Air Fryer?
Quick answer: of course! If you have an air fryer (or an air fryer lid for your Instant Pot), you can just as easily bake these crispy homemade nuggets in there instead of an oven. To do so, turn the air fryer to 400℉ and let it heat for 2-3 minutes. Since air fryers work like a convection oven, circulating hot air around the food, it’s important not to overcrowd the basket of the air fryer so the hot air can reach all sides of each nugget. For that reason, you’ll need to bake them in batches, 8 to 10 at a time. Place coated nuggets in the air fryer basket, mist each one lightly with cooking spray, and air fry for 6 minutes. Flip each nugget over, mist again with cooking spray, and bake for 6 minutes more, until the nuggets are cooked through. Repeat the steps, baking 8 to 10 nuggets at a time.
How Do I Reheat Leftover Baked Chicken Nuggets?
OK, so we honestly doubt that you’ll have many leftovers (we never do!) because these perfect baked nuggets get gobbled up pretty quickly. But on the chance that you do have leftovers, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator.
There are three methods we recommend for reheating these nuggets so they’re just as good as when freshly made.
- Oven or toaster oven reheating: Preheat the oven to 450℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment, place a metal cooling rack over the baking sheet and mist with cooking spray. Spread leftover chicken nuggets in a single layer across parchment paper or on the cooling rack. Mist the nuggets with cooking spray and bake for 10 minutes.
- Skillet reheating: Place a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, mist the surface of the pan with cooking spray and heat nuggets for 2 to 3 minutes. Then flip each nugget and heat for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Air fryer reheating: Set the air fryer to 400℉ and let it heat for 2-3 minutes. Place 8 to 10 nuggets at a time in the air fryer basket (make sure the basket isn’t overcrowded so air can circulate around each nugget) and mist tops of nuggets lightly with cooking spray. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes per side, lightly misting the tops of the nuggets again with cooking spray when you turn them over.
If These are Egg-Free and Flour-Free, How Does the Coating Stick to the Chicken?
Good question. Most homemade nugget recipes call for an egg dip to help the coating stick, which is fine but not if you want an egg-free recipe (or if you don’t have an egg on hand). And most recipes call for a flour and bread crumb coating, which is fine but not if you want nuggets that are gluten-free and not fried.
In our recipe, we coat the chunks of chicken with avocado oil or olive oil then roll them in the seasoned tortilla chip coating. There are two things that can help ensure the coating sticks well and comes out perfectly crisp.
- Really crush those tortilla chips. You want a nice and even consistency in your tortilla chip coating, almost like bread crumbs (more coarse than sand, but less coarse than whole-grain oats). It helps to use a food processor to crush the chips to an even consistency, but you could also put them in a zip-top bag and bang them up with a rolling pin (consider this dinner prep and stress reliever in one!).
- Really press the coating onto the surface of the chicken. Do more than just rolling the oil-dipped chicken in the coating. Really press each chicken chunk into the coating to help it stick and coat evenly.
For the Baked Nuggets:
- 6 ounces tortilla chips (white or yellow corn), crushed to make about 1 ½ cups
- 1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, patted dry and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
- Cooking spray
For the Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce:
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup spicy brown mustard or dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450℉. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
- To crush the tortilla chips, add them to the bowl of a food processor and process until finely crushed. Alternatively, you can place the chips in a plastic zip-top bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
- Transfer the finely crushed tortilla chips to a shallow dish or pie plate. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, and black pepper to the crushed chips and mix to combine. Set aside.
- Place the chicken in another bowl. Add the oil then toss to coat.
- Add the chicken pieces, a few at a time to the seasoned tortilla chip mixture. Toss the chicken in the crumbs pressing them onto the surface of the chicken to ensure each piece is well coated.
- Arrange the chicken pieces, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the top of each chicken piece with cooking spray before placing the pan in the oven. Bake 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, turn over each piece of chicken, and spray them again with cooking spray before returning to the oven. Bake an additional 8-10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the breading is lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, whisk together all of the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl.
- Remove baked nuggets from the oven and serve with Honey-Mustard Dipping Sauce or other sauce for dunking. Refrigerate any leftover sauce in a covered container for up to 1 week. If desired, garnish with a fresh herb, such as chopped flat-leaf parsley or thyme leaves.
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Air Fryer Directions: If you have an air fryer (or an air fryer lid for your Instant Pot), you can just as easily bake these crispy homemade nuggets in there instead of an oven. To do so, turn the air fryer to 400℉ and let it heat for 2-3 minutes. Since air fryers work like a convection oven, circulating hot air around the food, it’s important not to overcrowd the basket of the air fryer so the hot air can reach all sides of each nugget. For that reason, you’ll need to bake them in batches, 8 to 10 at a time. Place coated nuggets in the air fryer basket, mist each one lightly with cooking spray, and air fry for 6 minutes. Flip each nugget over, mist again with cooking spray, and bake for 6 minutes more, until the nuggets are cooked through. Repeat the steps, baking 8 to 10 nuggets at a time.
The nutrition analysis for 1/4 of the baked chicken nuggets without sauce is as follows: 448 cals, 17 g total fat (3 g sat fat), 94 mg chol, 22 g carb (2 g fiber, 0 g sugars), 576 mg sodium, 37 g protein
- Serving Size: ¼ of the nuggets with 2 tbsp sauce
- Calories: 533
- Fat: 29 g
- (Sat Fat: 4 g)
- Sodium: 843 mg
- Carbohydrate: 27 g
- (Fiber: 2 g
- Sugar: 5 g)
- Protein: 38 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
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Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Jess of Plays Well with Butter.