What Is the Difference Between Chicken Nuggets and Chicken Tenders?

Not all breaded and fried chicken pieces are equal. Turns out there really is a difference between tenders and nuggets. Plus, see how they compare to chicken fingers and chicken strips.

Chicken tenders with sauce on a plate
Elise Bauer

There is really so much to love about breaded and fried chicken in all forms. Whether you like spicy chicken fingers at your favorite restaurant or just like to keep a few bags of classic nuggets on hand for the kids, chicken tenders, nuggets, strips, and fingers all deserve their due for deliciousness. If you’ve ever wondered what makes chicken nuggets different from tenders, or strips distinct from fingers, this is everything you need to know about these chicken bits and bites. 

Making Chicken Tenders From Scratch

Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer

What Is the Difference Between Chicken Nuggets and Chicken Tenders? 

Not all breaded and fried chicken pieces are the same: classic chicken tenders should be made from the chicken breast’s tender (more on that below), while nuggets are primarily made from the ground and processed chicken meat including breast and thigh meat that is then formed into nuggets, dinos, and even rings. 

Chicken Tenders: Actually a Special Cut of Chicken!

For most eaters there is little difference between tenders and fingers; after all, they both have  a crispy breading with a long finger-like shape and are made from chicken. 

But officially speaking, chicken tenders are made from the pectoralis minor (or inner filet), a small piece of tender meat found under the chicken breast. Restaurants take some liberties with this labeling, though, and often call chicken fingers that are made from strips of breast meat  “chicken tenders”. Chicken fingers can be chicken tenders, if made with the tender, but chicken tenders are not the same as chicken fingers. 

Baked Goldfish Chicken Tenders

Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

Chicken Tenders Vs. Chicken Strips 

To the confusion, chicken tenders and fingers are sometimes sold as chicken strips. This may be a result of the actual chicken meat being cut into strips before they are breaded and fried. According to the USDA, strips, unlike tenders and fingers, do not actually have to be made from breast meat. For example, Applegate sells a frozen chicken strip product that is made, like nuggets, from “formed and breaded white meat chicken patties”. 

So how do you know what you’re getting?

  •  If you crave biting into tender breast meat under your crispy fried breading, your best bet is to look for chicken tenders or fingers. 
  • Want some juicy and very tender chicken and don’t care what shape or texture you’re getting? Go for nuggets or strips. 
A tray of baked breaded chicken breast served with ketchup.

Simply Recipes / Michelle Becker

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