One thing I cannot resist – Popeyes Chicken tenders.
They’re tender, flakey, and perfectly seasoned. Today I’m sharing my take on them, cooked a couple ways to give you some options.
Plus gives a couple versions to enjoy for the particular ones in the family.
What makes a good copycat Popeyes chicken tender?
One of the things I love about these chicken tenders, is how thin they are. Very similar to a chicken cutlet, or parmigiana, I like to pound thin, or simply cut into quarter inch or less cuts.
A second must is letting it sit overnight in buttermilk. Butter milk helps to tenderize your chicken and is essential for any fried chicken recipe
Lastly, and a controversial one is MSG.
I feel like this is cheating in a sense, but its a horribly kept secret that Popeye’s uses monosodium glutamate – at least until 2025. If you’re going to a pound for pound knockoff, unfortunately you have to use this ingredient, but I’m opting out.
Ingredients for Chicken Tenders
Here’s what I’m using for this recipe
- SPG – a 1 to 1 to 1 combo of salt pepper and garlic powder – You can pick up what I’m using here
- Paprika – This is more for color, it has a bit of flavor, but it will help get that beautiful golden brown color.
- Chicken Poultry Seasoning – I love using this ingredient for a quick burst of flavor – If you’re opting out on MSG, I highly suggest this ingredient!
- Cajun Seasoning – If you want that Popeyes flavor, you need to add a kick of cajun seasoning, weather its a gumbo file or some Tony Chachere, this is a must!
- Cayenne pepper – To help up that heat factor cayenne pepper is always my go to.
Then there’s the question of the dredge.
I’m doing this two ways. I’m doing one batch that is straight from the buttermilk marinade to the flour.
Then a second batch where I take extra step and go to an egg wash, then one last flour dredge.
Both came out good it’s just what you prefer.
The single dredge felt closer to the Popeye’s version, but if you’re an extra crispy fan, you gotta double dredge.
Making your chicken tenders spicy
If you want to go spicy here what I do – Add a good dose of buffalo sauce (or even Louisiana hot sauce) to your buttermilk marinade. Then dredge.
And if you want to crank up that heat, double down on your cayenne pepper for the flour to add the heat. I can’t not go spicy with my chicken tenders, so this is a must
Don’t Rush the frying
When frying chicken, your oil temperature is critical. You want to keep your temperature consistently hovering around 375 F for a good fried chicken.
I suggest two methods
- A Deep Fryer – These are great because they will regulate the heat of the cooking oil for you. BUT There’s one more kitchen appliance you have to figure out what to do with when its not being used.
- Cast Iron Skillet – While I’d love a deep fryer in my arsenal, I get more use out of a cast iron skillet. Get a larger skillet combined with a deep frying thermometer to help regulate the oil temperature.
And by all means, DO NOT OVERCROWD. Adding too much chicken at once will reduce the temperature of the oil and till create a soggier chicken tender. No one likes a soggy chicken tender.
Let your tenders sit on a paper towel lined wire rack to soak up any residual oil , and if you want them to hold temperature, I prefer setting my oven to 160 F and let them hold in the oven while I fry the remaining chicken tenders.
Doing multiple spice levels in one batch
One last tip – In my home our kids cant hang with spicy food (I know, right?!). But when it comes to chicken tenders the wife and like to feel the burn.
So to keep prep low, I like to cook their first from the same batch. Then about half way through, I add the cayenne pepper to the flour, and hot sauce to the buttermilk.
And Voila! I’ve got spicy and regular chicken tenders all done in one batch without having to make twice the mess.
Spicy Chicken Tenders
- 2 lbs chicken breasts cut into 1/4" strips
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
FOR THE DREDGE
- 1 1/2 cup four
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cajun seasoning
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper double for more heat
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
FOR THE EGG WASH (OPTIONAL)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- Cut Chicken into 1/4 inch strips and place in a bowl with buttermilk, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
- When you're ready to cook, get a 12 inch skillet with cooking oil brought up to 375 F.
- In one bowl add flour, salt garlic, powder, cayenne pepper, poultry seasoning.
- For a chicken tender with more batter, add an egg with butter milk in a second bowl.
- Dip your each chicken tender in the flour, then the egg wash, then back into the flour then place in the skillet. If using no eg wash, bring the chicken straight from the buttermilk marinade to the flour, then into the skillet.
- Cook for about 5 minutes until internal temp is 165. Repeat this process until all your chicken tenders are cooked, and be careful not to overcrowd your skillet