Our wellness advice is expert-vetted. Our top picks are based on our editors’ independent research, analysis, and hands-on testing. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.Reviews ethics statement
They may seem like a universal crowd pleaser, but there are plenty of people who either can’t or won’t indulge in this iconic American fast food. To cater to that audience, as well as show carnivores it really is possible to switch to a plant-based diet without sacrificing your faves, there are a ton of companies out there claiming you can eat their nuggets and not know they’re vegan. As a lifelong lover of chicken nuggets, I felt compelled to put this to the test. Plus it gives our childlike selves a chance to feel young at heart.
Each of the vegan nuggets tested here was prepared both in the oven and in the air fryer, with my favorite barbecue sauce as a dip. The nuggets were taste-tested on the same day by me — a non-vegetarian — as well as my girlfriend, who’s been vegetarian for many years. Other CNET staff writers were also invited to share their thoughts on which vegan nugget they preferred, which helped set up our options for this test. Happy tasting.
It is not a requirement that the best vegan nugget taste like a chicken nugget you’d get at your favorite fast-food place, but consider it a bonus that Impossible Nuggets do exactly that. If you’re a meat-eater looking for an occasional plant-based alternative or just looking for finger foods everyone can eat, you can’t go wrong here.
Sometimes looking for the right plant-based meal involves checking the box to make sure everything you’re eating isn’t entirely soy. Quorn has been tremendously successful in Europe and is slowly becoming more popular here in the US. Quorn’s plant-based meats are made with mycoprotein, part of the fungi family — which means you’re eating high-protein mushrooms (of a sort). As long as you follow the instructions, the end result is delicious no matter what you’re making.
Unlike most plant-based brands I’ve seen in stores, Simulate was the first brand I saw heavily advertised on social media. The company boasted it was impossible to know these weren’t made of chicken. I didn’t find them to be that exactly, but what Simulate does have is a quality wheat protein and soy protein blend in a tasty shell and more variety than most.
If there was a prize to win for easiest plant-based nuggets to find, Gardein would win it. Where many other vegan nuggets can only been found in specific stores and require hunting around a little depending on where you live, Gardein’s nuggets are surprisingly easy to find at least around me.
I’ve had several plant-based goodies from Alpha Foods before, including the company’s breakfast sandwiches and burritos, but it wasn’t until CNET’s McKenzie Dillon raved about these nuggets that I grabbed a bag. The thing I found most interesting about these nuggets is they were better in the air fryer than they were using the conventional oven instructions. The outside stayed nice and crispy, and the inside dried out a lot less versus the standard instructions.
My first experience with the Beyond Nuggets was at a pizza place outside of Washington, DC, which Beyond had partnered with as a way of helping more places offer quick plant-based options. While I liked the meal well enough, they didn’t come off as chicken replacements to me. The texture was off, and the outside was only crispy where the nuggets weren’t touching the tray they were baked on. So I decided to wait until I could make them at home to see what the difference was.
If you’ve been in a grocery store, you’ve probably seen the name Morningstar Farms before. This brand has been around for a long time and makes plant-based alternatives for those who need them. There’s more competition now for plant-based alternatives, especially when it comes to chicken replacements, and as a result these Chik’n nuggets are at the bottom of our list.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.