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Unlocking the healthiest, most enjoyable chicken tenders is a matter of firing up your air fryer and basting the pieces in a tangy homestyle barbecue sauce. Air frying chicken is a tremendous way to maximize the flavor and juiciness of the bird, locking in flavor and minimizing the use of oil.

Admittedly, it’s quicker and simpler to pour a store-bought sauce to put on your tenders, yet the payoff for crafting your own innovative BBQ sauce is well worth the time and effort. You know exactly what ingredients are going into the sauce, you can include your favorite flavors, and create a level of spicy/tangy texture that fits exactly what you want. You can also make a large batch of the sauce, which means future fried chicken snacks can be basted and then tossed in the air fryer in minutes and achieve a brilliant tasting result.

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Tangy barbecue sauce is a feature of this recipe and can be used with every other type of chicken that you’d like to use in the air fryer. The refreshing, peppy sauce soaks into the bird to create a subtle and interesting range of flavors that isn’t overpowered by the telltale taste of fry oil and grease.

Whether it’s a lazy Sunday snack at home on the couch, or part of a home entertainer’s approach to providing for guests, these Air fryer chicken tenders cooked with a homestyle barbecue sauce are the most delicious, and arguably the healthiest, version of the food you can make at home.

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Serves 4

15m prep time

15m cook time

For the BBQ Sauce (Makes Approximately 3 Cups)
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons hot honey
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)
For the Chicken Tenders
  • 1 lb chicken tenders (or small pieces)
  • Cooking oil spray
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  1. Add all BBQ sauce ingredients to a large saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture comes to a boil.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes (up to 60 minutes), stirring sauce occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and separate 1 cup of BBQ sauce to cover chicken tenders. Set aside remaining sauce in an airtight jar or container and allow to cool before refrigerating. It will last up to 3 weeks.
  4. Spray the interior of the air fryer tray with cooking oil, then place BBQ tenders onto the surface. If there are too many to keep separate on the tray, cook in batches.
  5. Cook tenders for 10-12 minutes at 400°F, turning once, or the chicken's internal temperature reaches 165°F.
  6. Sprinkle tenders with Kosher salt and black pepper, then serve immediately with fries, cottage chips, or other snack foods.

Recipe adapted from Add A Pinch

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