There is a time and a place for processed frozen chicken nuggets. But I’ve never seen a piece of meat that also came in the shape of a dinosaur or star, so I tend to shy away. And why not when making your own popcorn chicken is SO EASY?
Homemade Popcorn Chicken
Instead, make your own at home. Popcorn chicken is quite literally crispy, crunchy nuggets.
You’d think KFC invented popcorn chicken. They did not. Bite-sized chicken nuggets were around long before they popularized it.
Popcorn chicken can be eaten as a lunch or dinner, but my absolute favorite way is as an appetizer. It also makes a mean chicken parm sub and with little bite-size pieces, it is much easier to eat than a whole big sandwich.
This recipe is also proof that popcorn chicken is not just for kids. Adults can indulge in these deliciously crunchy chicken bites too. Judging by the fact that they mysteriously disappear within minutes of being put on the table, I can say that adults like them as much as kids.
Or maybe is it just the collection of chicken dipping sauces. I like to provide options. Not only is it fun to taste them all, it is also a conversation piece.
Why You’ll Love This Homemade Popcorn Chicken
Popcorn chicken is loved all around the world by all kinds of people. Here are a few specific reasons why we love it.
- Quick and easy – From start to finish, this popcorn chicken recipe is ready in only 30 minutes. And the ingredients are all super easy to find.
- Family friendly – Even the pickiest of eaters will love these bite-sized chicken pieces. Especially with the right dipping sauce!
- Customizable – The list of dipping sauces is endless, and you can serve this chicken as both a party appetizer or main meal for dinner.
Most, if not all of these ingredients can already be found in your pantry or refrigerator. If not, they can easily be picked up at your local grocery store.
- Chicken breasts – Boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces are what I prefer to use. But for juicer meat, use chicken thighs instead of chicken breast.
- Eggs – This is used as a binder. It helps to adhere the flour and crispy coating to the chicken pieces. Make sure they are lightly beaten.
- Flour – All purpose flour is perfect for this recipe. Along with the seasonings, it helps to provide the crisp coating to the coated chicken pieces.
- Seasonings – I like to use a blend of onion powder, sweet paprika and celery salt. You can check the section below for more seasoning suggestions.
- Ground white pepper – I like the milder flavor of white pepper, but you can certainly use ground black pepper instead if you’d like to.
- Canola oil – Canola is what I prefer to use, but you could also use vegetable oil. The amount of oil you will use depends on the pan you are using, I suggest a low sided frying pan or cast iron skillet.
How to Make Popcorn Chicken
There are some complicated ideas of how to make popcorn chicken out there, ones that include a grocery list of ingredients, marinating and brining for hours.
I’m totally guilty of this when making a good, down home fried chicken, but not for popcorn chicken. These are supposed to be as easy to make as they are to pop in your mouth and eat.
- Prep Dredging Assembly Line. Place lightly beaten egg into a bowl. In another shallow dish or dredging bowls, combine flour, onion powder, paprika, salt and white pepper.
- Bread and Coat. Toss chicken in flour mixture, then egg and flour again. Place on a baking sheet or plate. Continue to repeat for all chicken.
- Rest. Allow breaded chicken to sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. This allows the breading to harden and stick, preventing it from flaking off during cooking.
- Prep oil. Heat vegetable or peanut oil in a large, shallow frying pan or cast iron skillet. Oil should be on medium-high heat and reach 350°F. Use a deep fry thermometer for best results.
- Fry Chicken. Working small batches, add each piece of chicken to hot oil. Small pieces should only take 5-6 minutes, being turned every 2 minutes. Cooking time may vary for different sized pieces.
- Cool. Cook until lightly golden brown and remove to a paper towel-lined plate or wire cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
- Serve. Serve with choice of sauces.
What to Serve with Popcorn Chicken
The great thing about this chicken is that it can be served as either an appetizer or a main meal. I love serving mine with a good dipping sauce- check the section below for suggestions on sauces.
If serving as a main meal, you can make a popcorn chicken bowl with mashed potatoes, corn and gravy. But it would also taste great with a leafy side salad or green vegetable like broccolini or green beans.
We like this cooked popcorn chicken recipe exactly as written, but there are plenty of ways that you can make it your own.
- Seasonings – There are several seasonings that would taste great on this kfc style popcorn chicken. You could add in some garlic powder, five-spice powder or garlic salt or kosher salt for extra flavor. Even taco seasoning, fajita seasoning or blackened seasoning are great options.
- Make it spicy – If you like your chicken recipes with a little more spice, consider adding some tongue tingling sichuan peppercorns, cayenne pepper, black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes.
- Chicken – Instead of chicken breasts, you can cut small pieces of chicken thighs instead. You get juicier meat this way, and it’s a great way to use up what you already have on hand.
- Gluten free – Instead of using all purpose flour, try using corn starch, sweet potato starch or tapioca starch to coat the chicken pieces.
Chicken Dipping Sauces
When I am entertaining, I like to set a buffet of sauces next to my chicken platter.
- Nashville Hot Sauce
- Buffalo Sauce
- Creamy Honey Mustard
- Chipotle Aioli
- Yum Yum Sauce
- Horseradish Sauce (yes, this is usually on beef, but tastes great on chicken too!)
- Chick-fil-a Sauce
- White Garlic Sauce
Air Fryer Popcorn Chicken
You can save a few calories by making these in an Air Fryer. Keep in mind that all Air Fryers are a slightly different depending on make, model and size, so keep a watchful eye.
- Preheat the Air Fryer and then set temperature to 380°F. Spray cooking oil on the air fryer basket.
- Arrange breaded popcorn chicken in a single layer leaving room between each piece (air needs to circulate around each piece to brown). Spray the top of your popcorn chicken with cooking oil.
- Set timer for 8-10 minutes, flipping halfway through the cooking process.
Storage, Make Ahead & Freezing
Make ahead: You can can make these ahead of time and reheat them in the oven. Be mindful that no fried food will ever be as crispy as it was when originally fried, but it can come close.
Storage: You can store this delicious popcorn chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Then simply reheat in the oven.
Freezing: Cooked chicken pieces can be frozen in airtight bags for up to 3 months. Reheat in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes. Actual times will vary depending on the size of your nuggets.
Frequently Asked Questions
Check the recipe card for the full list of ingredients, but this popcorn chicken recipe is made of chicken breasts, all purpose flour, eggs, seasonings and canola oil for frying.
The short answer is no, popcorn chicken is not just chicken nuggets. Chicken nuggets are usually formed pieces of meat made from ground chicken. Whereas popcorn chicken is smaller cut chunks of whole chicken breasts.
The name “popcorn chicken” doesn’t come from the flavor, but rather the size. The bite-sized pieces are reminiscent of the “poppable” shape and size of popcorn.
More Easy Appetizer Recipes
- Ham and Cheese Sliders
- Prosciutto Parmesan Cheese Straws
- Cheesy Garlic Meatball Bombs
- Hamburger Dip
- Potato Chip Chicken
Popcorn Chicken Recipe
- Place the lightly beaten egg into a bowl, pie plate or dredging bowl.
- In another shallow dish or dredging bowl, combine the flour, onion powder, paprika, salt and white pepper.
- Toss the chicken in flour mixture, then egg and flour again.
- Place the chicken on a baking sheet or plate. Continue to repeat for all chicken.
- Allow the breaded chicken to sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. This allows the breading to harden and stick, preventing it from flaking off during cooking.
- Heat the oil in a large, shallow frying pan or cast iron skillet. Oil should be on medium-high heat and reach 350°F.
- Working small batches, fry the chicken. Small pieces should only take 5-6 minutes, being turned every 2 minutes. Cook until lightly browned and remove to a paper towel lined plate or wire cooling rack.
- Serve hot with choice of sauces.
- If you've tried this recipe, make sure to come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings!