Life can be busy sometimes. When your day is full of checking off to-do lists and running around to get everything done, convenience is something that may be at the top of your priority list—especially when it comes to preparing a meal for yourself or your family. For the times when you need a quick and easy way to cook dinner, the air fryer is the perfect solution. This popular kitchen appliance can cook up your favorite food in a matter of minutes, and it can also save you unwanted calories since you don't need to use as much cooking oil as you would if you pan- or deep-fried food.
Out of the numerous foods you can cook in it, crispy fried chicken is one of the best foods to make in the air fryer. It requires significantly less cleanup than deep-frying (no need to toss out all that oil) and it's healthier due to being lower in calories and fat. But you have to know the best way to do it—which is why we talked to a handful of chefs to get their favorite methods for delicious, crispy air fryer chicken.
How the air fryer works
Before we get into how to cook chicken in the air fryer, let's look more closely at what an air fryer is and how it works. This beloved appliance may have exploded in popularity over the past couple years, but it's been around for over a decade. Phillips debuted the first air fryer at an electronics fair in Europe in 2010, and ever since then, people have continued to fall in love with this convenient and affordable tool.
One of the main characteristics that makes the air fryer so lovable is its ability to cook food with a crispy exterior and tender interior, closely mimicking a fried food but without requiring the heavy use of oils. It does this by using a convection-style process of producing hot air and using a fan to circulate that air throughout the fryer. Not only does this present a healthier, mess-free method of "frying" foods, but air fryers are affordable (usually between $40-$160) and small enough to fit on your kitchen counter.
What you can cook in an air fryer
The list of things you can cook in an air fryer is lengthy, including wings, steak, french fries, bacon, carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, mozzarella sticks, pizza, and you guessed it—fried chicken.
But when using the air fryer, you'll want to avoid cooking things like grated cheese, delicate pastries, leafy greens, foods with sticky sauces, and popcorn.
How to cook fried chicken in the air fryer
Now that you know a bit more about the air fryer and what it can do, it's time to learn from some professional chefs, who say the following methods are the best for cooking the best fried chicken in an air fryer.
First, prepare your chicken
The first thing to consider before you begin is what type of batter—if any—you want to use for the chicken. Because the air fryer naturally cooks up a crispy outer layer, you can technically fry your chicken with just some light seasoning and no batter. But if you're in the mood for an extra breaded bite of chicken, you can also lightly batter it before placing it in the fryer.
The first step is to break down your chicken into bite-sized pieces and then season it. Asim Choudhry, chef and co-founder of The Halal Butchery, suggests "cutting the chicken into pieces and seasoning it with salt, pepper, and any other spices of your choice, or marinating the chicken in buttermilk for extra flavor."
For those who want to batter their chicken, Radwa Khalil, food blogger and founder of Healthy Life Trainer, suggests lightly coating your chicken with flour or breadcrumbs beforehand. "To begin, dip your chicken into a mixture that contains either flour with seasoning or seasoned breadcrumbs, and remove any extra coating by shaking it off to avoid a sticky consistency." She then adds that, "The coating should be uniformly thin and spread across the chicken to achieve the desired effect."
Which method you choose depends on how crispy you want your chicken, as well as how easy you want the process to be. For a mess-free, easy-to-clean piece of chicken that is just a little bit crispy, opt for the method of seasoning with salt, pepper, and your favorite flavors. If you don't mind the extra step of making a batter and want something extra crispy, try the method of coating your chicken with flour or breadcrumbs first.
Preheat the air fryer
The very next thing you'll want to do is preheat your air fryer. People may skip this step, but "doing this before putting the chicken in the air fryer results in crispier chicken exterior without drying out the meat," says Michael Haas, pitmaster and the founder of Angry BBQ.
For the best results, Choudry says to "Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the chicken pieces in a single layer in the basket of the fryer once it's preheated."
Cooking the chicken in the air fryer
And finally, the easy part. When your fryer is preheated, place the basket inside and "cook the chicken for 15 minutes, or until it's golden brown and cooked through," says Choudry. "Make sure to flip the chicken pieces halfway through cooking to ensure both sides are evenly cooked."
If you follow these easy steps, "the result is a delicious fried chicken that's golden and crunchy on the outside, and juicy and tender on the inside," says Choudry. And the best part of all is that you'll have a plate of amazing chicken with very little time and energy spent to make it happen.