The air fryer is really the perfect appliance for cooking frozen chicken nuggets. There is no need to defrost them. In fact, you don’t ever need to defrost chicken nuggets before cooking them. The chicken is fully pre-cooked. The idea is to get the breading crispy and the interior warmed through.
Chicken nuggets might be the most popular kid-friendly food. They are small enough to be eaten by hand. And, they taste good. All you need is ketchup or another good dipping sauce. We’ll explore a few different sauce recipes. This is fast food at its finest and simplest. Add some carrot and apple slices to the meal so that your little ones get protein, carbs, fiber, and vitamins in the veggies and fruit.
Varieties of Chicken Nuggets
When I decided to try chicken nuggets in my air fryer, I was slightly overwhelmed with the variety and brands. The chicken nugget section of the frozen food aisle rivals that of French fries and pizza. There are a lot, and they do vary quite a bit. I recommend reading the ingredient labels to start with. Here is what I discovered and what I settled on.
Choose Whole Chicken
There are chicken nuggets that are made with ground chicken meat and fillers, such as corn or rice starch, sugar, maltodextrin, and guar gum. When you bite into these, they often have tiny holes, like risen bread, and look a little bit like a sponge. The texture can also be unpleasantly spongy.
Look for nuggets that have whole chicken breast meat as the main ingredient. The flavor and texture are superior to those made with chicken by-products and fillers.
Keep the Breading Ingredients Simple
The coating on the outside of the chicken can be a total mystery. I am unsure why some brands have 3 ingredients in their breading, while others have as much as 30 ingredients. Why is that? I realize there needs to be something to help the breading to adhere to the chicken, but why 5 different forms of starch and several types of flour?
Honestly, the best tasting nuggets have flour, seasonings, maybe a little yeast or other leavening agent, and water. That’s it. Some add a bit of vegetable oil to help the coating crisp up.
What About Gluten-Free?
We eat a mostly gluten-free diet when we can. I wasn’t sure if gluten-free chicken nuggets would be good. I found that we all liked the gluten-free ones better than those made with a wheat flour breading. There is a good reason for that. GF breading is often made with rice flour and/or cornmeal or corn flour.
Cornmeal is naturally crunchy. Rice flour crisps up much better than wheat flour. I believe this is why authentic tempura batter is made with rice flour. I personally use rice flour for most of my breading. Many markets carry their own brands of GF chicken nuggets at an affordable price. These are often organic – an added bonus.
Vegan “Chicken” Nuggets
Okay, this is a true oxymoron. There is no such thing as a vegan chicken nugget. For those who are following a strict vegan diet, there are actually many brands of meatless nuggets. For the most part, these all have soy and wheat protein as the main ingredients. If you have a soy allergy or gluten intolerance, vegan nuggets are not for you.
The texture isn’t horrible. I attribute that to the breading being very similar to that of traditional chicken nuggets. These cook the same way in an air fryer and are a good option for vegan families. I think a nice dipping sauce makes the difference in how tasty vegan nuggets are.
Air Fryer Frozen Chicken Nuggets (Gluten-Free)
For this recipe, I used gluten-free, organic, white meat frozen chicken nuggets. You can use your favorite brand. Make a dipping sauce prior to air frying the chicken nuggets. You can keep the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to use, and approximately 4 days for future use. Recipes for sauces follow.
- 10 frozen, gluten-free, white meat chicken nuggets
- Extra virgin olive oil spray (optional)
Total time:15 min – Prep time:5 min – Cook time:10 min – Serves:2 people
1. Preheat your air fryer to 400°F for 5 minutes.
2. Give the basket or crisper plate a light spray or brush of olive oil. If the nuggets have oil listed as an ingredient, this may not be necessary.
3. Place the nuggets in a single layer in the basket or on the crisper plate. Close the bucket and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Flip the nuggets over and continue to cook for 5 to 7 minutes until crispy and warmed through.
5. Serve with ketchup or your favorite dipping sauce. (Recipes follow).
Quick and Easy Dips for Chicken Nuggets
Easy Barbeque Sauce
- 2/3 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cups unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 TBS prepared yellow mustard
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a low simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar has melted and the sauce has thickened.
2. Remove from heat and serve immediately with your chicken nuggets. Or, store this in the refrigerator and reheat as needed.
Sweet and Sour Mustard Sauce
- 1/4 cup spicy brown or Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
- 3 TBS pure maple syrup
- 1 TBS unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp hot pepper sauce (optional)
1. Place all ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake vigorously until mixed well and creamy. Or, whisk together in a small mixing bowl.
2. Place in individual ramekins and serve with your chicken nuggets.
Homemade Ranch Dressing
- 2/3 cup good quality mayonnaise
- 1 TBS fresh lemon juice
- 1 TBS dried parsley
- 1 tsp dried dill
- 1 tsp dried chives
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- Filtered water to thin, if needed
1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients, except the water. If too thick, thin with a small amount of water.
2. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with your chicken nuggets and veggie sticks.