This is the best, crispiest air fryer popcorn chicken recipe that’s fast, easy, and packed with flavor thanks to cheese, crunchy cornflakes, and paprika in the breading for just the right amount of heat. You can’t go wrong with this weeknight dinner favorite.
Why This Recipe Works
Here’s why we love this fast and easy popcorn chicken bites recipe:
- The chicken is incredibly crispy and crunchy all over, somewhat similar to the Garlic Butter Chicken Bites.
- You can make the dish in an air fryer or in the oven if that’s what you have.
- It makes a great appetizer or entree alongside the Mexican Street Corn Salad or Italian Style Pasta Salad with Artichokes and Tomatoes
- You don’t need extra oil to make crispy golden fried chicken, thanks to your air fryer!
What Goes Into This Recipe
These are the ingredients for the best popcorn chicken bites recipe:
- Chicken thighs. Choose boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
- Butter. Use unsalted butter to control the flavor best.
- Garlic. Fresh garlic will give you the best flavor.
- Flour. All-purpose works great.
- Eggs. These help bind the breading to the chicken pieces.
- Buttermilk. For a delicious tangy flavor. If you don’t have buttermilk, regular milk with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar will also work.
- Cornflakes. Crush these inside a zip-top bag into fine crumbs.
- Parmesan cheese. This should be finely grated to coat your chicken well.
- Smoked paprika. For a hint of warming spice.
Here are a few simple swaps if you don’t have all of the ingredients for this air fryer popcorn chicken recipe:
- First, you can replace the chicken thighs with turkey, just cut it into 1-inch cubes
- In addition, feel free to replace the melted butter with ghee or clarified butter, or use olive oil
- To make this popcorn chicken bites recipe gluten-free, simply replace the all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour. Also, make sure you’re using gluten-free cornflakes.
- To make honey garlic popcorn chicken bites, make a sauce by heating 1/4 cup of honey until bubbling. Stir in 2 tablespoons coconut aminos or light soy sauce and 1 to 2 tablespoons of sriracha sauce, to taste. Add minced garlic to taste. Then stir everything very well. Once the chicken is done air frying and still hot, drizzle the honey-garlic sauce over and stir well to coat.
- You can also use panko breadcrumbs instead of crushed cornflakes.
How to Make This Popcorn Chicken Bites Recipe
Follow these steps to make the best crispy air-fried popcorn chicken bites:
First, place the chicken pieces in a shallow dish. Add the melted butter, garlic, salt and pepper and stir well to coat. Then, place the flour in a large Ziploc bag.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs together with the buttermilk. Then, in a second large Ziploc bag, combine the crushed cornflakes with the smoked paprika.
Next, place the chicken pieces into the Ziploc bag with the flour mixture first. Seal the bag and mix thoroughly to coat each piece of chicken.
Next, using a pair of tongs, dip each piece of chicken into the beaten egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Then transfer the chicken into the bag with the cornflake mixture and shake to coat thoroughly.
Meanwhile, preheat the air fryer to 350°F (180°C). When the chicken is fully coated, air fry it in batches for 10 minutes, arranged in a single layer into the basket, shaking halfway. Repeat with the remaining batch of popcorn chicken.
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C).
Line a baking sheet with a wire rack and spray the wire rack with a cooking oil spray to prevent the chicken from sticking.
Arrange the pieces of chicken onto the wire rack with a bit of space in between. Bake the chicken pieces for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for 6-8 minutes more, or until golden and crispy, and cooked through.
Simply add 1-2 tbsp of sriracha sauce to the buttermilk mixture, or add cayenne pepper to your taste.
Simply replace the all-purpose flour with gluten-free all-purpose, and use gluten-free cornflakes.
These bites can be served on their own, they’re super flavorful, and there’s no need for any sauce. But if you can’t imagine a bite without a dip, then a canned salsa would be great. Spicy mayo or a tzatziki sauce are also delicious.
Homemade popcorn chicken takes its flavor from the breading. To make it, combine the crushed cornflakes with grated parmesan cheese (which is popular for the umami flavor) and smoked paprika. Then be sure to add any of your favorite additional seasonings, like Italian spices, cumin, or spicy peppers.
This dish is so great on top of your favorite salad. I recommend quinoa tabbouleh, macaroni salad, or cowboy caviar.
It also works great with a simple greens salad, a drizzle of EVOO, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
I also love to have popcorn chicken in a wrap with shredded lettuce, chopped cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, and some tzatziki sauce.
This homemade popcorn chicken works great with your favorite salsa, all stuffed in a corn tortilla for the best tacos!
Yes! To do so, first, take a sheet pan that will fit your freezer and line it with parchment paper.
Make the popcorn chicken as described in the recipe and arrange it in a single layer on the prepared sheet pan.
Freeze the chicken for 3-4 hours, then transfer the bites to a Ziploc bag. Be sure to put a label on the bag with the date and freeze for up to 3 months.
You may bake or air fry the frozen popcorn chicken (no need to thaw!) for a few minutes longer than you normally would. Add around 3-4 minutes to the cooking time and check the center of a piece to see if the chicken is fully cooked through. The cooking time will vary based on the size of your chicken pieces or your oven/air fryer’s power.
Keep these tips in mind when making this perfect air fryer popcorn chicken recipe:
- I find that cutting the chicken into 1-inch pieces is the best strategy, because you get a crispy crust but also a tender inside. If you cut the chicken any smaller, it will be even more crispy. But it will also cook faster, so reduce the cooking time as necessary.
- The most important thing is to cut the chicken all the same size, so they cook at the same time.
- If time allows, you can marinate the chicken in the garlic and butter mixture for up to 1 hour in the fridge.
- To quickly crush the cornflakes, first place the cornflakes in a food processor with the parmesan and smoked paprika. Process until the cornflakes are crushed finely, then transfer to a large Ziploc bag. Alternatively, you can crush them directly into the bag, although I find that a bit more time-consuming.
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Air Fryer Popcorn Chicken Recipe
- 1 lb (453g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs - cut into 1'' bite-sized pieces
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) melted butter
- 2-3 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup (30 g) all purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) buttermilk
- 2 cups (115g) crushed cornflakes
- 1/2 cup (50g) ground parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
- Place the chicken pieces in a shallow dish and stir in the melted butter, garlic, salt and pepper.
- In a large Ziploc bag, add the flour.
- In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs together with the buttermilk.
- In a second ziploc bag, combine the crushed cornflakes with the parmesan cheese and smoked paprika.
- Place the chicken pieces into the ziploc bag with the flour mix. Seal the bag and mix thoroughly to coat each piece of chicken evenly.
- Next, using a pair of tongs, dip into the egg mixture and allow the excess to drip off.
- Then transfer the chicken into the bag with the cornflake mixture and shake to coat thoroughly.
- Meanwhile, preheat the air fryer to 350°F (180°C).
- Air fry the chicken in batches for 10 minutes, arranged in a single layer into the basket, shaking halfway.
- Repeat with the remaining batch of popcorn chicken.
- Be sure to cut the chicken into equal-sized pieces so they cook evenly.
- If your air fryer needs preheating, let it come fully to temperature before you add the chicken to ensure the cooking time is accurate.
- It’s best to cook the chicken bites in batches so there’s room around the outside of each piece for optimal crispiness.
- You can serve these homemade popcorn chicken bites on their own, with a dipping sauce like tzatziki or marinara, or over a salad or in a wrap. They also make a great appetizer for a parties!
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