Baked Popcorn Chicken

This Baked Popcorn Chicken Recipe is juicy, crispy, exploding with flavor and Baked not fried!


 This Baked Popcorn Chicken recipe is a family favorite that everyone begs for. The crunchy chicken morsels make a fun family dinner, appetizer or Game Day favorite. The chicken is dunked in buffalo sauce then baked with spiced panko and cornmeal to create juicy, crunchy, purely addicting popcorn chicken that is better than any chicken nuggets!  You can make the Popcorn Chicken ahead of time and freeze for later then just bake from frozen when those crunchy chicken cravings strike!

a basket of baked popcorn chicken

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What is Popcorn chicken?

Popcorn chicken was invented for KFC and is known as “Popcorn Chicken” because it’s bite size finger food like popcorn (smaller than chicken nuggets), crunchy like popcorn and addicting like popcorn.

I originally thought of making buffalo chicken nuggets, but I am so glad I went with bite size popcorn chicken, because popcorn chicken is even more delicious than chicken nuggets.  

Not only can you pop the entire bite into your mouth one at a time, but the small pieces are more tender and more easily soak up the egg/buffalo bath (no need to marinate!) and allow more surface area for crispy breading – but not just any breading – cumin, chili powder, paprika spiced breading made extra crispy with the combination of panko and cornmeal.  An explosion of crispy flavor fireworks!

And now I know why it’s called “popcorn” chicken … it’s so addicting, you’ll be eating it like popcorn! 

Baked Popcorn Chicken Recipe

“These are your best yet.”

Patrick’s famous last words before he started stuffing his face with this crispy Popcorn Chicken.

And before I started stuffing my face with crispy Popcorn Chicken.  You can’t just have one piece.  You can’t just have 5 pieces.  You might as well pull up a chair because you are going to at least have 20 pieces.   I’m just sayin’.

These spicy, juicy Popcorn Chicken morsels are so good, I was actually nibbling and dunking the leftovers straight from the refrigerator, cold.  I just couldn’t leave them alone long enough to microwave for 45 seconds.  

I also think this Popcorn Chicken is so good, it’s pretty much perfect for any occasion:  the most delectable baked snack, the hero appetizer at game day or any party, or add some veggies on the side and you have yourself a meal –  my kind of meal, Patrick’s kind of meal and most definitely your kids kind of meal.

This Popcorn Chicken also gets huge points because it is BAKED and not fried! Frying not only creates a smelly mess, but isn’t necessary when you can still achieve spectacularly crunchy results by baking. I’ve made oven fried chicken, baked coconut chicken, baked wontons, baked “chimichangas” and now this Popcorn Chicken all with deeply satisfying results.

WHAT CHICKEN IS BEST FOR POPCORN CHICKEN?

I recommend chicken tenderloins for this Popcorn Chicken recipe because as its name implies –  it is tender!  This means you don’t have to worry about marinating your chicken beforehand.

If you only have chicken breasts on hand, you can use them instead, but make sure to pound them to an even thickness so the bake evenly and so they become more tender. You also might want to consider marinating the chopped chicken breasts for about 1 hour in 1-2 cups buttermilk.

Ingredients for Popcorn Chicken

  • chicken: use chicken tenderloins or chicken breasts (see above.)
  • flour:  I use all-purpose flour but I’m sure almond flour, etc. would also work.
  • panko: are a Japanese breadcrumb and can be found next to the traditional/Italian breadcrumbs at your grocery store.  Panko breadcrumbs are lighter, larger and dryer than normal breadcrumbs so they absorb less moisture which produces a way crispier breading.  Please do NOT substitute with traditional breadcrumbs and expect the same results.  
  • cornmeal: adds a hearty crunch. Any cornmeal you pick up at your grocery store should be fine cornmeal (even if it doesn’t specifically say so), which is what we want – just take care it says cornmeal and not corn flour.
  • seasonings: paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
  • eggs:  2 large eggs will do the trick
  • hot sauce: you will want to use Frank’s hot WINGS Sauce and not original hot sauce because they have a different flavor profile. The hot wings sauce is added to the egg wash to make it BUFFALO Popcorn Chicken.
up close of a piece of popcorn chicken in honey buffalo dip

How to Make Baked Popcorn Chicken

Step 1: Prep baking sheet

  • Line a baking sheet with foil. The foil isn’t essential but it makes for super easy cleanup. 
  • Place a baking rack on top of the foil. The baking rack allows the hot oven air to circulate underneath the chicken so you get crispy chicken on all sides. 
  • Don’t forget to spray your rack with nonstick cooking spray! 

Step 2: Prepare breading stations

  • Add flour to a large freezer bag. You may also use a large bowl, I just love the ease of a freezer bag for coating chicken.
  • Mix together Panko Breading ingredients in a separate large freezer bag (or separate large bowl).
  • In a large bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and ¼ cup hot sauce.

Step 3: Bread chicken

  • Add chicken to flour mixture and toss until coated.
  • Dip chicken in egg/buffalo sauce mixture and let any excess drip off before placing in bag with Panko Breading. I just add all my chicken pieces to the buffalo egg wash at the same time.
  • Toss with breading until well coated, pressing breading into chicken.
a collage showing how to make popcorn chicken by first coating it in egg wash and then tossing in panko breading

Step 4: Bake chicken

  • Line chicken on the baking rack, and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (internal temp of 165 degrees) and golden. Broil to desired crispiness.

Tips for Popcorn chicken Recipe

  • Uniform size. Try and chop your chicken into uniform size pieces so they bake evenly.
  • Prepare baking sheet first. Make sure you spray the baking sheet with cooking spray so you can add your chicken to it as soon as you bread it– this will help the chicken not get soggy. 
  • Dredge chicken completely and evenly in flour. Flour is the breading foundation – it helps the egg stick, which helps our breading stick, so make sure they’re aren’t any naked spots that need flour.
  • Shake off excess egg. After you dip the chicken in the egg, give it a gentle shake and dab off any running egg with a paper towel.  Excess egg will make the breading mixture less crunchy.  
  • Always use two hands when breading chicken.    I like to use my left hand to dip my chicken in the flour and eggs and then my right hand to push in the panko breading.  This ensures my right hand stays clean and doesn’t get the breading gummy because gummy breading = not as crispy popcorn chicken.
showing how to make popcorn chicken by baking it on a baking rack in the oven

How to Make BAKED Popcorn Chicken

I love that we can get truly crunchy results from baking the Popcorn Chicken! Here are some helpful tips:

  • Use panko and NOT breadcrumbs.   Traditional breadcrumbs will not give you the satisfying crunch you’re looking for. 
  • Bake on a wire rack.  If you don’t have wire rack, then lightly grease foil and place in the oven to get nice and hot while you prep the chicken.  Take care when adding your chicken because your pan will be HOT!
  • Don’t Crowd the Pan. Leave a decent space between your chicken on the baking rack while cooking.  Overcrowding the pan will cause steam and make your breading soggy.  When nicely spaced, the hot oven air can circulate evenly around the chicken so they can get nice and crispy.
  • Spray with cooking spray.  Cooking spray mimics deep frying and promotes golden perfection.
  • Broil.  For extra crispiness, broil until panko is golden but watch closely so it doesn’t burn!
easy popcorn chicken lined in a basket

What Dip for Popcorn Chicken?

Our favorite dipping sauce for this Popcorn Chicken recipe is Honey Buffalo Dip. It’s so creamy and luscious, slightly sweet and as spicy as you like – and easy!  

It’s made by whisking together:

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use light)
  • 1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (may sub mayonnaise)
  • 1 teaspoon Frank’s hot WINGS Sauce

If you don’t want to go the Honey Buffalo Dip route, this popcorn chicken is also delicious with:

  • honey mustard sauce
  • ranch dressing
  • barbecue sauce

How to Store Popcorn Chicken

Popcorn Chicken should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  When properly stored, it is good for 3 to 5 days. 

For best results, don’t stack your chicken directly on top of each other as this will make it more soggy.  Instead, place a piece of parchment paper in between the layers. Reheated chicken will still be flavorful but not as crunchy as freshly baked.

HOW TO FREEZE POPCORN CHICKEN

  • Leave baked Popcorn Chicken on the lightly greased baking rack (so they aren’t touching) and place in the freezer for 2 hours or until solid.
  • Transfer chicken to a large ziploc bag and squeeze out any excess air.
  • Freeze for up to 3 months. 
  • Bake straight from frozen (so they don’t get as soggy)  on a lightly greased baking rack placed over a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until heated through.

Popcorn Chicken. So addicting, you won’t be able to stop popping these crispy on the outside, tender on the inside morsels into your mouth.  

dipping a piece of crunchy popcorn chicken into dipping sauce

Want to try this Popcorn Chicken RECIPE?

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©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

Baked Buffalo Popcorn Chicken

This Buffalo Popcorn Chicken Recipe is seeping with buffalo spices that is Baked not fried! The crunchy chicken morsels make a fun family dinner, appetizer or Game Day favorite. The chicken is dunked in buffalo sauce then baked with spiced panko and cornmeal to create juicy, crunchy, purely addicting popcorn chicken that is better than any chicken nuggets! You can make the Popcorn Chicken ahead of time and freeze for later then just bake from frozen when those crunchy chicken cravings strike!
Servings: 4 -6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken tenderloins cut into 1" pieces
  • 3/4 cup flour

Panko Breading

Buffalo Egg Wash

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup Frank's hot WINGS Sauce not their regular hot sauce *

Creamy Honey Buffalo Dip

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use light)
  • 1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (may sub mayonnaise)
  • 1 teaspoon Frank's hot WINGS Sauce

Instructions

  • Line a baking sheet with foil. Place a baking rack on top of the foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  • Add flour to a large freezer bag. Mix together Panko Breading ingredients in a separate large freezer bag (or separate large bowl). In a large bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and ¼ cup hot sauce.
  • Add chicken to flour mixture and toss until coated. Dip chicken in egg/buffalo sauce mixture and let any excess drip off before placing in bag with Panko Breading. Toss with breading until well coated, pressing breading into chicken through the bag.
  • Line chicken on the baking rack, and lightly spray with cooking spray. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and golden. Broil to desired crispiness.
  • Meanwhile, make the Creamy Honey Buffalo Dip by whisking all the ingredients together except the hot sauce. After chicken is done, taste a piece to decide how spicy you want to make the dip and proceed to add hot sauce. (I use a full teaspoon and it is hot how I like it 🙂 Start popping!

Notes

*See BELOW for more delicious recipes using Frank's Hot WINGS sauce.

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12 Comments

  1. Melanie @ Garnish & Glaze says

    Oh my gosh! Those do look addicting! Definitely a smart idea to make them bite size to increase the surface area for more crispy breading. Yum!

    • Jen says

      Everything is better with sauce! I hope you get a chance to make them soon, I think you will love them :)!

  2. Kara says

    I made these and the cranberry meatballs for a few guests I had coming over tonight. THEY WERE BOTH AMAZING! I absolutely love your website and I’m glad I found it. You cook exactly how I like to cook, but you have some great recipes that I hadn’t thought of! 🙂 Thank you.

    • Jen says

      Awesome Kara, I am so glad you loved them both! And you are the first to comment on my meatballs so that makes me extra happy to hear 🙂 I am so happy you found my site and that we share similar cooking styles, I know how exciting that can be! I hope you find and enjoy lots of recipes here! Welcome!

  3. Matt says

    I just barely made these for lunch and WOW, I am hooked! We’ve got our own bees so using our own honey in the dip really gave it an interesting flavor. I’m saving this recipe for parties! (I might need to double or triple it, though; I’m ashamed to admit that I’m quickly powering through the whole thing on my own)

    • Jen says

      Hi Matt! That is so cool you have your own bees – I have to say I have never met anyone who made their own honey – so cool! I am so happy you loved this recipe and you don’t have to be ashamed that you are powering through them all on your own – that is the highest compliment! and I am right there with you!

  4. Jen says

    I have to say, I basically never comment on food blogs-ever- but yours has been the only one I ever have. This was fantastic, flavorful and, most importantly, crispy. Definitely telling everyone I know to come back here and try it out. I’ve never had a bad experience with anything I’ve cooked from your blog. Keep up the amazing cooking inspirations!

    • Jen says

      Hi Jen, you comment made my day – especially knowing you never comment! THANK YOU for taking the time to comment and thank you so much for following along! I am thrilled you loved this chicken and other recipes you have tried. I hope you continue to find more to enjoy. Best!

  5. Gabby says

    I made the chili lime tacos, buffalo chicken salad, “million dollar” mac and cheese, and now these. ALL have been phenomenal. Your website is now my official go-to for all dinner idea! I can’t wait to try more delectable treats 🙂

    • Jen says

      Hi Gabby, I LOVE hearing that you have made so many of my recipes and loved them – that is awesome! Thank you thank you for taking the time to make my day! I hope you continue to have fun exploring my site!

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