Skip the KFC drive-thru and make popcorn chicken at home! They are beautifully golden, ultra crispy, and deliciously juicy on the inside. Multiple cooking methods included.
They taste better than the fast food giant and make a fantastic homemade appetizer or game day snack. They cook in minutes and are so darn addictive.
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What is popcorn chicken?
Popcorn chicken is a crispy snack made from bite-sized pieces of breaded and fried chicken. Each bite is super crispy while the meat remains tender and juicy.
As a diehard KFC fan, I can attest these are EVEN better and so simple. Here are some reasons why I LOVE this recipe:
- Easy to make at home. You don’t need any special equipment or ingredients to make copycat KFC popcorn chicken from scratch.
- Crowd-pleasing appetizer or snack. Who could possibly resist deep-fried crispy chicken bites? They’re a perfect finger food or appetizer for any occasion, from after-school activities and kid’s birthday parties to game nights and cocktail parties.
- Better than fast food. By making fried chicken bites at home, you’re left in complete control of the ingredients, flavors, and nutrients. That’s more than you can say for the nutritional nightmare that is fast-food fried chicken.
- Several cooking methods. I’ve included air frying and oven-baking options: both cut out a significant amount of the fat while achieving MAXIMUM crispiness.
This crispy popcorn chicken is so simple, and besides the buttermilk and seasonings, there isn’t much else that is needed to make. Here is what you’ll need:
- Chicken. Chicken breasts are easy to work with and slice into bite-sized pieces. You can also use skinless chicken thighs or chicken tenders instead.
- Buttermilk. Coating the chicken in buttermilk helps tenderize and infuse the meat with a mild, tangy flavor.
- Salt. To break down the proteins in the meat, giving you more tender and juicy results.
- Corn flour. This super-fine flour is used to coat the chicken pieces. After frying, the corn flour transforms into a light and crisp crust around each piece. If you don’t have corn flour, use a 1:1 mix of all-purpose flour and corn starch instead. Do not use bread crumbs or panko, as these will not yield the correct texture.
- Spices. I seasoned the corn flour with smoked paprika, oregano, basil, and mustard powder. Feel free to mix and match the herbs and spices to find your desired flavor.
- Oil. Use an oil with a high smoke point that’s suitable for frying, like canola oil and peanut oil.
How to make popcorn chicken
I’ve included step-by-step photos below to make this recipe easy to follow at home. For the full printable recipe instructions and ingredient quantities, scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step 1- Marinate the chicken. Toss and marinate the chicken pieces with the buttermilk and salt. Meanwhile, whisk the flour and spices together in a separate bowl.
Step 2- Dredge. Drain the chicken and toss the pieces in the seasoned flour.
Step 3- Fry. Fry the chicken in the hot oil until they’re golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain or wire rack, season with salt, and serve with sauces bbq sauce, ranch, hot sauce, or honey mustard.
Alternative cooking methods
While frying the popcorn chicken is the most authentic way to cook this, I’ve tested them in the air fryer and oven for a healthier option. While they aren’t as super duper crispy, they are pretty close!
Air fryer method: Similar to air fryer chicken nuggets, prep the chicken as instructed, then place the popcorn chicken pieces in a single layer in the air fryer basket (coated with cooking spray). Air fryer at 375F for 10-12 minutes, flipping once.
Oven method: Lay the popcorn chicken pieces on a baking sheet and bake them in a 375°F oven for 16 to 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Recipe tips and variations
- Even-sized pieces. Cut the chicken into uniform bite-sized pieces to ensure even cooking and a consistent texture.
- Fry at the right temperature. The oil temperature should remain between 350ºF to 375°F while the chicken fries. If it gets too hot, the coating may burn before the chicken is cooked. Too cold and the chicken will become greasy.
- Don’t overseason. It’s better to add salt after the popcorn chicken is fried instead of beforehand. If it happens to not be as seasoned as you like, you can always add more once cooked.
- Use different spices. Garlic powder, onion powder, garlic powder, white pepper, and black pepper are all robust and umami-forward spices to change things up.
- Spicy popcorn chicken. Add chili powder, cayenne pepper, and/or crushed red pepper flakes to the flour mixture.
- Taiwanese popcorn chicken recipe. Swap out the cornflour for sweet potato flour and add five-spice powder to the seasonings.
How to store leftovers
To store: After cooling, place the leftover popcorn chicken in an airtight container and store it in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
To freeze: Spread the cooled chicken pieces on a baking sheet and freeze until they’re solid. Transfer the chicken to a freezer-safe bag, then freeze for up to 2 months. Let them thaw first or reheat them from frozen.
To reheat (so the chicken stays CRISPY!): When you’re ready to reheat leftover popcorn chicken, preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the frozen or defrosted popcorn chicken on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes (20 to 25 minutes if frozen), turning them halfway through.
More crispy chicken recipes
- Hot honey chicken sandwich– This is BETTER than takeout.
- Chicken Cutlets– Crispy, breaded, and seriously delicious.
- Boneless Chicken Wings– The sticky sauce is finger-licking good.
- Chicken lollipop– Bite-sized chicken pieces that are seasoned perfectly.
- 2 small chicken breasts chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup cornflour
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon Oregano dried
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- 3 tablespoons oil for deep frying *
- In a large bowl, combine the diced chicken breast, buttermilk, and salt. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornflour, smoked paprika, oregano, and mustard powder.
- Add oil to a deep frying pan and place over medium heat. Drain the chicken from the buttermilk.
- Moving quickly, dip the chicken pieces in the dry mixture until completely coated. Add them to the hot oil and fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden and crispy.
- Drain on a paper towel, season with more salt and enjoy.
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