Try healthy air fryer chicken tenders for a quick entrée, snack, or appetizer. They’re easy to make and so much more economical than restaurant or frozen tenders.
Crisp, tender, flavorful breaded chicken tenders are a snap to make in your air fryer. With just a few easy ingredients, you can have these popular boneless chicken strips on the table in less than a half hour.
Chicken tenders, chicken strips, chicken fingers — what do you call them? I always find the thought of chicken fingers kind of weird. I mean, who’s ever seen a chicken with fingers? They don’t even have hands. And really, who wants to eat fingers anyways… Creepy. Sounds like a horror movie or something.
Regardless, whatever name you give ’em, call them delicious! Why make a trip to the Golden Arches and pay top dollar for chicken tenders when you can make them right at home with your (new) toy. Whether you’re an experienced air fryer pro or maybe haven’t even opened the box yet, you’ll be able to turn plain chicken breasts into a crispy treat.
And remember, half the fun is the dipping sauce! Try homemade BBQ sauce, marinara sauce, fry sauce (great with air fryer French fries, too), healthy ranch dressing, or just plain honey (that was always my favorite when I was growing up).
About this recipe
You may be wondering what kind of chicken to buy. Often you can buy a package of “chicken tenders”. They’re actually the tenderloin of the breast and they can be a little pricey. Most often fried chicken tenders are made from the entire breast cut into thin strips. Use a sharp knife and you can cut your own. You’ll find that’s it’s much more economical. If you’d rather have chicken nuggets, the recipe is very similar.
The breading ingredients are simple and you probably have everything you need in your pantry. These air fried chicken strips are much healthier than what you get in a restaurant. There’s very little oil, and you control the amount of sodium added. You’ll be shocked to learn that a serving of chicken tenders (6 strips) at a fast food restaurant contains 740 calories, 44 grams of fat, and a whopping 2130 mg of sodium.
There’s lots of ways to make these strips and “have it your way.” Keep reading for the full printable recipe near the end of this post, as usual.
What you need
- Chicken tenders – Buy them already cut or cut boneless skinless chicken breasts into approximately one half inch thick slices. Make sure they’re pretty close to the same size so that they cook evenly.
- Salt and pepper – We put the salt and pepper right on the chicken instead of in the flour mixture. This seasons the chicken instead of the flour which may not all be used.
- Flour – For another layer of flavor, season the flour with paprika and garlic powder, or another seasoning of your choice.
- Eggs – Dipping the tenders in beaten egg will help the panko adhere. If you avoid eggs, buttermilk or milk will work here.
- Panko – Panko is larger than traditional bread crumbs, and these large airy bread crumbs are used for extra crispy breading!
- Dried Parsley Flakes – I’ll let you in on a secret, these are more for color than anything else. They don’t add a ton of flavor. You could leave them out if you want to keep things simple or if your kids hate anything green.
- Olive Oil or Avocado Oil Spray – Spraying the tenders with oil will help them crisp up and will also give them a nice golden brown color. Nonstick cooking spray will also work in a pinch, but we prefer pure oils.
How to make crispy chicken tenders
Making breaded chicken strips is easy and follows the usual breading routine.
You’ll need three shallow bowls: one with flour, one with beaten egg, and one with panko bread crumbs and seasonings.
Dip the raw chicken strips, one at a time, in each bowl:
- Coat them first with flour. The flour helps the eggs stick.
- Then dip the strips in beaten egg, letting excess drip off.
- Lastly, you’ll dip them in the panko, pressing lightly to help it adhere.
Spray the chicken strips lightly with either olive oil or avocado oil and they’re ready to pop into the air fryer.
Tip: Make sure you don’t crowd them on the rack because good air circulation is essential for crisping.
Chicken tenders take seven to eleven minutes to cook in your air fryer, depending on how large your tenders are.
How to make this recipe your own
- Try different seasonings in the flour mixture. Taco seasoning, Italian seasoning, or chili seasoning would be fun choices but really, try any of your favorites.
- Add grated Parmesan cheese to the panko. Reduce the amount of panko to 3/4 cup and add 1/4 cup Parmesan.
- Substitute whole wheat bread crumbs for the panko. Rather have no breading? Try Air Fryer chicken breasts or Air Fryer chicken drumsticks.
- For even more flavor, marinate the chicken tenders before you bread them. A simple buttermilk marinade is nice, or try one of my Chicken Marinades.
Make sure the tenders have enough space in the air fryer so that plenty of air can circulate around them. Once the tenders have been “fried”, don’t cover them. Steam that collects under the foil or plastic wrap will make them soggy in a hurry.
If you’re making a large batch, put the cooked tenders on a wire baking rack placed on top of a sheet pan in a warm oven (175-200ºF). This will keep them warm and crispy while you finish cooking the rest.
Bread the tenders, place them on a tray, and refrigerate for up to one hour before frying.
Want to have a quick go-to meal or snack in your freezer? Homemade breaded chicken strips are so much more economical and better than store-bought frozen strips.
Place uncooked breaded tenders on a tray and freeze until hard, 1 to 2 hours. Put them in resealable freezer bags to freeze for up to 1 month. Frozen uncooked chicken strips can be air fried without thawing but add a few minutes to the cooking time.
Or freeze cooked chicken strips. When you’re hungry for chicken tenders, pop them in your air fryer for ten minutes or until heated through and crispy. Cooking times will vary, depending on your air fryer model and on the size of the chicken strips.
Leftover chicken tenders can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to one month.
For best crispy results, reheat leftover chicken strips in the air fryer for a few minutes, or in a toaster oven for five minutes. They can be reheated in the microwave as well, but they won’t be as crispy and the chicken may get dry.
More gems from the air fryer
Healthier-for-you fried food … bring it on! Who doesn’t love that idea? Try:
- Air Fryer Sweet Potato Fries
- Air Fryer Falafel
- Air Fryer French Toast Sticks
- Air Fryer Mozzarella Sticks
- Air Fryer Brussels Sprouts
- Air Fryer Buffalo Cauliflower Bites
- Air Fryer Salmon – easy and delicious!
- Air Fryer Grilled Cheese Sandwich with variations!
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, or boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup whole wheat or all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
- Olive oil or avocado oil spray
- Optional dipping sauce: marinara or pizza sauce, barbecue sauce, or ranch dressing
- Preheat air fryer at 400ºF for 8-10 minutes.
- Season both sides of chicken tenders with salt and pepper.
- Set out three small shallow bowls. In the first bowl, place flour, paprika, and garlic powder; mix lightly.
- In the second bowl, add eggs and beat lightly.
- In the third bowl, combine panko and parsley flakes.
- One at a time, coat chicken pieces in the flour mixture, then dip into the beaten egg, and finally coat with the panko mixture, pressing lightly to help the coating adhere.
- Place chicken tenders in basket of air fryer, in a single layer. Cook in batches if necessary.Spray the tenders with olive oil spray (this helps them get golden brown and crispy).
- Air fry each batch of chicken tenders for 7-11 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken tenders, or until internal temperature reaches 165ºF. Do not overcook.
- Vary the seasonings added to the flour or panko. Try taco seasoning or Italian seasoning. Or substitute 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese for 1/4 cup of the panko.
Freezing chicken tenders (Make ahead):
- Place uncooked breaded tenders on a tray and freeze until hard, 1 to 2 hours. Put them in resealable freezer bags to freeze for up to 1 month. Frozen uncooked chicken strips can be air fried without thawing but add a few minutes to the cooking time.
- Or freeze cooked chicken strips. When you're hungry for chicken tenders, pop them in your air fryer for ten minutes or until heated through and crispy. Cooking times will vary, depending on your air fryer model and on the size of the chicken strips.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1/4 pound
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 364Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 189mgSodium: 583mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 43g
RachelCooks.com sometimes provides nutritional information, but these figures should be considered estimates, as they are not calculated by a registered dietitian. Please consult a medical professional for any specific nutrition, diet, or allergy advice.