Learn how to make hand-breaded Honey BBQ Popcorn Chicken in the oven or air fryer with these easy-to-follow instructions. With either method, you’ll make a hot and crispy batch of popcorn chicken tossed in a sweet, smoky, and tangy honey bbq sauce in a matter of minutes.
Whether your affinity for popcorn chicken started at KFC or Sonic, I’m confident this honey bbq popcorn chicken recipe will go above and beyond your fast food popcorn chicken expectations.
Succulent bites of white meat chicken are breaded with seasoned flour, egg, and bread crumbs to create a delicious layer of crunchy on the surface of a hot and tender piece of chicken.
- Baked or air-fried without oil, they’re much healthier than Sonic & KFC, yet just as yummy.
- Perfect after-school snack, game-day app, or quick bite on any occasion.
- You can use any BBQ enhanced with rich honey for the sauce.
- They freeze nicely and are less expensive than buying bags of frozen popcorn chicken.
🍯 Ingredients You’ll Need
- Chicken breast – Fresh chicken breast or thawed from frozen, trimmed of fat, and cut into bite-size “popcorn” chunks. You can also use chicken thighs.
- Eggs – Eggs act as the glue to attach the bread crumbs to the surface of the chicken
- All-purpose flour -The flour also helps ensure the bread crumbs cling to the chicken.
- Salt & pepper – To lightly season the breading. I kept it simple because the honey bbq sauce packs in the flavor, but use more or less to your liking.
- Breadcrumbs – For that extra layer of crunch distinct to fried popcorn chicken.
- BBQ sauce – Use your favorite! -sweet Baby Ray’s, Bone Suckin’ Sauce, Stubb’s, KC Masterpiece, etc.
- Honey – If possible, use local honey. It has a vibrant, sweet flavor, and regular consumption may help lessen seasonal allergy symptoms.
🥣 How To Make Honey BBQ Popcorn Chicken
1️⃣ Cut chicken into “popcorn.” With a sharp knife, trim visible fat from the chicken and cut it into “popcorn” chicken bites.
2️⃣ Assemble the dredging station. In the first bowl, crack both eggs and whisk until thoroughly beaten. In the second bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and pepper together -and in the third bowl, add the plain bread crumbs.
3️⃣ Prepare for baking. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set it aside.
4️⃣ Bread popcorn chicken. Meanwhile, dredge the chicken working in small batches. First, toss the chicken in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Then, transfer the chicken to the egg wash bowl and gently toss to coat, shaking off any excess. Finally, add the chicken to the breadcrumb bowl, pressing the pieces gently to coat thoroughly. Place the coated pieces on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer while you work through the remaining batches.
5️⃣ Bake. Once all of the chicken is coated, transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven and bake until the chicken is golden brown and cooked (about 15 minutes), flipping halfway through.
6️⃣ Make honey BBQ sauce. While the chicken is baking, whisk the BBQ sauce and honey together in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until the sauce is warm.
7️⃣ Toss and serve. Use tongs to transfer the cooked chicken bites to a bowl, pour the honey BBQ sauce on top, and gently toss with a rubber spatula to coat the popcorn chicken in honey bbq sauce thoroughly. Serve hot!
♨️ Air Fryer Instructions
Cooking your popcorn chicken in the air fryer saves minutes, but you may need to cook the chicken in batches depending on the size of your air fryer.
1️⃣ Cut and bread chicken. Cut and bread the chicken using the oven instructions above. Set the breaded pieces on a clean plate while working through the remaining portions.
2️⃣ Air fry popcorn chicken. Preheat your air fryer to 400°F. In batches, add the popcorn chicken to the air fryer basket in a single layer. Set the timer for 15 minutes and let cook until crispy and golden brown, flipping each piece with tongs halfway through.
3️⃣ Make honey bbq sauce. Meanwhile, combine the bbq sauce and honey in a saucepan and gently warm over low heat.
4️⃣ Toss popcorn chicken with sauce. Use tongs to transfer the crispy breaded chicken bites to a clean bowl. Pour the honey BBQ sauce on top, and gently toss with a rubber spatula to thoroughly coat the chicken in sauce. Enjoy!
💭 Recipe Tips
- The bites do not have to be identical shapes but do your best to cut the chicken pieces the same size so they cook evenly.
- After dredging the chicken through flour and eggs, be sure to shake off any excess leaving an even coating on the surface of each piece.
- Arrange the popcorn chicken pieces in the air fryer basket in an even layer, leaving space between each for the hot air to circulate on all sides of the food.
- To check for doneness with accuracy, use a kitchen thermometer and check that it reads 165F for safely cooked chicken.
- You can also warm the honey BBQ sauce in the microwave in 15-20 second intervals, stirring in between each, until warm.
Swaps & substitutions:
- Thighs – you enjoy the taste of dark meat chicken, feel free to use chicken thighs instead of breasts, or make with half breasts and half thighs to cut back on food costs.
- Spices – To amp up the breading flavor, add different dry seasonings to the flour. Smoke paprika, chipotle powder, and onion powder are great options. For extra heat, kick things up with cayenne.
- Plating – Preparing honey BBQ popcorn chicken for a party? Improve the presentation by serving them skewered on toothpicks (2-3 pieces per skewer) with a side of cool ranch.
Special dietary modifications:
- Gluten-free: Swap the all-purpose flour and bread crumbs for their gluten-free counterparts. I recommend King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1:1 baking flour. Use your favorite gluten-free bread crumbs and double-check that your bbq is gluten-free (they usually are).
- Low carb & keto: Skip the all-purpose flour station and head straight for the eggs. Then, press the chicken into almond flour or crushed pork rinds to coat evenly.
- Grain-free & paleo: Tapioca flour is an excellent grain-free alternative to all-purpose flour. As for the bread crumbs, use almond flour. Use your favorite brand of paleo BBQ sauce & raw honey, or try this homemade Whole30 BBQ.
🧊 Storing & Freezing
Storing: Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Reheating: The breading will absorb some of the sauce and lose its crunch, but reheating in the air fryer can fix that. Add the chicken to the air fryer basket and reheat at 400F for 3-4 minutes or until the breading is recrisped and the chicken is hot. Retoss in sauce and serve.
Freezing: If you plan to freeze this popcorn chicken, do not toss in sauce. Instead, let the popcorn chicken cool, then place on a baking sheet an set it in the freezer until the chicken pieces are firm. Then, place them in a freezer-safe resealable age and keep in the freezer for 3-4 months.
Reheating from frozen: Let frozen popcorn chicken thaw in the fridge, then reheat in the oven or air fryer until hot and crispy, then toss with your sauce.
Tossing popcorn chicken in sauces isn’t standard, so you can use any sauce! This sweet, tangy, and smoky honey bbq sauce is perfect for coating popcorn chicken and serving on the side as a dip for plain popcorn chicken.
Anything goes. Think about the sauces you enjoy dipping nuggets and tenders in and the types of wing sauces you enjoy. Those sauces are also delightful to dip popcorn chicken in. These homemade sauces are good options.
Habenero Ranch Dressing
Dill Pickle Dip
Thousand Island Dressing
Whole30 Honey Mustard
Yes, and that’s just what you’ll be doing to make your sweet and sticky honey bbq sauce for popcorn chicken.
More BBQ Recipes
Honey BBQ Popcorn Chicken
- baking +parchment paper or air fryer
- 4 medium-size mixing bowls
- 2 pounds chicken breast fat trimmed & cut into bite size chunks
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1 cup bbq sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- With a sharp knife, trim visible fat from the chicken, then cut the breasts into bite-size "popcorn" pieces.
- Assemble the dredging station starting with the egg wash bowl. Crack both eggs into a medium-size bowl and whisk until full beaten. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and pepper together. In a third bowl, add the plain bread crumbs.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set it aside.
- Meanwhile, dredge the chicken in small batches. First, add the chicken pieces to the seasoned flour, toss to coat, and shake off any excess. Then, transfer the chicken to the egg wash bowl and gently toss to coat, shaking off any excess egg. Finally, add the chicken to the breadcrumb bowl, pressing the pieces gently to fully coat. Place the coated pieces on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer while you work through the remaining batches.
- Once all of the chicken is coated, transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through (about 15 minutes), flipping halfway through.
- While the chicken is baking, whisk the BBQ sauce and honey together in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until the sauce is warm.
- Use tongs to transfer the cooked chicken bites to a bowl, then pour the honey BBQ sauce on top, and gently toss with a rubber spatula to fully coat the popcorn chicken in honey bbq sauce. Serve hot.
Air Fryer Instructions
- Prep and bread the chicken for the air fryer using the oven instructions above. Set the breaded pieces aside on a clean plate while you finish coating the rest.
- Preheat your air fryer to 400°F. Working in batches, add the popcorn chicken to the air fryer basket in a single layer. Set the timer for 15 minutes and let cook until crispy and golden brown, flipping each piece with tongs halfway through.
- Meanwhile, combine the bbq sauce and honey in a saucepan and gently warm over low heat.
- Use tongs to transfer the cooked chicken bites to a bowl, then pour the honey BBQ sauce on top, and gently toss with a rubber spatula to fully coat the chicken in honey bbq sauce. Serve hot.