These crispy breaded air fryer chicken tenders are simple to prepare and tender in the middle with a crisp breadcrumb coating (unbreaded version also included) – perfect for enjoying as a snack or part of a quick weeknight meal!
My air fryer has become key in preparing quick, simple mid-week meals. I’ve already shared recipes for air fryer chicken thighs, chicken wings, and even whole chicken. Now it’s the turn of crowd-pleasing, childhood-favorite, crispy air fryer chicken tenders.
Unlike your local deep-fried fast-food joint chicken, making chicken tenders in an air fryer means they can be made with a fraction of the oil – or even oil-free! – with super crispy results, but much healthier.
Best of all, they’re really simple to prepare. First, cut the chicken tenders yourself or buy them pre-cut. Then marinate them and set up your breading station (or check out the FAQs for how to air fry “naked”/unbreaded chicken tenders!). Air fry the chicken strips to crispy perfection to enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce, fries, rice, etc.!
What are chicken tenders
If the name chicken tenders (or chicken tenderloins) doesn’t sound super familiar to you, how about chicken strips? Chicken goujons? Chicken fillets? All of these are used to describe a delectable treat made of breaded and (usually) deep-fried chicken meat cut into long, finger-like pieces and enjoyed as a snack or part of a main meal.
What cut of chicken are chicken tenders
Typically, these chicken strips are made with white meat from the pectoralis minor muscles (also called tenderloins). These are located on either side of the breastbone, hanging from the underside of the breast meat (pectoralis major).
However, they are sometimes also made with chicken breast cut into similar shapes OR, in some fast food/mass-produced versions, they’re shaped from various pulverized chicken flesh. Luckily, for this homemade chicken tenders air fryer recipe, I am using simple cuts (yay for no “mystery meat”).
What are chicken tenders made of
When you air fry chicken tenders, there’s no need for a super long ingredients list:
- Chicken: You can use pre-cut raw chicken goujons/tenders or cut them yourself from the underside of chicken breasts. Or use chicken breast, cut into long thin strips.
- Buttermilk: This is great for super tender chicken thanks to its acidity.
- Seasonings: I stuck to a simple all-purpose seasoning for these air fryer chicken fingers:
- Garlic powder,
- Smoked paprika,
- Black pepper.
- Eggs: To help the breading adhere.
- Breadcrumbs: I use a combination of golden breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs for the perfect, super-crispy coating. Use gluten-free breadcrumbs if necessary.
- Seasonings: I used a very simple but effective combination:
- Smoked paprika,
- Black pepper.
You can easily add more flavor to the air fryer chicken tenderloins with onion powder or – for some spice – cayenne pepper or chili powder. Alternatively, change up the flavor with different spice blends.
How to cook chicken tenders in an air fryer
Air frying chicken tenders is simple and requires only a few low-effort steps. It’s ready to cook in as little as 10 minutes!
How to cut chicken breast into tenders
If you’ve purchased pre-cut chicken tenders, skip this step!
First, use paper towels to pat the chicken dry. Then, use a sharp knife to slice the chicken in half horizontally and create two thin cutlets.
Then, slice the cutlets into 1-inch long chicken goujons/fingers.
Alternatively, use a meat mallet to pound the chicken to a single even thickness (about 1 inch wide). Then slice that into ½-inch slices.
Marinate the chicken
In a medium-large bowl, combine the buttermilk and spices, and mix well.
Then add the chicken and toss them until well (and evenly) coated.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate it to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes (if you’re low on time), up to 12 hours.
Bread the chicken tenders
Preheat your air fryer to 400ºF/200ºC and spray the basket with cooking oil (I used olive oil).
To set up your breading station, you’ll need two plates (or wide, shallow bowls). Whisk the eggs in one and add the spiced breadcrumb mixture to the other (mixing well).
To bread the chicken tenders, first dip them in the breadcrumbs. Then dredge them in the egg mixture. Then press them again into the breadcrumbs on all sides, shaking off any excess.
How long to cook chicken tenders in air fryer
Spread the raw chicken tenders in the air fryer basket in a single layer with a bit of space in between. Cook in multiple batches if necessary.
Spray the chicken with just a little cooking oil for the crispiest results.
Air fry chicken tenders for 10-12 minutes, flipping them halfway (and spraying the other side with oil for the crispiest results).
This is how long to air fry chicken tenders and how easy cooking chicken tenders in air fryer is.
If your pieces are thicker or larger, you may need to air fry the chicken strips for 14-16 minutes.
To ensure they’re safely cooked, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature has reached 165ºF/74ºC. Then, remove the air-fried baked chicken tenders from the air fryer, serve, and enjoy!
I also have a foolproof method if you want to cook frozen chicken tenders in an Air Fryer.
How to reheat chicken tenders in air fryer
You can reheat the meat in the microwave (in 20-30-second increments). Or air fry it at 350ºF/175ºC until heated and crispy.
How to freeze homemade chicken tenders
You can freeze chicken tenders cooked or uncooked (then cook from frozen).
Flash freeze the chicken, not touching, on a tray until solid (about 2-3 hours). Then transfer the tenders to a freezer-safe Ziplock for up to 3 months.
You can then cook/reheat them from frozen OR, for the pre-cooked meat, thaw them overnight first.
What to serve with chicken tenders
You can enjoy these chicken strips as a snack with a dipping sauce or as part of a larger meal. Some of my favorite pairings include:
- Lemon wedges – to spritz over the air-fried chicken tenderloins when serving.
- French fries, fries, and wedges (including sweet potato fries).
- Zucchini fries.
- Dipping sauce – Buffalo sauce, marinara, honey mustard, ranch dressing, BBQ sauce, Raising Cane’s sauce, Caesar dressing, etc.
- Pasta or Grains, including rice pilaf, quinoa, or even a cold quinoa salad.
- In a chicken sandwich or in wraps.
- In a taco or burrito bowl.
- Vegetable sides like:
Chicken tenderloin recipes are made with the hanging tenders from the chicken breast. However, chicken nuggets can be made from any part of the chicken, usually ground and processed (which allows it to be shaped into various shapes).
Yes, the two cuts can usually be used interchangeably within recipes. However, you’ll need to cut the chicken breast into smaller, tenderloin-sized pieces (1-inch strips work best). Otherwise, the marinating and cooking time would need adjusting for the best air fryer chicken breast strips.
You can marinate and cook the meat without breading for 10-12 minutes at 400ºF/200ºC, flipping halfway. They should be crispy and golden brown when ready.
I love to serve this “naked” version with a garlic butter coating. But that’s 100% optional for a low-carb, gluten-free, keto, low-fat chicken dish.
The thick white tendon isn’t edible, so removing it can make it easier to eat. However, removing it can be a little tricky.
Use a paper towel to first grip the visible tendon. Then – with it lying flat on your chopping board, use a fork (with the tendon between the prongs) or a sharp knife to push/scrape the meat away from the tendon. At the same time, pull the tendon with your other hand, until it pulls free.
Yes, chicken tenders vs chicken fingers are the same thing.
To ensure they’re fully cooked, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature has reached 165ºF/74ºC.
More chicken recipes
- One Pot Chicken and Rice
- Oven-Baked Boneless Chicken Thighs
- How To Reheat Fried Chicken In Air Fryer
- The Best Chicken Lollipops
If you try this crispy chicken strips in air fryer recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
- 20 oz chicken tenders or chicken breast to cut into smaller pieces
Prepare the tenders
- If you've purchased pre-cut chicken tenders, skip this step!Use paper towels to pat the chicken dry. Use a sharp knife to slice the chicken in half horizontally and create two thin cutlets. Slice the cutlets into 1-inch-long chicken pieces.
- In a medium-large bowl, combine the buttermilk and spices, and mix well.
- Add the chicken and toss them until well (and evenly) coated.
- Cover the dish and refrigerate it to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes (if you're low on time), up to 8 hours.
Bread the tenders
- Preheat your air fryer to 400ºF/200ºC. Spray the basket with cooking oil.
- In a wide shallow bowl, whisk the eggs. In another wide shallow bowl, mix well the breadcrumbs, panko, and spices.
- Arrange your dredging station – place the marinated chicken next to the bowl with the breadcrumbs, and next to the bowl with the eggs.
- Dip the marinated chicken tenders in the breadcrumbs. Then dredge them in the egg mixture. Then press them again into the breadcrumbs on all sides, shaking off any excess. Place the breaded tenders into the air fryer basket in a single layer with a bit of space in between. Cook in multiple batches if necessary.
- Air fry at 400ºF/200ºC for 10-12 minutes, flipping the tenders halfway.If your pieces are thicker or larger, you may need to air fry for 14-16 minutes.To ensure they’re safely cooked, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature has reached 165ºF/74ºC.
- Remove the chicken tenders from the air fryer, serve with your favorite dipping sauce, and enjoy!
- Store: Allow them to cool (for no longer than 2 hours), then transfer them to an airtight container. Store them in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.Reheat: Reheat them in the microwave (in 20-30 second increments), or air fry them at 350ºF/175ºC until heated and crispy.Freeze: Freeze the chicken tenders cooked or uncooked (then cook from frozen). Flash freeze them, not touching, on a tray until solid (about 2-3 hours). Transfer them to a freezer-safe Ziplock and into the freezer for up to 3 months. Cook them from frozen OR, for the pre-cooked meat, thaw overnight first.
- For less mess: Use a parchment paper liner for your air fryer.
- For the crispiest results: An oil spray bottle (not cooking spray which can damage the air fryer’s non-stick lining) will allow you to lightly disperse oil over the chicken, without using much at all, for super crispy results.
- Experiment with flavors: By swapping out the spices/seasonings you use in the breading, you can easily adjust the flavor. I.e., lemon pepper, Italian seasoning, Cajun, adding parmesan cheese, etc.
- For Baked Chicken Tenders – If you don’t have an air fryer, you can still enjoy delicious baked breaded chicken tenders, though they’re usually not as crispy. To do so, bake them in the oven at 425ºF/220ºC for 16-18 minutes, flipping halfway.