Popcorn Chicken
Popcorn Chicken is mega juicy, crunchy, exploding with flavor and easier to make than you think – BAKED OR FRIED! Popcorn Chicken is mega juicy, crunchy, exploding with flavor and easier to make than you think – BAKED OR FRIED!Popcorn Chicken is the BEST way to devour crunchy chicken and is made with pantry friendly ingredients! It can be served as a fun snack or appetizer or as an easy weeknight dinner with mashed potatoes and a salad that will be the highlight meal of the week! To make this easy KFC style Popcorn Chicken, the bite-size chicken gets marinated in buttermilk, double coated in seasoned flour then fried (OR BAKED) to create juicy, crunchy, purely addicting morsels that are way better than any chicken nuggets. You can also make the Popcorn Chicken recipe ahead of time and just cook when ready OR freeze for later so you’re ready for whenever those crunchy KFC Popcorn Chicken cravings strike!
Servings Prep Time
6-8 servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
15minutes 30minutes for marinating
Servings Prep Time
6-8 servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
15minutes 30minutes for marinating
Popcorn Chicken
Ingredients
Marinade
  • 1 1/2pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2cups buttermilk or sour milk*seen notes for DIY
  • 2tablespoons hot sauce
Flour Breading
  • 2 1/2cups all-purpose floursee notes if baking
  • 1TBS EACH chili powder, salt
  • 2tsp EACH paprika, onion powder, garlic powder
  • 1tsp EACH baking powder, pepper
  • 1/2teaspoon cayenne pepper
For Frying
  • Vegetable oil
Instructions
  1. Whisk buttermilk and hot sauce together in a large bowl. Stir in chicken, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 12 hours.
  2. In large bowl, whisk together the Flour Breading ingredients.
  3. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk using a slotted spoon or spider strainer (letting excess buttermilk drip off) and add to the seasoned flour. Toss to evenly coat.
  4. Remove the chicken from the flour mixture using a DRY slotted spoon or spider strainer and transfer back to buttermilk. Remove chicken from buttermilk and transfer back to seasoned flour and toss to evenly coat for a second coating. You may need to get in there with your hands to break pieces up. Transfer chicken to a baking sheet and let rest.
  5. Add vegetable oil to a deep frying pan until it reaches 1-1 ½ inches up the sides. You may use less oil, you will just have to flip the chicken half way through frying. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees F.
  6. Working in batches, fry the chicken until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer cooked chicken to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Serve with barbecue sauce, ranch, honey mustard dip, etc.
Recipe Notes

*DIY BUTTERMILK

Add 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring glass. Add enough milk (not nonfat) to equal 2 cups.  Give it a stir and let sit 5-10 minutes in order to activate and slightly curdle.

BAKED Popcorn Chicken

Baked Popcorn Chicken is delicious, flavorful and crispy – but not as crispy as fried and it doesn’t taste fried. To me, it is a different tasting recipe altogether however it’s still a tasty option if you’re looking to save some calories.  To replicate some of the crunch of fried, panko and cornmeal are substituted some of the flour. For the breading, you will need:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup fine cornmeal (may replace with panko)
  • seasonings in frying recipe

Instructions 

  • Whisk buttermilk and hot sauce together in a large bowl. Stir in chicken, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 12 hours. 
  • In large bowl, whisk together the flour, panko, cornmeal and seasonings.  
  • Remove the chicken from the buttermilk using a slotted spoon or spider strainer (letting excess buttermilk drip off) and add to the breading.  Toss to evenly coat.  You may need to get in there with your hands to break pieces apart and push breading into chicken. 
  • Line two baking sheets with foil and top with baking racks.  Spray with cooking spray.  Evenly divide chicken between baking racks so they aren’t touching.  Spray chicken with cooking spray.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes then flip chicken over.  Return chicken to the oven and bake an additional 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (internal temp of 165 degrees) and golden. Broil to desired crispiness without moving the oven rack position.

Tips and Tricks 

  • Partially frozen chicken. Using partially frozen breasts and a sharp knife will cut your chicken into beautifully even pieces.   
  • Don’t chop chicken to small.  The chicken should be chopped 1” thick, erroring on the side of larger so that it doesn’t overcook and dry out.
  • Remove excess buttermilk.  It is important to remove excess buttermilk so the flour breading doesn’t become a goopy mess which in turn will make your Popcorn Chicken less crunchy. I like to use a spider strainer so it’s easy to shake off excess buttermilk but a slotted spoon will also work.  You can also plop the chicken on a wad of paper towels before adding to the flour mixture to remove excess buttermilk.
  • Use dry utensils for breading.   Don’t pick up the breaded chicken with a wet slotted spoon/strainer – dry first.   This helps prevent the breading from becoming gummy breading.
  • Thoroughly bread chicken.   If you notice any of the chicken pieces aren’t fully coated in the breading, give them another toss or use your hands to press the breading into the chicken.  You might need to use your hands to separate pieces of chicken that are sticking together.
  • Remove excess flour.  Even if you shake the chicken as you remove it from the breading, a lot of flour can end up in the pan or on the baking sheet.  To remedy thisI like to place the chicken in a strainer after dredging to help shake off any excess.
  • Use an instant read thermometer.  I highly recommend an instant-read thermometer to ensure you have the correct temperature not only at the beginning of frying, but throughout the entire frying process.  
  • Test oil.  If you don’t have a thermometer, medium-high heat should be about right, but every stove is different, so you will want to test the oil before frying the chicken.  Test the temperature with a pinch of flour or better yet, an extra piece of chicken.  If it boils, your oil is ready but if it boils and the test piece turns dark within a minute or so, your oil is too hot. You will have to remove from the heat, wait a few minutes, return to heat and try again.
  • Don’t overcrowd pan. Fry the Popcorn Chicken in about three batches depending on your pan size.  This allows the chicken to cook evenly without touching.
  • Adjust heat.  If you find your Popcorn Chicken is cooking too quickly and surpassing the golden brown before the chicken is cooked through, then lower the heat.
  • Cook evenly. You can either use enough oil so the Popcorn Chicken is completely submerged, in which case they are extremely easily to cook evenly, or use less oil and take care to flip the pieces over halfway through frying.
  • Don’t stack.  Resist the urge to stack the Popcorn Chicken or they won’t be as crispy.  I know I didn’t follow my own advice in the photos so I can speak from personal experience that stacked Popcorn Chicken will steam and you will lose that shatteringly crispy coveted exterior.  It is best to serve the Popcorn Chicken lined in a single layer with a little breathing room in between each one.

DELICIOUS DIPS FOR SERVING

  • Ranch Dip
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Honey Barbecue Sauce
  • Honey Mustard Dip
  • Honey Buffalo Dip
  • Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and Sour Sauce might not be what you immediately think of for dipping Popcorn Chicken -but it is AMAZING – definitely our fav and SO easy!  To make, combine the following in a small saucepan:

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup 
  • 2 tablespoons water 
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

  • Whisk until the sugar and cornstarch have dissolved.
  • Heat over medium, while often, until it begins to simmer. Simmer until  thickened to desired consistency.

Honey Mustard Dip

Honey Mustard Dip is creamy, sweet and tangy with a light kick.  To make, whisk together:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or half Greek yogurt)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce

Honey Buffalo Dip

Honey Buffalo Dip is creamy, slightly sweet and as spicy as you want it.   To make, whisk together:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or half Greek yogurt)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Frank’s hot WINGS Sauce, more or less to taste

Honey BBQ Dip

Honey BBQ Dip is sweet and tangy and you can add hot sauce to spice it up if you wish.  To make, combine the following in a small saucepan over medium heat, until it begins to simmer; simmer until  thickened to desired consistency.

  • 3/4 cup BBQ sauce (I like Sweet Baby Rays Original)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • Hot sauce to taste

Storage and How to Reheat 

  • Storage:  store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  When properly stored, Popcorn Chicken 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. 
  • Microwave:  the chicken won’t be nearly as crispy if reheated in the microwave but it will still be flavorful.   Transfer chicken to a microwave safe plate in an even layer.  Microwave for 90 seconds, then in additional increments of 15 seconds as needed.
  • Air fryer:  place chicken in a single layer in the basket without touching,  Air fry using the “snack” setting  for 4-6 minutes, checking at 4 minutes to ensure the chicken doesn’t burn.
  • Oven: spread chicken on a lightly greased baking rack set in a baking sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until heated through. You can also fry the chicken again to reheat.

How to MAKE AHEAD

Yes, you can prep this Popcorn Chicken ahead of time!  After you coat the chicken in the flour, make sure none of the pieces are stuck together and evenly coated.  Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

How to Freeze 

  1. Cook chicken according to directions then let cool to room temperature.
  2. Space chicken apart on a baking sheet then transfer baking sheet to the freezer.
  3. Let freeze for 1-2 hours or until the chicken is solid. This prevents the chicken from clumping together.
  4. Add chicken to a freezer size bag, squeeze out excess air and label.
  5. Freeze for up to 3 months. 
  6. Bake straight from frozen (so they don’t become soggy) on a lightly greased baking rack placed over a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until heated through.