Chicken Breast vs. Tenderloin: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie
Chicken Breast and Tenderloin

For the average cook, the tenderloin is an easy part to miss because it is a small part of the chicken. Chicken tenderloins are sometimes called chicken tenders, chicken goujons, or chicken fingers. Every chicken has two tenderloins.

A lot of nonprofessional or home cooks even mistake the tenderloin for the chicken breast itself. Well, both chicken breast and chicken tender are lean meat. They both have little fat. And they both taste pretty much the same. However, they also have differences. 

What’s the main difference between chicken breast and tenderloin? The main difference between chicken breast and tenderloin comes down to tenderness. Tenderloin is much more tender than chicken breast.

In fact, this small muscle (called pectoralis minor) is the most tender part of the chicken. You can find it underside of the chicken breast. It lies along the chicken breastbone. 

What are Other Differences Between Chicken Breast and Tenderloin?

There are more differences between these two. Another obvious difference between these two is the size. Tenderloin is half the size of chicken breast.

One more difference is with regards to their shapes. Chicken tenders are long and slim. You should know, however, that some shops sell chicken tenders using chicken breast. They slice it into strips and label them as chicken tenders. So make sure to ask first whether you are indeed buying actual chicken tenders or just chicken breast strips.

Another difference is in the price. Tenderloin is more expensive to buy compared to chicken breast.

There is also a difference in cooking time. Chicken tenderloin cooks faster than chicken breast, even if you slice chicken breast at the same size as a chicken tender. So remember not to take more than 15 minutes when cooking your chicken tenderloin.

Lastly, they differ in calories. Tenderloin is higher in calories compared to chicken breast.

What is the Best Way to Cook Chicken Breast and Tenderloin?

Chicken breast and chicken tenders are easy to cook. And your options are quite endless. How about steaming or grill them? You can also poach or bake your chicken tenders and chicken breast. Boiling is also an option. Lastly, a common way to cook chicken meat is to deep fry or pan-fry it. You can even stir fry some tenderloin or chicken breast strips with a variety of vegetables.

Since chicken breast and tenderloin can easily dry out, using marinade can help seal their juices in. Squirting a good amount of lemon juice onto the tenderloin or chicken breast before pan-frying it also helps keep your chicken meat juicy after cooking.

Chicken breast and tenderloin are easy to pair. Prepare some mash potatoes or roasted veggies to go with your chicken meat. You may also mix up a variety of fresh greens to serve with your baked or grilled chicken breast or chicken tender.

A most popular way of cooking chicken tenders or otherwise called chicken fingers is by coating it in batter (or breading) and deep-frying it to perfect crispiness. Some make their own signature breading using a mixture of bread crumbs, paprika, flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and chili flakes, along with select herbs or other seasonings. Optionally, you can dip it in beaten egg or buttermilk. Deep fry for 4 minutes per side.

What is the Simplest Way to Cook Chicken Breast and Tenderloin?

Now, if you’re after enjoying tender juicy chicken breast or tenderloin without all the added ingredients, here is one simple way to prepare it:

  1. Thoroughly coat your chicken tender or chicken breast with salt and pepper. (Add paprika and herbs if you like).
  2. Splash a little amount of olive oil to coat your chicken meat all over. Rest the meat.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a fry pan to medium hot. Coat it with some oil or butter if it is non-stick.
  4. Fry the chicken breast or tenderloin. Flip it when that side is no longer pink. About 5 to 6 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat when the other is no longer pink and the meat is cooked through. About 5 to 6 minutes.
  6. Optionally, you can squeeze some lemon juice over the tenderloin or chicken breast.
  7. Serve with your chosen side dish.

Which is More Nutritious: Chicken Breast or Chicken Tender?

Both are nutritious parts of the chicken. But chicken breast wins the count. It is a richer source of protein, which is why it is a common choice for athletes who want to build muscle. Those who are looking to lose weight also prefer chicken breast meat due to its leanness.

Can You Substitute Chicken Breast for Tenderloin?

Yes. You can definitely substitute chicken breast for tenderloin and the other way around. Remember to pay attention to the different cooking times. If you are using chicken breast in place of tenderloin, you can cook it over 15 minutes, depending on the size of your cuts.

But, if you are using tenderloin in place of chicken breast, you definitely have to shorten the cooking time. Don’t boil, fry, grill, or bake your chicken tenders too long. Else, they will dry out, and you will lose out on that tender and juicy taste and texture.

Is Leftover Chicken Breast and Tenderloin Safe?

There are many health alerts on contaminated and spoiled chicken. If you cooked the chicken yourself, it may be safe to keep leftovers for 2 to 3 days. It is not recommended to store takeaway chicken meals that long. But, in practice, some keep takeaway and home-cooked chicken for longer and eat them without any problem.

However, if you have food sensitivities or you just want to stay safe, it is best to consume chicken breast and tenderloin on the day you make them, or at the most, one day after.

Final Thoughts

  • Chicken breast is less tender compared to chicken tenderloin (chicken tender).
  • Chicken tender cooks faster than chicken breast.
  • Tenderloin is smaller in size compared to chicken breast.
  • Unlike chicken breast, tenderloin is long and slim.
  • Real chicken tenders are more expensive to buy than chicken breast.
  • Tenderloin has more calories and sodium content compared to chicken breast.

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