Copycat Chicken McNuggets With Sweet ‘n’ Sour Sauce Recipe

[Photographs: Tim Chin]

McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are iconic. Next to French fries, nuggets go hand-in-hand with fun times and Happy Meal toys. But they’re also delicious in their own right, with curiously uniform meat, a deeply savory and salty flavor, and crisp exterior (assuming they haven’t gotten overly steamy inside their box). Those qualities make reverse-engineering McNuggets a tall task.

Fortunately, McDonald’s publicly lists every ingredient in their food products on their website, so that gave me a pretty good start. True to the original, I start with a paste of chicken thighs (which gives a more tender texture) and fortify it with plenty of MSG (in the form of chicken broth powder) and white pepper. To replicate the crisp, crunchy coating, I dredge the nuggets in a dry mixture of wheat flour and cornstarch before double dipping them in a batter. I double-fry the nuggets, which removes more water from the exterior than a single fry does, making the coating extra-crispy.

McNugget clones wouldn’t be complete without a sauce. I’m more of a sweet ‘n’ sour guy myself, so I went in that direction. Apricot jam and white vinegar are key ingredients, as well as a few sneaky dashes of soy sauce and yellow mustard for color and spicy tang.

Why It Works

  • Chicken thighs allow for extended cooking time, while still producing juicier, more flavorful meat.
  • Chicken broth powder provides essential MSG, and white pepper gives that defining flavor of the real deal.
  • Dredging the nuggets in a flour mixture before battering ensures the nuggets are evenly coated and produces a more substantial crust.
  • A small amount of cornstarch ensures a crispier nugget. Baking powder makes the crust a little lighter.
  • Double frying ensures a crisp and long-lasting exterior by driving off excess moisture.
  • Yield:Makes about 30 nuggets
  • Active time:30 minutes
  • Total time:2 hours
  • Ingredients

    • For the Nuggets:
    • 1 pound (450g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
    • 1 teaspoon (5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
    • 1 teaspoon (3g) chicken-flavored broth powder, such as Orrington Farms
    • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
    • Neutral oil such as canola or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing
    • For the Sauce:
    • 1/2 cup (160g) apricot jam or preserves
    • 2 tablespoons (40g) corn syrup
    • 2 tablespoons (30ml) water
    • 5 teaspoons (25ml) distilled white vinegar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons (4g) cornstarch
    • 1 teaspoon (3g) chicken-flavored broth powder, such as Orrington Farms
    • 1/2 teaspoon (3ml) soy sauce
    • 1/2 teaspoon (3g) yellow mustard
    • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/8 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
    • To Coat and Fry:
    • 1/2 cup (5 ounces; 70g) all-purpose flour
    • 2 tablespoons (16g) cornstarch
    • 1 teaspoon (3g) chicken-flavored broth powder, such as Orrington Farms
    • 1/2 teaspoon (1.5g) baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
    • 3/4 cup (180ml) water
    • 4 cups (950ml) vegetable oil, for frying


    1. 1.

      For the Nuggets: In a medium mixing bowl, using clean hands, mix chicken and salt until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours.

    2. 2.

      Lightly grease a baking sheet. Transfer chicken to bowl of food processor. Add broth powder, white pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder and process, scraping down sides with spatula as needed, until a smooth and uniform paste forms, about 1 minute. Using lightly wet hands, divide chicken into 1 tablespoon (15g) portions. Roll portions into balls and gently flatten between palms, forming 1/4-inch thick nugget shapes. Place formed nuggets on lightly greased baking sheet.

    3. 3.

      Meanwhile, For the Sauce: In a small saucepan, combine jam, corn syrup, 2 tablespoons (30ml) water, vinegar, cornstarch, broth powder, soy sauce, mustard, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and white pepper. Using an immersion blender, blend until throughly combined and smooth. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils and becomes clear, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer sauce to a heatproof bowl and let cool at room temperature. Set aside.

    4. 4.

      To Coat and Fry: In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, cornstarch, broth powder, baking powder, and white pepper, at least 30 seconds. Working 1 piece at a time, coat chicken nuggets in flour mixture, pressing gently to adhere, then shake off excess and return to baking sheet. Let dusted nuggets rest for 15 minutes; reserve flour mixture.

    5. 5.

      In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until it registers 350°F (175°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Add 3/4 cup (180ml) water to flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Add half of nuggets to batter and toss gently until submerged. Working in 2 batches, remove nuggets one at a time from batter, allowing any excess batter to drip back into bowl, and carefully add to hot oil. Cook nuggets, flipping every 30 seconds, until nuggets puff up and begin to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer nuggets to prepared wire rack. Return oil to 350°F and repeat with remaining nuggets. Let second batch of nuggets rest on wire rack for at least 5 minutes before moving to next step to let coating set.

    6. 6.

      Bring oil to 375°F (190°C). Carefully return all nuggets to oil and cook, flipping occasionally, until deep golden brown and very crispy, about 4 minutes. Return nuggets to rack and let stand for 2 minutes. Serve with sauce.

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