This Whole30 and Keto Air Fryer Cracklin’ Chicken is the BEST way to cook crispy chicken thighs! With only 3 ingredients, it’s fast, easy, and mess-free!

An overhead shot of crispy air fryer chicken thighs in an open air fryer basket.

Almost as soon as the air fryer craze started sweeping the nation, questions from loyal Nomsters started landing in my inbox, asking if one of my most popular chicken thigh recipes,  Cracklin’ Chicken (a.k.a. Ollie’s Cracklin’ Chicken), could be made in this gadget.

There’s no question that Cracklin’ Chicken is a super delicious and easy recipe to cook, but it makes an unholy mess every time I fry it on the stovetop. Even when I use a splatter guard or fry the chicken in a cast iron skillet on my outdoor grill, hot schmaltz still gets everywhere. You just have to take the good with the bad—or so I thought. Enter the air fryer!

An open air fryer with five crispy chicken thighs inside.

Why is this the best air fryer chicken thigh recipe?

  • Cracklin’ Chicken = Super crispy skin +  juicy, well-seasoned chicken meat! Everyone will be clamoring for the last piece!
  • No flipping the bird required! You air fry these thighs skin-side up until cooked through and there’s no need to flip or rotate them!
  • Simply air fry for 400°F for 15 to 18 minutes and you’re done!
  • You can customize the flavor by varying the seasoning on the meat-side! (Psst! All four of my Nom Nom Paleo Spice Blends taste great on Cracklin’ Chicken!)

Tips for the best air fryer Cracklin’ Chicken

  • Flatten the deboned chicken thighs evenly with a meat pounder to ensure even cooking.
  • Only season the skin with salt so it will crisp up golden brown without burning! If you want to use a seasoning blend, only season the meat side.
  • No need to add oil! I know many of you are tempted to brush the skin with olive oil or avocado oil, but the skin comes out crispier WITHOUT it.
  • Lay the chicken thighs in a single layer in the air fryer. The thighs can touch each other on the side, but there should be no overlap—we’re aiming for 100% crispy skin!

Which air fryer should you buy?

As with all of my kitchen purchases, I continue to do lots of research to find the best reviewed basket-style air fryer model. In the past, I owned a Philips Avance Digital Turbostar Airfryer but I was unhappy with the small capacity (it only cooks three chicken thighs at a time) and how hard it was to clean. I have since switched to the 6-quart Instant Pot Vortex Plus with ClearCook Cooking window and I LOVE it.

This air fryer is highly rated by Cook’s Illustrated, cooks FIVE chicken thighs at a time, and is super easy to hand wash! The window is a nice feature, but not truly necessary. If you want to save money, get the windowless version, the 6-quart Instant Pot Vortex Plus.

Both models have a non-stick lining but the Cook’s Illustrated folks aren’t too concerned about it “because air fryers generally can’t heat to more than 400 degrees, there’s no risk of the nonstick coatings getting hot enough to release fumes.”

However, if the non-stick lining is a dealbreaker for you, you can get a Breville Smart Oven Air which uses stainless steel baskets. That being said, this countertop oven is really hard to clean after you cook Cracklin’ Chicken in it. (No air fryer? Make the original Cracklin’ Chicken on the stovetop!)

Ingredients

  • Chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in: Chicken thighs are my favorite cut of the chicken because of the great flavor and low price. If you don’t want to debone them yourself (instructions are below), you can buy skin-on and boneless chicken thighs at many Japanese supermarkets (e.g., Mitsuwa, Nijiya, etc.). Please don’t substitute boneless skinless chicken thighs—the best part of this recipe is the golden skin!
  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt: This is my favorite salt brand because the hollow, easily dissolvable flakes make it hard to over-salt your food. I only season the skin with kosher salt because adding a seasoning blend with other herbs or pepper can potentially burn—ruining the crispy skin!
  • Magic Mushroom Powder or your favorite Nom Nom Paleo spice blend (optional): Cracklin’ Chicken will taste great if all you season the meat with is salt, but if you want to jazz things up, use your favorite seasoning blend. If you don’t want to use one of my seasoning blends, just mix up your own with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and some smoked paprika!

How to make the crispiest air fryer chicken thighs

Debone the chicken thighs

Grab some chicken thighs and a sharp pair of kitchen shears. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel to remove any extra moisture. If the thigh bone isn’t exposed, use the shears to snip through the meat to expose it. Then, starting at one end, carefully cut out the bone, making sure you don’t cut through the meat.

A person is using kitchen shears to cut out the bone from chicken thighs.

Trim as close to the bone as possible. When you get to the other end, trim around the joint and cartilage and remove the bone. Save these bones for homemade bone broth! Repeat with the remaining thighs.

A person is removing the bone from a skin-on chicken thigh with a pair of kitchen shears.

Pound the chicken thighs

Flatten the chicken evenly with a meat pounder to ensure uniform cooking.

Pounding a bone-less chicken thigh with a meat pounder.

Season the chicken thighs

Sprinkle Diamond Crystal kosher salt on both sides of the chicken thighs. If you want to spice things up, you can sprinkle your favorite seasoning salt (e.g. Magic Mushroom Powder) on the meat side—but avoid sprinkling anything but salt on the skin side. (I don’t recommend putting anything besides salt on the skin because the spices can burn.)

Sprinkling salt on the skin-side of a boneless chicken thigh.

Air fry the chicken thighs

Preheat the air fryer to 400°F and set it to cook for 15 to 18 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken thighs. If your air fryer does not have a non-stick coating, spray avocado cooking spray before you place chicken thighs in a single layer, skin side up, in the the air fryer basket.

A pair of tongs is placing a raw chicken thigh into an air fryer basket.

You can actually smoosh up to five chicken thighs in a single layer in most 6-quart air fryer baskets without leaving any space in between them. They’ll turn out fine—the pieces will shrink as they cook.

An overhead shot of five raw chicken thighs in a single layer in an air fryer basket.

The Cracklin’ Chicken is ready when the skin is crispy and the meat is thoroughly cooked (at least 165°F internal temperature in the thickest part of the thigh when stabbed with a meat thermometer). If you’re making another batch, pour out the rendered fat before cooking another batch to reduce the amount of smoke.

An overhead shot of an Instant Pot Vortex Plus air fryer with ClearCook window.

Serve!

Slice up the Cracklin’ Chicken and enjoy!

Slicing Air Fryer Cracklin' Chicken on a wooden cutting board.

What can you serve with Cracklin’ Chicken?

If you are looking for a one-bowl meal that uses this recipe, make my Chinese Chicken Salad!

Here are some great side dishes to go with Cracklin’ Chicken:

How to store and reheat leftover air fryer chicken thighs

If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, store the chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheating Cracklin’ Chicken? Place the chicken thighs skin side up in the air fryer basket and cook them at 400°F for ~5 minutes or until the skin is crispy and the meat is heated through.

Other Air Fryer Chicken recipes

[Originally posted on April 2, 2019. Updated with new information and photos on August 2, 2022.]


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).


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An overhead shot of crispy air fryer chicken thighs in an open air fryer basket.

Print

The Best Air Fryer Chicken Thighs: Cracklin’ Chicken!

Love my Cracklin’ Chicken, but hate the mess? It turns out that my popular and tasty take on Whole30 and keto fried chicken isn’t just easier to make in an air fryer, it’s less messy, too!
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Keyword Air Fryer, chicken, gluten-free, keto, low carb, paleo, Whole30
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 5 people
Calories 316kcal

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Grab some chicken thighs and a sharp pair of kitchen shears. Blot the chicken dry with a paper towel. If the thigh bone isn’t exposed, use the shears to snip down to expose it. Then, starting at one end, carefully cut out the bone, making sure you don’t cut through the meat.
  • Trim as close to the bone as possible. When you get to the other end, trim around the joint and cartilage and remove the bone. Save these bones for homemade bone broth! Repeat with the remaining thighs.
  • Flatten the chicken with a meat pounder to ensure uniform cooking.
  • Sprinkle Diamond Crystal kosher salt on both sides of the chicken thighs. If you want to spice things up, you can sprinkle your favorite seasoning salt (e.g. Magic Mushroom Powder) on the meat side—but avoid sprinkling anything but salt on the skin side. (I don’t recommend putting anything besides salt on the skin because the spices can burn.)
  • Preheat the air fryer to 400°F for 15 to 18 minutes, depending on the size of the thighs.
  • When the air fryer is hot, carefully arrange the chicken thighs in a single layer, skin side up, in the the air fryer basket. (If your air fryer does not have a non-stick coating, spray avocado cooking spray before you place the chicken thighs in a single layer, skin side up, in the the air fryer basket.) You can actually smoosh up to five chicken thighs in a single layer in most 6-quart air fryer baskets without leaving any space in between them. They’ll turn out fine—the pieces will shrink as they cook.
  • The Cracklin’ Chicken is ready when the skin is crispy and the meat is thoroughly cooked (at least 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh using a meat thermometer). If you’re making another batch, pour out the rendered fat before cooking another batch to reduce the amount of smoke.

Video





Notes

Tips for the best air fryer Cracklin’ Chicken

  • Flatten the deboned chicken thighs evenly with a meat pounder to ensure even cooking.
  • Only season the skin with salt so it will crisp up golden brown without burning! If you want to use a seasoning blend, only season the meat side.
  • No need to add oil! I know many of you are tempted to brush the skin with olive oil or avocado oil, but the skin comes out crispier WITHOUT it.
  • Lay the chicken thighs in a single layer in the air fryer. The thighs can touch each other on the side, but there should be no overlap—we’re aiming for 100% crispy skin!
  • Spice things up by seasoning the meat side with one of my amazing Nom Nom Paleo Spice blends! All of them taste great on Cracklin’ Chicken!

Nutrition

Calories: 316kcal | Carbohydrates: 0.4g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 24g

The post The Best Air Fryer Chicken Thighs: Cracklin’ Chicken! appeared first on Nom Nom Paleo®.

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