Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Tenders Recipe

Game days, family gatherings, or potlucks call for quick and easy dishes that ideally also fit into the finger-food category. Luckily, these air fryer BBQ chicken tenders, brought to us by recipe developer Kate Shungu, check all of the convenience boxes, and they're perfect for large parties and individual meal prep alike. "I love making a batch of these tenders for the week," Shungu tells us. "Then I can add them to salads, put them in wraps, or just eat them plain for a quick lunch or snack."

Unlike traditional chicken tenders, which are deep-fried, these get the air fryer treatment, meaning you'll use significantly less oil but still have a tasty appetizer or main course ready to go in a jiffy. Plus, you won't rely on a heavy flour coating to get that classic chicken tender crispiness — a little bit of baking powder will help ensure that the skin gets crispy in the air fryer. "Using an air fryer is a sure-fire method for juicy chicken tenders," Shungu explains. "The oil keeps the chicken moist while cooking, and the baking powder creates a very light crispiness on the outside." A simple from-scratch barbecue sauce adds the perfect sweet-tangy element to these tenders. Paired with a side of cool, creamy ranch, you've got a winning game-day app or midweek lunch option without the fuss.

Gather the ingredients for air fryer BBQ chicken tenders

To make this recipe, start with some chicken breast tenders and the ingredients to make the BBQ sauce: brown sugar, paprika, baking powder, chile powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and olive oil. "If you'd like to make these spicy, increase the cayenne pepper to your taste," Shungu notes. When it comes time to serve the tenders, you may also want some ranch on hand for dipping.

Step 1: Preheat the air fryer

Preheat air fryer to 400 F.

Step 2: Whisk the BBQ seasonings

In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, paprika, baking powder, chile powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.

Step 3: Add olive oil

Add olive oil and stir to combine.

Step 4: Coat the tenders

Add chicken tenders to the spice mixture and toss gently to coat.

Step 5: Add the chicken to the air fryer basket

Place chicken tenders in a single layer in the air fryer basket. (You may need to cook them in batches, depending on the size of your air fryer.)

Step 6: Air fry

Air fry for 9-12 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. (The juices should run clear, and it should reach an internal temperature of 165 F.)

Step 7: Serve hot

Serve hot with ranch dressing for dipping, if desired.

How should I serve air fryer BBQ chicken tenders?

There's something about finger foods that make for the perfect party appetizers, and these air fryer tenders are no different. That said, you can also whip up a batch of these tenders for yourself and enjoy them whenever you're looking for a juicy, savory bite. "This recipe is a great option for several occasions: a snack while watching the game, a quick dinner with some french fries on the side, or for lunch, paired with leafy greens to make a BBQ chicken ranch salad," Shungu tells us.

Should you go the game day route, you may want to include some dipping sauces on the side for optimal chicken tender enjoyment. Ranch is a classic option, pairing especially well with the subtly sweet flavor of the BBQ sauce, though you can also get creative with it. "The chicken would also be delicious dipped in some roasted garlic aioli or another creamy salad dressing or sauce (like a chipotle aioli or a yum yum sauce)." While you're at it, you might as well toss a bowlful of blue cheese — and maybe even a few carrot sticks and celery slices — on the side for good measure.

How can I keep leftover air fryer BBQ chicken tenders?

Depending on how you serve these chicken tenders, they might either fly off the plate in a heartbeat (in the case of a potluck), or you might end up with some leftovers (in the case that you make them for yourself). Since this recipe yields 4 servings, you'll be happy to learn that leftovers store well, and reheating them is a breeze. "Any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for several days," Shungu says, a feature to this recipe that also makes it great for weekly meal prep.

Now, as for reheating your chicken tenders, there's a pretty obvious method here — the air fryer, of course. "For the best texture, air fry for 3-5 minutes to reheat the tenders," Shungu advises. The tenders are already cooked through, so all you have to worry about is heating them back up and hopefully bringing some crispy goodness back into the skin, something that the air fryer will aid in nicely. Of course, there are other reheating options, and if you have a large amount of tenders to reheat, you may want to consider the oven route. "Bake in a 350 F oven for 5–7 minutes," Shungu says, and if you're in a real pinch and need the tenders ready to go ASAP, the microwave will do the trick. 

Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Tenders Recipe
4.8 from 15 ratings
A simple homemade barbecue sauce adds tons of sweet, smoky, and tangy flavor to these easy, 15-minute chicken tenders that cook up in the air fryer.
Prep Time
5
minutes
Cook Time
10
minutes
Servings
4
servings
bbq chicken tenders on platter with salad and ranch
Total time: 15 minutes
Ingredients
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon chile powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds chicken tenders
Optional Ingredients
  • Ranch dressing, for dressing
Directions
  1. Preheat air fryer to 400 F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, paprika, baking powder, chile powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
  3. Add olive oil and stir to combine.
  4. Add chicken tenders to the spice mixture and toss gently to coat.
  5. Place chicken tenders in a single layer in the air fryer basket. (You may need to cook them in batches, depending on the size of your air fryer.)
  6. Air fry for 9-12 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. (The juices should run clear, and it should reach an internal temperature of 165 F.)
  7. Serve hot with ranch dressing for dipping, if desired.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 519
Total Fat 33.8 g
Saturated Fat 6.5 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 69.7 mg
Total Carbohydrates 28.4 g
Dietary Fiber 2.5 g
Total Sugars 2.2 g
Sodium 869.2 mg
Protein 25.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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