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.

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 and it’s naturally gluten-free! Plus, my kids love that the chicken thighs are boneless but there’s still crusty skin!
  • No flipping the bird required! You air fry boneless chicken 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 boneless 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 boneless 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

Wondering how to debone chicken thighs at home? 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.

Pro tip!

You can buy skin-on, bone-out chicken thighs at your neighborhood Japanese supermarket (e.g. Nijiya Market)! When I see them on sale, I grab a bunch so I freeze a stash in the freezer for the future!

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 the cook time 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 skin side up in the the air fryer basket.

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

When the air fryer reaches 400°F, add the chicken thighs. 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, transfer to a serving dish, and enjoy!

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

Frequently Asked Questions

What sauce can you serve with air fryer chicken thighs?

Sriracha 
Sriracha Mayonnaise (Simply whisk 4 parts of mayonnaise with 1 part of sriracha sauce in a small bowl.)
All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce
Hoisin Sauce

Storage tips and reheating instructions?

You can store the chicken in a sealed airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. You can reheat leftovers in the air fryer, skin-side up, at 400°F for about 5 minutes or until the skin is crispy and the meat is heated through.


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes 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).


 PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD

The Best Air Fryer Chicken Thighs: Cracklin’ Chicken!

4.91 from 55 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 5 people
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!

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 | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 142mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this? Leave a comment below!

About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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57 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I have a question—the recipe says to preheat “for 15-18 minutes” but I think most air fryers only need to preheat for about 5 minutes? Is the 15-18 minutes how long the chicken should cook?

    1. No, you just heat the air fryer to 400°F and once it reaches temperature, you air fry the thighs for 15 to 18 minutes. Some air fryers don’t require preheating and some do.

  2. 5 stars
    Mine doesn’t come out golden, and I’m not sure exactly why. I tried cooking it for longer, but it stays this white/pale yellow color. Any others out there with this problem too? It was still delicious, just a bit unappetizing looking.

  3. I can’t believe how good this is! The chicken cooked perfectly and the skin was definitely cracklin’!
    I used to make the original cracklin’ chicken, but admittedly stopped doing so because the cleanup was such a big deal. This recipe is a game changer! I just threw the air fryer pieces in the dishwasher and that was it! Can’t wait to make it again!

  4. Can I use skinless thighs? That is what I normally buy and seems easier. My guess is that it won’t be as “crispy?”

    1. You can leave the bones in, but it won’t be quite the same. Start cooking skinside down for 15 min and flip skinside up for 15 more min or until skin is crispy.