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Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders

June 12, 2023
Shanika | Orchids + Sweet Tea
Add the most delicious, crunchy meat option to your meal with these Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders. No need for frying, yet it's well seasoned + extra crispy, and works for the entire family!

Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders

Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders made from chicken breasts or tenderloins, seasoned in two layers (both base + coating), coated with cornflakes and breadcrumbs for an extra crunch, and added to your favorite meal like salad, pasta, sandwiches, or whatever--- for the perfect meal addition. You won’t believe how flavor-packed these chicken tenders are! All dairy-free. Gluten-free option available. 

Crispy chicken tenders piled on a platter with brown sandwich paper on a white wood table and a blue napkin.

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There's just something comforting about a good piece of chicken that comes beautifully crunchy and crispy on the outside but juicy on the inside and these Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders are just the perfect example. Growing up, chicken nuggets were my absolute favorite things to eat, especially from McDonald's. However, as I got older and McDonald's introduced their chicken tenders---I fell in complete love. Chicken tenders are so perfect because they have the right amount of meat to crunch ratio and there's seriously nothing like it.

Much like this Crispy Oven Fried Chicken recipe, these tenders are seasoned in layers and really have that extra crispiness factor like I'm used to growing up in the South. But if you're a total chicken tenders fan like I am, then this recipe or these Crispy Buffalo Chicken Tenders or Spicy Gochujang Chicken Tenders are just the thing to try next! And of course, I have options for my vegan and non-meat eater peeps with these Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower Wings/Bites, Southern Hot Honey Cauliflower Bites, and Lemon Pepper Cauliflower Bites.

What is the Secret to Good Fried Chicken or Tenders?

Believe it or not, the number 1 secret to the best fried chicken (and even tenders) is a "salty marinade". This is why most Southerners soak their chicken pieces in a well seasoned buttermilk or marinade of some sort, which adds enough salt for the most juiciest meat. In this fried chicken recipe, I love seasoning both layers of the chicken and I also create a nice dairy-free wet batter consisting of Almond milk, dijon mustard, eggs, and seasonings to add that saltiness and moisture to the chicken. It definitely makes a difference.

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Ingredients on a white wood table including cornflakes, flour, breadcrumbs, oil spray, egg, honey mustard, herbs and seasonings, and milk.

How to Make this Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders Recipe

Cooking crispy baked chicken tenders is generally an easy process---in total of about 30-35 minutes. You first start by slicing (if using chicken breasts), cleaning and washing your chicken pieces to ensure that they are clean and ready to be seasoned. I like to wash my chicken with both vinegar and lemon to help keep things clean and sanitized.

Once your chicken is clean, then it's patting dry and seasoning time! I'm all about seasoning every "layer" of my food, therefore, the chicken gets direct seasoning and so does the coating. Let everything marinate for 5-10 minutes or overnight (preferably 1-2 days) tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for the best results.

Then you dust the chicken tenders and add them to the wet mixture of some kind, and bread them in a cornflake-breadcrumb crust before baking/roasting for crispness. Finally, you serve them up and add a few drizzles of honey or hot sauce or a side of dipping sauce, if that's your thing!

Ingredients for Chicken Tenders

Here's what you need to prepare these crispy baked chicken tenders today:

  • Chicken breasts. Choose organic whenever possible. Simply slice the chicken breasts the long way into medium-thick strips. If you don’t have chicken breasts, you can always use chicken tenderloins which are pre-cut.
  • Herbs + seasonings. This adds great flavor to the chicken as a marinade. You'll need salt, black pepper, smoked paprika. garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme.
  • Corn flakes. Crush your cornflakes by placing them in a zip-top bag and crushing them with something heavy until you have a fine texture, but not a powder. 
  • All-purpose flour. I use Bob's Red Mill organic flour. You can use gluten-free all-purpose flour to keep this recipe gluten-free. 
  • Cornstarch. I find that combining flour and cornstarch together for the dusting creates the crispiest tenders. For a GF-friendly option, you can sub with GF flour or arrowroot starch.
  • Breadcrumbs. You can buy store-bought breadcrumbs or panko. Or see the notes below the recipe to easily make your own Seasoned Toasted Panko Bread Crumbs.
  • Almond milk. Or another plant-based milk (unsweetened). You can also use whole milk or heavy cream instead.
  • Eggs. Acts as a great binder for the wet marinade when coating chicken. You can sub with honey dijon mustard or mayo or yogurt or omit completely if using heavy cream.
  • Dijon mustard. There's just something special about Dijon flavor that takes this chicken to the next level. But it's totally optional. You can sub with honey mustard, spicy brown mustard, or horseradish sauce.

Do I Use Cornstarch or Flour for Crispy Chicken?

OK, so this is one of the hot debates as it relates to which one creates the crispier chicken or chicken tenders. While cornstarch does add extra layer of crispiness for your chicken, using flour still works too!

But to best honest, the best kept secret is the combination of both cornstarch and flour, which creates the crispiest results. Of course, if you're looking to make this fried chicken recipe gluten-free, then substitute the cornstarch or flour with arrowroot starch or a great all-purpose flour.

Chicken tenders on a baking sheet with a wire rack.

Tips for the Crispiest Tenders

To make sure your Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders get as crispy as possible with the use of a “coating”, follow these simple tips:

  • Make sure each chicken piece has plenty of space on the baking sheet. The airflow helps things crisp up.
  • When using a baking sheet, add a wire rack atop the parchment paper so that chicken tenders can crisp up nicely on all sides without you having to do any "turning".
  • Cook chicken tenders until completely crisp prior to adding sauce so that they have minimal liquid and avoid soggy-ness.
  • After rinsing your chicken pieces, be sure to pat dry completely until they are as dry as possible before adding seasoning.

Do You Egg or Flour Chicken First?

The greatest secret and tip to ensuring that your crust sticks unto your chicken pieces properly and permanently is to first dust your chicken in the flour-starch mixture and then dip it into the egg mixture, shaking off any excess before rolling it in the breadcrumbs.

Common Q + A's for Chicken Tenders Recipe

How to store leftovers?

These crispy chicken tenders are best the day they’re made, since they’re so crispy. However, place any leftover ingredients in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Why put chicken in milk before frying or baking?

The calcium in milk is thought to kick-start a natural enzyme in the chicken that helps it tenderize. This is the same for using plant-based milk also.

Why does the coating fall off my fried chicken?

Believe it or not, this has happened to me plenty of times. Moisture is the worst enemy in frying chicken. This is why dusting your chicken with flour as I've mentioned before should be enough to create a moisture barrier around the chicken; otherwise, the moisture created during the cooking process is going to create steam that will cause your breading to flake off.

Can I make these crispy chicken tenders ahead of time?

Absolutely! You can store these chicken tenders in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. Or, if you want to plan ahead, you can assemble the buffalo sauce and crushed cornflake mixture up to two days ahead of time. Keep the corn flakes in an airtight container at room temperature. Then bread and bake the chicken tenders just before serving. 

Can I make these chicken tenders gluten-free?

Yes! Yup! To ensure that this chicken tenders recipe is completely Gluten-Free, simply substitute the flour, breadcrumbs and cornflakes with GF-friendly ones. Also, you can substitute cornflakes with all-purpose flour for your favorite GF-friendly flour (i.e. GF All-purpose flour, 1-to-1 baking flour, etc.). Also, you can use arrowroot starch for a great GF-friendly option instead of regular cornstarch or flour.

How to Reheat chicken tenders in an air fryer?

If you're looking to reheat your fried chicken in an air fryer, it's by far the easiest to do. Here's the steps:
Preheat your air fryer to 360 or 370 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lightly spray the basket of your air fryer and add the chicken tenders to the basket in a single layer. No overcrowding!
Cook for about 5 minutes and then flip chickens to their opposite sides and cook for another 5 minutes.

Are chicken tender and chicken strips the same?

Basically, if you see anything referred to as “chicken strips,” more than likely they are referring to chicken fingers, which are NOT chicken tenders. Chicken tenders are made from an actual cut of meat: mainly a part from the chicken breast.

Chicken tenders on a platter with brown paper with a fork and ranch sauce.

How to Make Crispy Chicken Tenders in an Air Fryer?

To make your crispy chicken tenders in an air fryer, it's very similar to doing it the oven. The only difference would be the cook time and adding them to a basket versus a baking sheet. Once you've seasoned, dusted, and coated your chicken tenders, add them to your air fryer basket, spray with cooking oil, and cook them at 360 degrees for 10-15 minutes. NOTE: You might want to spray your basket with cooking oil to ensure that your chicken doesn't stick to it during cooking.

How to Serve Chicken Tenders

You can eat these Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders hot out of the oven dipped in your favorite creamy sauce. I like In-N-Out Sauce, ranch, Creamy Honey Mustard Dressing, Creamy Chipotle Dressing/Sauce, Creamy Lemon Garlic Dressing, Vegan Ranch Dressing, or Homemade Green Goddess Dressing.

You can also top a fresh salad with these crispy chicken tenders or wrap them into a tortilla for a sandwich, stuff them into a taco shell or even chop them up and make a cheesy chicken tenders pizza. Whatever the decision----you'll love it! Of course, as I’ve stated before, these spicy chicken tenders can be incorporated in the following foods:

  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • With pasta
  • Tacos or with a side of salsa + chips
  • with Rice or noodles
  • with Fries or wedges
  • Atop mashed potatoes
  • and so much more.

More Delicious Chicken Recipes to Try!

If you're into these crispy baked chicken tenders, you'll love these other popular chicken recipes:

MADE OUR RECIPE(S)?

If you tried this Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders recipe or any other recipe on my website, please please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how you go in the 📝 comments below. I love hearing from you.

Up close shot of chicken tenders on a platter with brown paper with a fork and ranch sauce.
Up close shot of Chicken tenders on a platter with brown paper with a fork and ranch sauce.

Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders

June 12, 2023
5 from 8 votes
Add the most delicious, crunchy meat option to your meal with these Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders. No need for frying, yet it's well seasoned + extra crispy, and works for the entire family!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 4 servings

Ingredients

CHICKEN TENDERS:

  • 2 lbs. organic chicken breast, cut into strips
  • 2 tsps sea salt
  • 2 tsps black pepper
  • 2 tsps smoked paprika
  • 2 tsps garlic powder
  • 2 tsps onion powder
  • 2 tsps dried parsley
  • 2 tsps dried thyme
  • 2 tsps dried oregano
  • 2 tsps dried basil
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup Almond milk (You can also use whole milk or your fave plant-based milk, if desired)
  • 2 Tbsps dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup organic all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups organic cornflakes, crushed
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (You can make your own Seasoned Toasted Panko Bread Crumbs)

OTHER:

  • Organic cooking spray (I love using Olive oil spray from California Olive ranch)

Instructions

TO MAKE THE CHICKEN TENDERS:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and prep a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and a wire rack (this helps both sides to crisp up nicely).
  • In a large bowl, add the chicken strips and 1 teaspoon of EACH: sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, onion powder, thyme, oregano, basil, and dried parsley, tossing everything together until well coated. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes so that everything marinates. NOTE: It's always best to marinate overnight in the fridge.
  • In the bowl of the beaten egg, add the milk and dijon mustard and whisk together until combined.

TO MAKE THE BREADED COATING:

  • In a separate large bowl, add the crushed corn flakes, breadcrumbs, and remaining 1 teaspoon of seasonings together and stir until combined.
  • In a separate bowl or plate, mix together the cornstarch and flour.

ASSEMBLE + BAKE:

  • Now, dip one chicken strip (tender) into the flour followed by the egg mixture (shaking off any excess) and then add it into the breadcrumb coating mixture-----tossing it around until strip is well coated. Then lay the chicken strip (tender) side by side onto the baking sheet (about an inch apart). Repeat until all chicken tenders are coated.
  • Lightly brush or spray tops of chicken with olive oil or cooking spray and bake them for 30-35 minutes or until chicken has fully cooked through.
  • To serve, enjoy chicken tenders with your favorite condiment or dipping sauce. Tenders can also be served atop a salad, sandwich, taco, pizza, etc.
  • Bon Appetit!

Tips & Tricks

  • STORAGE: Place any leftover ingredients in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
  • MAKE AHEAD: All ingredients can be made and individually stored as meal prep (up to 2 days prior) and assembled when ready to serve. Be sure to store crushed corn flakes + seasoning mixture in a nicely sealed zip loc bag, kept at room temp. 
  • CHICKEN: If you don’t have chicken breasts, you can always use chicken tenderloins which are already pre-cut into strips.
  • HOMEMADE BREADCRUMBS: To make your own breadcrumbs, simply grind 1-2 cups of cubed bread into a food processor until finely chopped. Place crumbs onto a parchment lined baking sheet and spread out evenly. Bake for 5-6 minutes in the oven set at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally. Once brown + crisp, remove from oven and let cool. Continue recipe steps and store remaining breadcrumbs in a tightly sealed container. 
  • GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: To ensure that these chicken tenders are GF-friendly, ensure that you use GF breadcrumbs, flour, and you can use arrowroot starch which is a great GF-friendly option.
  • EGG SUBSTITUTE: If you'd prefer not to use eggs for "egg wash", you can always substitute with 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard or mayonnaise. 

Nutrition

Calories: 198kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 0.3mg | Sodium: 1670mg | Potassium: 193mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 602IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 130mg | Iron: 4mg

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  1. My wife and I loved this. We didn't have cornflakes so we used extra breadcrumbs.

    This is our new go to baked chicken recipe.

    • Hi Zachary! I'm so thrilled that you both enjoyed these tenders! Definitely a staple in our house! Thanks so much for choosing to give my recipe a try! 🙂

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