Crispy Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
These crispy crunchy air fryer chicken tenders are so easy to make at home! I like to soak the tenders in buttermilk to make them extra juicy and then coat them in crunchy cornflakes for the best texture!
Crispy, Crispies! Crunchy, Crunchies!
These air fryer chicken tenders are seriously the best. I love serving them with my house sauce but you can also serve these with your favorite dipping sauce like ketchup, ranch dressing, buffalo sauce, or honey mustard! And sometimes, I’ll even pop them into a warm tortilla and make wraps. Such an easy and versatile recipe. Don’t worry, if you don’t have an air fryer, I also provide directions on how you can make crispy chicken tenders in the oven.
Chicken strips are some of my favorite things to order at a fried chicken restaurant. But oftentimes, I find myself ordering a salad to help balance all that fried food. That makes up for it, right? It’s like when you have a salad for lunch, you can automatically add fries to the order and it practically cancels the bad stuff out.
If only the world worked that way!
But luckily, these air fryer chicken fingers help cut out all the excess oil, and they still deliver that perfect crispy crunchy breaded exterior.
Ingredients to make air fryer chicken tenders:
- Chicken: I like to use chicken tenderloin for this recipe as they yield the best results. But if you have chicken breasts on hand, you can thinly slice them to make mock tenders. Some of my tenders may look like chicken breasts, but they were just dyno-sized tenders!
- Buttermilk: I like to soak the tenders in buttermilk before we pop them into the flour mixture. The natural enzymes found in buttermilk help relax the protein in the chicken while helping it maintain its juicy interior! If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, feel free to use 1 cup of regular milk and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. This will create a similar effect and add a similar flavor to buttermilk.
- Seasonings: For the seasonings, you’ll need kosher salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and onion powder. I like to use some salt in the buttermilk mixture and then a bit more in the flour mixture to make sure that the tenders are seasoned well. The other seasonings get added to the flour mixture so that they adhere to the chicken and don’t burn in the air fryer.
- Flour: Mixed with seasonings is the first step in the dipping stations. We’ll remove the tenders from the buttermilk, dip them in the flour mixture before moving on the beaten eggs.
- Grated Parmesan: Adds more flavor to the tenders. I toss this in with the flour and seasonings so that the cheese melts without burning!
- Cornflakes: Instead of using panko breadcrumbs for my tenders, I prefer to use crushed-up cornflakes for the ultimate crunch! Panko is great for coating tons of ingredients but for the crispiest air fryer tenders, cornflakes produce much better results.
- Cooking Spray: The oil spray helps get the exterior crust all nice and crispy!
How to make chicken tenders in the air fryer:
- Soak them in buttermilk. Start by adding the buttermilk and a teaspoon of salt to a bowl. Stir it together so that the salt dissolves. Then, add the chicken tenderloins to the buttermilk. Allow it to soak for at least 15-20 minutes, if you have time, you can cover and let these go in the refrigerator for 6 hours.
- Set up a dredging station. Add the water and eggs to a shallow bowl and whisk to combine. Add the seasonings, parmesan cheese, and flour to another bowl. And in the last bowl, you want to add the crushed-up cornflakes.
- Dredge them. Start by removing a chicken tender from the buttermilk dish. Dip this into the flour mixture. Gently press down to coat the chicken evenly. Then using your other hand, dip the chicken in the egg mixture, and then back with the dry hand to the cornflakes. You want to keep a dry hand for the flour and cornflakes and a wet hand for the buttermilk and egg mixture. It’s a little bit of back and forth for this helps ensure you don’t end up with battered human fingers by the end!
- Air fry. I like to line my air fryer basket with parchment. I bought parchment paper specifically made for the air fryer, and it has made cleanup a breeze. Then we’ll add tenders in batches. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the basket. They’ll take longer to cook through and won’t become as crunchy if you do that. Bake them for 6 minutes, flip them, spray with oil spray and continue to cook. Don’t go based on how they look because the cornflakes don’t actually gain too much color during air frying. Check the temperature using a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the tender. When it reaches 160-165ºF, you can remove the tenders from the air fryer.
- or Bake them. If you don’t have an air fryer, you can bake the tenders on a sheet pan lined with foil with a wire rack placed on top. Spray the wire rack with oil spray so the tenders don’t stick to the rack. Bake the tenders, flipping them halfway through and spraying the other side with oil spray. Bake for 14-20 minutes or until they reach 165ºF on a meat thermometer.
FAQs about air fryer tenders:
- What’s in your house dipping sauce? It’s super easy, you’ll need a couple of tablespoons of honey, bbq sauce, a tablespoon of dijon mustard, a squeeze or two of sriracha, and a big dollop of mayonnaise! Whisk, whisk, whisk.
- Can I skip dipping then in the buttermilk? I think this step is crucial in giving the chicken a bit more of that traditional chicken tenders flavor. So even if you only do this for 15 minutes, I do suggest soaking the chicken in buttermilk.
- Can I use a gluten-free baking mix and gluten-free cornflakes for this recipe? I’m confident that a gluten-free baking mix will work just fine as long as it’s a 1 to 1 replacement for the flour. Gluten-free cornflakes should also theoretically work. I would suggest trying to air fry one chicken tender at 380ºF to make sure the cornflakes don’t burn before the chicken is cooked. If you find the cornflakes are browning too quickly, just drop the temperature on the air fryer to 370ºF.
- What would you serve with tenders? Honestly potatoes of any kind! You can do french fries, my extra crispy garlicky potatoes, tots, rosemary roasted potatoes, baked potatoes, cheesy scalloped potatoes, the possibilities are endless! I would even do a side salad like my favorite Caesar salad, everyday kale salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad (for maximum comfort.) If you wanted to make this a full southern meal, buttermilk biscuits, or the cheddar and garlic kind would be amazing!
If you like this recipe, you might also like these:
- Hot Honey Pretzel Chicken Fingers
- Sticky Baked Chicken Bites in Honey Sriracha Sauce
- Parmesan Chicken Cutlets in Lemon Butter Sauce
- Super Crispy Garlic Parmesan Wings
- Crispy Sticky Honey Garlic Chicken
- 1¾-2 pounds boneless, skinless tenders
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 large eggs, beaten (with 1 tbsp water)
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 1 teaspoon EACH: garlic powder, smoked paprika, AND onion powder
- 2 ½ cups cornflakes, crushed up
- Oil spray
- House dipping sauce, in notes
- SOAK: Add the buttermilk, 1 teaspoon salt, and tenders into a zip-top bag. Zip the bag, shake and massage to coat the chicken in the buttermilk. Let sit for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients. If time permits, you can let these sit for up to 6 hours, covered, in the refrigerator.
- SET IT UP: Add the water and egg mixture to a shallow dish. Add the flour, parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and onion powder to another dish; whisk to combine. Add the crushed cornflakes to the last dish.
- DREDGE: Using a dry hand, dip the chicken into the flour mixture, then with the other hand dip in the eggs, and finally, with the dry hand dip the cornflakes. Gently press down and coat the chicken well in the cornflakes. Set the tender on a plate; repeat with the remaining tenders.
- AIR FRY: Preheat the air fryer to 380ºF. When the air fryer is hot, add 3-6 tenders to the air fryer in batches, don’t overcrowd or they won’t crisp up. Spray with cooking spray, and cook for 9-12 minutes total, flipping them halfway and spraying them on the other side. Chicken should register 165ºF on a meat thermometer. Repeat with remaining tenders. Serve with dipping sauce (recipe in notes.)
- OR BAKE: You can also bake the tenders in a 400ºF preheated oven. I suggest lining a large baking sheet with foil, placing a wire rack on top spraying with oil, then placing tenders on top and spraying the tenders with cooking spray. Bake the tenders for 14-20 minutes or until they reach 165ºF. You’ll also want to flip and spray them around the halfway mark. Serve with dipping sauce (recipe in notes.)
House Dipping Sauce: Whisk together: 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp bbq sauce, 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 1 ½-3 teaspoon sriracha sauce, and ¼ cup mayonnaise in a bowl until combined, then serve!