Light, crispy, and perfectly seasoned, Homemade Popcorn Chicken is an easy dish that tastes as good as your fast food favorite, but is made with wholesome, simple ingredients. Easy and fun!
Easy, Restaurant-Style Popcorn Chicken at Home!
If your family is anything like mine, any fried chicken dish is extremely welcome on your menus! Whether it’s chicken tenders, Southern fried chicken, or yummy nuggets, my kids (and husband) always wear big smiles to the table when fried chicken is on the menu. And so do I!
That’s why I love making this easy popcorn chicken recipe! It’s so fast and easy, and the little pieces of chicken are a huge hit. They make a fantastic appetizer, or a quick light lunch or dinner. Pair with fries for a healthy alternative to fast food, or sprinkle over a salad for a healthy, fresh, and simple meal.
Why Is It Called Popcorn Chicken?
Popcorn chicken, like popcorn shrimp, first started out as a chain-restaurant fave. Even smaller than chicken nuggets, these bite-sized fried chicken pieces could be eaten almost by the handful, and earned the name “popcorn” both for their small size and crispy crunch.
They are utterly addictive, and so easy to make. You really will want to eat them like popcorn, so be sure to make plenty!
What Ingredients Will I Need?
To make this dish, all you need are a few basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand! Let’s take a closer look at just what goes into this crispy family favorite.
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour, or substitute your favorite gluten-free all-purpose flour blend.
- Salt and Pepper
- Seasonings: To get a classic, fried chicken flavor, combine onion powder, garlic powder, and a little smoked paprika.
- Chicken: This recipe uses boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You can also use bone-in chicken that you debone yourself. Cut the chicken breast into small (1-inch) pieces.
- Eggs: You’ll need a couple of large, whole eggs to dunk the chicken pieces in before coating in crumbs.
- Panko: Crunchy panko crumbs are my go-to breading choice!
- Oil: You’ll need enough oil to cover the bottom of your skillet or Dutch oven by ¼ inch or so. I recommend canola or avocado oil, which handle heat well and are relatively neutral in flavor.
How to Make Popcorn Chicken
If you’ve ever made chicken tenders, you’ll be familiar with the process for making popcorn chicken. The small pieces of chicken are lightly breaded, and then fried in a small amound of oil until golden-brown. Easy! Here’s how you do it:
- Coat the Chicken in Seasoned Flour. In a medium bowl, or a container with a lid, combine the flour with all of the seasonings: salt and pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Add the chicken cubes to the dish, and toss to coat.
- Dip the Chicken in Egg, and then in Panko. Next, whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt, and place the panko in a shallow bowl. Add a pinch of salt to the panko as well, and stir to combine. Dip one piece of chicken at a time into the egg, and then into the panko, turning to coat on all sides. Place the pieces of breaded chicken on a baking sheet, and let them sit for 10 minutes (or up to overnight, in the refrigerator).
- Heat the Oil. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, pour ¼ inch or so of oil into a skillet with tall sides, or a Dutch oven. Set it over medium heat. After a minute or two, check that the oil is hot enough by sprinkling a tiny bit of flour into the oil. It should sizzle, but not burn.
- Fry the Chicken. Once the oil is hot, carefully add the chicken pieces to the oil, working in batches to avoid crowding the pan. You can use a clean, dry, long-handled slotted spoon or metal spatula to lay the chicken into the oil, but don’t drop the pieces in or the oil will spatter and could cause burns. Fry the chicken for 2 minutes per side, until the pieces are golden and cooked through. (The internal temperature of the chicken will reach 165°F when done – you can check this with an Instant Read thermometer). Place the cooked popcorn chicken on a paper-towel-lined plate, and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
- Enjoy! Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
Can I Bake These Instead?
- Yes, you can! Instead of frying, place the breaded chicken on an oiled baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 400°F until cooked through and crispy, turning once during cooking, for 15 to 20 minutes or until done.
What About Air Frying?
- Yep, air frying works too! Just preheat the air fryer to 400°F, lightly spray the basket with non-aerosol cooking spray, and place the uncooked popcorn chicken in a single layer inside. You may have to work in batches, to avoid overcrowding the basket.
- Air fry for about 8 minutes, or until the chicken is done through, shaking the basket once during cooking.
My Top Tips for the Best Popcorn Chicken
Making popcorn chicken is so easy and flavorful, it’s a fail-proof recipe that really doesn’t need any extra frills! However, I do have a couple of easy tips and tricks to share for making the most of this simple chicken dish. Read on, and enjoy!
- Don’t Overcook: The internal temperature of the chicken will reach 165°F when done, and the small pieces of chicken in this recipe can get to that point quickly – so be sure to check the chicken a little early and keep checking until it’s done.
- Seasoning Swap: You can tweak the seasoning in this chicken all kinds of ways, from adding a little Cajun spice to lemon pepper, taco seasoning, or whatever you like!
- Marinade Magic: Feel free to marinate the chicken cubes in any marinade you enjoy before cooking! Just be sure to pay the chicken dry before breading it so the breading sticks.
- Lighter Crisp: To get an even lighter, almost tempura-style crispy coating, substitute cornstarch for the flour, and two egg whites in place of the egg.
- Buffalo Bites: Toss the cooked popcorn chicken in buffalo sauce for a sizzlingly good appetizer or side!
Yummy Ideas for Serving
So what should you serve with popcorn chicken? Honestly – anything! It’s a super versatile dish that works beautifully with just about anything! Here are some of my favorites:
- Fries: Regular fries baked in the oven or air fryer would be great, or you could do these Crispy Air Fryer Parmesan Zucchini Fries! They’re addictively delicious and so easy to make.
- Salad: I love serving these crispy fried chicken bites with Macaroni Salad or American Classic Potato Salad. Creamy, tangy, and studded with crunchy diced veggies, either one will make the perfect side dish with popcorn chicken!
- Cowboy Caviar: This nutritious chopped salad is a rainbow of color and a flavor explosion! Made with corn, black beans, avocado, and lots of other goodies, Cowboy Caviar is topped off with a zesty Tex-Mex dressing that’s irresistible and so easy to make.
Storing and Reheating the Leftovers
You can store leftover popcorn chicken in the fridge or freezer, and reheat in the oven. Here’s how:
- To refrigerate, cool the popcorn chicken completely, and then place in an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- To freeze, place the cooled pieces of popcorn chicken on a tray or baking sheet. Place in the freezer until the chicken is frozen solid. Then transfer the chicken to freezer bags or airtight containers, and freeze for up to four months.
- To reheat, bake the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated, 400°F oven. Turn once during cooking, and make sure to bake until the chicken is hot all the way through. (You can bake directly from frozen, just add several minutes to the baking time.)
Homemade Popcorn Chicken
- 2 large eggs, lightly whisked
- 2 cups panko, or pork rind crumbs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Canola or avocado oil for frying
- In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt. Place the panko in a shallow bowl, and add a pinch of salt. Stir to combine.
- In a medium bowl or container with a lid, combine the flour, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Add the chicken pieces to the flour mixture and toss to coat lightly in the seasoning.
- Working one at a time, dunk each piece of chicken first in the egg, then in the panko, turning to coat on all sides. Place the pieces of breaded chicken on a baking sheet. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes, or up to overnight, in the refrigerator.
- When you’re ready to cook, heat ¼ inch of oil in a high-sided skillet set over medium heat. Check that the oil is hot enough, by sprinkling some flour into the oil. It should sizzle, but not burn.
- When the oil is hot, carefully add the chicken pieces to the skillet, working in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Fry for 2 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. The internal temperature of the chicken will reach 165°F when done.
- Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper-towel-lined plate, and repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.