While most chicken tenders recipes (and chicken fingers recipes, see Field Notes) call for dredging the meat in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, we took a page from the southern fried chicken playbook when developing this recipe, which calls for dredging buttermilk-soaked chicken in seasoned flour before its hot oil bath. To give our tenders their extra-crunchy texture, we also borrowed a trick we first spotted on Serious Eats: drizzling a bit of the buttermilk brine into the flour, which helps create those deliciously crispy crags.
If you think the terms “chicken fingers” and “chicken tenders” are interchangeable, think again. Chicken tenders call for a specific part of the bird, the pectoralis minor, which is found below the breast (and, as its name suggests, is the most tender part of the bird). Chicken fingers are strips that can be cut from any part of a chicken, though they’re usually sliced from the breast.
This recipe can also be used to make boneless southern fried chicken; simply swap the tenders for boneless thighs and fry in 350°F oil until the meat reaches 165°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Recipe: Buttermilk Chicken Tenders
1 pound chicken tenders
½ cup buttermilk, shaken
1 large egg
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
¾ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Extra seasonings, if desired
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
The Field Method for Cast Iron Care
In a bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. In a shallow bowl or large resealable plastic bag, combine the chicken and buttermilk mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 and up to 12 hours.
In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, pepper, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt (along with any extra seasonings you’d like to add). Pour about 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk mixture into the flour and stir to combine (this will create more craggy, crunchy bits when you fry the chicken). Working with one piece at a time, remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip back into the bag, and dredge in the flour mixture, making sure the entire tender is coated. Transfer to a wire rack and repeat with the remaining tenders. Let stand at least 15 minutes.
Add 1 inch of peanut or vegetable oil to a No.8 Dutch Oven or No.8 (or larger) Field Skillet and heat the oil to 375°F. Working in batches, fry the chicken tenders, turning them over occasionally, until golden brown all over and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Try to maintain an oil temperature of 350°F to 375°F, allowing the oil to return to 375°F between batches.
Transfer the fried chicken to a wire rack. Serve immediately or rewarm in a 350°F oven.
Seasoning Rating: Best
Deep frying anything in oil will always leave your cast iron cookware better than when you started.
Best—These dishes are the best options for building resilient seasoning, and surefire choices for getting tricky pans back on track.
Better—The best way to keep your skillet in great shape is to cook frequently, and cast iron-friendly dishes like these are your bread and butter.
Safe—These recipes won't strip seasoning away from your pan, but won't really add any, either.
OK—Be sure to clean up promptly. Recipes with this rating might feature acidic ingredients which can affect seasoning if not washed soon after cooking.