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The coxinha is based on dough made with wheat flour and chicken broth and optionally mashed potato, which is filled with shredded spiced chicken meat, or a whole chicken thigh. The filling consists of chicken, catupiry cheese or requeijão and onions, parsley and scallions, and occasionally tomato sauce, turmerice. The coxinha is coated in batter, then in bread crumbs or manioc flour and deep fried. It is shaped to roughly resemble a chicken leg. The dough used to coat the filling is generally prepared with the broth of the chicken, enhancing the flavor of the coating.

Different variations of the original are becoming more prevalent today – for example, the coxinha mineira, for which the filling includes maize, so named because maize is deemed a culinary tradition in the state of Minas Gerais, as well as areas where the caipira and sertanejo dialects are spoken. Cheese coxinhas are also very common in snack bars. In Curitiba, chicken coxinhas filled with cheddar and Araucaria nuts can be found in local restaurants. To mark the cheese they usually have a toothpick where the bone would be in a chicken coxinha.

Other unconventional ingredients, generally used for home-made coxinhas made by aficionados, include peas, chopped button mushrooms, palmheart, carrot, cooked and seasoned cashew apples, unripe jackfruit or unripe breadfruit, as well as whole-wheat flour batter or even a vegetarian version of either textured vegetable protein (soy meat) or falafel with appropriate seasonings so its taste resembles a traditional coxinha more closely. These variants are rarely found in snack bars.

Coxinha literally means "little thigh", and it is how deep fried chicken legs are informally named in Brazil (coxa frita means a deep fried chicken leg, while sobrecoxa frita stands for a deep fried upper drumstick; It is not uncommon for people having a strong preference for certain poultry cuts over others). Battered and deep fried chicken breast pieces, for example, are generally called by a name of English influence, nugget.

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