Okay, team. Let’s set expectations here, first and foremost. I’m not going to pull your leg and tell you that air fryer fried chicken is exactly the same as cast iron or deep fried chicken. The crust isn’t quite as crispy, and the chicken isn’t quite as obviously juicy.
But you know what? It’s pretty darn close! I would say it’s even 90 percent, if not 95 percent there. The crust is crackly and tasty, and as long as you don’t forget about it in your air fryer, it’s still going to be juicy.
As with many things in the kitchen, it’s all about tradeoffs, but I think you would be silly to not try this if you have access to an air fryer. I loved the recipe and was surprised by how close it got to my traditional deep-fried version.
There are two reasons why you might want to make air fried chicken instead of classic fried chicken.
- First, there is a health benefit to air frying over deep frying or pan frying. While I do recommend very lightly spraying the fried chicken with oil before and during air frying, you don’t submerge the pieces entirely in oil, and as a result, they undoubtedly absorb less oil in the process.
- For me though, the bigger advantage is time savings. It takes 30 seconds to flip on the air fryer, and the cleanup is worlds easier than dealing with big pots of hot oil.
- New to the air fryer? Check out our First Timer’s Guide to Using an Air Fryer.
There are some recipes that I don’t think adapt well to the air fryer, but fried chicken works really well. The chicken will come out crispy and browned. It’s definitely worth a try!
What’s the Best Chicken To Use?
For my money and taste buds, nothing beats buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself. This way, you get some dark meat and some white meat. I also believe in using skin-on and bone-in chicken, which leads to more flavorful and juicier chicken.
That said, my family is not actually a huge fan of the same kind of fried chicken I like. They prefer simple chicken strips, so I did some of those, too, and they work really well.
Chicken strips cook faster than bone-in pieces, so you run the risk of overcooking them and drying them out. Be sure to check strips frequently until they’re just cooked through (165° to 170˚F in the thickest part).
How to Bread the Chicken
Any traditional fried chicken recipe can probably also be air fried. It should work.
The one exception might be if you like a very thick breading on your fried chicken. If you double dip your chicken in flour for the coating, it’s going to be hard to hydrate all that flour in an air fryer, and you’ll almost certainly end up with floury spots that haven’t really cooked.
For my air fryer chicken, I like to soak the chicken in buttermilk to give it that classic fried chicken tenderness. Then, I dip it once in very well seasoned all-purpose flour. That provides a nice layer of breading on the chicken, but it isn’t so much flour that it’ll be a problem in the air fryer.
NO AIR FRYER? PAN-FRY INSTEAD!
If you don’t have an air fryer, have no fear. People were making fried chicken before air fryers were invented!
I prefer to pan-fry my fried chicken in a cast iron skillet if I’m not using an air fryer. You only need enough oil to go about 1 to 1 1/2 inches up a skillet, and then fry the chicken at 350°F for about 8 minutes per side. Check the meat’s temperature to ensure doneness, but the pieces will be golden brown and wonderful!
Reheating the Air Fryer Chicken
You might think that it’s best to pop the air fryer chicken back in the air fryer for a few minutes to reheat it, but I don’t recommend that, actually. You run the risk of burning the exterior of the fried chicken.
If you have leftovers and need to reheat them, a 300°F oven is your best friend. Here’s what to do:
- Lay out the pieces on a baking sheet, and bake them in the oven until they are warmed through. This will keep the crust relatively crispy and heat the pieces evenly.
- Reheat for 8 to 10 minutes.
TRY THESE SIDES WITH YOUR FRIED CHICKEN!
Air Fryer Fried Chicken Recipe
Alternative Pan Fry Method: If you don’t have access to an air fryer, you can make this fried chicken using a traditional pan fry method. Add enough oil to a cast iron skillet so the oil is about 1 1/2 inches up the side of the skillet. Heat oil until it reaches 350°F. Add chicken pieces and fry for 8 minutes. Flip, and fry for another 8 minutes until golden brown. Test temperature; you might need a few more minutes for the dark meat pieces (thighs and legs).
For the chicken:
- 1 4-pound fryer chicken, cut into 10 pieces (2 breasts cut in half, 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups buttermilk
For the coating:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- Spray olive oil for cooking
1 Marinate the chicken: Season the chicken well with salt and pepper and then add it to a bowl with buttermilk. Chicken pieces should be covered with the buttermilk. Let it sit for at least an hour or up to overnight.
2 Bread the chicken: To prepare the breading mixture, stir together flour, seasoned salt, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
Remove chicken pieces from buttermilk and shake off any excess; then dip in the flour mix and coat well. Transfer breaded chicken pieces to a clean plate or wire rack to rest.
3 Air-fry the chicken: You will need to work in two batches if you are doing a full chicken. Spray the basket of your air fryer with nonstick spray. Place half of the pieces in the basket of your air fryer. Try to ensure the pieces don’t touch. Air needs to circulate around them.
Spray the chicken pieces lightly with spray oil. Place the basket in the air fryer and turn the air fryer to 350°F. Cook for 14 minutes, then flip the fried chicken with tongs, spray lightly with oil a second time on the bottom side of the chicken, and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes.
The half-breast pieces and the wings will be done on the low end of that time range, and the dark meat pieces will need a full 24 to 26 minutes of time to be cooked through. The dark meat pieces should reach 175˚F.
(NOTE: My method photo here only shows the temp at 148˚F to illustrate that the chicken can LOOK cooked but is actually not cooked through. A meat thermometer is vital.)
During the air frying process, if you pull out the chicken and notice any dry flour spots on the chicken, spray those spots lightly with oil. The breading will never crisp up if it doesn’t have a tiny bit of oil to hydrate it. It will just burn.
4 Serve: When the fried chicken is ready, let it rest on a plate for a few minutes before serving. Serve immediately with salad, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, or your favorite fried chicken sides!
Cooked fried chicken can be stored in the fridge for 5 days and reheated in a 300°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
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