These Crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders Put Frozen Nuggets to Shame
When you barely have enough energy to pick out a Netflix show — let alone create a complicated meal for the family — chicken tenders can be your saving grace. They're incredibly filling, loved by kiddos and adults alike, and only require a handful of staple ingredients to make. The problem: It can feel impossible to achieve their signature crispy texture if you're opting to bake, not fry, your strips. Most often, you're left with chicken tenders that are soggy on the outside and dry-as-a-bone on the inside. Gross.
Luckily, air fryer chicken tenders are an easy solution. ICYDK, air fryers circulate hot air around your food, allowing it to heat evenly and achieve the same crispy exterior you'd get from deep frying, no oil required. And skipping this frying step could have some nutrition benefits: Foods cooked in an air fryer have about 75 percent less fat than those cooked in a traditional fryer. Since the United States Department of Agriculture recommends limiting your total fat intake to about 44 to 78 grams per day, noshing on air fryer chicken tenders instead of the deep-fried variety can help you stay within that suggested cap.
Nutrition aside, cooking chicken strips in an air fryer will produce tenders that have an audible crunch when you bite into them and a moist, juicy interior. The key to creating seriously satisfying air fryer chicken tenders, however, is to employ a three-step breading process that will prevent your nuggets from losing their precious crunchy coating. First, you'll roll the chicken in flour, which helps the liquid adhere to the meat. From there, you'll dunk it in buttermilk, then give it a final dip in panko bread crumbs.
The process for making this air fryer chicken tender recipe is simple, but utilizing one particular technique will make the job less messy. To keep clumps of flour from sticking to your hands after every buttermilk dip, dedicate one hand to the dry ingredients and one to the wet. For example, you'll use your "wet" hand to drop each tender in the flour and dip it in the buttermilk, and you'll use your "dry" hand to roll it in the flour and breadcrumbs. Trust, this method will save you plenty of ingredients and time spent washing your hands.
Once you've breaded all of your tenders, it's time to cook them to perfection. The chicken used in the recipe is lean, and the strips are only about 1/2-inch-thick, so it typically takes just eight to 10 minutes to cook the chicken tenders in the air fryer. Still, you'll want to work in batches so that the air can properly circulate around the food. Over-crowding can slow down the cooking process and make it challenging to know when your air fryer chicken tenders are fully cooked.
While these air fryer chicken tenders are tasty on their own, they pair perfectly with mustard, hummus, or salad dressing if you're in the mood for a dip. To create a complete meal, serve the air fryer chicken tenders with a side of oven-baked fries, chop them up and use them as a salad topping, or use a strip as a sandwich filling. Regardless of how you use the tenders, you won't miss the deep-fried kind one bit.
Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
Start to finish: 35 minutes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs (preferably whole wheat)
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- Preheat air fryer to 375°F for 5 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add panko breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in Italian seasoning and set aside.*
- Cut chicken breasts on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick strips. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.
- In a shallow bowl, combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika. In a second shallow bowl, whisk buttermilk and hot sauce together. Pour seasoned panko bread crumbs in a third shallow bowl.
- Dredge one chicken strip in flour mixture and tap off any excess. Then, dip the chicken in buttermilk mixture, then coat in breadcrumbs. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken strips.
- Remove air fryer basket and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Add 4 to 5 pieces of chicken (depending on the size of your air fryer) to the basket and cook for 4 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 165°F, about 4 minutes. Repeat with remaining chicken strips.
*Tip: Toasting the bread crumbs in a skillet gives your air fryer chicken tenders a golden-brown color, but if you don't have time, you can skip this step.
Nutrition facts per serving: 331 calories, 8g fat, 1g saturated fat, 32g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 30g protein, 399 mg sodium