What’s The Difference Between Chicken Breast and Tenderloin?

If you don’t know the difference between chicken breast and chicken tenderloin, it’s nothing to worry about.

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Most people associate the word tenderloin with pork, but you can get chicken tenderloin too. Unless you carve your own chicken, you might not know where the tenderloins are located on a chicken’s body.

But what is the difference between a tenderloin and a breast? Well, there’s a lot. Tenderloins are far smaller than a chicken breast, and much thinner too.  Tenderloins are half the size of a chicken breast.  Also, chicken breasts are also a lot healthier than tenderloins as chicken breasts are packed full of vitamins. 

What is a chicken tenderloin?

As defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, the chicken tenderloin is a strip of muscle distinct from but lying alongside the inner breast of the chicken closest to the bone.

Every chicken has two tenderloins and they’re very high in protein. 

Tenderloins are typically oblong in shape and tapered (think chicken strips!). They will have a white line running down them, you should remove this before cooking. 

Many people like tenderloins as they’re more tender than any other part of the chicken. This is because it’s a muscle that the chicken doesn’t use very often in comparison to its breast muscle.

However, it’s important to consider that the chickens you’re buying are probably very young and haven’t had the opportunity to work out any of their muscles. 

What is a chicken breast?

The chicken breast is the largest single piece of meat attached to the ribs. It can be boneless with the ribs removed. Also, it can be cooked in a variety of ways including pan-frying, grilling, and baking.

Chicken breast is high in protein and has a whole host of health benefits. It’s packed full of vitamins and even cobalamin. Cobalim is an essential vitamin that participates in the formation of red blood cells.

It’s also low in fat which makes it a great option for a healthy lifestyle. This is why chicken breast is favored among gym-goers and athletes. 

The Differences Between Chicken Breast and Chicken Tenderloin

The first difference is an obvious one; one is more tender than the other. Due to the delicacy of tenderloins, they require a little more care when preparing and cooking. Chicken breast is typically a lot drier than chicken tenderloin. 

Chicken breast arguably doesn’t have as much flavor as chicken tenderloin. Chicken breast is notoriously bland if it’s eaten on its own. However, it has great absorption properties so it quickly mimics the flavor of any sauce or seasoning that you cook it with.

Tenderloins lack the number of vitamins that breast has. Chicken breast is a source of magnesium, potassium, zinc, calcium, vitamin B6, and vitamin D.

However, chicken tenderloins only contain trace amounts of these vitamins. Tenderloins also have a higher caloric content gram for gram. 

Chicken tenderloin also has a considerably higher amount of sodium than chicken breast. Those with health conditions that require them to have a low-salt diet should opt for chicken breast instead.

Another difference is the price tag. Although chicken breast can be rather expensive, chicken tenderloins are even pricier.

However, some supermarkets simply cut the breast into strips and market it as ‘tenders’, so make sure you’re getting what you pay for before rushing to the checkout. 

Nutritional Value - How do they compare?

As chicken tenderloins are pretty small and come attached to the chicken breast, some people assume that it has the same caloric value and vitamins. However, this isn’t the case.

The two types of meat differ greatly on a nutritional level. 

The table below shows the nutritional value of a 4oz portion of both breast and tenderloins. 4oz is the recommended serving size for chicken in general.

Chicken Breast

Chicken Tenderloin

Calories

136

332

Total fat

3g

20.1g

Sodium

51mg

518.2mg

Protein

25.5g

17.9g

Potassium

378.8mg

247.2mg

Iron

0.4mg

1.3mg

Vitamin B-6

0.9mg

<0.5mg

Cholesterol

82.8mg

49.9mg

Magnesium

31.8mg

27.2


Substituting chicken tenderloin for chicken breast- and vice versa

Due to the versatility of chicken in general, breast and tenderloin can be used interchangeably.

Here are some things to remember when substituting:

  • Make sure to look out for the tell-tale white line, it can be a nuisance to mistake one for the other.
  • Tenderloins are much quicker to marinate and cook. Over-marinating tenderloins can cause them to turn mushy and fall apart. 
  • Cook tenderloins for no more than a few minutes on each side to prevent overcooking them, use a knife to check that they’re opaque inside before serving.
  • When substituting chicken breast for tenderloin, you can flatten the meat using a meat tenderizer. Make sure to cut the breast into strips before doing this and put a layer of baking paper between the mallet and meat.

How to Prepare the Chicken Tenderloin

The best way to prepare chicken tenderloin is to marinate it quickly.

Stir together some olive oil, lemon juice, and any seasoning you usually use, gently slice each tender and then place them in the marinade for around 30 minutes.

Chicken tenderloin already has a high calorie and sodium content, so it’s a good idea to avoid pre-packaged sauces and salty additions when cooking it.

You can cook chicken tenderloins in a healthier way by either baking them in parchment paper or by steaming them. Steaming chicken helps to lock the moisture inside and it’s the easiest way to avoid unhealthy additives.

When cooking chicken tenderloins in parchment paper or steaming them, they will secrete flavorful juices. These can be used to make your own stock or even add it into your gravy.

How to prepare chicken breast

As mentioned above, the chicken breast is very bland if eaten alone. Instead of seeing this as a drawback, you could treat it as a blank canvas and get creative.

It’s super healthy and low in fat, however, it’s important to note that it is only low in fat when the skin has been fully removed. 

When the chicken breast is breaded and fried, much like the chicken nuggets you’d see at fast-food restaurants, it soaks up lots of oil and fat and becomes an all-around junk food. To cook your chicken healthily, you can either bake it or you can grill it.

Both methods can dry out your chicken breast if it’s cooked for too long though, so remember to keep an eye on it. As long as the sauces or oils you’re using aren’t packed full of calories or salt, then you’ve made a healthy meal. 

Where are chicken tenders?

Chicken tenderloins are often called lots of different things including chicken finger, chicken goujons, chicken strips, tenders, or chicken fillets, are chicken meat prepared from the pectoralis minor muscles of the animal.

These strips of white meat are located on either side of the breastbone, under the breast meat (pectoralis major).

Sometimes chicken tenders can be separately sold from the breasts, making them great candidates for stir-fries and skewers, where the chicken meat needs to be cut up anyway.

How do you cut chicken breast for tenders?

If you’re wanting to follow a recipe that requires you to use chicken tenderloins, you can save a couple of bucks by just cutting the chicken breast into strips to substitute for the tenderloins.

Here’s how to do it:

With a knife

  1. 1
    Place the chicken breast on the center of a chopping board and grab a large chef’s knife (8 to 10 inches). If you’ve touched the breast with your fingers, make sure to wash them before touching any other surfaces to prevent contamination.
  2. 2
    Use the knife to trim around the ribs and breastbone, then pull the breast meat off the bone gently. Be sure to cut off the tendon at the bottom, too. Use whichever hand you won’t be cutting with. Rest your palm firmly on the piece of chicken and curl your fingers slightly under your knuckles. This protects them from getting cut by the knife as you slice.
  3. 3
    Slice the chicken against the grain. Find the grain (the tiny white muscle fibers) and cut across it, instead of parallel to it. If the grain runs up and down, cut left to right. Make a long stroke with your knife, dragging it through the breast in one clean slice.
  4. 4
    Continue cutting uniform strips until you finish the breast. Make your strips as thin or as thick as you’d like, but keep them all equal size so that they cook evenly. Depending on the width of your strips, 1 chicken breast can yield anywhere from 5 to 7 strips.

With kitchen scissors

  1. 1
    Choose a pair of detachable kitchen shears. Kitchen scissors are different from regular scissors in that they’re sharper and sturdier so they can cut through everything from meat to bone. Look for a pair that’s detachable (they may also be labeled as “2-piece”). This just means that they can be taken apart into 2 pieces.
  2. 2
    Place the chicken in the center of your chopping board and debone it. Make small cuts around the ribs and breastbone while using your fingers to pull the meat away from the bone. Then cut off the white tendon.
  3. 3
    Find the grain of the breast and position the blade of the shears across it. The grain is the small white muscle fibers running through the chicken breast. You'll cut in the opposite direction, so you're intersecting the grain instead of cutting along with it.
  4. 4
    Cut even-sized strips with the shears, running the blade along with the board. Use your non-dominant hand to hold the chicken in place on the cutting board while you use the other hand to cut through the breast with the shears. Lightly graze the cutting board as you cut to guide the shears through the meat in a straight line. Depending on how large the breast is, you’ll likely need to make multiple cuts per strip. If the breast is thick, make small cuts to get through the breast instead of trying to do it all in one cut.
  5. 5
    Lightly graze the cutting board as you cut to guide the shears through the meat in a straight line. Depending on how large the breast is, you’ll likely need to make multiple cuts per strip. If the breast is thick, make small cuts to get through the breast instead of trying to do it all in one cut.

How long to bake chicken tenderloins?

A chicken tenderloin is the cut of meat from the innermost muscle located near the breastbone. It’s the most tender meat on a chicken, which is where it gets its appt name from. 

Baking chicken tenderloins is one of the healthiest ways to cook them as there is no added grease or oil. Simply add them to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for the appropriate time. 

But how long is that? Well, that depends on how hot your oven can be preheated to...

How long to bake chicken tenderloins at 350?

Bake the tenderloins in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Cut into the largest tender to make sure that none of the pink meat still remains. If the chicken is still pink in the middle, return them to the oven and check again in five-minute intervals. 

How long to bake chicken tenderloins at 375?

Chicken tenderloins should be baked for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to take the temperature of the largest tenderloin to ensure they are all cooked. 

How long to grill chicken tenderloins?

Grilling chicken tenderloins is another healthy way to cook them without excessive amounts of oil. Grilled chicken tenders are often marinated, so choose your favorite blend and leave the chicken to soak for 20 minutes.

Once the meat has been sufficiently marinated, grill the tenderloins over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on either side. The grill surface should be preheated to around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. 

It can be cooler than this, but the tenders might need additional cooking time. Cook both sides evenly until the meat is completely cooked through and piping hot. 

If you’re not a fan of marinated chicken you can swap this step for a light coating of oil and seasoning before they meet the grill. Make sure not to overcook the chicken as you will lose a lot of the tenderness and moisture. 

How long to boil chicken tenderloins? 

Boiling is perhaps the most simple method of cooking chicken. It takes a little longer than the other methods, but you don’t have to stand over it continuously. 

You don’t have to boil the chicken in only water. This is a common misconception that puts a lot of people off of the boiled chicken. Boiling chicken in a pot of stock can add flavor to the meat with minimal effort on your part. 

Add the stock to a pan along with other spices or herbs that you want and bring to the boil. Add the chicken tenders to the boiling liquid carefully and cover before reducing the heat to the low setting. 

Leave the chicken to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the largest tender and check whether it’s cooked before removing the rest from the heat. 

How long to cook chicken tenderloins on stove?

Cooking chicken tenderloins on the stove is the best way to get a crispy edge on the succulent meat. It’s quick and easy but does use more oil than other cooking methods. 

You can either prepare the tenderloins with a covering of breadcrumbs or seasoning. The former is less healthy but often results in a better crunch. However, if you’re prepared to use enough seasoning you can still get your tenders nice and crispy on the stove. 

Make sure that your pan is properly preheated before introducing the meat to get the best results. Once it reaches a medium temperature, add the tenderloins and cook each side for around 3 minutes 30 seconds. 

Use a thermometer on the largest chicken tender to make sure that the meat has reached an internal temperature of 160 to 170 degrees.  

How many calories in a chicken tenderloin?

How many calories in a chicken tenderloin depends on how it has been prepared and cooked. Raw chicken tenders have around 75 to 110 calories each, depending on the size and fat quantity. 

Chicken tenderloins are typically lean and therefore don’t have much fat content. A 3-ounce tenderloin has around 100 calories and 2 grams of fat. 

However, cooking tenderloins with breadcrumbs will make them more calorific. For example, the same 3-ounce tender with breadcrumbs will contain around 143 calories rather than 100.

Spices are much better to use than breadcrumbs as they add a lot of flavor without the calories. In fact, herbs and spices often have fewer than 5 calories per teaspoon. 

The more oil you use, the more calories your chicken tenderloins will be as well. Oil is fat, no matter what type you use. Many people eyeball how much oil they use which might be adding more calories than necessary. 

One teaspoon of olive oil has 119 calories included, meaning that three teaspoons can amount to the same amount of calories as a full meal. Make sure to measure out the oil that you’re using to prevent adding too many calories to your chicken tenderloins. 

Is chicken tenderloin better than breast? 

The answer to this question is purely up to your personal taste and experience with both. The tenderloin comes from near the breast so they are both lean meat with little fat content. 

The main difference is that the breast is less tender than the tenderloin, which is nicer for some people who prefer the taste and texture. This tenderness comes at a cost; however, as the tenders require more care when cooking. 

Some people also believe that chicken tenderloin has more flavor than chicken breast. However, chicken breast is widely accessible and often cheaper than tenderloin. The breast is also larger so you’ll be getting more meat than a tenderloin. 

3-ounce chicken breast has around 142 calories, and this is only half of the breast with the skin removed. So, chicken tenders have fewer calories with only 100 for a 3-ounce serving. With the skin still attached, the calorie difference would be even more substantial. 

Is chicken tenderloin white or dark meat?

Chicken tenderloin is white meat and is located right next to the breastbone. While dark meat contains more nutrients than white meat, the latter contains less fat and fewer calories. 

The chicken tenderloin can be located in a similar area where a pork or beef tenderloin is found. They are thin strips of meat that are gently attached to the chicken breast, so every bird has two tenderloins. 

The tenders are very fragile and can be pulled off the breast without the use of any utensils, so be careful with them! Chicken tenderloins are around 5 inches long and 1½ inches wide. 

Final Thoughts

While there’s a subtle difference between the chicken breast and the smaller tenderloin muscle, it’s fine to substitute one for the other.

As long as you understand the distinction and are willing to make the necessary adjustments, you should wind up with rewarding results either way.

Cassie Marshall
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