All-time childhood favorite meets healthy weeknight dinner via crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders! A homemade version of my most-requested meal growing up, they are made with simple ingredients and a serious upgrade from the frozen ones I once prayed my mother would serve for dinner every night.
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From the ages of approximately 4 to 14, chicken tenders (and their first cousin, chicken nuggets) were, to me, the pinnacle of culinary perfection.
I ordered them at every drive-through, tugged the end of my mom’s grocery cart towards the freezer aisle hoping she’d grab a box, and if we ate out for a “fancy” dinner (ahem, Chili’s) I’d order them off the appetizer menu as my main dish.
These days, I rarely stop for fast food, but on a recent road trip, we pulled through a drive-through and for whatever reason, I HAD to have chicken fingers.
I consummated the experience by dunking them into my childhood dipping sauce of choice, honey (it’s also the inspiration behind my baked Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders).
They were SO GOOD.
Childhood Erin had a point.
Freshly enamored, I pulled out my new go-to weapon for making healthy versions of deep-fried favorites, my air fryer.
Watch out golden arches, you have been beat!
Crunchy and crispy outside, tender inside, and completely dippable, these healthy air fryer chicken tenders have officially replaced the frozen and fast-food versions in my heart.
How to Make Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
The key to making the chicken tenders crispy is a combination of regular and panko breadcrumbs.
- The regular breadcrumbs adhere easily to the chicken, so you get a complete coating. Some recipes call for air fryer chicken tenders with flour instead, but I find breadcrumbs yield a better breading that is more reminiscent of the frozen variety (in a good way).
- The larger panko breadcrumbs add essential texture and crunch.
I’ve suggested some light seasoning that gives the chicken tenders flavor without losing the simplicity of their appeal. Feel free to switch them up to suit your and your family’s preferences.
If you love fried chicken with buttermilk, check out my Baked Fried Chicken.
- Chicken Tenders. Beloved by children and adults alike, chicken tenders are a delicious, quick-cooking option for lean protein. You can find pre-cut chicken tenders at most grocery stores.
Cutting Your Own Chicken Tenders
If your grocery store doesn’t sell chicken tenders, you can make your own from a chicken breast. Slice a boneless, skinless chicken breast lengthwise into strips (about a 1/2-inch thick).
- Eggs. Helps the breadcrumbs adhere to the chicken tenders.
- Panko Breadcrumbs. Panko provides a lighter breadcrumb coating that crisps up perfectly in the air fryer.
- Whole Wheat Breadcrumbs. Regular breacrumbs help fully coat the chicken tenders in breading, filling in any gaps that the Panko might leave behind.
- Paprika. Adds a mild, savory earthiness.
- Garlic Powder. For necessary garlicky goodness.
- Salt + Pepper. The essentials.
- Dry and salt the chicken.
- Beat the eggs in one bowl and combine the breadcrumbs and spices in another.
- Coat the chicken in the eggs, then the breadcrumb mixture.
- Lay the tenders on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Place a single layer of tenders in your air fryer. Coat with olive oil spray.
- Air fry chicken tenders at 400 degrees F for 7 to 8 minutes, flipping halfway through. Repeat with remaining chicken. ENJOY!
How long chicken tenders stay in the air fryer will depend upon your model, as well as how crisp you would like them to be.
In my model at 400 degrees F (400 degrees F is the best temperature at which to air fry chicken), the chicken tenders cook in 7 to 8 minutes.
Chicken Tenders Sauce Suggestions
Because dipping is half of the fun!
- Barbecue Sauce. My recipe for homemade BBQ sauce is delish!
- Ketchup. The classic.
- Honey Mustard. Try the honey mustard dipping sauce from my Pecan Crusted Chicken.
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip. This lightened-up version tastes just as good as the original.
- Honey. My childhood fave! It’s sticky and sweet.
- Buffalo Sauce. An easy way to enjoy buffalo chicken flavor. This is Ben’s fave (he also loves these Buffalo Chicken Meatballs and Air Fryer Chicken Wings)!
- Sweet Chili Sauce. Sweet, tangy, and a little spicy. (Try these Korean Air Fryer Chicken Wings if you enjoy Asian-inspired sauce flavors.)
- Basil Dipping Sauce. Try the light and fresh basil dipping sauce from my Zucchini Fries.
- Sweet and Sour. It’s *almost* like having takeout. (Sweet and sour fans, don’t miss my Crockpot Sweet and Sour Chicken.)
- To Store. Refrigerate chicken tenders in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in the oven at 350 degrees F, in the air fryer, or (if you are desperate and don’t care about texture) in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Lay cooked chicken tenders in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze until solid, then transfer the frozen tenders to an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Reheat directly from frozen.
To ensure your frozen chicken tenders are crispy once reheated, skip the microwave. Rewarming them in the oven or air fryer will help crisp them back up.
Leftover chicken tenders make a fabulous addition to your favorite salad. I love swapping them for the chicken in this Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad or adding them to this Spinach Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Poppy Seed Dressing.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Air Fryer. This is the one I own and love!
- Instant Read Thermometer. The best way to tell when your tenders are done.
- Tongs. Ideal for flipping the chicken tenders.
The Best Air Fryer
This air fryer model has numerous different settings and includes a rack for broiling. The accessories are dishwasher-safe too.
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Frequently Asked Questions
You can certainly put frozen chicken tenders in the air fryer, but only if you are making air fryer chicken tenders with no breading. Because this recipe is breaded, you will need to thaw the chicken first in order for the breading to adhere. Thawed, raw chicken is completely safe to put in an air fryer.
For chicken tenders without breading, use the seasoning from my Air Fryer Chicken Breast and cook the chicken tenders at 400 degrees F for 7 to 8 minutes as directed in this recipe. (These Grilled Chicken Tenders are another delicious option.)
Yes, you can certainly swap the seasonings in this recipe. For those who enjoy spicy chicken tenders, add some cayenne pepper to the breadcrumb mixture. If you’re a fan of garlic Parmesan chicken tenders, add Parmesan cheese and extra garlic powder.
Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
FOR THE AIR FRYER CHICKEN TENDERS:
- 2 pounds chicken tenders about 14
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt divided
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Olive oil spray
- With paper towels, pat the chicken tenders dry. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
In a shallow bowl (a pie dish works well) beat the eggs together. In a second shallow bowl, stir together the panko, breadcrumbs, paprika, garlic powder, pepper, and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and keep it nearby.
Coat the chicken tenders: Working a few at a time, dip each piece of chicken into the egg, then into the breadcrumb mixture, patting it gently as needed to adhere. Shake off excess.
Transfer the chicken to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces.
Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees F. If you’d like to keep the chicken warm between batches, turn a regular oven to 250 degrees F. Coat the air fryer basket with the olive oil spray, then add chicken tenders in a single layer so that they are not touching (I can cook 4 at a time). Coat the top of the chicken tenders with oil spray.
Cook the chicken for 7 to 8 minutes, pulling out the air fryer basket and flipping the pieces over once halfway through. (The chicken should register at least 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer and the outsides will be golden brown and crisp.) Repeat with remaining chicken tenders, keeping them warm in the oven between batches as desired. Enjoy hot.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate chicken tenders in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in the oven at 350 degrees F, in the air fryer, or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Lay cooked chicken tenders in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze until solid, then transfer the frozen tenders to an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Reheat from frozen.