Fresh out of bread crumbs? You can still make a casserole with a crispy topping, breaded meat, meatballs, or any recipe with bread crumbs in the ingredient list thanks to these ideas to substitute for bread crumbs in your cooking.

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It happens to virtually every cook: In the middle of making a meat loaf or breaded chicken recipe, you need bread crumbs, so you grab that box from your well-stocked pantry and pour, only to discover the box was much emptier than you thought. Rest easy; you can keep cooking without an urgent run to the grocery store by using a substitute for bread crumbs from our list of options. Or perhaps you're putting together your grocery list and looking for a gluten-free substitute for bread crumbs that fits your gluten-free lifestyle; we have swaps for that too. No matter the reason you're seeking a replacement for bread crumbs in a recipe, there's an alternative that's likely already in your kitchen.

Bread crumbs and cracker crumbs
Credit: Blaine Moats

Substitutes for Bread Crumbs

Finding a bread crumb substitute in your pantry is easier than you think! For ¼ cup fine, dry bread crumbs, substitute any of these items:

  • ¾ cup soft bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup panko
  • ¼ cup cracker or pretzel crumbs
  • ¼ cup crushed cornflakes or other unsweetened cereals
  • ⅔ cup regular rolled oats (Use this only as a substitute for bread crumbs in meat loaf and other meat mixtures, such as burgers. Oats won't crisp up nearly as nicely in uses such as casserole toppings and breadings.)

Remember, you can always make your own bread crumbs at home if you've got bread on hand. And if you're seeking healthy bread crumbs, make some from whole wheat or whole grain bread, or use crushed bran flakes cereal.

Gluten-Free Substitutes for Bread Crumbs

You can certainly still enjoy meat loaf, crunchy toppings, and breaded foods while eating gluten free. Give these options a try.

  • Make your own from any gluten-free bread you have on hand. Give this bread crumb-making hack a try.
  • Use the rolled oats tip above using gluten-free oats.
  • Use equal amounts of any unsweetened gluten-free cereal, crushed. Well-known cereals such as Chex and Cheerios make good options, but always check the ingredient list or be sure the cereal is labeled "gluten free." Cereals such as cornflakes and Rice Krispies often contain barley malt, which means that even though they are made of corn and rice, there is still gluten.
  • Use equal amounts of gluten-free cracker crumbs.

While you're thinking of it, add these to your grocery list for your next trip or place an order for some gluten-free bread crumbs ($2, Target) or gluten-free panko crumbs ($3, Target) right now.

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Crumbs: Cracker Crumbs, Soft Bread Crumbs, Fine Dry Bread Crumbs, and Panko each in individual piles
Clockwise from top left: Cracker Crumbs, Soft Bread Crumbs, Panko Bread Crumbs, and Fine, Dry Bread Crumbs
| Credit: Karla Conrad

Types of Bread Crumbs

There are three common types of bread crumbs (plus cracker and cereal options). Here's what to know about each.

Fine, Dry Bread Crumbs

If a recipe calls for bread crumbs, this is usually the kind it means. If making your own fine, dry bread crumbs, you'd use slightly stale bread and process to a very fine texture. These crumbs are best for adding to ground meat dishes or for breading fried (and oven-fried) foods.

Soft Bread Crumbs

These must be made; there are no products to purchase. They are made from fresh bread and will be a bit fluffier (and softer, as the name implies) than the other bread crumbs. Soft bread crumbs are commonly used to top casseroles like this  one, Beef and Noodle Casserole.


This section of the bread crumb aisle seems to be ever-expanding in recent years. Panko crumbs are light and crisp with a coarser texture than fine, dry crumbs. These crumbs work in most any bread crumb situation: toppings, coatings, and mixing in.

Now that you know what to use in a pinch instead of bread crumbs, you can continue on with that chicken and wild rice casserole, meatballs, or cheesy chicken casserole.

Comments (1)

June 12, 2020
Easy and convenient ideas. Recently I ran out of bread crumbs in the middle of a recipe and turned to a bag of salad croutons in my pantry. I finely crushed them in a sandwich bag and it worked well. The croutons added a little more flavor too.