Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets (Paleo, Gluten Free, Nut Free)


These crunchy air fryer chicken nuggets are a guaranteed hit with both kids and adults! Coated with crushed plantain chips, these healthy chicken bites are paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, and irresistible!

A closeup of a plate piled high with air fryer chicken nuggets. The red banner at the bottom reads: paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, and nut-free

Even better? You can meal prep these nuggets and freeze them so you or your kiddos can pop ’em in the air fryer at a moment’s notice!

A smiling Asian woman is holding up a golden air fryer chicken nugget.

Plantain chips are the perfect gluten-free panko replacement!

When I was racking my brain for the perfect breading for homemade paleo chicken nuggets, I knew I had to come up with something simple that would add a lot of crunch, but most importantly, it had to taste like the real thing. I know some people have made crunchy coatings using pork rinds, but my kids don’t like porky-tasting nuggets. I also considered using a nut flour for the coating, but it tends to burn in an air fryer and the flavor profile isn’t the same.

But a few days ago, I had an epiphany while munching on some plantain chips: I could crush up a bunch of plantain chips into crumbs and use them like panko or breadcrumbs! We always have bags of plantain chips or plantain strips in the pantry because they’re my husband’s favorite potato chip alternative. Plus, the only ingredients in the brands I buy are plantains, sustainably sourced non-hydrogenated palm oil, and sea salt.

Would this experiment work? Let’s find out!

An overhead shot of a bowl of plantain chips and plantain strips.

Ingredients

Here’s what we’ll need to make air fryer chicken nuggets:

An overhead shot of the raw ingredients to make air fryer chicken nuggets

  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt + water (or if you don’t want to make a brine, you can just use pickle juice): The secret to crispy chicken nuggets that are juicy and well-seasoned is to brine the chicken bites before you air-fry them. If you aren’t using Diamond Crystal kosher salt to make your brine, the conversion for other salts is as follows: 1 part Diamond Crystal kosher salt = 1 part Maldon sea salt = ¾ part Morton kosher salt = ¾ part  fleur de sel = ½ part table salt. Got leftover pickle juice? Then you can skip mixing salt and water and use pickle juice in place of a homemade brine!
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast: You know I love thighs, but for this recipe, I actually prefer boneless, skinless breasts. The nuggets won’t be dry if you brine the meat first!
  • Plantain chips or strips: This is the secret to crispy air fryer chicken nuggets that also happen to be paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, and nut-free! I buy Artisan Tropic or Inka brands.
  • Eggs: The eggs help the coating adhere to the chicken. Unfortunately, I’m not sure of a good replacement if you have an egg allergy. If you come up with one, leave it in the comments below!
  • Cassava flour: This flour gets whisked in with the eggs and spices to thicken the batter and coat the chicken pieces properly. Tapioca and arrowroot powder also work in a pinch.
  • Spices: Onion powder, garlic powder, and smoked paprika add the familiar flavor of traditional chicken nuggets so your kids won’t complain!
  • Avocado oil spray: I spritz avocado oil on the nuggets to ensure a crispy end product.

What’s the best air fryer?

These nuggets turn out the best when you cook them in a drawer-type air fryer that comes with a basket. Right now, my favorite brand of this type of air fryer is the Instant Pot Vortex Plus Basket Air Fryer, which is also rated the best air fryer by the smarties at Cook’s Illustrated. I also tested a few batches in my Breville Smart Oven Air, which is a counter top oven with the air fryer function, but the batches I cooked  in my Instant Pot Vortex Plus (and even my old drawer-type Philips Air Fryer) came out crispier.

A hand is pushing buttons on an Instant Pot air fryer.

No air fryer?

Unfortunately, you won’t get super crispy chicken nuggets when you bake these babies in the oven. Even convection mode—which mimics the fan-like action of an air fryer—doesn’t produce nuggets that are quite as crispy. If you still insist on baking the nuggets in the oven, you can arrange the nuggets on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and cook them at 425°F for 10 to 13 minutes or until they’re cooked through.

Your best bet for crispy non-air-fryer chicken nuggets is to fry them in oil! Check out my recipes for Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken and my Chicken Nuggets on page 195 of our first cookbook.

Can you freeze these chicken nuggets?

Yes! You can definitely make a double batch and freeze them for future meals. I freeze the uncooked nuggets on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet for about 4 hours or until they solidify. Then, I transfer the frozen nuggets to a sealed container or freezer bag and store them in the freezer for up to 4 months.

Two hands are holding a tray of air fryer chicken nuggets

You can cook the chicken nuggets straight from the freezer—just air-fry them at 400°F for about 14 to 16 minutes or until the outside is crispy and the center is fully cooked.

A diagonal overhead view of an open air fryer basket filled with homemade chicken nuggets

What are good dipping sauces?

These chicken nuggets taste great on their own, but some great dipping sauces include paleo ketchup (there are lots of brands at the market these days)…

A close up of a chicken nugget dipped in paleo ketchup that has a bite from it.

Sriracha Mayonnaise (check out my recipe on page 45 of our first cookbook)…

A hand is dipping a gluten-free air fryer chicken nugget into a bowl filled with sriracha mayonnaise.

and honey mustard sauce.

A closeup of air fryer chicken nugget with honey mustard sauce on top of it.

If you want to make a paleo-friendly honey mustard sauce, simply mix together ¼ cup Dijon-style mustard + 1 tablespoon honey.

A yellow spatula is mixing paleo honey mustard sauce in a small bowl.

How to make gluten-free and nut-free chicken nuggets

Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Set it aside.

Two hands are placing a wire cooling rack inside a blue rimmed baking sheet.

Make the brine for the chicken by pouring the water in a large bowl and mixing in ¼ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt until it dissolves.

Someone in a gray apron is pouring salt into a bowl filled with water

Got leftover pickle juice? You can use that in place of the saltwater brine!

Someone pouring pickle juice into a large bowl.

Cut the breasts into uniform bite-size pieces, until you have about 28 pieces total.

Cutting chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces on a cutting board.

Use a meat pounder to smush each piece until they’re about ½-inch thick. That way, they’ll air-fry evenly. (This is my favorite meat pounder.)

A person in a gray apron is using a meat pounder to smash chicken breast pieces until they are 1/2-inch in thickness

Add the chicken to the prepared brine. Cover and store the chicken in the fridge for 15 minutes. (Don’t soak the chicken in the brine for too long or it’ll get too salty!) If you’re using pickle juice, marinate the chicken in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour and up to 8 hours.

Using tongs to submerge the chicken breast pieces in a salt brine.

Now, make the plantain crumb coating! Dump the plantain chips into a food processor and process until a coarse powder is formed.

An Asian woman is using a food processor to make crumbs out of plantain chips

Pour half the plantain crumbs into a shallow bowl. If you put them all in the shallow bowl, they’ll clump up as you coat the chicken.

Pouring half of the plantain crumbs from a food processor to a shallow bowl.

Time to mix the batter! In another shallow dish, add the eggs, cassava flour, spices, and salt.

Adding salt to a shallow bowl filled with eggs and spices.

Whisk together until a sticky paste forms.

An overhead shot of someone whisking the paleo batter for air fryer chicken nuggets

Take the chicken pieces out of the brine and pat ’em dry with paper towels.

An overhead shot of someone patting brined chicken pieces with a paper towel on a plate.

In batches, dip the chicken into the egg mixture, shaking off any excess.

A hand is removing a bite-sized piece of chicken out of a shallow dish filled with an egg-based batter.

Coat the chicken with the plantain chip crumbs, gently patting the crumbs all over.

A hand is adding a piece of chicken with a thin layer of batter into a shallow dish filled with plantain crumbs.

Pro tip: to keep your hands relatively clean, use one hand to grab the chicken from the batter and use your other hand to pat on the plantain chips.

A hand removing a chicken nugget that has plantain crumbs on top.

Set the nuggets on the prepared wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet.

A hand is placing chicken nuggets ready to be cooked in the air fryer in a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet.

Add more plantain chip crumbs to the dish when it runs low.

Additional plantain crumbs are added to a shallow bowl from a food processor.

Continue coating the chicken pieces until finished.

A smiling Asian woman is making chicken nuggets

Now, air fry the chicken nuggets in batches.

Lightly spray the bottom of the air fryer with avocado oil spray

Spraying an empty air fryer basket with avocado oil spray.

…and place the chicken nuggets in a single layer. Don’t pile them on top of each other or the nuggets won’t get crispy!

An overhead shot of a hand arranging chicken nuggets in a single layer in an air fryer basket.

Spray the tops of the nuggets lightly with avocado oil.

Someone in a gray apron is spraying avocado oil on some chicken nuggets in an air fryer basket.

Air-fry at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until the outsides are golden brown and the center of each nugget is fully cooked.

An overhead shot of an open air fryer with crispy paleo and gluten-free chicken nuggets inside.

If you’re cooking the nuggets from frozen, air-fry for 14 to 16 minutes.

Close-up of air fryer chicken nuggets on a cooling rack in a rimmed baking sheet right after they're finished cooking

Repeat the steps above until you’re finished air-frying all your chicken nuggets.

A pair of tongs are putting air fryer chicken nuggets on a rack

Serve with dipping sauces and enjoy!

An overhead shot of someone grabbing a chicken nugget from a plate. There are three bowls filled with dipping sauces next to it.

 


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2021).


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A closeup of a plate topped with air fryer chicken nuggets, a paleo, nut-free, gluten-free, and grain-free favorite.
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Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets (Paleo, Gluten Free, Grain Free, Nut Free)

These crunchy air fryer chicken nuggets are a guaranteed hit with both kids and adults! Coated with crushed plantain chips, these healthy chicken bites are paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, and irresistible!
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Keyword Air Fryer, gluten-free, grain-free, nom nom paleo, nomnompaleo, nut-free, paleo
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Brining time 15 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 534kcal
Author Michelle Tam

Ingredients

Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets

  • 3 cups cold water or use 2 cups of pickle juice in place of salt brine
  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 9 ounces plantain chips or strips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cassava flour or tapioca or arrowroot powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • avocado oil spray

Honey Mustard Sauce

  • ¼ cup Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Instructions

  • Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
  • Make the brine for the chicken by pouring the water in a large bowl and mix in ¼ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt until it dissolves.
    Alternatively, you can pour 2 cups of pickle juice in a bowl to use as the salt water brine.
  • Cut the breasts into bite-sized pieces until you have about 28 uniform pieces total. Use a meat pounder to smush each piece until they’re about ½-inch thick.
  • Add the chicken to the prepared brine and cover and store in the fridge for only 15 minutes.  If you’re using pickle juice, marinate the chicken in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour and up to 8 hours.
  • Plop the plantain chips in a food processor and process until a coarse powder is formed. You should end up with 2 cups of plantain crumbs.
  • Transfer half of the crumbs to a shallow bowl. (If you put all the crumbs in the shallow bowl, they will clump up as you coat the chicken.)
  • In another shallow dish, add the eggs, cassava flour, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Whisk together until a sticky paste forms.
  • Take the chicken out of the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
  • In batches, dip the chicken in the egg mixture, shaking off any excess. Coat the chicken with the plantain chip crumbs, gently patting them. Set the nuggets on the prepared wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet.
  • Add more plantain chip crumbs to the dish when it runs low. Continue coating the chicken pieces until finished.
  • Now, air fry the chicken nuggets in batches. Lightly spray the bottom of the air fryer with avocado oil spray and place the chicken nuggets in a single layer. Spray the tops of the nuggets with avocado oil.
  • Air fry at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until the outside is golden brown and the center is fully cooked. If the nuggets are frozen, air fry for 14 to 16 minutes. Repeat until finished.

Honey Mustard Sauce

  • If desired, make honey mustard sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the dijon-style mustard and honey until uniform. Serve the nuggets with the sauce.

Notes

Pro tip: to keep your hands relatively clean, use one hand to grab the chicken from the batter and use your other hand to pat on the plantain chips.
Freezing instructions
  • If you are freezing the nuggets, after you are finished with step 10, place the uncooked nuggets on the wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet in a freezer for 4 hour or until solid. Then, transfer the frozen nuggets to a sealed container or freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 4 months.
  • The frozen nuggets can be cooked directly from the freezer. Air fry at 400°F for 14 to 16 minutes or until cooked through and crispy on the outside.

Nutrition

Calories: 534kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 21g | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g

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