All-time childhood favorite meets healthy weeknight dinner via extra crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders!
A homemade version of the boxed frozen chicken strips and fast food chicken fingers I loved as a kid, these healthy air fried chicken tenders are made with simple ingredients and a nutritious, delicious upgrade from their processed counterparts.
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 still adore them (I mean, who doesn’t love fried chicken?).
Why You’ll Love Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
Thanks to the air fryer, you can enjoy crispy breaded chicken, with very little oil.
- From Air Fryer Fried Chicken Breast, to Air Fryer French Fries, to Air Fryer Mozzarella Sticks, the air fryer does a fantastic job creating “fried” tasting foods, but with less fat and calories.
- These chicken strips are gratifyingly crunchy outside, juicy inside, and perfectly dippable (see sauce ideas below).
- You can make them in big batches, freeze, and reheat later.
- Kid-approved! For a fuss-free family dinner, serve up these golden air fried chicken tenders (or these popcorn shrimp inspired Air Fryer Shrimp).
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, 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.
If you love fried chicken with buttermilk, check out my Baked Fried Chicken. This could also be cooked in your air fryer.
- 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.
- Dip chicken in the eggs, then dredge in 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!
- Barbecue Sauce. My recipe for homemade BBQ sauce is delish!
- Ketchup. The classic.
- Honey Mustard. Try the honey mustard dipping sauce from my Pecan Crusted Chicken.
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip. This lightened-up version tastes just as good as the original ranch dressing.
- Honey. My childhood fave. It’s sticky and sweet.
- Buffalo Sauce. An easy way to enjoy buffalo chicken flavor. This is Ben’s choice (he also loves these Buffalo Chicken Meatballs and Air Fryer Chicken Wings)!
- Sweet Chili Sauce. Sweet, tangy, and a little spicy. (Try these Korean Air Fryer Chicken Wings or Crispy Asian Chicken Tenders if you enjoy Asian-inspired sauce flavors.)
- Basil Dipping Sauce. Try the light and fresh basil dipping sauce from my Zucchini Fries.
- Sweet and Sour. It’s *almost* like having takeout. (Sweet and sour fans, don’t miss my Sweet and Sour Chicken.)
- 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.
Leftover air fryer chicken tenderloins make a fabulous addition to your favorite salad. I love swapping them for the chicken in this Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, using them in this copycat Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad, or adding them to this Spinach Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Poppy Seed Dressing.
What to Serve with Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Air Fryer. This is the one I own and love! It works wonders with all kinds of chicken, including Air Fryer Chicken Thighs.
- Instant Read Thermometer. The best way to tell when your tenders are done.
- Tongs. Ideal for flipping the chicken tenders.
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, plus a little onion powder. For an Italian flair, swap the paprika for Italian seasoning or your herb of choice.
Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
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
FOR DIPPING (optional):
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip
- Honey Mustard Sauce from this Pecan Crusted Chicken
- Barbecue Sauce
- Basil Yogurt Sauce from these Zucchini Fries
- 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.
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Love this recipe! Easy to make. I made it in the air fryer and the crust was so crispy but thankfully lacked the fat in other recipes. I served with bbq sauce last night and reheated leftovers today and had it with chipotle ranch. Would recommend both.
Hi Molly! So glad you enjoyed the chicken! Thank you for this kind review!
My family and I love it. I will definitely make again. Super easy and great flavor!
Hi Yvonne! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Awesome recipe. My teenage son jumped in to help make them. We’re really enjoying our new air fryer and these recipes are a huge part. Nice easy instructions and great crispy taste to the chicken tenders. Thanks!
Hi Brian! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Instead of wheat breadcrumbs, I used some pre seasoned ones (with romano, garlic and cheese) that I already had from Wegman’s. Have to say that these were the best air fryer tenders I’ve ever made! Everyone loved them and I’ve already saved the recipe to my list of favorites!
Hi Adrienne! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Tried it and it was delicious! The spice blend in the Breading really shined!
Hi Annabelle! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I don’t have oil spray. IS there something i can substitute it with? Thanks!
Hi Tamara, I really don’t have a substitute for the spray. You could maybe try brushing them with oil but it might be a bit of a mess.
First recipe that I tried. Came out pretty good. Will try some more recipes on this website.
Hi Jay! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Loved this recipe. I used Italian Bread Crumbs instead of the whole wheat, and Avocado oil spray instead of the Olive Oil because those were what I had on hand. My family loved this! Thanks a bunch.
Hi Lakeesha! So glad you enjoyed the recipe. Thank you for this kind review!
DELICIOUS! Didn’t have bread crumbs so substituted corn starch and flour – worked great!
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it, Darla! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Everything about this recipe worked out amazing for me. I soaked my chicken tenders in buttermilk for 30 minutes before and it made an even juicer batch. Thanks for this recipe. 😊
Hi Maggie! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Great results. Just loved it ❤️
Hi Bev! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This was my first attempt at air fryer chicken strips, and my family loved these. I even made the bread crumbs from bread toasted in the air fryer! In my machine, it took 10 minutes per batch, turning at the 5 min mark, to get to 165°+. Highly recommend!
Hi D! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
These were so good! I followed as suggested except I did not have bread crumbs so used corn flake crumbs with the panko, it worked fine. The air fryer made them crispy outside moist inside. Served with honey mustard sauce. Definitely will make again! Thank you
Glad it worked out for you Marge! Thank you!
Have not tried these yet but would love too! Any suggestions for substitutions for egg (egg allergy in our home)
Hi Ashley! I’ve only tested the recipe as is, so not sure what would be a good substitute. I did do a quick Google search and it looks like you might be able to use heavy creamy, butter, or yogurt. If you decide to experiment, I’d love to know how it goes!
I followed this recipe exactly as you wrote it, but my coating stayed white and “raw” colored and never did turn golden brown, even though I sprayed it with cooking spray first. They tasted good but they looked gross!
I’m sorry to hear you had trouble with the recipe Cheryl. Did you use olive oil spray or cooking spray? They are two different types of spray.
Do you cook the tenders 7-8 minutes total or 7-8 minutes on each side for a total of 14-16 mins?
Hi Kristina! Step 6 read: 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.) Hope this helps!
I agree that I too was confused about the cooking time. I looked at another air fryer tenders recipe with different ingredients, and the cooking temp was 400 for 7-8 minutes on each side, so that’s what I’m going with.
Hi Marie! For these you will cook 7-8 minutes total, pulling them out half way through that cooking time and flipping them. ENJOY!
Yep, 7 minutes each side made them too dry. Thanks for clearing this up, Erin.
Sure thing Marie!
Like so many of your recipes, these are great. Only took about 6-7 minutes total, and I flipped them after 3-4 minutes. I did use a thermometer to make sure they were done. However, they are pretty salty. I would cut the salt down by at least 1/2 tsp, maybe more. I did salt the tenders first and then the 1 1/2 tsps in the breadcrumbs was just too much. But they were crispy and easy to make!!
Hi Donna! Definitely adjust the seasonings based on your own preferences but also make sure it was kosher salt. It’s much different than table salt and will result in saltier dishes.