Buttermilk chicken tenders are light, crispy and so addicting! This is perfect way to use up leftover buttermilk, because with just 5 ingredients, you can have tender strips of chicken with a crunchy crust. This recipe requires a quick marinate time, followed by a shallow fry in a small amount of oil. I don’t know a single kid that won’t gobble these up! 

Pile of buttermilk chicken tenders with orange sauce in background.

Buttermilk chicken tenders

This recipe came about from the near-constant bottle of leftover buttermilk in my fridge. We use buttermilk to make a lot of treats in our house, because the acidity of buttermilk reacts with baking soda and baking powder in a recipe to make baked goods rise. The end result is light and fluffy cakes, cookies and muffins.

My small batch blueberry muffins would be less delicious if they lacked tangy buttermilk. My strawberry shortcake cookies achieve biscuit-like tenderness because of the buttermilk. And what is red velvet sheet cake without buttermilk? The answer is: not a real red velvet cake! Oh, the cream cheese frosting on the cake would cry if the red velvet cake below it lacked buttermilk. It would truly be sad!

So, we buy buttermilk fresh and we buy it often in our house. Buttermilk has undergone some changes from its original identity. Back when our grandparents churned their own butter on the farm, buttermilk was literally the leftover milk surrounding the butter. Not all milk has enough fat to churn into butter, and the milk solids that did not coagulate floated around the butter.

Old fashioned buttermilk contains some active cultures that it gains from the air and naturally through the cows’ milk, because the butter is churned for several hours and rests at room temperature. Southern Living does a great job explaining the history of buttermilk.

Today, however, buttermilk is simply regular milk that they inoculate with cultures, very similar to yogurt and kefir. Both types of buttermilk are acidic, thick and tangy.

I know you’re going to ask me about the homemade buttermilk substitute that I approve in all of my recipes. So, let’s talk about that also. Even when we’re making cornbread muffins, you can simply use regular milk in place of the buttermilk. However, you need to add something acidic to the milk to help thicken it and lower the acidity. I always use freshly squeezed lemon juice. I add a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice per 1/2 cup of milk that I need to turn into buttermilk. This isn’t as thick, acidic or as rich as store-bought buttermilk, but it will work in a pinch!

Ingredients

  • chicken tenders: For a small batch of buttermilk chicken tenders, use 3/4 of a pound. If the white tendon in the tender bothers you, place a fork flat against it, and pull it out through the tines of the fork.
  • buttermilk: One cup of the thickest buttermilk you can find, but know that non-fat works too. Store-bought buttermilk is best here.
  • seasoned salt: This is salt blend that also contains spices, like paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. I like the brand Lawry’s, but use whatever you like.
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Panko bread crumbs: This style of bread crumbs can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores. It is a Japanese bread crumb product that has much bigger pieces of actual bread. They are drier and flakier than most bread crumbs, and as a result, make a much thicker, crisper crust for chicken tenders. They are the gold standard for bread crumbs, and I hardly ever use the Italian bread crumbs anymore.
  • oil: The best oil for frying is a neutral oil, like vegetable oil, avocado oil or grapeseed oil. I love that this recipe doesn’t require a ton of oil, because it’s shallow-fried. That means we’re only putting a small amount of oil in the pan instead of dunking the whole chicken strip in oil.
  • dipping sauces: Whatever you like to dunk your chicken tenders in: ranch, honey mustard, and ketchup are all welcome here.

How to make buttermilk chicken tenders:

  1. Gather your ingredients: chicken tenders (with or without the white tendon removed), buttermilk, seasoned salt, pepper, bread crumbs, and oil.
    Raw chicken, spices, and bread crumbs on white table.
  2. Place the chicken tenders in a resealable bag or shallow dish. Add the buttermilk, half of the salt and half of the pepper, and stir or shake to get everything evenly coated. Let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
    Chicken marinating in buttermilk with tongs.
  3. Once the marinating time is up, make the breadcrumb mixture: toss the bread crumbs with the remaining seasoned salt and pepper. Then, remove each chicken tender from the marinade, using tongs, and then roll it in the bread crumbs. Use your fingers to press the crumbs into the chicken so they really adhere.
    Chicken tenders dipped in bread crumbs.
  4. Add the oil to a small skillet, and turn the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot and just starting to ripple, add as many chicken fingers to the pan as possible, without letting them touch. Do not crowd the pan. Fry on the first side until golden brown, about 5 minutes, and then flip and fry the other side.
    Chicken fingers in a cast iron skillet.
  5. When they’re golden brown on both sides, and they measure at 165-degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer, they’re done! Remove them from the skillet, and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Buttermilk fried chicken tender being dipped in ranch.

I have a hard time deciding between ranch and honey mustard for dipping these babies in!

Does buttermilk make chicken tender? How does buttermilk tenderize chicken?

Yes, buttermilk is acidic so it seeps into the chicken and starts to break down the protein structure slightly. This creates a softer, more tender chicken. The acidity of the buttermilk is to thank for this process.

How long can you soak chicken in buttermilk?

Honestly, keep a timer on this. For this recipe, I recommend a minimum of 2 hours. You absolutely can over-soak and over-marinate meat. For a buttermilk marinade that contains salt (like this recipe does), the maximum amount of time you can marinate this chicken is 24 hours. If you’re just soaking chicken in buttermilk without any salt, it can soak up to 48 hours. This would be great for meal- prepping!

How to store leftovers:

If you double or triple this recipe and have leftover buttermilk chicken tenders, store them in the fridge. To reheat, do not use the microwave! Try a toaster oven or a baking rack in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until warm. This will help recrisp the skin and prevent it from getting soggy.

Yield: 2

Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Pile of buttermilk chicken tenders with orange sauce in background.

Homemade buttermilk chicken tenders are so easy! And so crispy!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound chicken tenders (about 6 tenders)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup neutral frying oil (canola, vegetable, or grapeseed oil)
  • optional dipping sauce: honey mustard, ketchup, ranch

Instructions

    1. Place the chicken tenders in a resealable bag or shallow dish.

    2. Add the buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the bag and give it a shake to evenly coat the chicken.

    3. Let the chicken marinate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

    4. After the marinade time, place the panko bread crumbs in a shallow plate or pan, and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Toss to combine.

    5. Remove each chicken finger from the buttermilk marinade, and place it immediately in the panko crumbs. Toss to coat the chicken in the crumbs very well, and use your fingers to press the crumbs so that they adhere.

    6. Repeat with all of the chicken, and then place the chicken on a plate in the fridge while you heat up the oil.

    7. Add the oil to an 8-10” skillet, and turn the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot and just starting to ripple, add as many chicken fingers to the pan as possible, without overcrowding the pan.

    8. Fry the chicken on each side until golden brown, about 4-6 minutes. Flip the chicken and fry on the other side. As the chicken is golden brown on all sides, remove it from the skillet to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

    9. Serve hot with desired dipping sauces.

Notes

chicken tenders: For a small batch of buttermilk chicken tenders, use 3/4 of a pound. If the white tendon in the tender bothers you, place a fork flat against it, and pull it out through the tines.
buttermilk: One cup of the thickest buttermilk you can find, but know that non-fat works too. Store-bought buttermilk is best here.
seasoned salt: This is salt blend that also contains spices, like paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. I like the brand Lawry's, but use whatever you like.
Panko bread crumbs: This style of bread crumbs can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores. It is a Japanese bread crumb product that has much bigger pieces. They are drier and flakier than most bread crumbs, and as a result, make a much thicker, crisper crust for chicken tenders. I love them so much!
oil: The best oil for frying is a neutral oil, like vegetable oil, avocado oil or grapeseed oil. I love that this recipe doesn't require a ton of oil, because it's shallow-fried. That means we're only putting a small amount of oil in the pan instead of dunking the whole chicken strip in oil.
dipping sauces: Whatever you like to dunk your chicken tenders in: ranch, honey mustard, and ketchup are all welcome here.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 472Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 27gCholesterol: 30mgSodium: 1013mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 15g

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