Homemade chicken tenders are such a great protein option for kids and adults alike. They cook quickly, they are very lean, and there are so many ways to prepare them. I find the easiest way to cook up a batch or two of chicken tenders is in my air fryer.
Chicken tenders or sometimes called chicken fingers are basically small portions of skinless, boneless chicken breast meat. When you purchase a package of tenders, they are often that smaller portion of a breast that is sort of hanging underneath the main breast meat. They seem like they don’t really belong. So, butchers will often remove that extra piece and sell them as tenders rather than as part of the breast meat.
The tender is exactly the same meat as the rest of the breast. It tastes the same and it is just as lean. Because the tenders are smaller, they can cook very quickly and can become dry. You do need to be mindful of the cook time and internal temperature of these dainty little portions.
I can’t always find chicken tenders in my market. When that happens, I just make my own by slicing a whole boneless, skinless, chicken breast into smaller strips. This gives me the opportunity to make even smaller portions for chicken fingers that are easier for young children to eat with their hands.
Keep in mind that the center of a chicken breast is a little thick. You can place this portion between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and just pound it out so that all your hand cut tenders are the same thickness. This will help everything to cook at the same rate.
Tips to Cooking Chicken Tenders in an Air Fryer
The first time I cook anything new in my air fryer there is a learning curve. I will often try different recipes with temperature settings and timing being all over the place.
My air fryer always seems to cook a little faster than most recipes recommend. As you know, no 2 air fryers are the same with so many options available. So, adjust the temperature and timing to accommodate your particular model of AF.
My best tip for not overcooking animal protein is to always check the internal temperature with a digital thermometer halfway through the cooking process. Chicken tenders especially need to be checked. These portions have almost no fat at all. They can dry out quickly.
I also like to bread chicken tenders to keep the moisture in. Another good idea is to marinate the tenders for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Or, use sauce or glaze, such as barbecue or teriyaki.
The first recipe here is for crispy, breaded chicken tenders with a super easy sweet dipping sauce. This is a hit with kids. Serve them with ketchup if the sauce seems odd to little ones. The second recipe is for chicken tenders that are marinated in southwestern seasonings for tacos. The third recipe utilizes a homemade teriyaki glaze for sweet and tangy tenders.
Crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders with Sweet Dipping Sauce
- 3 TBS orange or apricot jam
- 2 TBS fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsps Dijon mustard
- 1 pound chicken tenders (can be sliced into fingers for kids)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 whole eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1-1/2 cups breadcrumbs
- 2 TBS canola or grapeseed oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
Total time:20 min – Prep time:10 min – Cook time:10 min – Serves:2 people
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the jam, lemon juice, and mustard. Set this aside for serving with the tenders.
2. Set up 3 shallow bowls. In the first, place the flour. In the second bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. In the third bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Dredge the chicken tenders in the flour to coat. Shake off the excess flour. Dip the tenders into the egg and milk mixture. Finally, coat the chicken with the breadcrumb mixture.
4. Preheat the air fryer to 350°F.
5. Place the chicken tenders in the AF basket or on the crisper plate in a single layer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Cook the tenders for approximately 8-1/2 to 10 minutes until they are golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165 to 170°F when checked with a digital thermometer. You might have to cook in batches. Keep the cooked tenders in a warm oven until ready to serve.
6. Place the dipping sauce in individual ramekins for serving. Serve the chicken tenders or fingers with the sauce and some napkins.
Southwestern Style Air Fryer Chicken Tenders Tacos
- 1 pound chicken tenders
- 1 TBS avocado or olive oil
- 1 tsp fresh lime juice
- 2 tsps chili powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large or 8 small taco shells (or soft tortillas)
- 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced thinly
- 1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
- 3/4 cup crumbled queso fresco or shredded Monterey jack cheese
- 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
Total time: 35 min – Prep time: 25 min – Cook time: 10 min – Serves: 4 people
1. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, lime juice, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper. Place the chicken tenders in the bowl and toss together to coat the meat completely. Set this aside to marinate for 10 minutes while you prepare the taco fixings. You can also marinate for longer to further tenderize the chicken.
2. Preheat the air fryer to 350°F.
3. Place the chicken tenders in the AF basket or on the crisper plate in a single layer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Cook the tenders for approximately 8-1/2 to 10 minutes until they are golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165 to 170°F when checked with a digital thermometer. You can turn them over at 5 minutes. You might have to cook in batches.
4. Set up a taco station with all the ingredients in separate bowls and allow everyone to assemble their own tacos. Enjoy.
Air Fryer Teriyaki Chicken Tenders with Jasmine Rice
- 1 pound chicken tenders
- 1 TBS sesame oil
- 1 cup tamari or soy sauce
- 3 TBS rice vinegar
- 1-1/2 tsps arrowroot powder
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- 2 scallions, sliced thinly
- 1 cup cooked jasmine rice (recipe follows)
Total time: 25 min – Prep time: 15 min – Cook time: 10 min – Serves: 2 people
1. Coat the chicken tenders with the sesame oil and set aside.
2. In a medium sauce pan, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce, rice vinegar, and arrowroot powder until the powder is dissolved. Mix in the garlic and ginger. Turn the heat on to medium. As soon as the sauce comes up to a rolling simmer, stir in the sugar until it dissolves completely, approximately 3 minutes. Stir in the sesame seeds and turn the heat off. Set the pot aside, off of the heat, and allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Preheat the air fryer to 350°F. Brush 1/3 of the sauce all over the chicken tenders.
4. Place the chicken tenders in the AF basket or on the crisper plate in a single layer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Cook the tenders for 5 minutes and turn over. Brush the tops with the remaining sauce, saving some if you are cooking in 2 batches. Cook an additional 3-1/2 to 5 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 to 170°F when checked with a digital thermometer.
5. Serve the chicken tenders with rice. Garnish with the scallions.
- 3/4 cup jasmine rice, rinsed very well
- 1-1/2 tsps unsalted butter
- 1 cup + 3 TBS water
- 1 tsp sea salt
Total time: 23 min – Prep time: 5 min – Cook time: 18 min – Serves: 2 people
1. While the rice is draining, heat a medium saucepan with over high heat. Melt the butter and add the rice, stirring to coat it with the butter. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot.
2. Simmer the rice for 18 minutes. Don’t be tempted to take the lid off. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
3. Fluff with a fork. Add a small amount of butter if desired. Season with Salt and pepper. Serve with your chicken tenders.
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