Can you make barbecue chicken breasts in an air fryer? You betcha! You’ll love my air fryer BBQ chicken breast recipe because it is a super simple weeknight dinner entrée. We're going to season chicken breasts with smoky paprika, garlic, and onion powder. Then we'll air fry the chicken and brush it with your favorite barbecue sauce. After air frying again for a short time, you'll be ready to have this winning chicken dinner.
Have you tried air frying chicken breasts yet? If not, what's stopping you?
I've shown you in a previous post how to air fry rotisserie chicken. Unfortunately, cooking a whole chicken takes an hour, not the best when you're hungry now.
With these air fried BBQ chicken breasts, you'll be eating in under 30 minutes. It's going to make things easier on those days when you're tired and want something quick to eat.
You may be able to throw this together even faster than you could go out and get a fast-food order. (That's assuming, of course, that you already have some chicken and barbecue sauce at home. A little planning can go a long way in helping you to eat healthier.)
Some nights I love to take my time with recipes. I might whip up a batch of homemade BBQ sauce to go on this chicken. Other evenings, however, I just don't have the time for that.
Good thing we live in a time when we have so many choices. There are so many great store-bought barbecue sauces available! You're bound to find one that meets both your taste preferences and health needs.
This recipe is an update from 2020 with new photos and more in-depth nutrition information. Enjoy!
What’s the best barbecue sauce for chicken?
Taste is always an important factor in deciding what is “best.” Since you're making air fried barbecue chicken, why not experiment with a variety of store bought BBQ sauces? Your family may find a new favorite in the mix.
We decided to try out The New Primal Classic BBQ Sauce as well as the Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce. It's kind of funny that they both use "classic" in their names. Each of these barbecue sauces have some attributes that make them a bit non-traditional.
Of the two sauces, The New Primal was our favorite. It was almost like a regular sweet barbecue sauce, but it had a faint pineapple flavor that was a really lovely touch. Here's some nutrition-related info on this sauce:
- 35 calories per 2 tablespoons (8g net carbs)
- Gluten-free and Whole 30 approved
- Uses pineapple juice concentrate and tamarind concentrate for sweetness
- Contains beef bone broth powder (i.e., not vegetarian friendly)
Something to know about this BBQ sauce is that it does contain added sugar in the form of fruit concentrates. Blended whole fruits do not count as added sugars in recipes, but concentrated fruits may. This tends to be a huge area of confusion for people!
How to Make Low Carb BBQ Chicken
You don't have to give up BBQ chicken if you are following a low carb or keto diet. Luckily, there are some BBQ sauce options for the folks trying to limit their intake of added sugars. If this sounds like you, the next sauce we tried is going to be better for you.
Here's some information on the Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce:
- 15 calories per 2 tablespoons (3g net carbs)
- Gluten-free, vegan, low-carb, and keto-friendly
- No added sugar or sweeteners
- Heavy on the vinegar flavor
In our opinion, both sauces were pretty good. However, if you expect some sweetness in your BBQ sauce, you'll enjoy The New Primal sauce more. On the other hand, the Primal Kitchen sauce works well if you are using a keto, lchf, or low-carb diet approach.
Each of these brands also carries other BBQ sauce flavors that may (or may not) align with your dietary needs. For example, Primal Kitchen has a Carolina Gold BBQ sauce, while The New Primal offers a Mustard BBQ Sauce.
Pineapple makes a reappearance in The New Primal's Mustard BBQ sauce as well. However, this one is listed as low-carb and keto friendly because it has 3g of net carbs per serving. It might be worth trying out if your tastebuds prefer a slightly sweeter sauce than Primal Kitchen's offering.
We tried the mustard barbecue sauce and thought it would work great here. You could also use it as a dip for chicken nuggets. The mustard barbecue sauce receives pretty good reviews, so the public seems to agree with us on this one!
Why make skinless boneless chicken breasts in the air fryer? Here are some reasons you’ll like this recipe:
- Cooks in under 30 minutes: This recipe has a short cooking and prep time! Sprinkle the dry rub on the chicken breasts, air fry, and brush on the barbecue sauce. Keep the sides simple (e.g., bagged salad and frozen veggies) and you’ve got yourself dinner in under 30 minutes.
- Fits many special diets: This recipe can be gluten-free, low-carb, or keto depending on the barbecue sauce you use. It’s also likely to be dairy-free and soy-free (again, dependent on your sauce).
- Great for meal prep: Barbecue chicken freezes well and is the perfect protein to add to your meal prepping repertoire.
- Crowd pleaser: Barbecue chicken tends to be a crowd favorite. Just about everyone that eats chicken enjoys a good barbecued chicken. You’re playing it safe with this one!
What do you need to make air fryer barbecue chicken breasts? Here’s the round up:
- Small boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Melted bacon fat or cooking oil
- Smoked paprika
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Dried oregano
- Salt and black pepper
- Cooking oil spray
- Your favorite BBQ sauce
If you want the cook time to align with what I’ve listed below, it’s important to use small chicken breasts! The chicken breasts I use are Perdue Perfect Portions. These are 5-6 ounce chicken breasts that are about ½-inch thick.
Chicken breasts sold in the U.S. tend to be larger than the ones I used in this recipe. If your chicken breasts are large, you will need to pound them with a mallet to a ½ inch thickness. You’ll also want to cut them down to about 5-6 ounces each.
Large chicken breasts may dry out on the outside in the air fryer before they reach the safe minimum internal temperature. That is why I recommend small chicken breasts for this recipe. Using chicken breasts that are about ½ inch thick also helps to ensure more even cooking.
If your chicken breasts are really thick in the middle and thin at the edges, they won’t cook evenly. The edges will become overly dry while the middle of the chicken breasts may remain raw (or undercooked).
All air fryers are different, so the cooking times for your air fried barbecued chicken may vary. I own a 10-Quart Kalorik Digital Air Fryer Oven. It has a large capacity with two frying racks; I could easily fit all of the chicken breasts in one batch.
If you have a smaller air fryer basket, you may need to cook your chicken in two batches. Alternatively, if you have a small household, you could cut the recipe in half.
One of the nice things about air frying (aside from short cooking times) is that it's easy to adjust cooking times. In order to air fry foods, you need to flip them and/or switch the position of the trays in the oven often. This provides you with many opportunities to check on the food and adjust the recipe as needed.
If your chicken looks like it's done before the cooking time is up, simply remove it from the oven. On the other hand, if your air fryer BBQ chicken breast is not quite done in the cooking time I've listed, go a little longer. The seasoned cooks already know this, but recipes for the air fryer should be treated as a guide, not the law.
I adjust air fryer recipes that I find on the web all of the time. It's the best way to ensure that my air fried food turns out perfectly every time!
How to Make Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Breast
Before you get seasoning and cooking, make sure you are using chicken breasts that are the right weight and thickness. You want 5-6 ounce boneless and skinless chicken breasts that are about ½ inch thick.
If your chicken breasts are larger, use a mallet to pound them to ½ inch thick. Then use a knife to trim them to the desired weight.
Mist your air fryer trays with cooking spray. Place chicken on the tray in a single layer. I was able to fit two breasts per tray.
Brush the chicken breasts with melted bacon fat or cooking oil. Mix the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, and pepper together. Sprinkle this mixture on the chicken breasts.
You will be air frying the seasoned chicken breasts for a total of 26 minutes. Here’s the breakdown of the air frying procedure:
- Air fry for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Flip the chicken breasts and switch the position of the trays in the air fryer oven.
- Air fry for an additional 10 minutes at 350F.
- Flip the chicken breasts over again and brush with the BBQ sauce.
- Air fry for 3 minutes at 350F.
- Switch the position of the trays in the oven (don’t flip the chicken this time) and air fry 3 more minutes at 350.
After air frying, use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You may need to extend the air fryer time slightly if the chicken is not done.
Once the chicken breasts are properly cooked, let them rest for 5-10 minutes before eating. That’s all there is to it!
The chicken is air fried at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is perfect to get the chicken thoroughly cooked while remaining moist and tender.
There are so many side dishes that go well with barbecued chicken! The last time I made this recipe, I served it with roasted delicata squash and a side salad with lettuce and tomatoes. Here are a few more side dishes for air fryer BBQ chicken breast:
- Air Fryer Frozen French Fries
- Kale Apple Slaw with Brussels Sprouts, Dates, and Tahini
- Air Fryer Corn Bread
Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 1 recipe (may help support fat loss). The calories and other nutrition information for this recipe will depend on the BBQ sauce you use. The no added sugar barbecue sauces are often lower in calories. These may be your best bet if you have a fat loss goal.
Boneless and skinless chicken breast is a lean protein that many find highly satiating. This easy entrée is a great pick to build a healthy meal around. One time I served mine with a mix of roasted cauliflower and potatoes, plus my loaded air fryer radishes.
To keep this meal under 30 minutes, serve with a large side salad packed with non-starchy vegetables. Stick with 1-2 tablespoons of salad dressing if you're looking for a level 1 meal.
As this recipe shows, you can use BBQ sauce on air fried items. I recommend brushing the sauce on towards the end of cooking so that it does not burn.
This barbecue chicken breast is a rich source of lean protein, as well as many B vitamins. This includes niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. As long as you don’t use a barbecue sauce loaded with added sugar, BBQ chicken is a nutrient-dense food I’d consider healthy.
If you’re making BBQ chicken, prevent overcooking to keep it from drying out. Using small chicken breasts with an even thickness in this recipe will help it cook evenly. If you’re cooking on a grill, using a brine or marinade on the chicken can help prevent drying out.
Other Air Fryer Chicken Recipes
Looking for more ways to cook chicken in an air fryer? I’ve got you covered! Here are some delicious chicken air fryer recipes to get you started:
- Air Fryer Chicken Shawarma Bowls
- Air Fryer Breaded Chicken Breasts
- Frozen Chicken Wings in an Air Fryer
- Air Fryer Cornish Hens
- Air Fryer Chicken Legs with Mustard and Herbs
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats with yogurt post. Let's get cooking!
Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Breast
- 4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts (about 24 ounces total or 5-6 ounces each; ½-inch thick. Use a mallet and knife to flatten and trim large chicken breasts or use Perdue Perfect Portions)
- 1 tablespoon melted bacon fat or cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and pepper, to taste
- cooking oil spray of choice
- ¼ cup BBQ sauce of choice (we used ⅛-cup The New Primal Classic BBQ Sauce and ⅛-cup Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce; if your BBQ sauce is very thin, you may need less)
- If your chicken breasts are large, use a mallet to pound them to ½-inch thick. Use a knife to trim them to 5-6 ounces.
- Mist your air fryer baking trays with the cooking spray. Put your chicken breasts on the trays in a single layer. I used two air fryer trays for this recipe.
- Brush your chicken breasts with the melted bacon fat or cooking oil.
- Mix the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, and pepper together. Sprinkle this mixture on your chicken breasts.
- Air fry your chicken for 10 minutes at 350°F. Then flip the chicken breasts over, switch the position of the trays in the oven, and air fry for an additional 10 minutes at 350°F.
- Flip the chicken breasts over again and brush with the BBQ sauce. (Check out the recipe video!)
- Air fry the BBQ chicken breasts for 3 minutes at 350°F. Then switch the position of the trays in the air fryer oven (don't flip the chicken) and bake for 3 more minutes at 350°F.
- After air frying, use a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. You may need to extend the air fryer time slightly if the chicken is not done.
- Let your chicken rest for 5-10 minutes before enjoying.
This is a level 1 recipe (may help support fat loss). The calories and other nutrition information for this recipe will depend on the BBQ sauce you use. The no added sugar barbecue sauces are often lower in calories. These may be your best bet if you have a fat loss goal. Boneless and skinless chicken breast is a lean protein that many find highly satiating. This easy entrée is a great pick to build a healthy meal around. One time I served mine with a mix of roasted cauliflower and potatoes, plus my loaded air fryer radishes. To keep this meal under 30 minutes, serve with a large side salad packed with non-starchy vegetables. Stick with 1-2 tablespoons of salad dressing if you're looking for a level 1 meal. Nutrition information is for one serving of the recipe with Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ sauce.