Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders

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One of my most popular recipes, these chicken tenders are marinated in seasoned buttermilk and pan-fried to crispy, crunchy perfection.

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

Like most kids, my daughter prefers “kid food” to “grown-up food” any day of the week. Occasionally, it works to my advantage—a trip to McDonald’s makes excellent bribery—but most of the time I’m just dealing with a picky eater. Rather than desperately trying to coax her into eating dinner every night, sometimes I just make her favorites. These chicken tenders, marinated in seasoned buttermilk and pan-fried to crispy, crunchy perfection, are at the top of her list. They’re delicious plain, dipped in honey mustard sauce, or perched on top of a salad. And they’re not just for picky kids — everyone loves them.

What you’ll need To Make Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders

How to make buttermilk fried chicken tenders

Begin by combining the chicken tenderloins with a mixture of buttermilk, paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt. If you have time, let them marinate overnight.

When you’re ready to cook them, make the breading by combining the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl. Stir in a bit of buttermilk until the mixture is nice and clumpy.

Toss the tenderloins in the mixture and coat evenly with the breading.

They’ll look like this…

Finally, heat your oil until shimmering in a high-sided pot to prevent splatters. Place the tenderloins in the hot oil without crowding the pot, and cook until golden brown on both sides.

Drain on paper towels.

And that’s all there is to it. If you need a good honey mustard recipe to go with it, try this one.

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders

One of my most popular recipes, these chicken tenders are marinated in seasoned buttermilk and pan-fried to crispy, crunchy perfection.

Servings: 4
Total Time: 40 Minutes, plus at least 4 hours marinating time

Ingredients

For the Marinade

  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika

For the Breading

  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon paprika
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk

For Cooking

  • 3-4 cups vegetable oil, for cooking

Instructions

  1. To marinate the chicken: In a large sealable bag, combine the chicken tenders with the remaining marinade ingredients. Seal the bag tightly and massage the chicken until it is evenly coated with buttermilk and seasoning. Place in a bowl (in case of leakage) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
  2. To make the breading: In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Whisk until well blended, then add the buttermilk and stir with a fork until the mixture is evenly clumpy.
  3. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Remove the chicken tenders from the marinade a few at a time and toss into the breading mixture. Be sure to press the chicken firmly into the breading so clumps adhere to the meat. (It's a messy job: use one hand to remove the wet tenders from the bag and the other to toss in the breading.) Set breaded tenders on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. To fry the chicken: Line another baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels and set next to the stove. Add oil to a large, high-sided pot until the level reaches about ¾-inch. Heat over medium-high heat until oil is shimmering (about 350°). (If a cube of bread sizzles when you drop it in, it's ready.) Using tongs, place several chicken tenders in the hot oil without crowding the pan. Cook until golden brown on the bottom side, a few minutes, then flip and cook until the second side is also golden, a few minutes more. Set the cooked tenders on the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Fry remaining tenders in batches adjusting the heat as necessary (if the tenders are browning too fast, lower the heat). Serve hot.
  5. Note: I find that it's hard to tell how golden the chicken is when it's immersed in the oil. It may only look lightly golden, but it's actually a perfect fried chicken golden brown. If you're unsure, simply pull a tender out of the oil and rest it on the paper towels to see the true color.
  6. Note: Nutritional information was calculated assuming that approximately ¼ cup of the oil is absorbed into the chicken tenders when frying.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cooked chicken tenders can be frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat, put the frozen tenders on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and warm in a 350°F (175°C) oven until heated through and crisp, about 25 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Calories: 925
  • Fat: 51
  • Saturated fat: 1
  • Carbohydrates: 75g
  • Sugar: 5g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Protein: 41g
  • Sodium: 1866mg
  • Cholesterol: 96mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Made this last night and loved it!!! Never knew buttermilk can do such a magic, the outside of the chicken was super crispy and inside turn our juicy and moist.
    I will be making them again! Can i put the marinated chicken in the freezer? i’m considering making double the batch and keep the half for future deep frying.

    • — Ak on September 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jen I’ve made these once before and they are amazing. This time they were soggy. They looked golden brown and crispy but when I went to chomp down there was no crunch. Any idea what I did wrong this time? Also is there a way to salvage them?

    • — Dawn on August 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Dawn, I think it was one of two things: either the oil wasn’t hot enough or they were a bit undercooked. (I find it’s hard to see the color of the breading when it’s in the oil.) Next time you make these, I’d pull one out when you think they’re done and put it on a paper towel to see if it’s golden. I do think you can salvage these – I’d put them in a 350-degree oven on a cooking rack over a baking sheet and warm them up until they’re heated through. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on August 30, 2022
      • Reply
  • I have tried a lot of fried chicken recipes and for the most part they have been underwhelming, but this recipe is phenomenal! I decided to take a bite of the first piece to come out and it disappeared. My only problem was some of the breading fell off of some parts but I popped the batches in the freezer and it seemed to help a lot. I didn’t know I was cooking this recipe so I had brined the chicken in pickle juice first and I wasn’t mad about it

    • — Kim on August 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Kim, Glad you enjoyed it! Regarding some of the batter coming off the chicken, it’s likely that your oil wasn’t hot enough. A good way to ensure the oil is hot enough is to drop a cube of bread into the oil; if it sizzles when you drop it in, it’s ready.

      • — Jenn on August 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • My son eats more chicken than anything else, but due to lack of experience, I’ve always steered away from trying to fry it for him. I cook a lot of things, but fried chicken wasn’t in my ‘skill set’. Last week I found this recipe, so I tried it for dinner last night, having marinated 24 hrs. Everyone gobbled them up and I was so proud of the way they turned out. Tender and flavorful with a nice crust. Just wanted to say thank you very much for sharing the recipes you do. Things that are simple to one person, are often someone else’s mountain to climb, and sharing your methods/recipes have made my hike easier. Much appreciated

    • — Scott M. on August 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’ve made these a few times and I’m NEVER disappointed! I must say that the longer they marinate the better the breading seems to stick to the chicken, but nonetheless they are ALWAYS delicious! Even my 3.5 year old super picky eater absolutely devoured them! Hands down best tender recipe!

    • — Bethany Mitchell on August 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • These are still amazing when frozen and reheated using Jenn’s instructions! What a surprise that they tasted freshly-made! I decided to use Jenn’s recipe for Honey Mustard Sauce, and this took them over-the-top! This sauce is a definite must for dipping!! Thank you for another wonderful recipe!

    • — Barbara K. on August 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hands down the best Fried Chicken. That’s all.

    • — Jessica M on August 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • Absolutely delicious!! My family loved them!!

    • — Beth on August 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • OMG AMAZING!!!

    • — AnnaMaria on August 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made these for my kids and my super picky 6 year old just declared “these are better than Chick Fil A”. Being a CFA connoisseur myself, I decided to try one. He was not wrong. Hands down best chicken tenders this side of the drive thru.

    • — DK on July 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • My son absouletly loved these. Said some of the best chicken tenders he’s had. Easy to make and tastes great

    • — cat on July 11, 2022
    • Reply
  • Absolutely perfect! Mine looks just like your photo! Easy to make and my kids could not stop telling me how much they loved it! Thank you for another wonderful recipe!

    • — Victoria B on July 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • Have you ever baked them in the oven?

    • — Jann on July 7, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Jann, I haven’t and I don’t recommend it. If you’d like a chicken tender you can bake, I’d recommend these. They are also best fried, but you can get away with baking them. If you go that route, I’d suggest baking them at 350°F for 15 – 20 minutes. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on July 7, 2022
      • Reply
  • This recipe was a huge hit with my family! They tasted as good if not better than a restaurant. Thank you for your wonderful recipes.

    • — Lori H. on July 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • I was so impressed by these chicken tenders! I never realized that the clumpiness of the batter is what makes it look like restaurant style chicken tenders. The only changes I made was to substitute almond milk and lemon juice in place of the buttermilk because of our dairy sensitivities in my family. They reheated great from being frozen!

    • — Emily on June 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • Today, I cut up three large boneless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds) and followed your Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders recipe. Yesterday, I made your Classic Coleslaw and threw it in the fridge for an overnight. Oh my! I’m the queen of great food today! To top things off, corn on the cob at hubby’s request. Picnic food for an absolutely glorious day in eastern Pennsylvania. Thank you!

    • — Nancy K on June 8, 2022
    • Reply
  • Amazing!!!

    • — E on June 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • Just the recipe that I was looking for!! Flavorful and crispy coating. I only marinated for an hour or so and they were still delicious. I made them to make chicken wraps. They paired well with honey mustard, barbecue and chipotle sauce lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and shredded cheddar cheese.

    • — Lisa Basilicato on May 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • Truly delicious. The trick with the buttermilk in the flour yields a fantastic result!

    • — Beth on May 9, 2022
    • Reply
    • Agree!

      • — Nancy K on June 8, 2022
      • Reply
  • Awesome recipe! I really wanted to find a way to change up my chicken entrees with a special treat recipe that was easy. This answered the call. The only thing I have to remember is to give the chicken time to marinate. Next time I will reduce the salt in the marinade and breading as I found it was too salty for my taste. So many dip options to choose from…Thank you for another winner!

    • — Lulu on May 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • I’m just returning to remark on the fried chicken tenders. They were beauties!
    Golden brown, crunchy exterior, so tender in middle…..well cooked all way thru! Please give yourself a warm huggie from my family ……I can finally fry great chicken !

    • — Jennie on April 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • I gave up on frying chicken many years ago…never successful. I always have great success with your recipes and I often share your site with friends so they can create awesome dishes too! So, I’m going to try these !
    My question before I attempt these “buttermilk fried chicken tenders” is…..I am making for guests and will need to double this recipe. I don’t want to be frying when they arrive. Would these be ok to cook an hour before serving and how would you reheat them ? Thank you for always being so helpful.
    I’m having your wonderful mashed potatoes and your blueberry pound cake with this meal too.

    • — Jennie on April 6, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Jennie, yes, you can get away with making them ahead and reheating them. I’d put them on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 350°F oven until heated through and crisp, 10 minutes give or take. (Flip the chicken halfway through baking.) Hope everyone enjoys (the chicken and potatoes and cake too)!

      • — Jenn on April 6, 2022
      • Reply
  • These were delicious! I didn’t have buttermilk, so I cheated with whole milk and apple cider vinegar. They were a hit. I doubled (tripled?) the recipe and thought I would have much too many for a dinner party, but my guests ate every single tender. I always get nervous about food temperature, so I used a candy thermometer for the oil and checked the chicken temperature prior to serving. Three minutes per side was just about perfect for a measurement of >165F.

    • — Cat on April 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • what about airfryer

    • — Gérald Périgny on March 29, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Gérald, I don’t have an air fryer and don’t know much about using one so it’s hard to say for sure – I’m sorry! You may find these tips helpful in converting traditional recipes to air fryer versions. Hope that helps at least a bit!

      • — Jenn on March 30, 2022
      • Reply
    • I dont recomend doing them in an air dryer but if you wanna heat them up do 360 for like 8 minutes give or take. They reheat pretty quick (:

      • — Leo on August 3, 2022
      • Reply
    • I did these in an air fryer for my husband. They were passable but I recommend spraying them with oil before they are done to get a better color. I also air fried and then did a quick lil’ dip in the oil; that worked well although the point was to avoid the oil. I ended up eating all the fried ones bc I’m the chef and I called first dibs. My husband was fine with the baked ones but he did end up tasting the fried ones and agreed they were superior. Sadly they were all gone 😉

      • — DR on August 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • These were good. I had two large breasts, rounded them to make them somewhat the same size, and then cut them. My husband did comment that more cayenne could be used. I think we will add a little more cayenne and pepper next time around (we like spicy!) We’ll definitely be making these again!

    • — Laura on March 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • Prepared this last night for dinner … AMAZING! I have not deep fried food in ages, only shallow pan fry/browning for chicken parmesan or chicken cordon bleu etc. I added onion powder to both the marinade & the dry batter and I used the buttermilk marinade for batter instead of plain buttermilk. Instead of chicken tenders, I sliced two large chicken breasts into strips crossways. Served with Honey-Dijon sauce and crispy roasted potatoes. Best part of the meal was when my 14 y.o. who worships at the alter of CFA says Mom these are AMAZING!!!

    • — A@4U on March 18, 2022
    • Reply
  • I have literally been looking for a recipe like this one for years — closest to that of Houston’s restaurant old chicken tenders. I never usually go to the trouble of frying things but this was well worth the effort! Made it exactly as written and it was tender and tasty. When family visits next, I plan to make up a couple batches ahead of time and bake them as suggested. I know it will be a hit with adults and kids alike. Honey mustard sauce was great as well. Thank you again!

    • — Robin on March 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made these tonight, they were excellent! I rarely use buttermilk so bought some especially for this recipe. I also took chicken out of the freezer last night and put in fridge for today. After making marinade took chicken out of fridge and discovered I had boneless, skinless thighs. So…sliced them into strips and proceeded with instructions (which are always clear and helpful in your recipes). I do think they would have been even better with chicken tenders and will make sure I have breasts next time I make them, and there will be a next time. I do have a question. As I don’t use buttermilk much, I am wondering what to do with the cup or so that I have left. If you have any suggestions I would appreciate it. I love your site and know that whatever I choose from it, it will be successful and delicious! Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Cathy on March 3, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Cathy, so glad you enjoyed these and that they worked out well with chicken thighs! If you’d like to use up the remainder of your buttermilk, I have lots of recipes that call for it. Just type buttermilk into the search field of my blog and you’ll get lots of recipes that pop up. One simple one is buttermilk ranch dressing but there are tons of others (depending upon what you are in the mood for).

      • — Jenn on March 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’m not sure why my comment was never published…it has been several days now and I do not see it! Please tell me why you cannot use chicken wings in this recipe. You have indicated several times in the comments not to use chicken wings but have never indicated the reason why they cannot be used. Please respond to this question so I know whether to take a chance on using your recipe for chicken wings. There must be a reason but you have not explained it in the many inquiries about using chicken wings. I would appreciate a response.

    • — Dianna on February 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Dianna, I suspect that your first question didn’t come through for some reason as I never came across it – sorry! I think you can try this recipe with chicken wings but because it’s not intended for wings, I’m not sure how long they’ll take and if they’ll be cooked through properly. If you do try it, I’d love to hear how they turn out.

      • — Jenn on February 15, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi, Jenn! These look delicious but I don’t like to fry food at home. Do you think these could be air fried? If so, what temperature and what length of time? Thank you! 😄

    • — Robin on February 10, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Robin, I don’t have an air fryer and don’t know much about using one so it’s hard to say for sure – I’m sorry! You may find these tips helpful in converting traditional recipes to air fryer versions. Hope that helps at least a bit!

      • — Jenn on February 10, 2022
      • Reply
    • Hi Robin, I have not tried this specific recipe in our air fryer, but have made Nashville Hot Chicken (marinated in buttermilk and seasons and then dipped in flour) with chicken thighs in the air fryer. It was delicious and the chicken was crisp. I’m going to try this one and see. Good luck…

      • — Judy on March 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hello,
    Can I put the chicken in the marinade and freeze? I don’t want to cook today but thought it would enhance the flavor since they would thaw in the marinade, is that possible?

    Thank you!

    • — Tanya on February 6, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Tanya, that would be fine. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on February 9, 2022
      • Reply
  • We have made this once and it was delicious. So good! Only things we did differently were: 1. used chicken breast fillets cut to into thirds and 2. didn’t add extra buttermilk to the seasoned flour. We used a thermometer to measure the oil temperature and a thermometer with a probe to check that the centre of the chicken was cooked.

    • — Snappy on February 5, 2022
    • Reply

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