Popcorn Chicken Air Fryer

by Erin @ Food Doodles on August 22, 2021

Popcorn chicken in the air fryer is an easy kid-friendly snack, lunch or dinner that the whole family will love. This homemade popcorn chicken is made easier with the air fryer, and cooking them won’t heat up the house like using an oven or deep fryer. Instructions for frozen popcorn chicken in the air fryer are also included! They can even be made gluten-free or paleo.

Almost everyone is back to school, and what better way to treat the little ones than to quickly make some popcorn chicken. Or maybe you’re having a small gathering or sleepover and want an easy appetizer. This air fryer popcorn chicken is the way to go!


Are you just looking to make frozen popcorn chicken in the air fryer? You can also find those directions in the recipe box.

homemade popcorn chicken on plate with dipping sauce

Ingredients for the homemade version:

  • Buttermilk
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Chicken
  • Flour
  • Paprika
  • Olive oil 

ingredients shown for air fryer popcorn chicken

How to make homemade popcorn chicken:

  1. Prepare the marinade and let the chicken sit for no less than 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare the flour mixture.
  3. Piece by piece, dip and drain each chicken piece in the marinade then dredge in the flour.
  4. Double-dip in the marinade, let it drain, and dredge again in the flour. At this point, you can refrigerate the breaded chicken pieces for up to 8 hours.
  5. Pop the chicken into the basket, but don’t overcrowd the pieces and cook.
  6. Flip halfway through and cook the remaining time.
  7. Remove immediately and serve.


  • Don’t overcrowd the basket. Leaving space in between each piece ensures even cooking and crispiness for each bite.
  • You don’t want the chicken pieces dripping wet, so it’s important to drain off the excess marinade.


how to make popcorn chicken process shots

Dipping sauces:

Here is a list of 15 different Dipping Sauces that are easy to make. Surely you’ll find one or two you love, but no double-dipping in the sauce, please! 😉 

Why use the air fryer?

First and foremost, cooking with an air fryer, you get that amazingly fried texture using a small amount of oil which means you don’t sacrifice taste or crunch while making it healthier. 

It’s an energy-efficient way to cook food without heating your house like a regular convection oven. It cooks in less time, too. 

Using the air fryer ensures crispy food every time. 

I don’t have an air fryer, what do I do?

Not a problem, you can cook popcorn chicken in a deep fryer, or for a healthier version use the oven.

Just pop the coated chicken pieces in the oven on a lined baking tray at 360°F (182°C) for about 20 minutes. Flip them halfway through to crisp both sides.

Do I have to use chicken breasts?

I would really recommend it. They’re the easiest to cut into chunks and for this recipe, I think they taste the best.


dipping sauce next to air fryer chicken

Can I use frozen popcorn chicken?

Yes, if you are out of time and in a rush and already have frozen popcorn chicken in your freezer, you can just pop them in the air fryer and go.

However, if you have the extra time to put in a little effort, I’m betting your family will be happier with the homemade version.

I don’t have buttermilk – what do I do?

Not a problem, no need to rush to the store. Buttermilk is easy to make. 

To make buttermilk, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, regular vinegar or apple cider to a 2-cup measuring cup.

Fill it with milk of your choice including dairy-free, alternative milk, if you prefer. That being said, I don’t recommend coconut milk because it is much thicker and has a stronger taste. But almond milk or cashew milk would work fine.

Let it sit for 5 minutes. That’s it, you have buttermilk! It may or may not curdle, but don’t sweat it, it sill still work for this recipe.

Do I have to double-dredge the chicken in flour?

No, it’s not essential. You control the breading, so if you want less breading, you can dip it once. 

I prefer a thicker breading with extra crispy, crunchy bites, so I’ll be double-dipping mine. 😉

Only make half the breading if you don’t want to double dredge it.

bite taken out of air fried popcorn chicken

How do I store leftover popcorn chicken?

Of course, it’s best to eat the popcorn chicken immediately, but if by chance you have leftovers, you can store them in a sealed container in the fridge for a few days.

Or place them in the freezer for a couple of months. Just pop them back into the air fryer to reheat them.

How do you reheat them?

Just put them in the air fryer on a low setting 300°F (150°C) to avoid burning them. Remember to not overcrowd them and enjoy in minutes.

What kind of flour can I use?

I used all-purpose flour with terrific results. If you need a gluten-free version, you can use your favorite 1:1 all-purpose flour substitute. It works just as well!

For a paleo version, cassava flour works great. It’s actually how I almost always make this popcorn chicken. I’ve only tried it with Otto’s but assume other brands work well.

hand picking up popcorn chicken from air fryer

What to serve with popcorn chicken:

I’ve been known to serve popcorn chicken as a main meal alongside some hearty sides, so here are some ideas worth trying.

  • This Panzanella Salad is a hearty bread salad with greens and vegetables with a fabulous vinaigrette.
  • This Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Salad has all the components of a terrific salad and extra nutrition from the sweet potatoes.
  • This summer Corn Chowder is creamy and hearty with tender potatoes, fresh corn and bacon bits.
  • For a healthier version of fries, try these Air Fryer Carrot Fries. You can make them ahead and reheat them in 10 minutes to serve with the popcorn chicken.
  • Or try these Air Fryer Garlic Fries. You can keep them in a warmer and serve with the popcorn chicken.
  • For a family dinner, pair the popcorn chicken with this healthier Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese. It’s super creamy and will become everyone’s favorite with hidden nutrition.
  • Another hearty dish is Dairy-free Mashed Potatoes! No more gummy potatoes with tips and tricks included.

If you’re serving popcorn chicken as an appetizer, try this easy Mozzarella Bruschetta or these simple Goat Cheese Balls.

Other chicken dinner recipes: 

Did you make this air fryer popcorn chicken? If so, please leave a comment! I’m looking forward to hearing all about it. 🙂

Popcorn Chicken Air Fryer
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
14 mins
Course: Main
Cuisine: American
Keyword: air fryer, popcorn chicken
Servings: 4 people
  • 1 1/4 cups (300ml) buttermilk (see notes below for dairy-free option)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 pound (453 grams) boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 1/4 cups (156 grams) all-purpose flour or for gluten-free, use 1 1/4 cups (173 grams) Bob's Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-free Baking Flour or 1 1/4 cups (160 grams) Otto's Cassava Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • olive oil in a mister
To make homemade:
  1. In a bowl large enough for the milk and chicken, stir together the buttermilk, salt, pepper and garlic until combined.
  2. Add the chicken and let sit for 30 minutes. It can also be refrigerated up to 8 hours.
  3. Stir in a separate bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients (flour through pepper).
  4. Use a fork to pick up a piece of chicken, letting it drip off excess marinade, and put it in the flour mixture.
  5. Dip that piece of chicken again in the marinade (with the other pieces of chicken still in there). I have the fork with chicken in one hand and a spoon in the other hand, with the chicken sitting on top of the spoon, to help the chicken not get lost in the marinade.
  6. Drip off excess marinade and coat it again in the flour mixture.
  7. Place in the prepared air fryer basket. The pieces should not be touching.
  8. Once the basket is full, spray the chicken with olive oil.
  9. Cook at 375 F (190C) for 7 minutes. Flip each piece over, spray with oil, and cook for another 7 minutes or until cooked through.
  10. Cool leftovers and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
To make frozen:
  1. Preheat the air fryer to 370 °F (190 °C) and place the popcorn chicken evenly in the basket of the air fryer.

  2. Cook for 4 minutes, shake, and cook for another 4 minutes or until lightly browned.

Recipe Notes
  • To make dairy-free buttermilk, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, regular vinegar or apple cider to a 2-cup measuring cup. Fill it with milk of your choice including dairy-free, alternative milk, if you prefer. I don’t recommend coconut milk because it is much thicker and has a stronger taste. But almond milk or cashew milk would work fine. Let it sit for 5 minutes. That’s it, you have buttermilk! It may or may not curdle, but don’t sweat it, it sill still work for this recipe.
  • To make paleo popcorn chicken, use cassava flour and the above dairy-free buttermilk.

Leave a Comment

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Natalie October 8, 2021 at 17:20

No complaints from my kids!! Popcorn chicken is a family friendly meal & you can pair it with any side!


2 Andrea Thueson October 8, 2021 at 17:03

My kids flipped! These were so crispy and tasted terrific. Thank you for the recipe!


3 Fay Shroeder October 8, 2021 at 11:53

My kids devoured these, they were supposed to have leftovers for lunch but there aren’t any leftovers! 🙂 Time to make more!


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