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These fried chicken bites are made with tender, buttermilk marinated chicken breast pieces that are breaded and pan-fried until incredibly crispy. If you like KFC popcorn chicken then you will LOVE this recipe!
Fried chicken bites
KFC popcorn chicken (AKA fried chicken bites) is one of our favorite treats – and it's surprisingly easy to make it at home! The buttermilk marinated chicken is unbelievably tender and juicy and the coating is next-level crispy.
It's a family dinner that gets requested often and is delicious served with a side of mac and cheese and some roasted broccoli. And leftovers make the best lunch – they're even tasty packed cold in a school lunch!
We also make popcorn chicken as an appetizer when we invite friends over. Everyone loves snacking on these crispy chicken bites!
How to make fried chicken bites
It's surprisingly easy to make crispy, KFC-style popcorn chicken at home. Here's what to do:
- Start by marinating small pieces of chicken breast in buttermilk and salt.
- Next, toss the marinated chicken in flour and spices.
- Then the chicken gets dipped into the buttermilk marinade before being breaded with panko or breadcrumbs.
- The final step is pan-frying the chicken. This might sound intimidating, but all that you need to do is heat 2-inches of oil in a frying pan and cook the chicken a few pieces at a time. If you have a deep fryer, you can use that. But a high-sided frying pan works great for this job.
Safety tips for deep frying
If you haven't tried making fried foods at home before, don't worry, it is much easier than it seems.
NEVER walk away or leave the kitchen when you have a pot or pan of oil on the stove. If you need to answer the door/ make a phone call/ check on the kids, move the oil off the heat first.
Medium heat will usually keep the oil at the correct temperature – you don't want it too hot or too cool. The best way to tell if the oil is at 350 degrees is to use an oil thermometer.
Don't add too much oil. The oil will bubble up a little when you add the chicken and you don't want to risk the oil spilling over the edge. We like to use a high-sided frying pan, rather than a deep pot. This method uses less oil, which feels easier to manage.
Fried chicken bites ingredients
Boneless chicken breast is what crispy popcorn chicken is usually made with. But chicken thighs are a delicious alternative!
Buttermilk – helps to tenderize the chicken. If you don't have any on hand, try making your own buttermilk by mixing 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into milk.
Sea salt – infuses the chicken with flavor. If you're using table salt, use half the amount.
All-purpose flour – This is the first coating and it helps remove the moisture from the surface of the chicken. It also helps the spices adhere to the surface of the chicken. You can also use gluten-free flour or cornstarch instead.
Garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, and pepper – We mix these into the flour which gives the chicken fantastic flavor.
Panko – These Japanese-style breadcrumbs make extra crispy fried foods. You can use regular breadcrumbs if panko is unavailable. Gluten-free breadcrumbs work great, too. They're what you see in the photos!
Cooking oil – You'll want to choose a high-heat oil such as avocado, peanut, canola, or sunflower.
Do I need to marinate the chicken?
While you can skip this step, the chicken will not turn out as juicy and tender. If you want to make the best fried chicken bites, you should marinate them first.
How long do I need to marinate the chicken?
At least a half-hour. You can use this time to prep the rest of the recipe. If you'd rather plan ahead, you can keep the chicken marinating in buttermilk in your fridge for up to 24 hours.
Can fried chicken bites be frozen?
Yes! This is a great meal-prep recipe. After you bread the chicken, freeze it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Once the chicken pieces are frozen you can store them in a freezer bag. They can be fried from frozen by adding 2-3 minutes to the cooking time.
What is the best way to reheat leftover fried chicken bites?
The best way to reheat this chicken is in the oven. Put them on a baking sheet and bake them for about 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Tips for making the best popcorn chicken
Follow our three easy tips and you will have the best popcorn chicken around!
- Buttermilk – Marinating the chicken pieces in buttermilk for at least a half-hour works wonders in keeping the chicken tender.
- Salt – Adding salt to the buttermilk marinade infuses the chicken with lots of flavor. It's key in this recipe.
- Don't over fry the chicken – once the chicken is golden brown (about 3-4 minutes) remove it from the oil. Keeping the chicken pieces in the oil longer will overcook them and make them dry.
Popular Deep Fried Recipes
We adore crispy chicken and could eat it all the time. When we want an incredibly crispy chicken recipe that's baked instead of fried, we usually make this pickle brine chicken. It's delicious!
- 1 lb boneless chicken breast ( cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Fried Chicken Bites
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour (can gluten-free)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon EACH: garlic powder, onion powder, sweet paprika, salt, and pepper
- 2 cups panko or breadcrumbs (can be gluten-free)
- Cooking oil for frying
- Place the chicken pieces, buttermilk, and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Let the chicken marinate for 30 minutes on your counter or up to 24 hours in your fridge.1 lb boneless chicken breast, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Mix the flour with the baking powder, garlic powder, onion powder, sweet paprika, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Place the panko in another shallow bowl.¾ cup all-purpose flour, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon EACH: garlic powder, onion powder, sweet paprika, salt, and pepper, 2 cups panko or breadcrumbs
- Use a slotted spoon to scoop some of the chicken pieces out of the buttermilk, letting the excess buttermilk drip back into the bowl. Put the pieces into the flour and toss to coat. Dip the pieces one at a time back into the buttermilk then put them in the panko bowl. Coat them in panko then put them on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces. Put the breaded chicken into your fridge for 15 minutes – this helps the breading stick.
- Pour 1 ½ inches of oil into a high-sided skillet and warm it over medium heat until it reaches 350 degrees – use an oil thermometer. Carefully place several chicken pieces into the hot oil, making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry them for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy. Remove them from the skillet using a dry slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel-lined plate. Let the oil rise to temperature again, then repeat until all the popcorn chicken is fried and crispy.
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.