Chicken strips or chicken tenders can be quite a production to make at home if you are deep frying them, but for smaller batches of chicken tenders skip the deep fry and use an air fryer to get really good (and healthy-ish) chicken tenders everyone will love.
As with so many air fryer recipes, I think it’s pretty important to set expectations right out of the gate on this one. Air fryer chicken strips won’t have quite the same crust and crunch as traditionally fried tenders, but for some people the tradeoffs (no oil to clean up, healthier option) are well worth it.
These finished chicken strips have a rich and juicy flavor thanks to a lemon buttermilk marinade with a subtle crunch thanks to the air fryer.
Why Should You Use an Air Fryer to Make Chicken Strips?
When making chicken tenders in the air fryer you gain the ability to make small batches of chicken strips without a lot of fuss and clean up.
An air fryer is about 10 times easier to clean up than a traditional hot vat of oil. Besides that, they are a healthier alternative to deep frying. You only need to lightly spray the tenders with nonstick spray before air frying, drastically reducing the amount of oil typically used when deep frying foods.
If you aren’t totally convinced on the magic of air fryers here is a guide to the best air fryers in 202. If you’ve already found your favorite air fryer and you want a full-on tutorial check our First Timer’s Guide to Using an Air Fryer.
Cook Time for Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
When it comes to the actual cooking time for chicken tenders, you don’t save much time using this method.
They need roughly the same time to cook whether you are air frying or traditionally deep frying them. You’ll also still have to work to cook the tenders in batches so you are not overcrowding the air fryer basket.
As the chicken strips air fry, I recommend flipping them once about halfway through to allow all sides of the tenders to get crispy.
Buttermilk is Best for Chicken Strips
It’s important to marinate these chicken strips before frying them, whether you use a traditional fry method or the air fryer!
A buttermilk marinade with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice will help tenderize your chicken tenders and make them so juicy. The marinade helps lock in moisture even if you end up overcooking your chicken slightly. It’s a must in my opinion!
How to Make Chicken Strips in the Air Fryer
Once you have your chicken strips marinated, remove them from the buttermilk and add them to the flour mixture. Letting any excess drip off. Coat the chicken strips well in the flour breading so a nice crust can develop on the chicken strips.
Before air-frying the chicken strips, spray them with some nonstick cooking spray which will give them just enough fat on the outside to make the crust really crunchy and delicious.
How to Make this Recipe Without an Air Fryer
Air fryers are all the rage these days, but just because you don’t have one doesn’t mean you can’t make great chicken tenders at home!
If you don’t have an air fryer, you can shallow fry these tenders in a large cast iron skillet.
Add 2 cups of neutral oil (like vegetable oil) to your cast iron skillet and heat until it reaches 350˚F. Fry tenders in batches, flipping once halfway through, about 10 minutes per batch. The finished tenders should be a deep golden brown and have a nice crust on all sides. If you have a thermometer, the internal temperature should be at least 165˚F.
If you need a new cast iron skillet (because why not have more than one) you can expand your collection with these top picks.
What to Serve with Your Air Fryer Chicken Strips?
These are a really hearty entrée for a casual meal. Serving these with fries would be standard, but you could also serve them with something lighter as well, like a salad or coleslaw. You can also try dirty rice, three bean salad, or oven baked sweet potato fries.
Freezing and Reheating Air Fried Chicken Strips
I find that these air fryer chicken tenders are best right out of the fryer basket. The breading gets a bit soggy as it sits since it isn’t as crispy as a traditional fry method.
I’d recommend making just enough to eat, but if you have a few extra you can store them in the fridge for 4-5 days and reheat them in a 350˚F oven until crispy and warmed through, probably 10 minutes. You can also reheat them in the air fryer for a few minutes.
More Tasty Air Fryer Chicken Recipes
Air Fryer Chicken Tenders
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2-2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoon paprika
- Nonstick spray for cooking
- Parsley, chopped, for garnish
- BBQ sauce, for dipping
Prepare the air fryer basket:
Lightly spray the air fryer basket with nonstick spray.
Make the buttermilk marinade:
Into a medium bowl, add buttermilk, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon salt, and black pepper. Use a fork to stir to combine.
Slice and marinate the chicken:
Slice chicken breasts into 1/2-inch-thick strips that are 3-4 inches long. Try to make them roughly the same size so they can cook evenly. Add the chicken strips to the marinade and let it marinate for at least an hour and up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Make the breading:
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, garlic powder, paprika, and the remaining 1 of teaspoon salt. Stir in about 1/4 cup of the buttermilk marinade into the flour to give it some lumps. A few lumps in the flour gives extra crunchy bits to the coating on the chicken.
Breading the chicken tenders:
Working with one strip at a time, remove it from the buttermilk and let any excess buttermilk drip off. Then, add the chicken tender to the flour mixture and coat all sides really well. Move breaded strip to the air fryer basket (4-5 tenders will fit in the basket at once). Place remaining breaded tenders on a sheet pan until you are ready to air fry them.
Air frying the chicken tenders:
Make sure your chicken tenders are laid in the air fryer in a single layer with some space in between. Spray tenders well with non-stick cooking spray. Air fry at 350˚F for 6 minutes. Then, flip the tenders and air fry for another 6 minutes.
Chicken tenders are done when the breading is golden brown, and they reach an internal temperature of at least 165˚F in the thickest part of the chicken tender. Repeat with remaining chicken tenders (3-4 batches), until cooked. You can hold cooked chicken tenders in a warm (250˚F) oven until you’re done with all the batches.
Garnish and serve:
Garnish chicken tenders with parsley, if desired, and serve warm with barbecue sauce or your favorite dipping sauce.