Baked chicken tenders are the ultimate finger foods for kids and adults. Each lean white meat strip is coated with a breadcrumb crust and then cooked in the oven until a crispy texture forms. Simply serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
Table of Contents
These chicken tenders are an easy appetizer or main dish. Of course, frying is the gold standard, but we can still achieve a good crunch without cooking in hot oil. Instead, this recipe bakes and broils the meat. I use a simple standard breading procedure to create a flavorful crust that sticks to the surface.
The pieces bake first to cook the meat and harden the coating. The tenders are then briefly broiled on each side until more golden in color. The contrast in textures is a delightful surprise. Serve with your favorite sauce, or pair with macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, sauteed green beans, or slice and serve on top of a salad.
Chicken tenders (or tenderloins) are strips of white meat loosely attached to the breast’s underside. There are two pieces total per bird, and they look like mini chicken breasts, but with a broader end that tapers at the bottom. They are about 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and 4 ½ to 5 inches long. You can easily pull them off with your hands.
Because the tenders don’t stay attached well, poultry processors bundle them up and sell them to grocery stores in packs, typically called boneless skinless chicken breast tenders. If desired, you can also use large chicken breasts for this recipe. Simply cut them into long strips, similar in size and thickness to the tenderloins.
Add layers of seasoning
Chicken is very neutral in flavor and can taste bland when breaded. To avoid this, I first season the meat with salt and pepper. The flour mixture is then a combination of paprika for color and earthy notes (smoked is delicious too) and salt. The breadcrumb coating is mixed with garlic and onion powder, leaving extra savory notes on the surface.
I use fine plain breadcrumbs, but you can make homemade breadcrumbs to control the size better. The bigger the particles, the larger the crunch. Japanese panko breadcrumbs work well, especially for a crispier surface. However, they will not brown as much.
The breading process
To ensure a thick breaded coating that sticks to the chicken, I use the standard breading procedure. The meat is coated with the starchy flour first to act as a primer for the egg. It’s then dipped in a mixture of whole eggs and olive oil. The sticky proteins help the fine bread crumbs attach.
The extra added fat of the oil helps to fry the chicken’s surface without being in a pan on the stovetop. Make sure to firmly press and cover the chicken completely in the breadcrumbs for the crunchy texture. Shake off any excess so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the baking sheet.
Use gluten-free flour, cassava flour, rice flour, or cornstarch instead of wheat flour. You can also modify the coating with gluten-free breadcrumbs, crushed rice cereal, or finely chopped nuts like almond or pecan.
These chicken tenders cook quickly, in under 20 minutes. I bake them at 425-degrees for 13 minutes to cook the meat to about 150 to 155ºF (65 to 68ºC). Then I broil for about 4 to 6 minutes, which brings the internal temperature to 165ºF (74ºC) or slightly above depending on the thickness. Let the pieces cool for a few minutes to complete carryover cooking and allow the juices to redistribute.
Finish by broiling
I bake the chicken strips on an elevated wire rack set on top of a prepared baking sheet. This technique ensures that the hot air in the oven circulates for even cooking, and the crust doesn’t get soggy.
Baking at 425-degrees cooks the egg proteins in the coating, hardening and securing the crust while keeping the meat juicy and tender. To further brown and crisp the surface, I broil each side in the lowest part of the oven. If too close to the top heating element, the breadcrumbs will burn.
Incorporate into other meals
Besides grabbing a piece and dipping it into your favorite sauce, there are many ways to enjoy these tenders. I like to slice them up and add them to salads like Chinese chicken, Thai salad, or Cesar. You can also add them into wraps or toasted buns for a crunchy sandwich.
What to serve this with
Remove the tendon
One thing to notice is the white tube looking tendon peeking out from the chicken tender’s thicker end. It’s edible but chewy, so it’s best to remove it. It runs through the meat but can be firmly pulled out with ease. I grasp the tendon with one hand, use a fork to hold down the flesh, and then pull until it releases.
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Baked Chicken Tenders
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast tenders, about 8 strips
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning
- black pepper, for seasoning
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
- 1 cups bread crumbs
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Set the oven racks to the middle and lower position. Heat to 425°F (218ºC).
- Line a large baking sheet with foil. Place a wire rack on top, spray with nonstick cooking spray, or lightly coat with oil. Set aside.
- Remove the white tendon attached to the chicken tenderloin. Use a paring knife to cut it out. Alternatively, hold the end of the tendon with one hand, place the tines of the fork in between the tendon and chicken to hold down the meat, then firmly pull the tendon until it releases. It helps to hold the tendon with some paper towel if it becomes slippery. Transfer chicken to a plate and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, paprika, and 1 teaspoon salt.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.
- In another medium bowl, whisk together eggs and olive oil.
- Set up a breading station starting on the left with chicken, followed by the flour mixture, egg mixture, and breadcrumbs.
- Bread the chicken as follows: Use the left hand to place chicken in the flour, coat well and shake off excess. Use the same hand to dip into the egg mixture, fully coating the chicken. Place in the breadcrumb bowl. Use your right hand to coat and firmly press the breadcrumbs into the chicken, turning over as needed.
- Gently shake off any excess crumbs and place the breaded chicken on the baking rack. Repeat with other pieces. You want to make sure that the chicken is coated as much as possible to achieve a crunchy texture. If any excess coating falls on the baking sheet after breading, lift the rack and discard the crumbs. The high temperature may cause those bits to burn if left in the pan.
- Bake on the center rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and use your fingers to flip. It’s warm to the touch but not hot. Tongs may cause the coating to flake off.
- Bake for another 3 minutes, until the bottom is lightly golden brown and crisp. Remove the chicken from the oven.
- Turn the oven setting to broil, once the heating element is on, place the chicken in the lower position. Broil until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Make sure to check every minute and keep a close eye on color change.
- Flip the chicken over and broil until crisp and the thickest part of the meat reaches at least 165°F (74ºC), about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Allow it to cool 5 minutes before serving.
- Recipe Yield: 8 pieces
- Serving Size: 1 piece
- Storing: Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Place on a foil-lined sheet pan. Broil on the lowest oven position, checking every minute until warmed through and lightly crisp.
- Using panko: Panko breadcrumbs can be used instead of traditional breadcrumbs for a crunchier surface. However, the color with not be as golden in color.
- Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free breadcrumbs, chopped nuts, or crushed rice cereal. Use cassava flour, rice flour, or cornstarch instead of wheat flour for coating.
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