The History of Chicken Tenders and the Best Places to Get Them

The History of Chicken Tenders and the Best Places to Get Them

Learning about the origins of a famous dish is one enjoyable thing to do. It may not necessarily mean much but you’ll still learn about a fun fact. And if you particularly love the said dish you’re learning more about, you might just find more reasons to enjoy and love it all the more.

This fact is true not just for the unique and culturally-significant dishes. While their back stories may be more interesting and noteworthy, the tales about our favorite everyday dishes certainly deserve some attention, too. It would be nice to know more about the food you like to eat regularly, right? It can certainly give you another way to get to know it better.

If, like millions of other Americans, your go-to dish for quick bites is the ever so simple and tasty chicken tenders, you might not really think that it has an elaborate backstory like other dishes. The concept behind this fried finger food seems so simple that it’s not hard to imagine that someone from way back thought of cutting up chicken breasts, coating them with breading, and deep frying them. 

With so many other meats prepared this way, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched that someone will do the same to chicken breasts. They certainly did the same thing to most parts of the chicken, so why not to this one? And since this part is quite thick, it would make sense to cut it up to smaller pieces to make it easier to consume.

So how did this dish come to life and how come it’s now hailed as America’s favorite finger food? Let’s take a closer look.

How did Chicken Tenders Come About?

The origins of chicken tenders is actually a complicated story. Lots of folks who looked into it say that it’s all a matter of semantics since the dish has different names. Some call it chicken tenders, others call it chicken strips, chicken fingers, chicken tempura, or chicken goujons. Because of this, tracing its roots can be quite a challenge.

According to a Manchester, New Hampshire restaurant called The Puritan Backroom, they invented chicken tenders in 1974. However, lots of experts argue against the claim. They say that it’s possible that the said restaurant coined the term ‘chicken tenders’ but since there were lots of other restaurants offering the same dish in various parts of the country, it would be hard to say if they really thought up of the actual dish itself.

Some digging led food blogger Janice Brown to find one of the earliest mentions of ‘chicken fingers’ in a recipe published in 1893 for chicken fingers sandwich. It was not mentioned, however, if the chicken strips were fried beforehand, so it’s not a definitive source. 

Another notable point raised by Brown is the reports about a certain Robert Baker thinking up of ‘chicken sticks’ in the 1950s. He did not patent the recipe but only published the recipe as a part of some school work.

The earliest traces of defined ‘fried chicken fingers’ that Brown found, however, are from a publication of a restaurant ad in the Standard-Speaker, a local newspaper in Hazelton, PA. It was for the specials of the Mussari’s Sun Valley Restaurant that listed French Fried Chicken Fingers on its Special Dinners menu.

So while the Puritan Backroom may have truly been the first folks to call their dish ‘chicken tenders’, it’s possible that the dish existed years before they came up with something very similar and gave it a different name.

What’s easier to ascertain is the time period when chicken tenders rose to fame. When people got scared of eating red meat, chicken breasts became the most popular protein source alternatives. And since chicken tenders are made from the cast off parts of this area, chicken producers pushed for the consumption of fried chicken fingers/strips/tenders. 

This was during the late 1980s to early 1990s. From then on, this dish became popular as a finger food.

Finding the Best Chicken Tenders Today

We may not really know for sure who made the first chicken fingers or where they came up with the idea, the good news is that we now have so many options available today. You can opt to cook it at home or get it from nearly every American eatery in the country so you don’t have to worry about finding some. There are lots of great recipes and amazing restaurants and chains that sell them.

If you want to take a short cut and just buy some of the tastiest chicken tenders there is today, make sure to try out the offerings of these stores:

Raising Cane’s
Hailed by some food experts as the home of the best chicken tenders around, Raising Cane’s will definitely give you the fix you need if you’re craving for some. Their chicken fingers are always fresh as they’re made of actual chicken and are fried upon ordering. As you can see their menu here, it is pretty much just chicken fingers and not much else.

Popeyes
Famous for their Louisiana-style fried chicken, it shouldn’t be surprising that Popeyes also offer some of the best chicken tenders around. The rich flavor of their food will make you go back for more.

Culver’s
Like at Raising Cane’s, the food here is cooked to order so you’ll always get your chicken tenders freshly fried. They also come in different varieties, giving you more options to choose from.