Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

These Air Fryer Chicken Tenders are crunchy, crispy, and robustly seasoned. They’re quick to throw together and sure to be crowd pleasers. Plus, I’m including our favorite honey-mustard dipping sauce for these tenders, and it only requires five ingredients!

We’re obsessed with the air fryer these days — try some of our other favorite air-fried recipes like these Southwest Egg Rolls or this Honey Mustard Chicken Sausage and Veggies.

Close-up of Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

Close-up of Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

Wow! If this recipe doesn’t convince you that having an air fryer is one of the best uses of kitchen space, I don’t know what will! I mean, maybe this Air Fryer Pizookie already convinced you?! These chicken tenders come together so easily and are cooked ridiculously fast in the air fryer. They’re crispy, crunchy, and loaded with texture and flavor.

However, if you don’t have an air fryer, don’t leave just yet; you can make these in the oven too! They’re slightly less crispy and take just a bit longer, but I’m certain you’ll still be pleased with the outcome!

Uncooked chicken tenders being prepped for cooking.

Uncooked chicken tenders being prepped for cooking.

Let’s Talk Chicken Tenders

Ok, first things first. We use chicken tenders for this recipe. You can use chicken breasts, but you’ll need to cut them into thin strips — so they’re the size of tenders. Depending on the breast size, you can get 3-4 tenders from one breast.

To prepare the chicken tenders, you’ll need to remove the tendons. This may seem like a tedious task (I used to hate it), but wait till you see and try this easy hack!

There are two options at this point:

  • Marinate the chicken tenders. There are few things as tasty as buttermilk-marinated chicken tenders! The buttermilk acts as a tenderizer and will make the chicken ultra juicy and flavorful. Even as little as 20-30 minutes can make a difference! We’ve also marinated tenders in coconut milk before which yields very tender juicy chicken. There is a hint of coconut flavor though (which pairs so nicely with coconut flakes if you want to add those to the breading).
  • Use as is. If you want to skip the marinating, no problem, we’ll still get you crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders! Pat the chicken tenders well with a paper towel and proceed with the recipe.

Process shot: creating the breading for Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

Process shot: creating the breading for Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

Air Fryer Chicken Tender Breading Notes

Once the chicken is prepped (either marinated and dried or just dried with a paper towel), it’s time to dredge it in the batter, then the breading, and then throw it in the air fryer. Here’s a quick breakdown of the batter and breading in this Air Fryer Chicken Tenders recipe:

First, the batter:

  • Egg and mayo. These two ingredients contribute flavor and are the main components of liquid in this batter.
  • Dijon mustard. Here we use Dijon because it’s less intense. If you want to cut down an ingredient though, yellow mustard (used in the sauce) works here too; the flavor is just slightly more pronounced.
  • Flour. A little flour thickens the breading to ensure it stays on the chicken.
  • Spices. I like to add the spices to the batter, not the breading, to ensure the chicken gets that spice blend all over it. We use pretty standard spices here — paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt & pepper.

Then, the three-ingredient breading:

  • Panko. Panko bread crumbs are similar to regular bread crumbs, but they create a much crunchier result. Here’s an article to explain it further. I use panko as opposed to breadcrumbs in pretty much every recipe on this site — you can use leftovers from this package in this Turkey Meatloaf, these Chicken Parm Stuffed Shells, or this baked ChickenTortellini.
  • Cornmeal. Our favorite to use is Alber’s® Yellow Cornmeal. It’s got a great fine-ground consistency and adds a perfect flavor and texture to the chicken. We got this idea from a good friend — Carlsbad Cravings!
  • Flour. We use regular all-purpose white flour for this breading.

QUICK TIP

Once all the tenderloins are battered and breaded, they need to be generously sprayed with cooking spray. This promotes crisp, even browning in the air fryer.

Process shots: cooking the tenders in the air fryer.

Process shots: cooking the tenders in the air fryer.

Dipping Sauce Tips

The sauce is a must-have for these Air Fryer Chicken Tenders — it’s got so much flavor and truly makes the chicken unforgettable! I have a few tips to share:

  • Use good mayo. I highly recommend real, full-fat mayo for the best possible dipping sauce. Hellmanns/Best Foods® is my favorite brand (not sponsored). 
  • For this sauce, we’re using yellow mustard, not Dijon–which won’t taste quite right here.
  • Sweeten to taste. I wouldn’t consider this sauce overly sweet, but it does have a touch of sweetness. If you’re concerned about that, add the honey slowly and to taste.
  • Don’t forget to season. A little pinch of salt and pepper goes a long way in rounding out flavors and balancing ingredients.
  • Add a flavorful honey BBQ sauce. We like Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey BBQ® sauce best in this recipe (not sponsored).

Dipping Air Fryer Chicken Tenders into the sauce.

Dipping Air Fryer Chicken Tenders into the sauce.

Air Fryer Chicken Tender Sides

  • Nothing hits the spot quite like French fries, so why not throw some in the air fryer while it’s out? If you make fries this way, I recommend cooking them before the chicken and then adding them back in to warm through for another 1-3 minutes.  Alternatively, grab a bag of frozen fries from the freezer section of the grocery store — most of them now have directions for air frying! We love Alexia’s® sea salt sweet potato fries (not sponsored).
  • Some quick roasted veggies are a nice balancing side. We love this Roasted Broccoli or this Roasted Asparagus. Again, either of these veggies can also be thrown in the air fryer.
  • A quick salad is another nice balancing act. This cucumber saladItalian salad or Olive Garden salad would make a nice pairing.

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders and fries, on a baking sheet.

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders and fries, on a baking sheet.

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders FAQs

1Can you put raw chicken in an air fryer?

Yes absolutely! It’s a quick and efficient way to cook chicken.

2How do I cook chicken tenderloins in the Air Fryer?

After the chicken has been breaded and generously sprayed with cooking spray, add it to the air fryer. Cook for 7-8 minutes, flip the tenders, spray the other side with cooking spray, and cook for another 6-8 minutes or until golden brown and a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees F (carryover heat will bring it up to 165 degrees F).

Layer the chicken in one even layer– don’t stack tenders on top of one another. You may need to cook the chicken in batches if you can’t fit it all in at once.

3How long should you air fry raw chicken?

The time will vary depending on a few factors:

  • You exact air fryer model
  • The actual size of chicken tenders (they can surprisingly vary quite a bit)
  • How much chicken is in the air fryer

Once you’ve done tenders a time or two in your air fryer, you’ll know the exact cooking times, but until then I do recommend checking them a few times near the end by inserting a meat thermometer. A meat thermometer removes any guesswork on your end!

4Can I make this recipe in the oven?

Yes! Totally can do! Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Follow the recipe exactly as written, but instead of air frying, add all the breaded (and sprayed with cooking spray) tenders to a wire rack. Place the rack on top of a baking sheet and place in the fully preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes, flip and bake for another 7-10 minutes or until cooked through (160 degrees F).

More easy chicken recipes

QUICK TIP

I use, love, and recommend this air fryer (affiliate link). Air fryers do vary a bit from brand to brand, so timing may need to be slightly tweaked for your specific model when making these chicken tenders

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

These Air Fryer Chicken Tenders are crunchy, crispy, and robustly seasoned. These tenders are quick to throw together and sure to be crowd pleasers. Plus, I’m including our favorite honey-mustard dipping sauce for these tenders, and it requires only five ingredients!

Air Fryer Chicken Tenders

These Air Fryer Chicken Tenders are crunchy, crispy, and robustly seasoned. These tenders are quick to throw together and sure to be crowd pleasers. Plus, I’m including our favorite honey-mustard dipping sauce for these tenders, and it requires only five ingredients!

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 pound chicken tenderloins Note 1
  • 1 cup buttermilk, optional

Chicken Batter

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (27g) mayonnaise divided
  • 2 tablespoons (18g) white, all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon EACH: garlic powder, paprika, fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH: onion powder and pepper

Chicken Breading

  • 1 cup (77g) panko breadcrumbs Note 2
  • 1/4 cup (41g) yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup (67g) white, all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons honey BBQ sauce

Instructions

  • OPTIONAL MARINADE: Pat chicken tenders with a paper towel and trim any fat and then remove tendons (try this easy hack!). Add to a large bag or container and pour buttermilk over. Cover container or seal bag and place in the fridge for at least 20-30 minutes up to overnight. When done marinating, discard buttermilk and pat chicken tenders to dry with a paper towel.
  • BATTER AND BREAD: Add 2 tablespoons mayo and the rest of the batter ingredients to a large, shallow bowl. Whisk to combine. In a second shallow bowl, add all the chicken breading ingredients; stir to combine. Use kitchen tongs to press the chicken into the batter mixture and evenly coat all sides. Repeat to dredge all the tenders in the batter. They should all be well coated and use all the batter. Next, dredge each tender in the breading. Again, coat them all generously, use most of the breading (there may be a little extra–this extra just ensures there is enough breading). Generously spray the tenders with cooking spray on one side.

  • AIR FRY: Set air fryer heat to 400 degrees F. Add the tenders to the fryer basket in one even layer (you may need to do this in batches; don’t overlap chicken). Cook for 5-8 minutes, flip the tenders, spray with cooking spray on the other side, and cook for another 5-8 minutes or until golden brown and cooked to 160 degrees F. (Carryover heat will take them to 165 degrees F.) There will be variation in cooking in the air fryer based on the air fryer model and especially based on the actual size of chicken tenders (smaller/thinner tenders cook much quicker than thicker/larger tenders). Keep an eye on them and test with a thermometer to avoid dry chicken. If using very small & thin tenders, cook time may be even shorter than suggested amounts.

  • OR BAKE: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Follow the recipe exactly as written, but instead of air frying, add all the breaded (and sprayed with cooking spray) tenders to a cooling rack. Place the cooling rack on top of a tray and place it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes; flip and spray the other side with cooking spray. Bake for another 7-10 minutes or until cooked through (160 degrees F).

  • SAUCE: To make the sauce, add in the remaining 1/4 cup mayo along with the rest of the dipping sauce ingredients. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. (I add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.) Whisk, taste, and adjust any of the ingredients to personal preference.

  • SERVE: Serve chicken tenders right out of the air fryer or oven with lots of sauce on the side for dipping! These don’t stay crispy when stored, so I recommend cooking only enough for one meal.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: One pound of tenderloins is about 6-8 pieces. You can also cut chicken breasts into 3/4-inch thick strips.
Note 2: Panko bread crumbs are similar to regular bread crumbs, but they create a much crunchier result. They can be found near breadcrumbs, flour, or cornmeal in the grocery store.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 497kcal | Carbohydrates: 43.9g | Protein: 35.5g | Fat: 18.2g | Cholesterol: 141.7mg | Sodium: 632.2mg | Fiber: 2.4g | Sugar: 4.8g

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is an estimate. Every recipe and subsequent nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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