Cajun Chicken Tenders

Cajun Chicken Tenders that are wonderfully juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside with just the right amount of spice all over.

These Cajun Chicken Tenders are guaranteed to be a new family favorite chicken recipe!  Both kids and adults can’t keep their hands off of the easy comfort food made with pantry friendly ingredients – and soon you’ll taste why. The chicken is coated in crispy, panko, cornmeal breading laced with Cajun seasonings then pan fried or baked to golden, crunchy perfection. Dunk the Cajun Chicken Tenders in homemade barbecue sauce or peach barbecue sauce and serve with million dollar mac and cheese, baked beans and roasted broccoli for a complete feast!

Cajun chicken tenders stacked on a plate

About Cajun Chicken Recipe

These Cajun Chicken recipe pack all your favorite Cajun seasonings into juicy, crispy breaded chicken tenders for the ultimate palate pleasing experience.  I am a major food texture person, so I absolutely love the combination of crunchy on the outside, moist chicken on the inside in all its varieties…and there are TONS of scrumptious varieties but these Cajun Chicken tenders are my  favorite!

The Cajun Chicken Tenders are breaded in a combination of Cajun spiced cornmeal and panko breadcrumbs and then browned (not fried!) in a skillet to create a perfectly toasted, spicy exterior.  If you have never used cornmeal in your chicken breading before, I also use it in my Oven Baked Chicken because it adds an extra element of crunch that can’t be beat!

And please don’t let the word “spicy” scare you off – this Cajun Chicken doesn’t have to be spicy – you can use less cayenne pepper or omit it completely.

What spices are in Cajun chicken?

These Cajun Chicken Tenders boasts homemade Cajun seasoning because homemade Cajun seasoning is SO easy – I bet you already have all of the spices in your pantry.  Homemade Cajun Seasoning allows you to customize the spice level and keeps you from having to run to the grocery store.  To make Cajun seasoning, sir together:

  • chili powder
  • garlic powder
  • smoked paprika
  • black pepper
  • onion power
  • cayenne pepper
  • dried oregano

cajun chicken tender INGREDIENTS

This Cajun chicken recipe requires a few pantry staples in addition to the seasonings. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Chicken tenderloins: you can use chicken tenderloins or chicken breasts but chicken tenders are much more tender. I’ve detailed the differences between chicken tenderloins and chicken breasts below.
  • Egg and Milk: are whisked together to create the “glue” that holds the breading in place.
  • Flour: I used all-purpose flour, but I’m sure gluten free flour, almond flour, etc. would also work.
  • Panko breadcrumbs: is a Japanese breadcrumb sold in every grocery store (including Walmart) usually next to the other breadcrumbs. It is the secret behind the CRUNCH in this recipe!
  • Cornmeal: Be sure to use a finely ground cornmeal.  This adds extra crunch and flavor to the chicken breading. If you have all the ingredients to make this Parmesan crusted chicken recipe except cornmeal, you may skip it.

CAN I USE CHICKEN BREASTS?

While chicken tenders set you up for success, you can definitely still use chicken breasts thanks to the tenderizing marinade.  To use chicken breasts, slice thick breasts in half through the equator to create cutlets (not necessary for small chicken breasts), pound chicken to an even thickness and then slice them into 2-inch strips.  When making your own chicken strips, the key is to try and make them as uniform as possible so you don’t overbake/dry out the smaller pieces while waiting for larger ones to cook through.

CAN I USE REGULAR BREADCRUMBS INSTEAD OF PANKO?

No, I don’t recommend using regular breadcrumbs. Panko is KEY to crispy chicken tenders. Panko breadcrumbs are larger and dryer than normal breadcrumbs so they absorb less moisture and become much crispier. Please do not substitute panko breadcrumbs with regular breadcrumbs or you will be missing out on the gorgeous, satisfying CRUNCH.

up close of Cajun chicken tenders showing how crispy they are

How to Make Cajun Chicken

Step 1:   Mix cornmeal, panko breadcrumbs and seasoning in a bowl.

Step 2:  In a second bowl, whisk together egg and milk.

Step 3:  Add chicken to a freezer bag (or bowl) and toss with ⅓ cup flour until well coated. Remove chicken and tap off any excess flour.

Step 4: Dip chicken in egg/milk bowl and let excess drip off.

Step 5:  Place chicken in a new freezer bag and pour cornmeal/panko/seasoning into the bag and toss until well coated, pressing breading into the chicken (through the bag), OR place chicken into a bowl and toss until well coated, pressing breading into the chicken with fingers

Step 6:  Heat enough oil in a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom of your pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add chicken and cook each side for 3-4 minutes or until golden, crispy and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Cook in batches if necessary.

Step 7:  Dip Cajun Chicken in peach salsa and enjoy!

How to bake chicken tenders

If you would like to bake the chicken tenders instead, here’s how:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Place a baking rack in a baking pan.
  • Line chicken tenders on the baking rack without touching and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  • Bake chicken at 400 degrees F for 15-18 minutes (18 only if tenders are large) then broil for 5-10 minutes until crispy, without moving the oven rack.    A higher oven temperature crisps up the exterior quickly and keeps the meat juicy.

HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN tenders IN THE AIR FRYER

You can also cook your chicken tenders in the air fryer, simply follow the recipe then air fry instead of bake.

  • Spray the air fryer basket with nonstick spray and preheat to 400 degrees F.
  • Working in batches, place the chicken tenders in a single layer in the basket without touching, don’t overcrowd.
  • Air fry for 5-6 minutes per side, turning halfway, until chicken is crispy and reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Please note air fryer models can vary so watch the first batch closely and adjust the time accordingly.
  • Repeat with remaining chicken tenders.

PRO TIPS FOR cooking chicken tenders

Breading chicken can turn into a big mess with gummy hands and goopy chicken but it doesn’t have to!  Here are some tips to for easy breading and to help promote the crispiest chicken tenders:     

  • Use panko AND cornmeal.   These two ingredients work together to create extra crispy chicken. Don’t use traditional breadcrumbs as they will not give you the satisfying crunch you’re looking for. 
  • Keep one hand clean. To easily avoid gummy hands and chicken, use one hand to transfer the chicken from the wash to the breading and the other hand to bread the chicken.  
  • Press down firmly. I like to use my fist to firmly push the breading into the chicken to really make it stick.
  • Don’t Crowd the Pan. Leave a decent space between your chicken on the skillet while cooking.  Overcrowding the pan will cause steam and make your breading soggy.  When nicely spaced, the hot oven air can circulate evenly around the chicken so they can get nice and crispy.
  • Don’t overcook chicken. Overcooked chicken is dry chicken. Cook chicken tenders just until they register 165 degrees F with an instant read thermometer.
  • Don’t stack chicken.  Resist the urge to stack the Cajun Chicken Tenders or they won’t be as crispy.  I know I didn’t follow my own advice in the photos so I can speak from personal experience that stacked breaded chicken will steam and you will lose that crispy coveted exterior.  It is best to serve the chicken lined in a single layer with a little breathing room in between each piece.
top view of spicy chicken tenders

RECIPE VARIATIONS

This chicken tenders recipe is a fabulous springboard for all sorts of variations. Here are just a few:

  • Seasonings: mix up the flavor profile by mixing up the seasonings. You can use any of your favorite blends such as jerk, bacon chipotle, dill pickle, ranch, Montreal chicken, smokehouse maple, etc.
  • Add cheese. You can add freshly grated hard cheese to the breading. Hard cheeses (like Parmesan) don’t melt completely so they allow the chicken to become crunchy. Examples of hard cheese include Pecorino Romano, Swiss, and Provolone. Do NOT use soft or semi-soft cheeses such as cheddar or mozzarella.
  • Amp up the heat. Add an additional 1/4-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to the spice mix.
  • Bake in butter. Follow the method of my oven fried chicken and bake the chicken tenders in a butter lined baking sheet.

What dips for Cajun Chicken tenders?

I love to serve Cajun Chicken Tenders with sweet Peach Barbecue Sauce.  The combination of the crunchy, spicy Cajun Chicken with the smooth, sweet and slightly tangy barbecue sauce is divine.

To make the peach barbecue sauce, combine ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, spices and peaches to a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until peaches are tender.

When peaches are tender, add barbecue sauce to a blender and pulse to desired consistency.  You want to take care not to cover your blender completely or it will explode – I suggest lifting a corner of the lid and covering this part with a paper towel.

At this point you have wonderfully smooth, sweet Peach Barbecue sauce that is the perfect companion to your spicy Cajun Chicken.

The Peach Barbecue Sauce simmers away as you prepare your Cajun Chicken, so the meal comes together quite quickly.  If you don’t have time or don’t have any peaches on hand, you can use regular barbecue sauce or even ranch as dip, but definitely try the Peach Barbecue Sauce at some point because it is delish!

More dips for Chicken Tenders

If you want to skip the peach barbecue sauce, these Cajun Chicken Tenders are also delicious with:

  • barbecue sauce
  • ranch
  • honey mustard
  • honey barbecue
showing how how to make spicy chicken tenders by dipping in homemade barbecue sauce

CAN I PREP THIS RECIPE IN ADVANCE?

You can whisk the breading ingredients together but I don’t recommend breading the chicken in advance because the breading will lose its crispness as it sits in the fridge. 

HOW TO STORE spicy chicken tenders

Leftover chicken tenders should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When properly stored, they are good for 3 to 5 days. For best results, don’t stack your chicken directly on top of each other as this will make it more soggy.  Instead, place a piece of parchment paper in between the layers. 

HOW TO REHEAT spicy CHICKEN tenders

The chicken breading will soften upon refrigeration so I suggest reheating your Cajun Chicken Tenders in the oven or air fryer to revive the crispy texture. The microwave will warm the chicken but won’t improve the texture. To reheat:

  • Microwave: The chicken won’t be nearly as crispy if reheated in the microwave but it will still be flavorful.  Transfer chicken tenders to a microwave safe plate in an even layer. Microwave for 90 seconds, then in additional increments of 15 seconds as needed.
  • Air fryer: Place chicken in a single layer in the basket without touching, air fry using the “snack” setting for 4-6 minutes, until warmed through.
  • Oven: Spread chicken on a lightly greased baking rack set in a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-8 minutes, or until heated through.

HOW TO FREEZE cajun CHICKEN tenders

This Cajun Chicken Tenders recipe freezes very well!  To freeze:

  1. Cook chicken according to directions then let cool to room temperature.
  2. Space chicken apart on a baking sheet then transfer baking sheet to the freezer.
  3. Freeze for 1-2 hours or until the chicken is solid. This prevents the chicken from clumping together.
  4. Add chicken to a freezer size bag, squeeze out excess air, and label.
  5. Freeze for up to 3 months. 
  6. Bake chicken straight from frozen (so they don’t become soggy) on a lightly greased baking rack placed over a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until heated through.
Cajun chicken tenders dunked in barbecue sauce

Looking for more Cajun Recipes?

Spicy Cajun Chicken Tenders

Cajun Chicken Tenders that are wonderfully juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside with just the right amount of spice all over.
Servings: 8 chicken tenders
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 8 chicken tenderloins (about 1.25 pounds)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp EACH salt, chili pwdr, garlic pwdr, onion pwdr
  • 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, oregano, pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Barbecue Peach Sauce (Optional)

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp EACH garlic pwdr, onion pwdr
  • 1/2 tsp EACH salt, smoked paprika, chili pwdr
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 peaches, peeled and roughly chopped*

Instructions

Barbecue Sauce (optional)

  • Combine barbecue sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until peaches are tender.
  • When peaches are tender, add barbecue sauce to a blender and pulse to desired consistency (do not cover blender completely or it will explode!). Add barbecue sauce to a bowl and taste and adjust as desired for more spice, more sugar, etc.

Chicken Tenders

  • While barbecue sauce is simmering, prepare chicken. Mix cornmeal, panko breadcrumbs and seasoning in a bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together egg and milk.
  • Add chicken to a freezer bag (or bowl) and toss with ⅓ cup flour until well coated. Remove chicken and tap off any excess flour. Dip chicken in egg/milk bowl and let excess drip off. Place chicken in a new freezer bag and pour cornmeal/panko/seasoning into the bag and toss until well coated, pressing breading into the chicken (through the bag), OR place chicken into a bowl and toss until well coated, pressing breading into the chicken with fingers.
  • Heat enough vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom of your pan over medium high heat. Heat enough oil in a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom of your pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add chicken and cook each side for 3-4 minutes or until golden, crispy and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Cook in batches if necessary.
  • Dip chicken in peach salsa (with your fingers!) and enjoy!

Notes

*To easily peel peaches, cut an “X” in the bottom of each peach down to the core; then blanch them in a medium saucepan of boiling water for 10 seconds; transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water. Remove peaches when cool and peel, beginning with where you made your “X”.

baked chicken tenders

If you would like to bake the Cajun Chicken Tenders instead, here’s how:
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Place a baking rack in a baking pan.
  • Line chicken tenders on the baking rack without touching and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  • Bake chicken at 400 degrees F for 15-18 minutes (18 only if tenders are large) then broil for 5-10 minutes until crispy, without moving the oven rack.    A higher oven temperature crisps up the exterior quickly and keeps the meat juicy.

air fryer CHICKEN tenders 

You can also cook your Cajun Chicken Tenders in the air fryer, simply follow the recipe then air fry instead of bake. 
  • Spray the air fryer basket with nonstick spray and preheat to 400 degrees F.
  • Working in batches, place the chicken tenders in a single layer in the basket without touching, don’t overcrowd.
  • Air fry for 5-6 minutes per side, turning halfway, until chicken is crispy and reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Please note air fryer models can vary so watch the first batch closely and adjust the time accordingly.
  • Repeat with remaining chicken tenders.

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29 Comments

  1. Korilynn says

    Wow that looks amazing. I could go for some chicken right now actually.

  2. Sandra says

    Oh I already know I will love this recipe!!! Thanks!

  3. Risa says

    They look great! A twist on the regular “boring” chicken tender!

  4. Mary Ellen says

    These chicken strips look awesome and the peach bbq sauce sounds perfect!

  5. Jodie says

    Sounds absolutely delicious! Will have to try this soon!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Bernadette! Hope you enjoy!

  6. Crimson says

    I made these last night and they were delicious! Super crunchy and flavorful! I didn’t make the peach sauce yet, but I am looking forward to making it next time. Thanks for a new easy, tasty way to make chicken!

    • Jen says

      You are most welcome Crimson (love your name by the way!), and thank you so much for letting me know you loved them!

  7. Billie says

    No peaches listed in the ingredients.

    • Jen says

      Hi Billie, they are listed at the very, very bottom of the sauce – 2 peaches. Hope that helps, enjoy!

  8. Katie says

    Lately I have been on a quest to find the perfect “non-fried” chicken. Once I saw this recipes, I knew I had to give it a try-and it did not disappoint! This tastes exactly liked fried- I actually had to convince my family that I hadn’t fried it! It’s not so much the southern, greasy fried chicken- it actually tastes identical to the crunchy, crispy chicken strips I used to eat as a kid, only healthier! Thanks again for such a delicious recipe that I will be making again and again

    • Jen says

      I am so happy your quest for the perfect “non-fried” chicken led you to my chicken tender recipe and even happier they did not disappoint! Its always a happy day when you find the “one” recipe that you will love forever and ever 🙂 Thanks so much for letting me know how much you oved them – it means a lot to me!

  9. Nadine says

    These turned out delicious! Definitely the crispiest chicken fingers I’ve ever made. I’ll be keeping this recipe. I didn’t have time to make the peach sauce but I definitely will be trying it in the future. The corn meal and Panko make a great combo. Don’t sub any other bread crumb!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know you loved these! Panko and cornmeal are a perfect match and I am so excited for you to try the Peach BBQ Sauce!

  10. Debbie D says

    Delicious, even with the substitutions I had to make. Molasses > honey, cornmeal > Italian flavored bread crumbs, left out the peaches completely – i thought about using can fruit cocktail but opted against that. Juicy and very tasty, this one is a keeper!

    • Jen says

      I’m so happy this is a “keeper” Debbie! It’s always an awesome feeling to find another recipe to add to the list! So happy you enjoyed it and thanks for letting me know!

  11. MK says

    I haven’t had any luck finding cornmeal at my local grocers, any replacements i could use? or do you think i could simply omit it without negatively affecting the flavour? Thanks!

    • Jen says

      I would replace it with 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs. The flavor and texture will be a little different but still should be delish!

  12. Sue says

    This was amazing. Made this tonight, doubled the recipe..but would definitely make extra panko mixture.
    The bbq sauce is amazing!
    Thank you for sharing this recipe

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome, I’m so happy you loved it! Thanks for taking the time to comment Sue!

  13. Brittany says

    Does it have to be all purpose flour or are there any other flours that will work?

    Thanks!!

    • Jen says

      I think AP flour gives the best texture but I’m sure other flours could be used if you’re in a bind. Good luck!

  14. Alison says

    Hi Jen! I’m making this tonight and can’t wait! I have self-rising cornmeal mix and was wondering if I can use that in place of regular cornmeal. Your recipes are always the best! 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thanks Alison, I’m so happy you’re enjoying them! I think self rising cornmeal will work just fine in this application.

  15. Tami says

    Hello Jen. I love this recipe. Can I also bake the chicken tenders? How long would you recommend and at what temp?

    • Jen says

      I’m so happy to hear it’s on repeat! You can absolutely bake the tenders. Place a baking rack over a baking pan and spray with cooking spray. Lightly spray tenders with baking spray.
      Bake at 400 degrees F for 12-18 minutes (18 only if tenders are large) then broil for 5-10 minutes until crispy, without moving the oven rack.