Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and totally delicious! These Vegan Chicken Nuggets taste just like everyone’s favorite; Chick-fil-A! Serve them with vegan sweet potato waffle fries for the perfect kid-friendly healthy treat.
I created this recipe by accident. I’m a big fan of tofu in all of its many forms. I love it scrambled, crumbled, crispy, baked, turned into a cheese, in pasta, and grilled! One day I was just playing around with a new concept for crispy air fryer tofu, and ended up with these vegan chicken nuggets. They looked so similar to Chick-fil-A’s famous nuggets, and when I took that first bite I knew I had landed on something special.
Kids Approve of these Vegan Chicken Nuggets
My daughter cannot get enough of these vegan chicken nuggets. They’re perfect for all children! I know you care about your kids getting the right nutrition. These vegan nuggets are much healthier than their deep-fried real chicken counterparts. They’re made in the air fryer and not deep-fried. Secondly, they are made with wholesome ingredients you most likely already have in your kitchen. No processed meat, artificial flavors, or fillers here.
These vegan chicken nuggets are made with tofu which is a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and calcium. They’re also easy to make, so invite your kids into the kitchen to help you make these nuggets.
Are vegan chicken nuggets healthier?
These tofu nuggets are indeed healthier than most real chicken store-bought nuggets. They are cooked in an air fryer to achieve the perfect crunch without deep frying them in loads of oil. The whole recipe contains just 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil!
Store-bought chicken nuggets are made with processed chicken, fillers, artificial and “natural” flavors, binders, and a lot of sodium. Even store-bought vegan chicken nuggets are filled with ingredients like methylcellulose, processed canola oil and sunflower oils, and processed soy (soy protein concentrate).
These vegan chicken nuggets have none of that. Just clean and simple ingredients, that you likely already have in your pantry: spices, tofu, soy sauce, flour, and oil.
You don’t need to worry about missing out on protein when you eat these vegan nuggets. Tofu is high in protein; and it’s also a great source of fiber and calcium––just a half cup of tofu has more calcium than 1 cup of of cow’s milk.
Despite having so few ingredients, these simple vegan chicken nuggets are:
- Juicy 💦
- Crispy 🥓
- Meaty 💪🏾
- Delicious 😋
- Kid-friendly 🧸
- Easy to make 🍳
The Star Ingredients
Extra Firm Tofu: Tofu is, of course, the star of this nugget recipe. Extra firm tofu gives these nuggets the perfect meaty texture. Start by pressing your tofu for 20 minutes to remove excess water. You can skip this step if you don’t have time, but it does enhance the flavor.
Dill Pickle Juice: Dill pickle juice add tang and subtle sweetness, which balances out the savory flavor of the other ingredients. Use the liquid from a jar of dill pickles.
Soy Sauce: Ever eat a vegan recipe and think, “something is missing”? It’s often umami, the savory delicious factor you get from MSG, mushrooms, meat, and tomato paste. Soy sauce is also full of umami flavor, and a must for any vegan meat alternative.
How to make Vegan Chicken Nuggets in 5 Steps
- Drain then press the tofu to remove excess water. Use a tofu press (an item I have never even touched in my life), or wrap the tofu in a couple sheets of paper towel or a clean kitchen towel. Place it on a baking dish, and put something heavy on top of the tofu. Good options are cookbooks or a cast iron skillet.
- Use your hands to break the tofu into nugget sized pieces. Doing this by hand makes for irregular edges––more space for the spices to wedge into 🙂
- Toss the tofu in dill pickle juice, soy sauce, oil, and a little sugar. Let that marinate in the fridge for an hour for the best flavor.
- Toss the marinated tofu with garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and flour.
- Air fry the tofu for 20 minutes, flipping about halfway through. Before air frying it, spray the surface of the air fryer and the tops of the tofu with oil to prevent sticking.
Enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce. I am Team BBQ sauce all day!
Tips for the best Vegan Chicken Nuggets
- How to press tofu: Wrap the tofu in a couple sheets of paper towel or a clean kitchen towel. Then place the tofu on a baking dish, and put something heavy on top of the tofu. Good options are cookbooks or a cast iron skillet.
- The marinade: Combine ingredients for the marinade in a small mixing bowl before adding to the tofu, especially since you’ll need to dissolve the sugar in the liquid first.
- To prevent sticking in the air fryer: Before adding the uncooked nuggets to the air fryer, spray the surface with oil. Then before cooking, spray the tops of the tofu with oil as well.
- Not crispy enough: If you’ve followed all of the instructions and your nuggets aren’t crispy enough yet. Air fry them for another 5 minutes. Depending on the strength level of your air fryer, you may need to cook them longer. Be sure to check on them every 5 minutes or less to prevent burning. I have never cooked mine more than 20 minutes.
- Baking nuggets in the oven: If you don’t have an air fryer you can deep fry or bake the vegan chicken nuggets. To successfully bake them, follow all instructions, then spread the nuggets evenly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 35-45 minutes at 350°, or until the nuggets are crispy.
- Rather not use tofu? Replace tofu with oyster mushrooms, cauliflower, or a store-bought vegan chicken alternative.
- Don’t use wheat flour? I use all purpose flour to coat the nuggets. Gluten-free eaters can try chickpea flour or rice flour. You could also just skip the flour.
- No dill pickle juice? Use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar. This is a bit stronger than dill pickle juice, so use 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon water.
- Soy free? Swap the tofu (tip above), and use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.
How to reheat vegan chicken nuggets
Reheat vegan chicken nuggets in the air fryer or toaster oven. In the air fryer 5 minutes at 350° should do the trick. In the oven, warm the nuggets at 350° for 10 minutes. Store them in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.
What if you freeze it?
Freezing tofu changes the flavor, but that’s ok. Some say frozen tofu has a meatier texture because it loses even more water when it is thawed. These vegan chicken nuggets can be frozen for up to 3 months. Don’t allow them to thaw before reheating. Reheat the frozen nuggets in the air fryer or the oven, following the original cooking instructions.
If you like vegan chicken nuggets, try these recipes too!
Loaded Sweet Potato Waffle Fries
Spicy Vegan Cauliflower “Chicken”
Better-than-Chipotle Burrito Bowl
Vegan Chicken Nuggets
- 1 air fryer Here's a link to the one I use
- 1 block extra firm tofu pressed for 20 minutes (instructions above)
- 2 tbsp dill pickle juice
- 2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp white sugar
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp white flour or chickpea flour
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2-1 tsp sea salt
- oil spray
- Use your hands to break the pressed tofu into nugget sized pieces, dropping them into a large mixing bowl. These can be as large or small as you'd like, but keep in mind, they will reduce in size as they cook.
- In a separate bowl mix the dill pickle juice, soy sauce, sugar, and oil. Pour the mixture over the tofu and toss well.
- Sprinkle the remaining dry spices over the tofu, and stir to coat.
- Spray oil on the bottom of the air fryer. Pour the tofu into the air fryer, and spread evenly. Spray more oil onto the tops of the tofu.
- Cook in the air fryer for 20 minutes at 375°, flipping halfway through. If the tofu is still not crispy after 20 minutes, cook another 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn.
- Serve with vegan BBQ sauce and waffle fries, if you've got them!
- Reheat vegan chicken nuggets in the air fryer or toaster oven. In the air fryer 5 minutes at 350° should do the trick. In the oven, warm the nuggets at 350° for 10 minutes.
- These vegan chicken nuggets can be frozen for up to 3 months. Don't allow them to thaw before reheating. Reheat the frozen nuggets in the air fryer or the oven, following the original cooking instructions.
Rehoboth / March 18, 2023 at 11:49 am /
Krista / February 17, 2023 at 12:47 pm /
Toddler approved at our house!
Monica Smiley / December 31, 2022 at 8:00 pm /
I was pleasantly surprised how good these nuggets were. I always freeze my tofu for better texture. The flavors were on point. I wish I would have cooked more. These are way better than any store bought vegan nuggets. Thanks
Ms Lis / December 31, 2022 at 3:56 pm /
jenne, your recipes never disappoint. I was surprised to see that you don’t use a tofu press. I strongly encourage you to get one. All you’ll say is “Why did I wait so long?” They are so much better in every way!
Keep up the good work!
Carlisa / December 6, 2022 at 5:07 pm /
These are so good. Crunchy outside and just the right texture inside. The seasoning reminds of the way I remember real chicken taste. Thanks
Rehoboth / December 4, 2022 at 5:02 am /
Kelly / October 7, 2022 at 7:48 pm /
This was so delicious! Only change I made was using liquid aminos as that is what I had on hand. Will certainly make again. Thank you!