Can you air fry popcorn chicken? Absolutely! This homemade air fryer popcorn chicken recipe makes an easy main dish or appetizer. Air fry this family favorite in under 15 minutes when you want a quick bite on busy weeknights. Store leftovers in the freezer- you can reheat frozen popcorn chicken in the air fryer without thawing first! Get tips on the best dipping sauces for popcorn chicken and info on popcorn chicken nutrition here too!
Buh bye KFC popcorn chicken, there’s a new popcorn chicken in town! This air fryer popcorn chicken recipe comes together faster than you can hit the drive-thru.
This air fryer popcorn chicken with flour uses simple, wholesome ingredients. I bet your family is going to love it even though it’s secretly healthy.
Additionally, this is a SUPER recipe to meal prep. I’m going to give you tips on freezing popcorn chicken and making air fryer frozen popcorn chicken.
In my household, I don’t have time to put a recipe together on some nights. When I have premade popcorn chicken in the freezer, I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner.
It’s a great way to help take the stress out of meal time. Why not make a double or triple batch? Throw some veggies on the side and you’ve got yourself a lovely meal.
Meal prepping is one of my favorite tools that helps me to enjoy healthy homemade foods when I am busy. If you’re not currently a meal prepper, but usually short on time, it's definitely something to consider trying.
This recipe for homemade popcorn chicken is so much healthier than fast food popcorn chicken! Here are some of the reasons why:
- Baked popcorn chicken, not fried: Fast food popcorn chicken is typically deep fried. You skip all the empty calories found in excessive amounts of added oil when you bake popcorn chicken in an air fryer instead.
- Whole grain breading: A lot of store-bought popcorn chicken brands list “wheat flour” in the ingredients. Though it has wheat in the name, this is actually another name for refined white flour. When you make your own popcorn chicken breading, you can use your favorite whole grain flour or nut flour. (Whole grain flour often has the word “whole” in the name, e.g., whole wheat flour. Brown rice flour also indicates a whole grain.)
- Not an ultra-processed food: Store-bought popcorn chicken commonly counts as an ultra-processed food, while homemade popcorn chicken does not. (P.S. If you missed it, be sure to check out my article on ultra-processed foods. You’ll learn what they are and why most Americans could benefit from eating less of them.)
- No added sugar: It seems unbelievable, but many of the most popular popcorn chicken brands put added sugar in the breading. That definitely doesn’t need to be in there! You can skip those empty calories in DIY popcorn chicken without compromising flavor. I promise you won’t notice it’s gone.
- Can be tailored to fit your tastes: Want a mild or spicy popcorn chicken? You can easily adjust this recipe to align with the taste preferences in your family. Your family members are more likely to eat healthy foods if they find them delicious.
Here’s what you need to make healthy popcorn chicken in the air fryer:
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Tenders (no breading and raw)
- Whole Grain Spelt Flour (whole wheat flour may also be used)
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Cooking Oil Spray
- Popcorn Chicken Dip (pick your favorite)
As you can see, this is an air fryer popcorn chicken without buttermilk. You are welcome to try swapping out the eggs for buttermilk if you choose. (You basically need something wet for the flour to stick to.)
For popcorn chicken with a more textured coating, you could try using panko or pork panko instead of flour. I haven’t tried this yet, but I bet it would be delicious and very crisp.
Boneless skinless chicken thighs can be used in place of the chicken breast if you’d prefer. Chicken thighs are a little less lean than chicken breasts, but it’s not a huge difference.
I stuck with a very basic seasoning for the popcorn chicken that tends to be a crowd pleaser. Feel free to add some cayenne pepper if you’d prefer some heat, or whatever other spices you like.
A good pair of kitchen shears will make quick work of cutting your chicken into popcorn bites. You’ll also need a couple of medium-sized bowls. One is for the eggs and another is for the flour mixture.
I think a kitchen thermometer is an important piece of kitchen equipment for cooking meat, fish, and poultry. It is the easiest way to ensure air fried foods have been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.
Finally, you can’t make popcorn chicken in an air fryer without having an air fryer! Your Ninja Foodi, Cosori, Nuwave, Breville, Philips, Instant Pot Vortex, or whatever brand you have should work here. As always, don’t be afraid to modify the cooking times if your fryer cooks the food differently than mine.
I make popcorn chicken in my 10-Quart Kalorik Digital Air Fryer Oven. It comes with two air fryer trays, and I use them both for this recipe. If you have a small air fryer basket, you might need to cook the chicken in more than one batch.
🔪 How to Air Fry Popcorn Chicken
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for- time to make popcorn chicken! Start by using kitchen shears to cut the chicken tenders into pieces.
I cut each chicken tender into four pieces. Each piece is about 1-inch by 1-inch by ½-inch.
Don’t worry about being too exacting- popcorn chicken is supposed to look a little rough and imperfect! These are not machine-created chicken nuggets.
Next, stir the flour and spices together in a medium-sized bowl. In a second bowl, whisk two eggs.
Spray your air fryer trays or air fryer basket with cooking oil spray. Dip each piece of chicken in the flour, the egg, and then the flour again. Coat all the chicken pieces.
Put the coated pieces of chicken on your prepared air fryer trays. Make sure the chicken is in a non-touching single layer for air frying. I used two air fryer trays to prevent overcrowding.
Mist the chicken well with oil spray to completely cover the raw flour and help it crisp up well. Any flour that was not used to bread the chicken should be discarded. You should not try to save the excess flour, since it had raw chicken pieces in it.
You may have enough flour mixture here to make a double batch of the chicken. (If so, why not double the recipe?) I thought it would be best to give you extra, so you don’t accidentally run out in the middle of breading the chicken.
⏲️ Cooking Time and Temperature
How long to air fry popcorn chicken? How long to air fry frozen popcorn chicken?
I cook popcorn chicken for a total of 12-13 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I cook frozen popcorn chicken (that was previously cooked) for a total of 8 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
To air fry raw popcorn chicken, make sure you’ve misted it well with cooking spray. Put it in the air fryer for 5 minutes at 375F. Then switch the position of the trays in the air fryer oven (no need to flip the chicken) and air fry 5 more minutes at 375F.
Flip the chicken pieces over and spray them well with the cooking oil spray. (Again, make sure the flour is completely coated with the oil.) Switch the position of the trays in the air fryer and air fry a final 2-3 minutes at 375F.
Use a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken pieces reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, you will need to air fry the popcorn chicken a bit longer.
Freeze your leftover air fried popcorn chicken for at least 3 hours in a single layer on a baking sheet. After air frying and freezing, you can reheat frozen popcorn chicken in your air fryer. You don’t need to thaw it first!
Air fry frozen popcorn chicken on an air fryer tray set in the top rack position for 4 minutes at 350F. (This is the position that is closest to the heating element.) Then flip the chicken pieces over, and air fry on the top rack for 4 more minutes at 350F.
Again, you should check to make sure your chicken reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165F. Enjoy!
👪 Dipping Sauces for Popcorn Chicken
In our house, you can’t serve popcorn chicken without a good dipping sauce! Here are some of our favorite dips for popcorn chicken:
- Barbecue sauce (here’s a BBQ sauce we like that has no added sugar)
- Mustard (be extra and try this recipe for homemade mustard)
- This ketchup, my personal favorite
- Low carb cheese dip
- Marinara sauce
- The homemade ranch dip from the Air Fryer Breaded Mushrooms recipe
💭 Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 3 recipe (weight maintenance and active lifestyles). Chicken breast is a healthy lean protein that makes a nice base for meals. However, breading it really bumps up the calories without providing much in the way of volume or fiber. For that reason, most of my recipes including flour get the bump to level 3.
If you have a picky eater in your household, breading foods may be one strategy you can use to help broaden their dietary variety. Try breading various proteins (chicken, fish, tofu) in addition to vegetables (zucchini, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower).
You may find that they’re happy to eat new proteins and veggies they won’t usually touch as long as they are breaded. Serve your breaded foods “popcorn style” as I’ve done here, or try cutting the veggies into fries. With breading and a tasty dip, a variety of healthy foods may suddenly become much more appealing.
As you can see, I served the popcorn chicken with a side of broccoli and oven roasted potatoes. For a lighter meal, try using popcorn chicken as the protein in a salad packed with non-starchy veggies. With a light mustard vinaigrette or a yogurt-based ranch dressing, you’ll have a satisfying, delicious, and nourishing meal.
You can make low carb air fryer popcorn chicken by swapping out the spelt flour for almond flour or pork panko. This change would also make your air fryer popcorn chicken gluten free.
Yes, this air fried popcorn chicken is a healthier alternative to deep fried popcorn chicken. When you air fry popcorn chicken you can reduce the amount of added oil in your food. If you make homemade popcorn chicken, you can use whole grain flour and skip the additives in most store-bought popcorn chicken options.
You can air fry Tysons Anytizers popcorn chicken, or another favorite store-bought popcorn chicken, for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Perdue popcorn chicken bites is another popular brand. That said, I hope you try making homemade popcorn chicken in the air fryer instead. My recipe comes together quickly and (IMVHO) is more delicious and healthier than the store brands.
Cooked popcorn chicken will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. For longer storage of leftovers, freeze cooked popcorn chicken on a baking tray in a single layer. Then pack the chicken into a food-safe freezer bag and leave it in the freezer until you want to use it. You don’t have to thaw it before reheating!
👩🏻🍳 Other Easy Air Fryer Chicken Recipes
If you enjoyed this recipe for popcorn chicken in the air fryer, I have some other recipes I think you’ll love! Don’t miss out on these other easy chicken air fryer recipes:
- Air Fryer Frozen Chicken Tenders
- Air Fryer BBQ Chicken
- Frozen Chicken Wings in Air Fryer
- Air Fryer Chicken Schnitzel
- Air Fryer Frozen Chicken Nuggets
Don't forget to subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter to be kept up-to-date on all of the latest and greatest recipes!
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 no sugar post. Let's get cooking!
Air Fryer Popcorn Chicken
- 1 lb. boneless and skinless raw chicken tenders (454 grams)
- 1 cup spelt flour
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 large eggs
- cooking oil spray of choice
- sauce for dipping (1-2 tablespoons per serving)
- Use the kitchen shears to cut the chicken tenders into pieces. Aim to make each piece about 1-inch by 1-inch by ½-inch (2.54 cm by 2.54 cm by 1.27 cm). (You don't have to be exacting about this.)
- Stir the flour, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and sea salt together in a medium-sized bowl. In a second bowl, whisk two eggs.
- Spray your air fryer trays with cooking oil spray. I used two trays.
- Dip each piece of chicken in the flour, the egg, and then the flour again. Coat all the chicken pieces.
- Put the coated pieces of chicken on your prepared air fryer trays. Make sure the chicken is in a non-touching single layer for air frying. Don't crowd them!
- Mist the chicken well with cooking oil spray to completely cover the raw flour and help it crisp up well.
- Air fry for 5 minutes at 375°F (190°C). Then switch the position of the trays in the air fryer oven (no need to flip the chicken) and air fry 5 more minutes at 375°F (190°C).
- Flip the chicken pieces over and spray them well with the cooking oil spray. (Again, make sure the flour is completely coated with the oil.) Switch the position of the trays in the air fryer and air fry a final 2-3 minutes at 375°F (190°C).
- Use a meat thermometer to check that the chicken pieces reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Air fry a little longer if needed.
- Serve the popcorn chicken with dipping sauce. Freeze any cooked popcorn chicken that you will not be able to use within 3-4 days.
For Air Fryer Frozen Popcorn Chicken:
- You don't need to thaw your cooked and frozen popcorn chicken to reheat it! Air fry frozen popcorn chicken on an air fryer tray set in the top rack position for 4 minutes at 350°F (175°C). Then flip the chicken pieces over, and air fry on the top rack for 4 more minutes at 350°F (175°C).
- Check to make sure your chicken reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Enjoy with dipping sauce!