I Tried 14 Different Chicken Tenders — This Is the Only Brand I’ll Keep in My Freezer from Now On
Despite being a mainstay on most kids’ menus, chicken tenders also make for a completely acceptable adult meal. Stash a box in your freezer and you’re always ready to bulk up a salad, fill a wrap, or even pull together a makeshift chicken Parm. Which bag or box should you grab, though? That’s what I decided to find out. I went all in, cooking up 14 different options. Here’s how it went.
How I Tested the Tenders
I bought as many different boxes and bags as I could find. Then, I got ready to cook them all. I kept things simple: While I’m sure all of these brands would’ve been tastier in an air fryer (or deep-fryer, who are we kidding?), I used the oven and followed the directions on the packages. This blind taste test was the main activity during a rainy weekend at my sister’s boyfriend’s parents’ house. There were around 10 of us (tender tasting is a great bonding activity, I might add) and everyone had a pen and paper for notes. There were no dipping sauces or french fries between bites — we meant business!
A chicken tender is made up of two things: breading and meat. With a food this simple, we really scrutinized the elements. Some brands were eliminated right away because the tender sizes were so inconsistent. Nugget-sized tenders mixed with eight-inch-long strips in the same bag led to some wonky cooking. Who wants to open the oven to pull out the little scraps before they burn? Not me.
After establishing that size does matter, we got down to the eating. In many brands, the breading-to-meat ratio was really off: Too much coating led to a deceptively crunchy outer layer that got gummier towards the center, and the nibble of chicken inside was lost.
Seasoning was also a make-or-break factor: Over-salted breading, combined with nitrates in the chicken, led to waking up at 2 a.m. to chug water to stave off a sodium headache (tender taster problems).
Besides all of these disqualifiers, it turns out that flavor balance, honest ingredients, and that perfect crunch with juicy chicken inside wasn’t too much to ask from a store-bought chicken tender.
The Winner: Pilgrim’s Crispy Chicken Breast Strips
We all know deliciousness when we taste it: The quality of Pilgrim’s chicken was superior, the breading-to-meat ratio was spot-on, and the salt levels didn’t make our tongues shrivel. No bouncy bites! No hormones, steroids, or antibiotics in the chicken, which is always a plus if not a deciding factor. The crispiness might’ve been due to the “fritter style” preparation, and it crunched more like a morsel of popcorn chicken. If we had made dipping sauces part of the test, we might’ve been in heaven. Look for the blue bag at Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Safeway, and other mainstream grocery stores.
Find it in stores: Pilgrim’s Crispy Chicken Breast Strips, $6.99 at Trader Joe’s