Chicken Tenders vs. Chicken Fingers: What's the Difference?

Long strips of breaded boneless chicken are ubiquitous in American cuisine. Diners—and even some restaurants—use the names chicken fingers and chicken tenders interchangeably, but there’s a difference between the two items.
Chicken fingers or chicken tenders? It's complicated.
Chicken fingers or chicken tenders? It's complicated. / LauriPatterson/E+ via Getty Images

Peruse the kids’ menu of any American restaurant and you’re likely to find some form of breaded and fried boneless chicken. If the cut extends more than a few inches and ends in a point perfectly shaped for dipping into honey mustard sauce, you’re either dealing with a chicken tender or a chicken finger. The two items are practically identical, but there’s a key difference between them.

The word tender doesn’t simply describe a succulent strip of meat. According to The Kitchn, it refers to a particular cut of chicken located at the bottom of the breast. The pectoralis minor, or inner filet, measures roughly 1.5 inches wide and 5 inches long on an average bird, making it the perfect size for nestling into a basket of French fries and dipping sauce. Whole tenders are usually served fried, but they don’t have to be. A chicken tenderloin that’s sautéed in a lemon sauce or skewered and grilled is technically still a tender, but it may be a harder sell for younger diners.

Chicken fingers, on the other hand, are defined by the preparation rather than the cut. The dish is traditionally made by slicing chicken breast into strips (so the label strips also applies), breading them, and deep-frying them. No actual fingers, which poultry famously lack, are involved. Some heavily processed chicken fingers may be made from separate chicken bits and pieces that have been molded into strips. The meat inside a chicken finger could even be a whole tenderloin. As Eater explains, all fried chicken tenders qualify as fingers, but not all chicken fingers are tenders.

Chicken nuggets are a different category entirely, and they’re much easier for the average person to identify. They’re basically fingers, but instead of long strips, they’re shaped into bite-sized, irregular morsels. Chicken nuggets are also unique in that they can be traced back to one specific inventor. If you’re craving more poultry knowledge, you can read more about the nugget’s origin story here.

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