Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders

Tested & Perfected Recipes Cookbook Recipe

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

Ingredients

For the Marinade

  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

For the Breading

  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 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 3/4-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 1/4 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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Reviews & Comments

  • Dear Chef Jenn,
    You really bring out the Best in all of us! Thank you! I made your chicken tenders tonight and they were delicious! My husband called them chicken tender breasts and not chicken tenders..I guess they were cut in semi-big pieces, but he (if I’m being honest we) had seconds and thirds. I marinated the chicken the night before and followed your recipe to a tee. The flavor was amazing. I cooked the chicken outside on our side burner propane grill using a 12″ cast iron skillet. The pieces, while being on the larger side, cooked 7 minutes on the first side and 5 minutes after I turned them over. I made your chocolate chip muffins last week and they were as another Review had mentioned, better than Costco muffins! I purchased your cookbook for our daughter in law and plan to purchase one for myself this weekend.

    • — OUAC Chef Jenn Fan on April 10, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes and thanks for your support of the cookbook! 🙂

      • — Jenn on April 10, 2021
      • Reply
  • Dear Jenn,

    Thank you so much for all your wonderful recipes.
    I am a student in the UK, and make them all the time for my family.
    This one is particularly popular, and the favourite meal of one very fussy eater!

    I was just wondering, this recipe is listed under the freezable / make ahead categories.
    Should the tenders be fried first before freezing / refrigerating?

    Many thanks for your advice!

    • — Savanna Faith on April 5, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Savanna, how nice that you cook for your family! To make these ahead, I would cook them first. See the bottom of the recipe for make-ahead/freezer-friendly instructions. 🙂

      • — Jenn on April 6, 2021
      • Reply
  • I love this recipe. But I’m having a hard time getting the coating to stay on after frying. You say to pull from the buttermilk marinade and toss in the flour, but in your picture, it looks like the chicken strips are clean and dry. I do let them drip off before adding, but something is still not working. Thank you!

    • — Lori on April 1, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Lori, If the breading isn’t sticking, it’s likely that your oil is not 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. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on April 2, 2021
      • Reply
  • Everytime I make these, they are a total hit and I’ve shared the link many times too! Thank you!

    • — Kerrie on April 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was amazing according my husband. He thought the chicken was cooked perfectly and the breading was restaurant quality. I have depended on several of your recipes since I am a vegetarian and can’t taste the finished product. This is a keeper! Thanks!

    • — Judy Sand on March 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • These are amazing!!! Made the recipe exactly as stated. Very flavorful and fantastic texture! Even good the next day reheated in my toaster oven. I will be making these often.

    • — Cassie on March 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • Time and time again, this one knocks socks off. Tonight it was for my 82 year old dad. Told me “that fried chicken was the best I had in my entire life… even better than your mother’s” (which is a huge compliment as she’s departed some 17 years ago and he alerts me that many other dishes aren’t up to snuff, like my goľąbki efforts). Thank you for another winner and always bringing smiles to my table.

    • — Joy Marie on March 21, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is the part where I tell you how much that I enjoyed your rendition of chicken tenders, AFTER I changed everything. Well, I enjoyed your seasoning blend for both marinade and flour! Just right! Changed nothing!! 10 stars!! Great recipe,Chef! Thanks for sharing!

    • — Tender Lover on March 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • I wanted to bake this but did fry and SO glad I did. It was the most tender, crunchy delicious chicken. We couldn’t stop eating, made a lot, and ended up freezing some. I would give it a 10 stars if I could. I did marinate in buttermilk for around 24 hours WOW so good.

    • — Barbara on March 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • Can I bake these and if so what temp and how long?
    PS I always go to your website first. Thanks for great recipes.

    • — Barbara on March 19, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Barbara, I wouldn’t recommend baking these, but if you’d like chicken tenders you can bake, I’d recommend this recipe. (While I do prefer them fried, if you want to bake them I’d put them in a 350-degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 19, 2021
      • Reply
  • Can this recipe be converted to an AIR FRYER Recipe? If so how?

    • — Cynthia on March 19, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Cynthia, 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 19, 2021
      • Reply
    • Are the tenders spicy? My 8 year old son doesn’t like spicy

      • — Anthony on August 25, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi Anthony, these definitely don’t taste spicy, but if you’re concerned about the heat at all, you can reduce or omit the cayenne — they’ll still have plenty of flavor. Enjoy!

        • — Jenn on August 25, 2021
        • Reply
  • Hi ~ do you know if I could do these in the air fryer and if yes, the temp and time? Thanks so much!!

    • — Dana R Varland on March 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Dana, I don’t have an air fryer I 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 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • PS should have mentioned I’m a lurker fan too. You’re my cooking goddess, always check your site first for recipe ideas, and they always turn out deliciously. We’re big fans of your beef stew!
    Vancouver, Canada

    • — Susan on March 15, 2021
    • Reply
    • 🙂 So glad you like the recipes!

      • — Jenn on March 15, 2021
      • Reply
  • Could this recipe be used to make traditional fried on chicken, ie. skin on bone in pieces of a cut up chicken?
    Thanks, from Vancouver Canada

    • — Susan on March 15, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Susan, I think these are best with boneless chicken but if you want to use the recipe for bone-in chicken, after frying them until golden, you’ll have to finish cooking the pieces in a 350°F oven, as they won’t cook fully in the pan before getting too dark. I’m guessing they’ll need at least 30 to 40 minutes in the oven after frying, but not certain how long so keep a close eye on them. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on March 15, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi,

    Can I freeze the marinated, breaded tenders before frying?

    Thanks

    • — Fay on March 11, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Fay, You’d get better results by cooking them first and freezing them. See the bottom of the recipe for freezer-friendly instructions.

      • — Jenn on March 12, 2021
      • Reply
  • This recipe turned out great, Jenn!!! My seven-year old, and myself have had the pleasure of cooking and baking a few of your recipes and this buttermilk chicken tenders recipe stands atop with the rest; 5 STARS! Having used buttermilk to marinate chicken tenders in previous recipes, I’d never heard of adding a couple of tbsp to the seasoned flour mixture. That trick completely eliminated the need to do the dredging of egg/flour as per usual. I was so impressed!! I do have a question: Would using that method work to bread other future recipes that call for dredging? Thank you as always for your amazing, easy to follow recipes.

    • — Stephanie on March 10, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad these were a hit and that you and your 7-year-old have been able to cook some of my recipes together! The breading method should work for other recipes that call for dredging but it really depends on what you’re using to bread. For example, something like panko wouldn’t work here. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 11, 2021
      • Reply
  • I forgot to say I added Franks Redhot sauce.

    • — Angel on March 7, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this. My family loved them. I did add pickle juice to the marinade. They were absolutely restaurant quality. I’m getting them ready for dinner tomorrow. I’m actually meal planning. lol

    • — Angel on March 7, 2021
    • Reply
  • Couldn’t get over how tender these turned out, and I made some killer gravy in the pan and plan to make some crazy-great leftovers with what we couldn’t finish. It was the marinade that did it for me; that really made such an amazing difference! Great recipe!

    • — Beth M. on February 21, 2021
    • Reply
  • Batter went too clumpy and would not stick to chicken. The big bits of batter that did were inedible. Very disapointed

    • — Adam on February 17, 2021
    • Reply
    • Same for me.

      • — Dannii on February 23, 2021
      • Reply
    • Same for me.

      • — Tracy on March 29, 2021
      • Reply
  • Absolutely, hands down THE best chicken tender recipe!!

    • — Maureen on February 7, 2021
    • Reply
  • This recipe is a keeper. I only marinated the chicken for one hour in a mixture of tabasco and buttermilk. Other then that, I followed the recipe as written. The chicken came out juicy and tender. The batter was crispy. I ate as I cooked!! Thank you!!

    • — Sara R. on February 6, 2021
    • Reply
  • This recipe was incredible! I’ve failed at frying chicken more times than I can count but the instructions were so clear and easy to follow; I finally made great fried chicken tenders! So moist and flavorful… in fact the best fried chicken tenders I’ve ever had. My husband loved them as well which meant a lot as his mom, born and raised in the South, makes fried chicken all the time!

    • — Shumey on February 4, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’m confused about your nutritional information. Is that for the entire recipe, or one serving?
    if one serving, how many ounces in the serving, roughly? I would like to see this info on
    all your recipes. I’m a little afraid to try them as I gain weight rather easily and the calorie count seems very high.

    • — YVONNE HEBERT on February 4, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Yvonne, the nutritional information is per serving. (These are pretty high in calories because they are fried in oil.) Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly how many ounces are in each serving but if you make the recipe, the serving would be 1/4 of what you’ve made. Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that!

      • — Jenn on February 4, 2021
      • Reply
  • These are so darn good. I’m so glad I tried them. I was hoping to have more leftovers, but I think next time I will double the recipe and freeze some for a night I’m short on time.

    • — Jamie on February 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’ve made this twice now and I’ve learned how important it is to marinate properly…the first time I did it overnight and the chicken was moist and delicious (and even super yummy cold out of the fridge as leftovers). The second time, I forgot to marinate last minute and so it was probably closer to 4 hours…not nearly as good. Lesson learned!

    • — Heather A on February 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • We made these chicken fingers about a year ago and they have become a family staple. They are a bit of work, but well worth it! My children are “chicken finger connoisseurs” and they get so excited when we make THE chicken fingers. These even rival their beloved Raising Cane’s chicken nuggets, which pale in comparison to these in my book! We keep them warm by getting a baking pan set up in a 200-250 degree oven so the first fingers we made aren’t cold by the time the last fingers are ready.

    • — Shaynee on February 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • Omg, what a great recipe! It is going straight to my ‘collected recipes’ book, and I’ll sure thing share with my friends. Thank you!

    • — Aline Osteraas on February 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • My family loved this meal! I made my own buttermilk with regular milk and white vinegar (let curdle for 10ish minutes and then you have buttermilk. The hot oil definitely jumped up at me, so make sure you are stationed somewhat far from the pot you are frying it and wear long sleeves while cooking. I recommend serving with Jenn’s homemade honey mustard sauce, and to only make as much as you can eat fresh – the chicken did get soggy in the fridge

    • — Sean D on January 31, 2021
    • Reply
  • OMG!!!! I’m from the South, and I’ve been cooking over 40 years, so I thought I knew everything there was to know about frying chicken. How wrong I was! The “clumpy” dredge cooks up into a fabulous crispy crust that STAYS CRISPY even when the chicken is cold. Talk about “never going back…”!
    I should say, I’m mostly a lurker on this site, but Once Upon a Chef is my go-to recipe site. I have never tried a recipe here that was not absolutely superlative. Thank you, Jenn, for sharing your talent and enthusiasm for cooking with the rest of us! Your site is a true public service!

    • — Andria K on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on January 31, 2021
      • Reply
    • I couldn’t agree more! I’m a lurker too, but every recipe I’ve made from this site has gotten absolutely rave reviews from my family of picky eaters!! Thank you, Jenn!! You’re my Chef Crush! LOL!! Hugs from my family in FL!

      • — Jenna B on March 1, 2021
      • Reply
      • My pleasure!!! 🙂

        • — Jenn on March 2, 2021
        • Reply
        • Agreed. I have a family of picky eaters too and literally 90% of our regular meal rotation is recipes from your site! So many winners!

          • — Mona on March 26, 2021
          • Reply
  • This is absolutely by far and away my favourite fried chicken recipe. It’s incredible for chicken & waffles.

    I used this recipe to make Fried Chicken Bao’s (just added a dash of 5 spice to the batter mix).

    • — Karim on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • Buttermilk Fried chicken tenders are so easy to make. I’ve made them several times for my family!
    Thank you for the recipe!

    • — Penny Dodd on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • These chicken tenders are crispy on the outside & tender on the inside. My husband absolutely enjoyed them. I appreciate the detailed instructions. Thanks!

    • — Elisabeth Morgan on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • While I don’t fry food often, these tenders are irresistible and a special treat. Everyone in my house gets excited when they know these are the menu. The marinade is easy to adapt with more or less of my own spice choices. I always add some extra Tabasco. Pair it with potato salad in summer and roasted fingerlings in winter and it’s a meal that will pleasantly linger in memory until it’s time to fry again.

    • — Kathy on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • Five stars for sure!! This is one of the best recipes I have used for fried chicken. The coating is very flavorful, crispy and doesn’t soak up excessive cooking oil. Definitely a “keeper.”

    • — Helen Mehus on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • I typically don’t get too excited about fried chicken tenders – there’s either too much breading, chicken is dry, or seasoning is off. Its one of those foods that if there’s no other option. Well, these were a complete surprise – hands down these are the best tasting tenders we’ve ever had! The chicken was so moist, breading and seasoning was perfect! Recipe was easy peasy. This is a keeper, will definitely add into the rotation!
    P.S I tried these in an air fryer first, 325 degrees for 20 min. as recommended on another site. Although the flavor and moisture was fantastic, coating did not stick as well as oil frying.

    • — Michelle on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • To die for fried chicken!

    • — Maggie H on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • Love these!!!! It’s a guilty pleasure for sure. Add some gravy and mashed potatoes and it’s one of our favorite meals.

    • — Becaotto on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This recipe is a family favorite! I usually make a big batch and freeze half. The chicken is SO tender.

    • — Jess R. on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • These chicken tenders are life-changing! So, so delicious!

    • — Megan on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Best chicken fingers I’ve ever made. Tender, tasty and tested on my kids and grandkids and all agree they were delicious.

    • — Kathy posner on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • These are HANDS DOWN the best chicken tenders you’ll ever make! No need to go to KFC or Popeyes, you can make them yourself. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Just perfect. 🙂

    • — Bridget K on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • So good!!! I love this recipe. The trick of some buttermilk in the flour is a great one!! This is always a hit with my family! FYI- I have made this gluten free with a gf flour mix without xantham gum and it worked great!

    • — Sara E Christiansen on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is my kids favourite dinner! Have made this at least 7 times now, foolproof and always a hit. As long as you remember to marinate the chicken beforehand, it’s a simple dinner to make. Really liked the dipping sauce but kids actually preferred with the homemade buttermilk dressing https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/homemade-buttermilk-ranch-dressing.html. Served with a simple green salad, so good!

    • — Alice Konrad on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I usually prepare the wet batter with the chicken and freeze them in big ziplock bags, then take them out a few days before I plan to eat them. Very tasty and tender!

    • — Paul G. on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Big hit in my household. I make a batch and keep them in the fridge. We eat them cold in wraps/ salads through the week. The coating makes them so good. I usually fry til the coating is browned and finish off in the oven. Thanks for such a great recipe!

    • — Karen Fordyce on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is our family go-to, especially during the pandemic when we are not going out to restaurants at all. My teenage daughter makes the honey mustard sauce, which she adores, and the whole family loves the tenders. Two adults, two teenagers, and one 23-year-old. That’s a homerun at our house. The buttermilk marinade and the flour dredging make it and it’s SO much better than fast food joints!

    • — Lisa on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • These are amazing! I have tried to make fried chicken before, but it did NOT taste like this! The coating is perfect! We made the recipe as written, and served with honey mustard dipping sauce, mashed potatoes & gravy, and steamed broccoli. Great recipe!

    • — Jodi on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • oops! 5 Stars!!!

      • — Jodi on January 28, 2021
      • Reply
  • These are so delicious and tender. My teenage boys get so excited when I make these!

    • — Karalyn on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • These were great! I don’t normally like to fry things, but these came out great and tasted wonderful the next day too. Don’t forget to make the honey mustard sauce it really makes these shine.

    • — Susan Stevenson on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • These were great! I don’t normally like to fry things, but these came out great and tasted wonderful the next day too. Don’t forget to make the honey mustard sauce it really makes these shine.

      • — Susan Stevenson on January 28, 2021
      • Reply

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