The air fryer makes a quick and easy job of cooking frozen chicken tenders, strips, and nuggets. They come out crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside every time! Once you try it, you'll never go back!
My air fryer has become one of my most used kitchen appliances. Not only is air frying a healthy way of cooking, it's also so convenient! An air fryer heats up quickly, cooks food really fast, and is easy to clean.
I've been having fun developing a wide range of recipes to make in the air fryer. It's so versatile! I make everything from Quesadillas to Coconut Shrimp to Turkey Burgers and Beyond Burgers in my air fryer. Check out my Air Fryer Recipe Collection.
But sometimes when I'm too busy to cook from scratch, I'll take a little help from the grocery store. Convenience foods are especially handy when I've got hungry kids ready to eat! Fortunately there are a lot of healthy options out there these days.
Did you know that it's really easy to make frozen chicken tenders, strips or nuggets in the air fryer? No more waiting for the oven to heat up! The air fryer heats up and cooks much faster than the oven.
And the chicken comes out perfectly crispy, juicy, and delicious every time! Air Fryer Chicken Tenders are the perfect quick, family-friendly, weeknight dinner or snack.
Chicken tenders vs strips vs nuggets
So what's the difference between chicken tenders, strips, and nuggets? You'll find all of these products in the freezer section of the grocery store.
Chicken "tenders," "strips," and "fingers" are often used interchangeably. They are made directly from the tenderloin, which is a part of the chicken just beneath the breast. The tenders are coated in a breading and fried. The breading can be anything from a buttermilk batter to panko breadcrumbs.
Chicken nuggets, on the other hand, are smaller, bite-sized pieces of chicken. Unlike chicken tenders which are taken directly from the tenderloin, chicken nuggets are processed. They're typically made from chicken that is ground up and then shaped into nuggets. Most chicken nugget products are made from chicken breast. Sometimes, additional meat from the chicken thighs or legs is added.
Some newer products on the market like Just Bare Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Bites and Chicken Breast Chunks look like nuggets are but are made with whole pieces of chicken breast rather than being processed. They also really taste a lot like the nuggets from Chick-fil-A!
Frozen chicken tenders or nuggets in air fryer
Air frying has become my favorite way to cook chicken tenders, strips, and nuggets! These products usually come with cooking instructions that include baking in the oven, pan frying, deep frying and microwaving.
Here's why I prefer air frying:
- Compared to baking in the oven, the air fryer is much faster. But because air fryers are small and circulate the air so efficiently, they cook food very quickly. They also give your food a crispier texture compared to the oven.
- Compared to pan frying, I find air frying is easier. No flipping pieces of chicken in hot oil on the stove. With the air fryer, you can just put them in and let the air fryer do its thing, except for shaking the basket halfway through.
- Compared to deep frying, air frying is healthier. Deep fryers cook food by submerging it in hot oil. Air fryers, on the other hand, cook food using hot air that circulates around it.
- Compared to the microwave, the air fryer gives a better texture. Microwaving is faster but it can give the chicken a rubbery texture. With the air fryer, you get crunchy, juicy perfection!
So basically, air frying is the best way to cook frozen chicken tenders and nuggets!
How does an air fryer work?
- An air fryer is basically a mini convection oven that sits on your countertop. Air fryers have a heating element at the top and a mechanical fan that helps circulate the hot air around your food more efficiently. This makes your food nice and crispy on the outside while keeping it moist and juicy on the inside.
- So although air fryers have a catchy name with the word "fryer" in them, there's no actual frying involved at all!
- Basically, air frying gives you the taste and texture of deep-fried food that you crave but with little to no oil.
- Frozen Chicken Tenders (also called Chicken Strips) or Chicken Nuggets- I used Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips and Tyson Panko Chicken Nuggets but there are many brands and products available in the freezer section of your grocery store. I've also tested Just Bare Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips and Just Bare Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Chunks and Chicken Breast Bites.
You'll need an air fryer to make these frozen breaded chicken tenders or nuggets. There are many different brands on the market. I use this Ninja Air Fryer. It has a 5.5 quart capacity, which I think is good for a family of four.
Cook time and temperature
The cooking time and temperature will vary depending on the product and the brand. Chicken nuggets will typically cook faster than chicken tenders/strips because they are smaller.
Also, the cook time will depend on whether the chicken is already fully cooked or not. Most products on the market are already fully cooked. However, some brands, like Bell & Evans breaded chicken tenders and nuggets, are raw. Those products will have to be cooked longer to ensure that they're cooked to a safe minimum temperature.
Step by step instructions
I tested both chicken tenders (also called chicken strips) and chicken nuggets in the air fryer. I used Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips and Tyson Panko Chicken Nuggets. I've also tested other brands like Just Bare Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Strips and Just Bare Lightly Breaded Chicken Breast Chunks.
Here's how to make them:
- Preheat your air fryer to 360°F for 3-5 minutes.
- Place the chicken in a single layer in the basket. There is no need to brush or spray the basket with oil when cooking these products.
- Cook chicken tenders for 10-12 minutes. For chicken nuggets, the cook time will be more like 7-8 minutes. Flip the chicken or shake the basket halfway through, if desired. This step is optional but I like to do it to get even browning on both sides.
- Remove chicken when it is crispy and golden brown. If cooking raw chicken products, extend the cooking time by a couple of minutes and check to make sure temperature has reached 165°F with a meat thermometer.
- Serve with your favorite dipping sauce like ketchup, honey mustard, Ranch dressing or barbecue sauce.
- The final cook time and temperature will vary depending on the brand and product. So use these instructions as a general guideline and adjust as needed.
- Check on the chicken occasionally. If it is getting too dark too quickly, turn the temperature down by 25°F. If it's not browning fast enough, turn the temperature up or extend the cooking time.
Rule of thumb to convert oven to air fryer cooking time
The above cooking instructions are a general guideline for cooking frozen chicken tenders and nuggets. You can also read the oven cooking instructions on the product packaging and adjust the cook time and temperature for the air fryer. To do that, follow this general rule of thumb:
A good general rule of thumb when converting a conventional oven recipe to an air fryer recipe is to reduce the temperature by 25 °F and reduce the cooking time by about 20%.
So for example, if a bag of chicken tenders calls for a cooking temperature of 375°F in the oven, set your air fryer for 350°F. If the cooking time is 15 minutes in the oven, expect to cook your food about 12 minutes in the air fryer. However, I recommend that you start checking at the halfway point, at around 7-8 minutes, because some air fryers run very hot.
Adjust the temperature and cook time if your chicken is getting too dark too quickly.
- Preheat the air fryer before putting your food in.
- For frozen chicken tenders and nuggets, you do not need to spray the basket or food with oil because the products already have oil in them.
- Arrange the chicken in a single layer in the air fryer so that it crisps up nicely. Don't overcrowd the basket.
- Flip your food or shake the basket halfway through cooking. This step is optional but I like to do it to make sure all sides get evenly browned.
What to serve with chicken tenders or nuggets
The entire family will love these crispy, juicy air fryer chicken tenders or nuggets. You can serve them with your favorite dipping sauce like ketchup, honey mustard, Ranch dressing or barbecue sauce.
Since the air fryer will be on, you can heat up some sweet potato fries, French fries or tater tots to eat with your chicken. You can also try my Air Fryer Baked Sweet Potatoes or Perfect Air Fryer Asparagus.
You can also make baked beans, corn on the cob, a salad or roasted vegetables like my Perfect Oven-Roasted Vegetables. My Mac and Cheese with Roasted Cauliflower is also a nice side- and a great way to get your kids to eat veggies!
You can store leftover chicken tenders or nuggets in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can reheat them in the air fryer for a couple of minutes until heated through.
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More tasty air fryer recipes
Frozen Chicken Tenders or Nuggets in the Air Fryer
- 12 ounces frozen breaded chicken tenders (strips) or nuggets
- Preheat air fryer to 360°F.
- Place the frozen chicken strips or nuggets in the air fryer basket and spread them out in a single layer. No oil spray is needed.
- For chicken tenders, cook 10-12 minutes. For chicken nuggets, cook time will be more like 7-8 minutes. If desired, flip the chicken or shake the basket halfway through for even browning (optional).