This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Prepare a flavorful entree for dinner with only a handful of ingredients!
These air fryer chicken thighs are surprisingly crispy with how little oil you need. Feed the whole family or enjoy leftovers for lunch!
Enjoy tender bites of poultry with a smoky citrus flavor for a simple weeknight meal. Drizzle a few bone-in thighs with oil and toss them with spices and lemon zest. Then, cook to crispy perfection in only 20 minutes!
If you prefer drumsticks, they are just as easy to make as chicken thighs in the air fryer. Use a similar blend of seasonings as this recipe or stick to salt and pepper before slathering them in barbecue sauce.
Don’t feel like making extra sides? Try these incredibly easy stuffed peppers made with ground beef, rice, seasoned tomatoes, and plenty of cheese.
Key ingredients & substitutions for Air Fryer Chicken Thighs
- Chicken — I used bone-in, skin-on thighs so they would turn out juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. You could use boneless instead, but you’ll need to decrease the time since they cook faster.
- Spices — A blend of smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper adds plenty of flavor while keeping this dish versatile. Feel free to use a different blend of seasonings based on what you have in your pantry!
- Lemon zest — This adds a touch of brightness but is entirely optional. Use a microplane zester or the smallest holes on a box grater to remove the yellow rind, stopping as soon as you see the white pith.
Special supplies needed
- Obviously, you will need some kind of air fryer for this recipe. I love my Nuwave 6-quart model so there’s plenty of room for whatever I feel like cooking. That said, a smaller size will do just fine if you work in batches.
- Kitchen tongs allow you to safely flip your chicken thighs in the air fryer. Choose a pair with a silicone coating — they can withstand the heat and will keep your basket free from scratches.
How to make chicken thighs in the air fryer?
STEP 1 | Preheat the appliance
You wouldn’t put your meat in a cold oven, would you? Same concept! Preheating ensures a more even cook and keeps your food safe.
STEP 2 | Season the meat
Add the chicken to a bowl with a little oil, then toss them in the spice mixture and lemon zest until well coated. Be sure to pat them dry with a paper towel first so everything adheres better to the surface. For easy cleanup, skip the bowl and use a freezer bag instead!
STEP 3 | Cook
Place the chicken thighs in the air fryer skin side down so it gets a nice sear. Cook for about 20 minutes, flipping the pieces over when there are about 5 minutes left.
STEP 4 | Let it rest
Once the meat is cooked through, transfer it to a plate and let it rest for a few minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute through the meat for perfectly tender and juicy bites!
- Some air fryer models discourage the use of cooking sprays, as the propellants can cause the basket to deteriorate over time. Always check your manual for clarification!
- If that’s the case, use an oil mister with your favorite cooking oil or apply a very thin layer with a paper towel. And be sure that it has a high smoke point — olive, avocado, and vegetable oils are a great choice.
Frequently asked questions
The easiest and most accurate method is with an instant read meat thermometer. The temperate should read 165 degrees for any kind of poultry.
If you don’t have one, there are other ways to test doneness. When you pierce the meat with a knife or fork, the juices should run clear and the flesh should no longer be pink. You can also watch for size and texture changes – the thighs will get smaller as they cook and should be firm to the touch.
First, don’t overcrowd the basket. There should be plenty of room for the air to circulate around your food. You should also start the meat skin side down so the heat from the metal helps it to sear.
Absolutely! Once cooled, transfer the meat to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or pop it back in the basket for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees.
A green salad or a side of roasted vegetables would be an easy addition to this dish! Round out your plate with a simple grain like quinoa or wild rice.
Air Fryer Chicken Thighs
- ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- zest of ½ lemon
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs about 1 1/2 lbs.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- cooking spray
- Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees for 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, combine the spices — paprika, salt, garlic powder, pepper — then stir in the lemon zest with a fork.
- Remove the chicken from packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken in a large bowl or gallon-size freezer bag and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the spice mixture on top and toss until evenly coated.
- Place the chicken in the air fryer skin side down, being careful not to overcrowd the basket. Cook for 15 minutes, then flip the chicken and cook for another 5 minutes, until the chicken is crispy and cooked through.
Leftovers:Once cooled, transfer the meat to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or pop it back in the air basket for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees.
About Sheila Thigpen
Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer
Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.