Buttermilk Chicken Tenders: The Ultimate Recipe Guide

Written by: Najma A.



Time to read 4 min


There's something extraordinary about biting into a perfectly cooked chicken tender. The crisp, golden exterior gives way to juicy, flavorful meat, a culinary experience transcending age and occasion. Among the myriad ways to prepare chicken tenders, buttermilk tenders hold a revered spot. Their unique preparation process, involving a buttermilk marinade, results in incredibly moist tenders while boasting a crunchy, seasoned crust. In this guide, we'll delve into everything you need to know about buttermilk chicken tenders—from their history to a step-by-step recipe, along with tips and tricks to perfect them.

The Origins of Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

The concept of marinating chicken in buttermilk has its roots in Southern American cuisine. Buttermilk, a byproduct of churning butter, was traditionally used in Southern kitchens for its slightly tangy flavor and tenderizing properties. The acidity in buttermilk helps break down the proteins in chicken, resulting in a more tender and flavorful meat. This technique became particularly popular for fried chicken, a staple in Southern cuisine, and eventually evolved into the beloved buttermilk chicken tenders we know today.

Why Buttermilk?

Buttermilk isn't just a flavorful marinade; it's a transformative ingredient. Here's why buttermilk is perfect for chicken tenders:

  1. Tenderizing Effect: The lactic acid in buttermilk helps break down proteins in the chicken, making it tender and juicy.
  2. Flavor Infusion: Buttermilk's tangy flavor seeps into the meat, giving it a subtle, rich taste.
  3. Enhanced Coating: The slightly thick consistency of buttermilk helps the flour and seasonings adhere better to the chicken, resulting in a crunchier exterior.

Ingredients for Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

To make the perfect buttermilk chicken tenders recipe, you'll need the following ingredients:

  1. Chicken Tenders: You can use pre-cut chicken tenders or slice boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips.
  2. Buttermilk: Regular or low-fat buttermilk works well. You can add hot sauce to the buttermilk marinade for an extra kick.
  3. Seasonings: Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper are classic choices.
  4. Flour: All-purpose flour is ideal for coating the chicken.
  5. Eggs: They help the coating adhere better.
  6. Breadcrumbs or Panko: You can add these to the flour mixture for extra crunch.
  7. Oil for Frying: Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil are good options.
Origins of Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Step-by-Step Recipe for Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Preparing the Chicken

Start by preparing your chicken tenders. If you're using chicken breasts, cut them into strips about 1 inch wide. Ensure all pieces are similar in size for even cooking.

Marinating in Buttermilk

  1. In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk with your choice of seasonings.
  2. Classic seasonings include salt, pepper, garlic powder, and hot sauce for a bit of heat.
  3. Add the chicken strips to the bowl, fully submerging them in the buttermilk mixture.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
  5. This allows the buttermilk to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor.

Preparing the Coating

  1. While the chicken is marinating, prepare the coating.
  2. If you like spicy food, mix all-purpose flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish.
  3. Add breadcrumbs or panko to the mixture for an extra crispy coating.

Setting Up the Breading Station

Set up a breading station with three shallow dishes: one with flour mixture, one with beaten eggs, and one with the seasoned flour or breadcrumb mixture.

Breading the Chicken

  1. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk marinade, allowing any excess buttermilk to drip off.
  2. Dredge each piece in the flour mixture, dip it in the beaten eggs, and then coat it thoroughly in the breadcrumb mixture.
  3. Place the breaded chicken on a wire rack or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Frying the Chicken

  1. In a large skillet or deep fryer, heat the oil to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Carefully add the chicken tenders to the hot oil, cooking in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
  3. Fry the chicken until golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.
  4. A meat thermometer ensures the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C).
  5. Remove the chicken tenders from the oil and place them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.


  1. Serve the buttermilk chicken tenders hot with your favorite dipping sauces.
  2. Classic choices include ranch, honey mustard, barbecue, and buffalo sauce.
  3. Pair them with fries, coleslaw, or a fresh salad for a complete meal.
Step by Step Recipe for Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Buttermilk fried chicken tenders are versatile and can be adapted to suit different tastes and dietary needs.

Oven-Baked Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

You can bake the tenders for a lighter version instead of frying them. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C) and place the breaded chicken on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the chicken with a light coating of cooking spray to help it crisp up in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the chicken is golden and cooked.

Spicy Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

If you love heat, add cayenne pepper to the flour mixture and a few tablespoons of hot sauce to the buttermilk marinade. You can also serve the tenders with spicy dipping sauces like Sriracha mayo or spicy ranch.

Gluten-Free Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

For a gluten-free version, substitute the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend and use gluten-free breadcrumbs or crushed cornflakes for the coating.

Buttermilk Chicken Tender Sandwiches

Transform your tenders into a delicious sandwich by serving them on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and your favorite sauce. Add cheese and bacon for an extra indulgent treat.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

Buttermilk chicken tenders are best enjoyed fresh, but if you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, place the tenders on a baking sheet in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 10-15 minutes or until heated through and crispy.

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

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Buttermilk baked chicken tenders are a delightful dish combining Southern culinary traditions with modern cooking techniques. Whether you’re making them for a family dinner, a game-day snack, or a party appetizer, they will surely be a hit. By following this guide, you’ll be able to create tenders that are juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, and bursting with flavor. Happy cooking!

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