Southern Style Chicken Tenders with Sweet Tea Dipping Sauce

Many people find it surprising when I tell them that I’ve spent time living in the South. In fact, I lived in South Carolina for 3 years while my hubby was finishing his studies there. After my first few meals in this iconic region of the U.S., I soon realized that 1.) large, amber jugs of South Carolina grown sweet tea are the drink of Southern Hospitality, and 2.) Southerners aren’t the least bit afraid of deep-frying. Fried grits, fried okra, fried green tomatoes…if it looks good, chances are you’ll find it fried in one form or another. And the king of all these fried foods? Well, that has to be fried chicken, of course!

My recipe for Southern Style Chicken Tenders with Sweet Tea Dipping Sauce is a much lighter and almost guiltless take on the classic combination of fried chicken and sweet tea…but it doesn’t look like it does it? That’s the beauty of this recipe–it’s quick, healthy, baked, and oh-so-delish! Crushed Melba toasts and some slightly gritty cornmeal give the chicken’s outer coating some crunch and texture, while the sauce packs concentrated sweet tea flavor with a kick. A quick dunk in flour, beaten eggs, and a zesty crumb mixture, and into the oven the tenders go!

If you’ve ever had fried chicken in the South, you know that it’s common to find plentiful little packets of honey and hot sauce that come with. The sweet and fiery liquids are typically drizzled over the chicken right before you dive in for a crunchy bite. In this dipping sauce recipe, both honey and hot sauce are mixed in with triple strength black tea. Together, the flavors are sweet and bright with a hint of citrus–a great way to complement the spicy chicken strips. The thick sauce can be served on the side or lightly poured over the tenders, just like you would with the real deal.

Just before placing the tenders in the oven, I hit them with some canola oil spray to help them bake up to a beautiful golden brown. There really isn’t much fat in this recipe, so if you are missing it, you can use some olive oil to drizzle over the top of each tender instead. One version is tasty and the other is even tastier.

The perfect drink to go along with these Southern Style Chicken Tenders has to be my Summertime Sun Teaunsweetened! When it comes to sun tea, lots of colorful fruit and herbs is the key to thirst-quenching satisfaction. These tenders are incredibly yummy, and with a Sweet Tea Sauce tasting like liquid gold, a chilly glass of sun tea is just the refreshment to wash everything down. Southern Style Chicken Tenders with Sweet Tea Dipping Sauce

Makes 15 chicken tenders.


3 lb. large chicken tenders

{Crumb Coating}

20 Melba toasts

1/2 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp smoked paprika or regular paprika

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

non-stick canola oil spray or olive oil

dried parsley, for garnishing

{Flour Dredge}

1 1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

{Liquid Dredge}

4 eggs

1 tsp hot sauce

{Sweet Tea Sauce}

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 cup strongly steeped tea (I used Luzianne Tea, 3 tea bags in 1 cup of 212 degrees F water for 5 minutes)

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup cold water

2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp hot sauce


food processor

large baking sheet fitted with foil

3 large, shallow dishes

whisk or fork

paper towels

cooling rack

small pot

small bowl


1.)  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Process Melba toasts in food processor until you get crumbly, sandy texture. Place Melba crumbs into a large, shallow dish and add the cornmeal, parmesan, paprika, chili powder, black pepper, garlic and onion powder, and salt. Mix together thoroughly.

2.)  Crack eggs into another shallow dish and add hot sauce. Mix thoroughly with whisk or fork, and set aside. Add flour and salt into the last shallow dish, then also mix thoroughly.

3.)  Use paper towels to blot off excess moisture from the raw chicken tenders. Dip each tender completely into the flour dredge first, then the egg dredge, and then finally into the cornmeal coating.

4.)  Place fully dredged and coated tenders on a large baking sheet covered with foil and sprayed with non-stick oil spray. After you finish coating all the tenders, give each tender a heavy spray of oil spray or drizzle with olive oil before placing in the oven. Bake the tenders for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. After taking them out of the oven, I like to place the tenders on a cooling rack to prevent them from becoming soggy and to stop the cooking process (like you would with cookies). Scatter the tenders with dried parsley as a garnish.

5.)  Place all the tea dipping sauce ingredients (except water and cornstarch) in a small pot. In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup cold water and cornstarch into a slurry. Place pot on high heat, and then let the liquid come to a boil. When the liquid reaches a full boil, mix in the slurry, and then lower the heat to medium and let the mixture come back to a boil. Take the sauce off the heat and serve it with the hot chicken tenders. The sauce will thicken as it cools.