This chicken nugget recipe is life changing! It’s the BEST way to devour crispy chicken nuggets without any of the guilt plus it’s simple, easy and made with pantry friendly ingredients. To make homemade chicken nuggets, the bite-size chicken is briefly marinated in buttermilk, breaded in seasoned, toasted panko then baked to golden perfection that’s so crunchy you won’t believe they’re not fried! These homemade chicken nuggets make a fun snack or an easy weeknight dinner dunked in honey mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce or ranch alongside mashed potatoes or mac and cheese and a salad. You can also prep the chicken nuggets ahead of time and just bake when ready OR freeze for later so you’re ready for whenever those crunchy cravings strike!
Servings 6 -8 servings
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 cups buttermilk or DIY in notes*
- Cooking spray
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Add buttermilk and chicken to a freezer bag or bowl. Let chicken marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 12 hours. Meanwhile, toast panko.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread panko into an even onto a baking sheet and spray generously with cooking spray (spray at an angle so the panko doesn’t fly everywhere); toss with your hands, then spray again. Spread panko into an even layer (wiggle baking sheet to level as needed).
Bake at 400 degrees F for 3 - 5 minutes (check at 3 minutes) until golden. Remove from the oven and stir in all panko breading spices; set aside.
Set a wire rack over a second baking sheet; spray the rack with cooking spray; set aside.
Whisk the Batter ingredients together in a large bowl. Strain chicken from buttermilk using a slotted spoon or strainer and add to the batter and stir to evenly coat.
Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to scoop up some chicken and shake to remove excess batter. Using your fingers, transfer chicken from strainer to panko so the pieces aren’t touching. Scoop panko over chicken with a clean hand, then press the panko into the chicken. Transfer chicken to prepared baking tray so they aren’t touching. Repeat with remaining chicken.
Bake chicken at 400 degrees F for 12-16 minutes or until cooked through (temperature registers 165 degrees F with a meat thermometer). Serve with BBQ sauce, honey mustard, ranch, ketchup, sweet and sour sauce etc.
- *DIY Buttermilk/Sour milk: Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring glass. Add enough milk (not nonfat) to equal 2 cups. Give it a stir and let sit 5-10 minutes in order to activate and slightly curdle.
- Panko breadcrumbs: A type of Japanese breadcrumb that can be found next to the traditional/Italian breadcrumbs at your grocery store. Please do NOT substitute with traditional breadcrumbs and expect the same crunchy results.
- Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets: Use your favorite gluten free flour such as Bob Red’s Mill Baking Flour and gluten free panko. Gluten free panko should be relatively easy to find. My husband accidently picked up Aleia’s Gluten-Free Panko made of rice and potato flour (among other ingredients), and it was fantastic.
- Dairy Free Chicken Nuggets: Swap the buttermilk for your favorite non-dairy milk plus 2 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice.
Tip and Tricks:
- What if I don’t have a baking rack? If you don’t have a wire rack, then line the baking sheet with lightly greased foil and place it in the oven to get nice and hot while you prep the chicken. Take care when adding your chicken because your pan will be HOT! Flip the chicken over halfway through baking with tongs.
- Chop chicken uniformly. Try and chop your chicken into uniform size pieces so they cook evenly. This will help you not overcook the small pieces.
- Don’t chop chicken too small. The chicken should be chopped 1” thick, erroring on the side of larger so that it doesn’t overcook and dry out.
- Don’t burn panko. Make sure to check your panko at 3 minutes and bake on if needed, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn – it can go from pale to burnt very quickly!
- Dab off excess batter. We don’t want extra batter clinging to the chicken as it dives into the panko breading because it will cause gooey pockets instead of a thin binding layer.
- Space chicken when adding to panko. When you transfer the chicken to the panko, don’t just plop it down in one massive lump or the panko will get all gooey and grimy as you try and break up the chicken while coating. Instead, transfer the chicken to the panko so it’s not touching each other.
- Use clean fingers. Use the opposite hand you used to add the battered chicken to the panko to scoop up the panko and toss it over the chicken. This will help prevent gummy fingers and gummy panko.
- Don’t stack chicken. Resist the urge to stack the baked chicken nuggets when they come out of the oven or the chicken will steam and you’ll lose that shatteringly crispy coveted exterior. It is best to serve the chicken nuggets lined in a single layer with a little breathing room in between each morsel.
- Dipping Sauces. See post for my favorite dipping sauce recipes.
You can prepare the individual components of this baked chicken nugget recipe in advance or the entire recipe:
- Chicken: Chop into 1-inch cubes, soak in the buttermilk for up to 12 hours in advance. Do NOT soak longer than 12 hours, otherwise the chicken will turn to mush.
- Panko coating: Toast the panko breadcrumbs, then mix together with the spices. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
- Bread chicken: Batter and bread the chicken and spread on greased baking rack. Cover with foil and refrigerate. Uncover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature before baking. Note this method will produce ever so slightly less crispy chicken nuggets.
- Entire recipe: You can also make the entire recipe as written, let the chicken nuggets cool, then freeze for up to 3 months. I’ve given freezing instructions below.
How to store and reheat
- Storage: store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When properly stored, the chicken is good for 3 to 5 days. For best results, don’t stack your chicken directly on top of each other or the breading will become soft. Instead, place a piece of parchment paper in between the layers.
- Microwave: the chicken won’t be nearly as crispy if reheated in the microwave but it will still be flavorful. Transfer chicken to a microwave safe plate in an even layer. Microwave for 60 seconds, then in additional increments of 15 seconds as needed.
- Air fryer: place chicken in a single layer in the basket without touching, air fry using the “snack” setting for 4-6 minutes, checking at 4 minutes to ensure the chicken doesn’t burn.
- Oven: spread chicken on a lightly greased baking rack set in a baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until heated through. You can also fry the chicken again to reheat.
How to Freeze
- Bake chicken according to directions then let cool to room temperature.
- Transfer the entire baking sheet to the freezer.
- Let the chicken freeze for 1-2 hours or until the chicken is solid. This prevents the chicken from clumping together.
- Add chicken to a freezer bag, squeeze out excess air, and label.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Bake chicken nuggets straight from frozen (so they don’t become soggy) on a lightly greased baking rack placed over a baking sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, or until heated through.