Recipe Review

I Tried the Neely’s 5-Star Chicken Tenders, and Now I Understand the Hype

published Aug 20, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Jason Rampe; Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe; Design: The Kitchn

If you’re a fan of the Food Network, Pat and Gina Neely need no introduction. The former couple became household names with the debut of their hit show Down Home with The Neely’s, where they shared family recipes and secrets from their restaurant dishes.

Although the couple have since divorced, their archive of beloved recipes can be found on, which is where I stumbled across Pat’s brother Tony’s chicken tender recipe in my search for recipe showdown contenders. I was immediately drawn to it because of its Southern fried chicken vibes: It has a strong spice mixture, boasts a crispy coating, and deep-fries the chicken in peanut oil. It’s even paired with a honey mustard sauce, although I omitted it from my test to keep an even playing field.

Would this promising-looking recipe take home the top prize? I tried it to find out.

Credit: Photo: Jason Rampe; Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make The Neely’s Tony’s Chicken Tenders

You’ll begin by heating the peanut oil, which has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point that makes it perfect for frying. The recipe doesn’t state how much to use, but be prepared to use about four cups in a large saucepan. Don’t forget to use a thermometer (you’ll need to heat it to 350°F).

As the oil is heating, slice two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into long strips. There are no dimensions specified, so I sliced the breasts lengthwise into about 1/2-inch strips. Whisk the eggs in one bowl and measure the flour into another. In a third bowl, combine panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, lemon pepper, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Dip the chicken strips into the flour, then eggs, then panko mixture. Fry the chicken strips in peanut oil for six to eight minutes, then transfer them to a paper towel-lined sheet tray.

Credit: Photo: Jason Rampe | Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe

My Honest Review of Tony’s Chicken Tenders

First of all, Tony deserves a shoutout, because this recipe really slaps! I love Tony! No other chicken tender recipe came close to his. These tenders blew all the other ones out of the water.

My minimal negative feedback would be that I wished Tony had called for seasoning the chicken every step of the way: directly on the chicken, in the egg mixture, and in the flour, too. I also would have appreciated more details in the cutting instructions — “long strips” is pretty vague. And for shopping purposes, it would have been nice to know exactly how much oil I would need for frying.

But those small missteps didn’t keep me from loving this recipe. All of the flavors from the seasonings in the panko really came through, and the use of panko itself resulted in the crispiest, crunchiest, best-textured chicken. Even as leftovers, when reheated, this chicken didn’t lose any of its pizzazz. It was the only one I wanted to eat again and again. 

Credit: Photo: Jason Rampe | Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making Tony’s Chicken Tenders, a Few Tips

  1. Season early and often. Don’t be afraid to break out the salt and season every step of the way.
  2. Brine the chicken first. Although this recipe is great as is, you could really amp up the flavors by wet- or dry-brining the chicken pieces before breading them.
  3. Switch up the seasonings. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Try adding paprika, or some grated Parmesan.

Rating: 9.5

Have You Tried The Neelys’ chicken tenders? Let us know what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Jason Rampe; Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe; Design: The Kitchn