Let me start by saying I was never a huge fan of chicken. Well, unless it was wrapped in bacon, on a pizza, or smothered with sauce and cheese. These pan fried naked chicken tenders, however, have changed my mind.
Chicken is low key easy to overcook. I hear a lot of people say chicken prepared at home is dry, tough, or bland. And by a lot of people, I mean me. Or at least until I started cooking chicken using the method I’m going to teach you in this recipe.
We’ll be using chicken tenderloins for these pan fried chicken tenders, but the methods will work all the same for breasts. I’ll include notes on time differences or modifications where applicable.
The Best Way to Cook Chicken Tenderloins
Chicken tenderloins, in my opinion, are the way to go if you haven’t quite mastered cooking chicken. They cook faster and are easier to work with in recipes where chicken needs to be the star.
Not to mention, they absorb flavor from marinades and seasoning in what seems like minutes. This is great when you forget to prep ahead of time. Just mix some things together, add the chicken, and in 30 minutes you’ll have super flavorful chicken ready to go.
More on simple marinades in a minute.
How to Cook Chicken Tenderloins in a Pan
Now that I’ve confessed my love for tenderloins, let’s talk about how to cook perfect chicken in a pan. This method will give you a charred, slightly crispy exterior with a juicy center. It’s really similar to perfectly grilled chicken.
The secret is adding the chicken to a hot pan over medium-high heat and leaving it untouched for a few minutes. Time will vary based on the size of the chicken, but I’ll talk more on that below. For these naked chicken tenders, go with four minutes.
After the first side has cooked, simply flip the chicken and leave it alone for about half the time the first side cooked. In this case, two minutes.
The next step is the easiest. Simply turn off the heat, cover the chicken tenders, and let them sit for 6 minutes. If you have the time, let them rest another 5 minutes to let the flavors fully develop.
It’s important to mention size differences here. If you’re using large chicken tenderloins or chicken breasts you cut into strips, cook times may vary. Also, the recipe calls for medium-high heat which could be different from stove to stove. A meat thermometer is a great investment to ensure your meats are always cooked to safe internal temperatures.
Side note: If you’re not a fan of chicken tenderloins but didn’t want to go to the trouble of cutting chicken breast into strips, you could use a pre-cut option like I used for my garlic parmesan chicken tenders.
But Can I Fry Something without Oil?
The short answer: fo’ sho.
The longer answer: A little oil goes a long way. In the naked chicken tenders recipe below, the marinade calls for one tablespoon of olive oil. That, combined with a bit of dry seasoning produces a magical crispy exterior and adds minimal calories when spread across the entire recipe.
That said, oil isn’t entirely necessary. A few of the chicken marinade recipes in the next section don’t call for oil at all (other than cooking spray). The moisture from the marinades create enough of a buffer to avoid sticking. Unless you’re going marinade-free or have terrible pans, you should be good to go without oil.
Simple Chicken Marinade Recipes
The recipe card uses a chipotle ranch seasoning, but the world is your oyster with your naked chicken tenders. Here are four of my favorite chicken recipes from the blog that you could marinate your naked tenders in:
- Spicy Buttermilk Baked Chicken Tenderloins
- Cilantro Lime Pan Fried Chicken Thighs
- Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Chicken
- Mexican Shredded Chicken
If you wanted some options that don’t even require marinating, check out my air fryer chicken nuggets recipe guide. It has 7 seasoning blends like lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, and even a Chick-Fil-A copycat.
And if you’d like crispy chicken tenders, you could use my crispy pan fried buttermilk chicken breast recipe and just swap the breasts for tenderloins.
Additional Marinade Recipes for Naked Chicken Tenders
If you’re unfamiliar with my work, I create recipes for the nutrition coaching leader, Stronger U Nutrition. The graphic below has five chicken marinade recipes to try.
Don’t feel like you’re restricted to the blends below. Instead, use the general structure of each to plug and play your own seasoning or sauces. Get creative and have fun!
Okay, that’s plenty of ideas. Below you’ll find the recipe card for naked chicken tenders to save or print for when you’re in the kitchen.
- 1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Tenderloins, or breasts, cut into strips
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil, or your choice cooking oil
- 2 Tbsp Ranch Dip Mix
- 1/4 tsp Ground Chipotle Pepper Powder, or chili powder
- 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
- Mix the dry ingredients (you can season however you'd like) before mixing with the oil.
- Add the chicken tenderloins and seasoning blend to a resealable bag or container. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, ideally longer for more flavor.
- Heat a large saute pan or skillet (make sure you have a cover for the pan) over medium-high heat with nonstick cooking spray.
- Add the marinated chicken tenderloins to the hot pan and leave untouched for 4 minutes.
- Flip and leave untouched for another 2 minutes.
- Turn the heat off, cover, and leave the chicken alone (don't peek or anything) for 6 minutes. Depending on the size of the chicken tenderloins you use, these times may vary slightly. Make sure the juices run clear and/or use a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken reaches a safe internal temperature (165F).
- Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and serve with salad, on sandwiches, with veggies, or on their own with a dipping sauce.
- 1 tender has 1 Smart Point.
- Nutrition info may vary depending on how many tenders you have in one pound and how you season them.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 tenders Serving Size: 1 tender
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 95Total Fat: 2gCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 15g
More Healthy Chicken Recipes You Might Like
My Buffalo Chicken Empanadas and Baked Chicken Tacos are great ways to use leftover chicken. And you can get creative with the base recipes to make all kinds of flavors! If you’re looking for complete dishes, my chicken fajita pasta bake, air fryer Greek chicken and potatoes, and spicy baked chicken thighs with ranch potatoes are reader favorites.