Gluten, Grain, and Garbage-Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets

Update: Please note that I’ve improved upon this recipe – check out the new version here.

Over the past few weeks we’ve spent a fair amount of time out in town, shopping for gifts, and we have often found ourselves away from the house with no lunch plans. Chipotle is our emergency standby, but sometimes we’re tempted to grab Chick-fil-A since they’re everywhere (there are 30 of them within 20 miles of our house!). But as Melissa at Hunt.Gather.Love. points out, regardless of how you feel about Chick-fil-A’s stance on current social issues, the quality of their food alone should be enough to boycott the restaurant chain. For example, let’s take a look at the ingredients list for their nuggets:

100% natural whole breast filet, seasoning (salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, spices, paprika), seasoned coater (enriched bleached flour [bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, nonfat milk, leavening [baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate], spice, soybean oil, color [paprika]), milk wash (water, egg, nonfat milk), peanut oil (fully refined peanut oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and Dimethylpolysiloxane an anti-foaming agent added).

So I set out to recreate these chicken nuggets, and most importantly, reduce the ingredients list of this dish from 30+ ingredients down to 10 with minimal compromise on taste.

You’ll Need:
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup dill pickle juice
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp buttermilk or cream (coconut milk okay)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (potato or arrowroot starch okay)
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp each salt and black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 dash ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup lard or coconut oil for frying

Step one: cut up your chicken into 1″ chunks. Place the chicken chunks in a resealable plastic bag and add the pickle juice; marinate in the fridge for an hour.

After an hour, open the bag and pour out any excess pickle juice. It doesn’t have to be perfectly drained, just not totally juicy. Add the beaten egg and the buttermilk/cream, and mix together, then let sit for five minutes. Again, open the bag and pour out the excess liquid, if there is any. Texture is important at this point – the pieces should be wet but not swimming in a soup of pickle/egg/creamy goodness.

Prep your dry ingredients by stirring them all together.

Add the dry ingredients and mix them together in the bag, by a combination of shaking, rubbing, and pleading. It’ll take a few minutes, so this is a good time to warm up your skillet of lard/oil on medium heat.

Fry your chicken pieces, flipping every few minutes, until nice and golden brown. It should take about six to eight minutes per batch. Don’t overcrowd the skillet; it took me four batches to cook all two pounds of chicken. Use a splatter screen if you have one. Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels as you cook the others, and keep them warm in the oven at 170 degrees.

Update: You can bake these nuggets. They aren’t quite as crispy, but are a breeze to cook and taste great. To do so, arrange the breaded nuggets on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes, then flip and bake for another 5 minutes, then broil for 2 minutes or until golden.

Serve with a dipping sauce like my barbecue sauce, or maybe some honey mustard.

272 thoughts on “Gluten, Grain, and Garbage-Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets

    1. Except that this recipe isn’t garbage free! Take a look at the label on your jar of dill pickles an sure enough you will find artificial colors and typically a couple of different preservatives! It’s crazy because a pickle product doesn’t need extra color and doesn’t need preservatives that’s what ‘pickling’ is all about after all!

      Yes there are some brands without the artificial petroleum contaminants, but you’ll have to do some searching and perhaps trek to your health food store to find them. Bubbies is one brand. The alternative is to make your own. Pickling is easy and fast and obviously avoids all the nasty unwanted additives!

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          1. Carey, I either use the juice leftover from homemade pickles (recipe in my cookbook), or from my favorite commercial pickles (Bubbies pickles), which you can find in most health food stores or online.

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      1. When someone posts such a wonderful recipe, you don’t call the ingredients garbage. Instead, you buy and use ingredients that support your healthy lifestyle. I don’t think every recipe needs to delineate to buy something organic or natural or preservative/additive free. It’s your responsibility to purchase based on your health preference. There are pickle products without “garbage” in them. This is similar as buying coconut milk in a box, coconut milk in a can that contains guar gum, coconut milk in a can that doesn’t contain guar gum, or homemade. It’s up to the person making the recipe, their preference, their budget, and their health concern.

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  1. I loved Chick-fil-A nuggets but they didn’t love me and these wont either :( Unfortunately! They look delicious though. Could you suggest some nightshade free spices that might make a good variation? I’m terrible with knowing what spices go together and with what. Also, do you think coconut milk would work instead of the Dairy?

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    1. My son needs to have a dairy free diet so I make an egg wash after rubbing spices in the chicken. I dip in egg then dip into what ever dry ingredients I am using. So delicious and my son gobbles them up.

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  2. I’ve never been all that big on Chik-Fil-A, and have always had a hard time understanding their cult-like following. However, I do love me some good fried chicken, be it in nuggets or on the bone. I shall have to make this. Soon.

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  3. So curious about the pickle juice – I don’t keep pickles around the house very often, is there a preferred substitution or would a simple brine be ok? I have to admit, I do get a giggle every time I think about it though (I dunno, something with me and the word pickle…).

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    1. Heavv, the pickle juice acts as both a brine and a way to bring a more savory, umami taste to the nuggets. Sauerkraut juice would work as well, if you have any, although I would dilute it a little with some water. Otherwise, a tsp of salt mixed with 1/2 cup water should work as a pretty good brine.

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  4. Wow this is genius! Great work on this recipe! And your photography is amazing! I just found your blog and I am loving it. And thank you for pointing out the lies that Chick Fil A always advertises about, its so annoying how everyone actually thinks its okay to eat it daily. Or even eat it at that. Anyways, I cannot wait to try these. Thanks for the great recipe.

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    1. Also, fyi, i used coconut cream, and though i don’t know what the flavor is sans coco cream, i feel compelled to say it didn’t alter the flavor.

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    1. Hi Lea, I understand your point, but I feel that it’s absolutely necessary to take a jab at Chick-fil-A, for the simple fact that they market themselves as being a healthful lifestyle choice: http://www.chick-fil-a.com/Food/Healthful-Lifestyle

      Their solution for people wanting healthy/light options? Eat their salads with a chargrilled chicken sandwich. Their chargrilled chicken has 26 ingredients:

      Chargrilled chicken (100% natural whole breast filet, water, contains less than 2% of sugar, butter flavored vegetable oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural & artificial butter flavor, TBHQ, beta carotene], yeast extract, seasoning [sugar, spice, paprika, soybean oil], modified food starch, salt, sea salt, natural flavors, dextrose, potassium phosphate, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, paprika)

      I have no problem with companies offering the food that customers want to eat, regardless of how unhealthy it is. But to play it off as if it’s healthy is another thing altogether, and in my opinion, negligent. I could make the same case for every fast food joint out there, as everyone seems to cut corners at some point, with consumers’ health getting the short end of the stick. Chipotle uses soybean oil, and refuses to list their ingredients to the public.

      So to me, I feel that it is important to use this site as a platform to reinforce the fact that a) we should avoid industrial food producers as much as possible and b) we can make a much healthier alternative for a fraction of the cost. That’s the whole point of my website – to show that we can take food and health matters back into our own hands. I’m not one to badmouth things for the sake of badmouthing them, but when it comes to our nation’s health and longevity, I get a little fired up :)

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      1. ChickFilA’s grilled nuggets are the ONLY fast food option available to my kiddos. We eat them once every 3-4 months. Chipotle is about the same. I’m ok with having safer options for the occasions that we choose to eat on the go – but I never think for a second that they are healthy choices!

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      2. I totally agree! Knowledge on healthy eating and teaching people how to prepare food. And to stay away from processed foods they are full of chemicals and cancer causing ingredients. Food is Medicine for your body! Thank You for your information and your wonderful receipes.

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      3. I agree with the exposing point. How else will the public truly know and be able to choose one way or the other what they want to eat and/or feed their families? I am very sad to see what all is in their chicken, especially MSG, I was really surprised. Thank you.

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  5. This looks amazing! I’ll definitely have to make this. We have a local restaurant which is famous for their wings, most people think they are the best in town, and I’ve found that adding a little bit of this yucatan sunshine hot sauce almost replicates the flavor. A bit of habanero with carrots to sweeten the heat. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007ZU6R6E

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  6. These are awesome. I just made them for a house full of hungry boys. The marinating in pickle juice is a novel idea. The nuggets came out tender and tasty; we didn’t even do a sauce.

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  7. I tried this recipe last night and it was really good! I do have to say that I did not use the pickle juice as it is loaded with HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. I made my own with white vinegar, water, dill, garlic and black pepper. The chicken marinated in that. I really liked it and will be making it again. :)

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  8. I just made these for lunch and my 5 and 3 year old gobbled them up! My 5 year old even said, “Mom, these taste like Chick-fil-A!” Thank you so much for a fabulous recipe. This is definitely a family favorite:)

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      1. Great recipe. I skipped the cream and it turned out very tasty. Used coconut oil to fry them this time; gonna try lard next time. Perfect recipe for the playoffs this weekend. Thanks!!

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  9. Made these for dinner and loved them! I had to make mine dairy free, so I used coconut milk kefir to replace the buttermilk. I also made my own brine using water, apple cider vinegar, minced garlic, and salt. I pan fried one batch, and oven Fried the other…I drizzled light olive oil directly over the chicken pieces,before baking and turned the pieces half way through , 425 for about 22 minutes. Both ways worked like a charm, so next time I will stick to the oven to make it quicker! Tank you!

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    1. Leftovers? What leftovers? LOL These were so yummy! I used sauerkraut juice instead of pickle juice and fried in coconut oil. Seriously, I’m going to freeze a few pieces to see how they hold up. I’ll post on the results.

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  10. I made these last night and my 4 year old ate like 12, and my pickle-hating husband said he had to get away from the table before he ate too many. Success! Thank you so much for posting!!

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  11. These were really great! I ran across your website a couple of days ago, and this is the first recipe of yours I’ve tried. Already have the ingredients for salisbury steak tomorrow night, and after eating these nuggets, I am excited to see how tomorrow’s turns out! :)

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  12. Um, yuck, fast food is the worst, Chik-fil-a or not. We find ourselves in the same situation from time to time–out running errands, hungry and cranky, and nary a quick, healthy option in sight. So I’ve been reading a lot of fast food nutrition statements and ingredient lists and even the “healthy” options are pretty sad. I mean, why should a grilled chicken breast have corn syrup or corn starch added? That said, there’s nothing better than homemade chicken strips/nuggets. I used to make them with panko, but wasn’t sure what to use as a grain-free substitute, so thanks for the recipe!

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  13. I love Chick-Fil-A, personally… their food is more “real” than any other fast food I’ve ever had. But cleaning up the recipe is fantastic – can’t wait to try it at home! (I’ve made CFA nuggets at home for years now, using flour & a few seasonings… but now that I have to eat gluten free, it’s nice to have a recipe to fall back on…)

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  14. While I’ve never eaten at a chick-fil-la, this recipe intrigued me. We’ve done several versions of chicken nuggets/strips using different combinations of toasted udi bread crumbs. I was working on the marinade etc. tonight and my husband wanted to pull out half of the chicken and do our normal recipie. I talked him into trying it and what a surprise. He absolutely loved it, as did I. Goes great with homemade buffalo sauce as well. Thanks for creating this recipe. Who would have thought to use pickle juice :-)

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  15. Made these last night and I’m snacking on some leftovers now. Super fun, super flavorful and super delicious. Who knew pickle juice + chicken would = such deep flavor? Obviously you knew. Thanks for the great recipe and bringing chicken nuggets back in my kids lives.

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  16. Just made these for my kids. They both were only told I was making “chicken” and when they tried them, both said they tasted like Chik-Fil-A nuggets! Recipe Success!!! They are really good.

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  17. Absolutely unreal what chick fil a puts into their food. Did u all read the list of unpronounceable items? My gosh, a professed Christian company who hates gay people and is killing those that allowed to eat there with the ingredients. Unreal Is all I have to say. A disgrace to America.

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  18. Made these today, they were okay. The breading didn’t adhere to the meat, it stuck to the bag instead :( any idea what I did wrong? I want to try them again and hope my second attempt works

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    1. Lauren, sorry to hear that you had an issue with the recipe. The only thing I can think of is maybe try and squeeze more juice/egg out next time? The batter does tend to not want to stick to the chicken, so my solution is to stir the chicken around right before putting a new batch into the lard…hope this helps, and that you try it again sometime!

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  19. dafuq ? Marinating in pickle juice? Brilliant ! (you had me at pickle juice…)

    as for ChickFilA, Dimethylpolysiloxane! ‘nuf said. (yack)

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  20. I made this last night and they were terrific! I followed the recipe ingredients exactly because I always like to try a recipe the first time the way it was intended and make changes the next time if need be. The only think I did differently per the instructions was to take the chicken out of the zip lock bag at the end because I was having difficulty getting the egg/cream mixture out of the bag. I put the chicken in a glass dish and worked the dry ingredients by hand. It worked great. I opted for cream, tapioca starch,and coconut oil.

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    1. I make the sauce that CFA has in packets by combining mayo, honey dijon mustard, and hickory smoked bbq sauce. Oooh weee. So good. Great recipe you came up with!!

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      1. thanks im just trying to figure out if i could use coconut or almond flour instead, due to my autoimmune disorder im trying to stay away from grains – rice etc

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  21. I had chicken wings on hand, so I used them to make this recipe. Cooked them for about 5 minutes on each side. They are so flipping delicious and I didn’t need a bit of sauce or extra seasoning.

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  22. OMG All these comments, they must taste like little bites of heaven. I had my most difficult meal experience dining out tonight. It was Pasta Night at the club. What the freaking hell? The only thing I could find to eat safely was little pieces of chicken and some greens. The pasta was everywhere, like a tornado in Okalhoma. Sucking the wind and energy out of evertying around it. I am at the end of day three of my Whole 30. I think it was hard to not fall prey to the noodles and doodads, but I succeeded and will now soak in the hot tub and call it a win! I heart you blog sister. Amen

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  23. I made these tonight. Used gluten free flour instead of tapioca starch and no milk because my son is Lactose Intolerant. They came out perfect! Just like Chick-fil-a! Thank you!

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  24. Hey There! No judgements here…. but I have heard quite a bit that Chick-Fill-A or Chick-A-Fil is a very strong anti-gay culture….just say’in…. think it’s unhealthy in more ways than one!

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    1. Hi Aubrey, the idea that some dairy products are “not Paleo” is a bit of contention in the Paleo world; many Paleo gurus concede that some forms (hard cheese, heavy cream, butter especially) are okay in moderation, while the Whole30 interpretation of Paleo is strictly dairy free so that those starting on the Paleo diet can re-introduce it later to see if they have any adverse reactions to it. If you are concerned about going 100% dairy free, coconut milk is an okay substitution.

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      1. I make these all the time and I use almond milk instead of buttermilk or cream and they are still amazing. Try them that way Aubrey

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  25. I am so glad I found your site, although kind of sad. I just had Chick-Fil-A today thinking I was taking my kids to at least a place somewhat healthy. :( Really disappointed in them. When will we have restaurants (affordable ones) that have healthy REAL food??

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  26. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I love the flavor. My batter kept sticking to my skillet though. How did you keep yours from sticking. Thanks again. Keep up the great work.

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  27. I made these tonight to satisfy my craving for Chick Fil A. They turned out great. I made these without the buttermilk/cream as I am dairy free right now for a detox, but the next time I make them, I’ll add in the dairy and see what happens. Can you let the chicken and the pickle juice marinate a bit more than an hour? Perhaps two?

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  28. These were sensational! Made them tonight. Loved the picklish flavor too! Thanks for your hard work creating something my whole family loved!

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  29. Hey Russ, Just wanted to thank you for all the great recipe ideas! We love your recipes (especially this one and the chipotle burrito bowl one) and enjoy the grain-free alternative meals. Keep on keepin on! Can’t wait for your recipe book to come out, Laura (Shane’s wife)

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  30. I needed some new recipes to add to the rotation so I tried this one over the weekend. One word: AMAZING. I dipped them in a homemade Honey Dijon dip with a few dashes of Franks Red Hot. Will definitely be making this again.

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  31. I love how you call this a health food when the second ingredient includes MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, also known as MSG, a known excitotoxin linked to a variety of ailments, as well as addiction.

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    1. What! He said the recipe he is copying CLAIMS to be healthy but uses MSG. his recipe most certainly does not contain msg (hence the pickle juice as marinade…). Guessing you didn’t get past skimming the first paragraph?

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  32. I make mine very similar to yours but I have always use Spelt flour to dredge my chicken chunks and I fry, if you want to call it that, on a nonstick griddle with a light amount of coconut oil. I don’t do pickle juice, I don’t like pickles, but I have used lime juice (an acidic replacement I guess). I also don’t use the egg/milk bath, just a bit of fresh raw Jersey cow milk before coating with the spelt flour.

    I love the nutty taste of the crust. It’s not really crunchy but there is some bit of texture there and the taste is really good. My diet is loosely gluten free. I don’t have a gluten intolerance but I think wheat free and sugar free is a healthy diet for anyone…minor infractions occasionally but I feel better when I’ve been good. In addition, I dropped 35 pounds, my triglycerides dropped from 200+ to just 97! I’m kind of a fussy eater, more of a purist (not crazy about a lot of spices) but I do like to give them a try here and there…PS I LOVE your roast recipe.

    Living on a farm, I have fresh eggs daily as well as a few veggies in season. I enjoy our local farmer’s market, buy meat only from my local butcher and often process our own cattle/poultry/turkey as well as process my own venison and fortunate to have a raw dairy close by that is licensed and inspected and they only milk Jersey cows. I frequently make my own butter and plan to try making mozzarella.
    (Feeling Blessed)
    Cat

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  33. I made them tonight and we all loved them!! I baked them (because with two small kids running around my kitchen it gave me time to complete other things to go with the meal). I baked them in 425 degrees for 20 mins, turning halfway through. It does lack the crunch, but the chicken was so tender and the taste was right on. I will be making these again, thank you!

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  34. Made these tonight and they were delicious. We are a paleo family (80%) of the time, so these fit nicely into our lifestyle. A big hit with my boys! thanks for the recipe!

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  35. These nuggets remind me of a little fast food joint in Oklahoma that makes fried chicken nuggets that are delicious- but- what made them so special was that they also battered and fried sliced jalapenos along with the chicken. I can’t wait to try this method .

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  36. First off, thanks for posting. I can’t do without Chik fil a but really need to get off of gluten. When you say “buttermilk or cream” what kind of cream are you referring to? I’m really bad at cooking and never make the right guess. From what I have read there are many different types of cream and they’re all different from buttermilk. Which is best for taste?

    Thanks,
    Drew

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    1. Drew, I advocate using high-fat dairy, which has been proven time again to aid in weight loss and prevention of metabolic and cardiovascular disease (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22810464). So in that sense, you want to look for heavy cream and full-fat buttermilk, whichever one is available. Grass-fed and organic are preferred over conventional dairy, but that will depend on the size of your wallet :) Hope that helps.

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    2. Not sure where you are and/or the health food stores in your area, but Kalona is a truly amazing grass-fed dairy product. They have coupons on their website, and they contain no extra junk like carageenan or guar gum (haven’t found any other organic product that doesn’t contain these things). I have found it the least expensive at Whole Foods versus another health store in my area. I don’t use it a whole lot, so that justifies the price for me. Hope that helps!

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    1. Tammi, I’ve heard of people marinating the chicken for up to eight hours – so maybe you could prep ahead of time and then finish it off in the evening. Baking them is also an option, which will cut down on the cooking time significantly. You could definitely cook them ahead of time and warm them up later. I’m not sure about freezing, my gut reaction is that it wouldn’t be the tastiest thing in the world.

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  37. Ok I made it. For other cooking noobs ‘spanish smoked sweet paprika’ is weird. It’s all they had in the bulk section at my grocery store and being an idiot I just bought it. I will buy normal paprika next time. I will also buy a more finely ground black pepper. The cheap plastic grinder from trader joe’s makes pepper chunks that are too big. I would also try to get a really big pan to fry these in. I used a small deep fryer but it took about 8 batrches… Anyway, great recipe.

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  38. Just found your website this week and am excited about trying new recipes as we are trying to go grain free. These chicken nuggets are first on the menu!

    Thanks!

    Debbie

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    1. Hi Clarisa, I’ve gotten feedback from readers who say they’ve turned out well when baked. I would suggest baking them at 400F and on a wire rack, and check them after 20-30 mins. Some of the batter will fall off when cooking but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

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  39. I have been paleo for two years now and came across this recipe the other day. I cooked a full paleo meal last night for 16 friends that aren’t paleo or “clean-eating” folks and this recipe was a complete HIT. Everyone loved it! I test new paleo recipes that I find online all the time and I think it’s safe to say that this has been the absolute easiest and best recipe to date. Good work!

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  40. Thank you for the work you put into figuring out this recipe! I’ve never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A and can’t comment on the comparison, but I made these for dinner this evening and they were so tender, juicy and flavorful! My hubby and boys are requesting these again soon!

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  41. I made these for my 3 boys and they absolutely loved them! I used coconut milk and they we’re delish! I’m making another big batch tomorrow to pack in the boys lunches this week! Thanks for a great recipe.

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  42. Cooked them for lunch today in beef lard and they were excellent! The whole family loved ’em. I think I’ll buy a countertop deep fryer to expedite the process

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  43. Hi Russ… Can’t wait to try these… But I will have to sub either almond flour or coconut flour for the starch. Which do you think would work better? Thanks!!

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      1. Thanks, Russ! I just made these for lunch. The almond flour worked fine. They were a huge hit! My only complaint is that my kids liked them so much, I didn’t get enough for myself. Love your blog – can’t wait to try some more recipes and also purchase your cook book.

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  44. I’ve made these in nuggets and they’re wonderful, but tonight I thought “why not for bone -in fried chicken?” Oh my goodness! I made bone-in wings, thighs and legs and they were amazing! My 6 year old daughter just kept chanting,”mom, this fried chicken is delicious. Thank you, thank you, thank you! ” as she devoured it. So, thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe! Oh, I used a mix of lard and coconut oil to fry.

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  45. ATTENTION ATTENTION!!! this recipe is NOT suitable for celiac people (with gluten allergy). Chicken feed is proved to be rich in gluten, therefor chicken is out of gluten free diets for people truly intolerant to gluten! do not claim this as something it is not! very healthy you might say but not gluten free!

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  46. Do you think these can be made without the egg? Or is there another ingredient that can act as the “binder”? I’m trying to find recipes for a teenager who can have eggs, dairy, or nuts.

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  47. This recipe is amazing. It tastes exactly like chick fil a and my family loves it. I make it often when I am craving something fried. Thank you!!! I just raved about your recipe on my facebook page so all my friends can try it!!

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  48. I substituted coconut aminos for the pickle juice and the family liked it better than the pickle juice way. Bacon wrapped sweet potato bites make a good side.

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