Chicken strips is a broad term for a variety of chicken pieces that are made from the tenderloin strip that is attached to a boneless, skinless chicken breast. This is a small strip of tender white meat that is juicier than the larger portion of the breast. However, you can also find chicken strips that are cut from the larger portion of the breast.
When buying frozen chicken strips, you may see them also labeled as chicken fingers or chicken tenders. Fingers and tender are often coated in a crispy breading. Though, you can also find not breaded chicken strips. These are generally seasoned well and grilled or baked before being frozen and packaged. You will see chicken strips blackened, buffalo style, smoked, and more.
Kids, and many adults, seem to prefer the breaded chicken strips. The bare strips are undoubtedly healthier with fewer calories. The breaded strips are perfect for eating with your hands, accompanied by a dipping sauce. Non-breaded chicken strips are terrific for fajitas, tacos, salads, pasta, and buddha bowls.
An ideal way to cook frozen chicken strips is in your air fryer. It only takes a few minutes and this method results in a healthy alternative to deep frying chicken strips. When you order chicken strips in a restaurant, they are generally deep fried in oil.
Tips for Air Frying Chicken Strips
Cooking frozen chicken strips in an air fryer is almost child’s play. It is that simple. To be clear, I don’t recommend you leave the job to your toddler. Have the little one help with the super easy dipping sauce recipe that follows the chicken strip recipe.
First, don’t defrost the strips. They are best frozen in the air fryer just as the package instructs for cooking them frozen in an oven.
Preheat your air fryer for 5 minutes so it is hot when the strips hit the basket or crisper plate. This is similar to deep frying in that the chicken hits the heat fast and starts to crisp up the breading or seasoned exterior immediately.
To oil or not to oil? Many frozen chicken strips have some oil in the breading or are coated with a little oil in the seasoning mixture so both adhere well. I like to lightly coat the crisper plate or basket with just a touch of extra virgin olive oil to prevent the coating or chicken from sticking to the fryer. This is optional, especially if your fryer insert is ceramic or has a non-stick coating.
Cook in a single layer. Yes, this means you may be cooking in batches. It is worth the effort. The chicken will cook more evenly and crisp up better if you don’t crowd the basket or plate. As the name implies, an air fryer relies on hot air circulation to cook proteins. If the air can’t circulate freely, the chicken will clump together and be unevenly cooked.
Keep an eye on the chicken strips. This step is important because no air fryer is created equal. In fact, my first air fryer was great, but it cooked so much faster than many recipes called for. That fryer eventually overheated and stopped working completely. Turns out, it wasn’t calibrated perfectly and cooked at a much higher heat than I set the temp to. It happens. My replacement Ninja Air Fryer heats to temp and cooks perfectly. Once you know the temperament of your air fryer you will be able to tweak the timing on every recipe. You want breaded strips to be browned and crispy and naked strips to be browned and heated through completely.
Now, lets get to the recipes.
Air Fryer Frozen Chicken Tenders
- 1 package breaded or naked and seasoned chicken strips
- Extra virgin olive oil spray (optional)
Total time:19 min – Prep time:5 min – Cook time:14 min per batch – Serves:4 people
1. Preheat your air fryer to 390°F for 5 minutes.
2. Give the basket or crisper plate a light spray or brush of olive oil. If the strips have oil listed as an ingredient, this may not be necessary.
3. Place the strips in a single layer in the basket or on the crisper plate. Close the bucket and cook for 8 minutes for breaded or 6 minutes for naked.
4. Flip the strips over and continue to cook for 6 to 8 minutes for breaded or 5 to 7 minutes for naked. The breaded strips should be browned and crunchy. The naked strips just need to be completely warmed through. Repeat the process if necessary.
5. Serve the breaded fingers or tenders with a sweet and sour dipping sauce, ketchup, or ranch dressing. Serve the uncoated strips on salad, pasta, or in tacos. (Dipping sauce recipe follows).
Homemade Duck Sauce
- 3/4 cup apricot jam or orange marmalade
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or mirin
- 1 tsp low sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1/16 tsp cayenne
Total time: 5 min – Prep time: 5 min – Yield: 1 cup
1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until fully combined.
2. cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This sauce gets better when it sits for a bit. Bring the sauce to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving with the chicken tenders.
3. Store any extra in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. It should last for a couple of weeks.
Chicken strips make a great appetizer or an entrée. If you are serving breaded chicken strips as a main dish, you might consider pairing them with crunchy air-fried pickles or roasted carrots. These suggestions are generally enjoyed by both kids and adults. I like to add a healthy green salad or creamy coleslaw with cabbage and apples to complete the meal
I can’t get enough of a good Caesar salad. Though, I always like to add protein to my salads. I will often add chicken strips or salmon. A favorite Caesar salad is one with blackened chicken strips and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan on top.