This Chick-Fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich recipe perfectly replicates that classic chicken sandwich flavor, while being totally vegetarian and easy to make at home!
Chick-fil-a recently tested a fried cauliflower sandwich in a few markets, but just as quickly as it hit menus it was gone.
So I’ve deconstructed the infamous Chick-Fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich so you can make it at home in your kitchen (no Chick-fil-a drive thru line required!)
This Chick-Fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich is everything you love about the original – the crispy breading, the tangy pickles, and that irresistible Chick-Fil-A sauce – re-engineered to delicious home kitchen perfection. Let’s cook!
“This recipe made my vegetarian heart SO happy. It was crunchy, super flavorful yet so tender. We used sweet relish in place of pickles because that’s what we had on hand and it was incredible. Everyone, including meat eaters, should give this a try! Thank you for this recipe!” —Colleen
Chick-Fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich Ingredients
These sandwiches have a few key ingredients that elevate them to true Chick-fil-a copycat perfection. Some may seem a little weird, but trust me on this one.
- Cauliflower: The star of the show! Cauliflower is used as a fantastic meat substitute in this recipe, providing a hearty and flavorful base for the sandwich.
- Pickle Juice: The secret marinade ingredient! Pickle juice not only adds tangy flavor to the cauliflower but also helps to tenderize it, making it juicy and succulent.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is perfect for marinating the cauliflower as it adds a creamy and tangy element that complements the other flavors.
- Egg: The egg helps to bind the breading to the cauliflower, ensuring that it stays crispy and perfectly coated during frying.
- Salt and MSG: These seasonings enhance the overall taste of the cauliflower, bringing out its natural flavors and adding a delightful savory kick. MSG can be found in most grocery stores near the spices.
- Breading: Our breading is made up of flour, cornstarch, powdered sugar, paprika, pepper, and baking soda: These give the Chick-fil-a copycat its signature crispy texture and mouthwatering flavor.
- Peanut Oil: The high smoke point of peanut oil makes it ideal for frying, creating a golden and crunchy exterior for the cauliflower. And because this is what Chick-fil-a uses, it’s what we’re using!
Fun fact: Refined peanut oil is usually safe for those with peanut allergies to consume because the proteins responsible for the allergy have been removed (this is speaking me, someone with a lifelong peanut allergy). As always, consult your doctor before making any dietary changes.
How to make Fried Cauliflower Sandwiches
Step 1: Cut Cauliflower
Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, leaving most of the stem intact as it helps hold everything together during slicing. Take two large heads of cauliflower and cut them into 1-inch wide steaks. The middle sections will remain more intact, while the ends may crumble, which is why using two heads ensures you have enough intact slabs for the sandwiches. Aim for a total of 6 cauliflower slabs. You’ll have some leftover florets (save them for one of these of cauliflower recipes).
Step 2: Marinate Cauliflower
In a large bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients, which include pickle juice, buttermilk, egg, salt, and MSG. The pickle juice not only adds a delightful tang but also acts as a natural tenderizer for the cauliflower, making it juicy and flavorful. Gently add the cauliflower slabs to the marinade, ensuring each piece is well-coated. Allow the cauliflower to soak in the marinade while you proceed with the next steps, letting the flavors infuse and work their magic.
Step 3: Prep Breading and Oil
In another large bowl, mix together the breading ingredients, which include flour, cornstarch, powdered sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, MSG, and baking soda. This breading blend is what creates the iconic crispy texture and mouthwatering taste of the cauliflower sandwich.
Next, prepare a large pan or shallow pot and heat the peanut oil until it reaches 365°F (185°C). Having a candy thermometer handy will help you monitor the oil temperature accurately.
Step 4: Bread Cauliflower
Working in batches, shake off excess buttermilk from each cauliflower slab before transferring it to the breading mixture. Ensure both sides are firmly pressed into the breading, ensuring a generous coating. Place the cauliflower on a plate after breading until you’re ready to fry.
Step 5: Fry
Using metal tongs, carefully lower the breaded cauliflower into the hot peanut oil. Fry the cauliflower in batches, flipping them once during cooking to achieve an evenly golden brown and crispy texture on both sides. The frying process typically takes about 3 to 5 minutes total. Keep an eye on the oil temperature to prevent it from getting too hot or too cold, which can affect the final texture.
Once fried to perfection, transfer the finished cauliflower to a cookie rack lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.
Step 6: Serve
Serve the crispy cauliflower slabs on burger buns, topped with Chick-fil-A sauce and pickles. Enjoy the ultimate Chick-fil-A experience in a vegetarian-friendly way, savoring the mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures that make this cauliflower sandwich a true copycat delight!
Make Ahead: You can make each component of this recipe ahead of time, and cauliflower can be marinated up to a day before cooking. Once breaded and fried, cauliflower is best enjoyed immediately.
Leftovers: The cauliflower tenders are best reheated in the air fryer to get them crispy again!
Use A Thermometer: Maintaining the correct oil temperature is essential for achieving a crispy and evenly cooked result. Use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to monitor the oil temperature throughout the frying process.
Toppings: While the classic combination of Chick-Fil-A sauce and pickles is delicious, feel free to get creative with your toppings. Add lettuce, tomato, sliced onions, or your favorite condiments to customize the sandwich to your taste.
Is the MSG necessary in the marinade and breading?
The addition of MSG is optional, and you can omit it if you prefer. It enhances the savory umami taste, but the sandwich will still be delicious without it.
Can I bake or air fry the cauliflower instead of frying it?
Yes, you can bake or air fry the cauliflower for a healthier alternative (although we highly recommend frying for that classic flavor). Preheat your oven to 425°F (or air fryer to 400°F) and place the breaded cauliflower on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake or air fry for about 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden and crispy.
Can I make this recipe gluten-free?
Yes, you can use a gluten-free flour blend and cornstarch in the breading to make this recipe gluten-free. Make sure to check the labels of all other ingredients to ensure they are also gluten-free.
Can I use a different oil for frying?
Peanut oil is ideal for frying as it has a high smoke point and imparts a mild flavor. However, you can use other high-smoke-point oils like vegetable oil or canola oil if peanut oil is not available (see our note above about peanut allergies).
- ¼ cup pickle juice
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp MSG
- 1 cups flour
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp MSG
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 2 large heads cauliflower
- 1 quart peanut oil
- To serve: Chick-fil-a sauce, pickles, burger buns
- Cut Cauliflower: Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, leaving most of the stem on (it holds everything together). Cut each cauliflower into 1-inch wide steaks. The middle sections will be the most held together, and the ends of the cauliflower will fall apart (which is why we're using 2 heads – you will have leftover florets). Aim to get 6 slabs of cauliflower total.
- Marinate Cauliflower: In a large bowl, whisk together all marinade ingredients. Gently add the cauliflower slabs, ensuring each piece of cauliflower is covered. Let soak while you prep everything else.
- Prep Breading and Oil: In a large bowl, stir together breading ingredients. In a large pan or shallow pot, heat oil until it reaches 365°F (185°C). Next to your stove, set out a cookie rack lined with a few layers of paper towels.
- Bread Cauliflower: Working in batches, shake excess buttermilk off each cauliflower slab then transfer to the breading. Firmly press both sides into the breading, then transfer to a plate until ready to fry.
- Fry: Working in batches, use metal tongs to carefully lower the cauliflower into the hot oil. Cook, flipping once during cooking, until both sides are golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Regularly check oil temperature to ensure it doesn't get too hot or cold. Transfer finished cauliflower to your prepared cookie rack.
- Serve: Serve hot on burger buns, topped with Chick-fil-a sauce and pickles.