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These tender bites of popcorn chicken are coated in smoky chipotle flavor then crusted in panko crumbs before being fried to crispy perfection. Serve them with a simple honey mayo sauce on the side for dipping and everyone from your kids to your party guests will love these!
It's no surprise that popcorn chicken is one of KFC's top sellers! It's delicious, easy to eat, and fun to pop in your mouth. What is it about bite-sized food that makes it so much more fun?
This homemade popcorn chicken is crunchy and tender, a little bit spicy, and just the right amount of smoky. Squeeze some ketchup, dunk in some gravy, or dip into any number of delicious sauces and you're in for a good time!
To make popcorn chicken, here are the 8 ingredients to add to your grocery list this week:
- Cooking oil: Use a neutral-flavored cooking oil to fry the piece of chicken. We suggest grape seed oil as it has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point.
- Eggs: Use 2 large eggs as part of the batter for the chicken. The eggs will help everything stick together.
- Chipotle pepper in adobo sauce: Puree the peppers in the adobo sauce to get 2 tablespoons. You can puree the entire can or simply mince one pepper with some sauce to get the smoky flavor you're after.
- Soy sauce: Add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for a salty touch in the batter. You can use gluten-free tamari if needed.
- Flour: Coating the chicken in flour will help remove some moisture and make sure the chicken crisps up in the pan.
- Panko: These are nice and crisp breadcrumbs that will give the ultimate coating and crunch to your chicken.
- Chicken thighs: Cut 1 lb of chicken thighs into bite sized pieces. Thighs are a tender and flavorful cut of chicken and so won't be as likely to dry out while frying.
How to make popcorn chicken
Deep frying food can be a little intimidating, however, if you keep your eye on the oil temperature and follow the safety tips below you'll be basking in the magic that is popcorn chicken in no time! Here's a rundown of the steps you'll take:
- Get the oil heating: Pour 2 inches of oil into your pot with high sides and use your thermometer to gauge once it's at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn down the heat and let the temperature rise slowly to your target temp of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Set up a breading station: Get 3 bowls ready for dredging. In one bowl mix the eggs, pureed chipotle peppers, soy sauce, and water. Put the flour in another bowl and the panko crumbs in the third. You'll dip the chicken pieces in the flour, then the egg, and lastly the panko.
- Cook: Add 7-8 pieces of chicken to the pan of oil and cook for 4-5 minutes.
- Make your sauce: Mix the honey and mayo for your sauce.
- Serve & enjoy!
Dips for popcorn chicken
They're good on their own, but popcorn chicken shines with the perfect dipping sauce. The recipe card below shows you how to make a honey mayo sauce. Here are some other faves to choose from:
Tips for the best popcorn chicken
It would be a sad day if you went to make one of the happiest foods ever and they didn't turn out the way you wanted. Let's make sure that doesn't happen! Here are some top tips to make the best popcorn chicken out there:
- Use a neutral-flavored oil: The flavor of the oil will transfer to whatever you are deep-frying. We suggest grape seed oil.
- Make sure to use clean looking oil: You can save the oil by letting it cool then straining it, but once it looks dark, it's time to discard it.
- Keep the oil at a constant temperature: Keep a close eye on the thermometer and adjust the heat accordingly. For this popcorn chicken recipe, you want the oil to be at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It's better to have the oil a few degrees hotter before you put in the chicken as it will cool a little once the chicken goes in.
- Never crowd the pan: Adding too many pieces of chicken at once will lower the oil temperature, and the food will absorb more of the oil and end up tasting greasy.
- Scoop out any bits in the oil: Between batches, use a mesh scoop to remove any bits in the oil. These little bits will burn, darken the oil quicker and alter the flavor of your oil.
Deep frying safety tips
If you have a deep fryer and would like to use that to make your popcorn chicken, by all means that's a great way to do it. An air fryer is also a great choice. You can also do it “the old fashioned way” with a pan and some oil.
Here are a couple safety tips when handling hot oil and fried food:
- Never leave a pot of oil unattended: The oil will start to burn at 400 degrees Fahrenheit and will catch fire at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. You want your oil to be at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for this popcorn chicken recipe.
- Make sure whatever you put into the oil is dry: Any drop of water will cause the oil to splatter. Hot oil splattering is no fun. This goes for whether you're using a deep fryer or frying pan.
- Make sure the pot you are using has high sides: When you add the chicken, the oil will bubble up, and you definitely don't want it to boil over.
- Clear the area around your stove: Before you begin deep-frying clear the area of anything combustible and make sure there's no little ones around.
What to serve with popcorn chicken
If you're serving popcorn chicken for dinner, it's going to be a good night! No matter if it's a party or a random Thursday with the family 'round the table, here's some inspiration for what to serve with your popcorn chicken:
- Fries: Crispy fries and crispy popcorn chicken sounds pretty awesome, right? Try these Mexican nacho fries , shoestring fries or pachos with your chicken.
- Salad: Drop some delicious popcorn chicken on top or have them on the side of any of these salads to jazz it up instantly! Try this kale caesar salad, broccoli coleslaw, or this cucumber tomato salad.
- Appetizers: Serve your popcorn chicken with other appies to make a full spread. Popcorn chicken would be fantastic with stuffed cherry tomato BLT cups, potato croquettes, and grilled guacamole and pita chips.
Why is it called popcorn chicken?
It has to do with the bite-sized nature of the chicken pieces, that you can just pop in your mouth – much like popcorn!
How long to air fry popcorn chicken?
If you're using this recipe to make popcorn chicken in an air fryer, you can set it to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and cook it for 10 minutes, shaking the basket halfway through.
How long will popcorn chicken last in the fridge?
It will be safe to eat for up to 3-4 days, however, the crispiness of the breading will start to lose its quality quite quickly. Popcorn chicken, much like other fried food, is best consumed right away.
- Cooking oil (for frying)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (pureed)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (gluten-free if needed)
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ cup flour (gluten-free if needed)
- 2 cups panko (gluten-free if needed)
- 1 lb chicken thighs (cut into bite-sized pieces)
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons liquid honey
- Attach an oil/candy thermometer to the side of a medium-sized pot. Pour in 2 inches of oil and heat it to 300 degrees Fahrenheit over medium-high heat. Once the temperature reaches 300 degrees, turn the element down to medium and continue to heat the oil until it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit.Cooking oil
- While the oil is heating, prep the breading – make sure to keep a close eye on the temperature of the oil. Set up 3 bowls. In one bowl whisk the eggs, pureed chipotle peppers, soy sauce, and water. Put the flour in the second bowl and the panko in the third.2 large eggs, 2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon water, ½ cup flour, 2 cups panko
- Working with 3-4 pieces at a time, dredge the chicken pieces first in flour, second in the egg, and third in panko. Keeping one hand for the egg and the other for the flour and panko makes this process far less messy. Once the chicken pieces are coated, place them on a baking tray.1 lb chicken thighs
- Once the oil reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit, carefully drop in 7-8 pieces and let them cook for 4-5 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Test the thickest one when you remove it for doneness by cutting it in half. No pink means it's cooked through. Place the cooked chicken bites onto a clean baking sheet lined with paper towels while you cook the rest. Make sure the oil returns to 350 degrees Fahrenheit between batches.
- To make the sauce, mix the mayonnaise and honey in a small bowl.¼ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons liquid honey
- To serve, either drizzle a little of the sauce over the top of the chipotle popcorn chicken or serve it on the side for people to dip.
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.