All-time childhood favorite meets healthy weeknight dinner via extra crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders!
A homemade version of my most-requested meal growing up, these healthy air fried chicken tenders are made with simple ingredients and a serious upgrade from the frozen ones I once prayed my mother would serve for dinner every night.
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, tried to sneak a frozen box into my mom’s grocery cart, and if we ate out for a “fancy” dinner (ahem, Chili’s) I’d order them off the appetizer menu as my main dish.
On a recent road trip, we pulled through a drive-through and for whatever reason, I HAD to have chicken fingers, along with my childhood dipping sauce of choice, honey (it’s also the inspiration behind my baked Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders).
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 just like Air Fryer Shrimp and Air Fried Mozzarella Sticks, 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 breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs.
- The regular breadcrumbs adhere easily to the chicken, so you get a complete coating.
- The larger panko breadcrumbs add essential texture and crunch.
Some recipes call for air fryer chicken tenders with flour, but (as with Air Fryer Fried Chicken Breast) I find breadcrumbs yield a better breading that is more reminiscent of the frozen variety (in a good way).
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.
- 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.
- Eggs. Help 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 breadcrumbs 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 strips.
- 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.
Air Fryer Chicken Tenders Sauce Suggestions
Because dunking in your favorite dipping sauce is half of the fun!
- To Store. Refrigerate air fryer 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 air fryer 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 air fryer chicken tenders are crispy once reheated, skip the microwave. Rewarming them in the oven or air fryer will help crisp them back up.
What to Serve with Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
The Best Air Fryer
This air fryer model has numerous different settings and includes a rack for broiling. The accessories are dishwasher-safe too.
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 bread crumbs to adhere. Thawed, raw chicken is completely safe to put in an air fryer.
For chicken tenders without breading (say you are following a keto or low-carbohydrates diet), skip the breading, use the seasoning from my Air Fryer Chicken Breast and cook the chicken tenders at 400 degrees F for 7 to 8 minutes cooking time as directed in this recipe. (These Grilled Chicken Tenders are another delicious option.)
Yes, you can certainly swap different spices 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 air fryer chicken tenders, add Parmesan cheese and extra garlic powder. For an Italian flair, swap the paprika for Italian seasoning.
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 cooking 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.
Serving: 1(of 4)Calories: 343kcalCarbohydrates: 12gProtein: 53gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 227mgPotassium: 913mgFiber: 2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 680IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 37mgIron: 2mg
Join today and start saving your favorite recipes
Create an account to easily save your favorite projects and tutorials.