Grilled Chicken Tenderloins (Without The Grill!)

Okay, ya’ll, listen to me here, YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE THESE!! Seriously, you are going to absolutely love, love, LOVE these! So you need to make them, alright? Trust me.
This is a widespread copycat version of Cracker Barrel’s grilled chicken tenderloins and they are absolutely amazing, I think they are much better than Cracker Barrels, actually!
I’m not sure where I got the recipe because it is all over the internet, but I got it five or seven years ago and have been making it on a very regular basis ever since with rave reviews each time.
Did I mention that I really think y’all are going to love this? Oh, and I have a truly embarrassing Halloween story at the bottom, what more could you want? ~grins~
You’ll need: Lime juice, Zesty Italian Dressing, honey, and some chicken.
You can purchase chicken tenders or just do like I do and buy boneless skinless breasts and cut them yourself (its cheaper!). The original recipe called just for Italian dressing, but I LOVE this with Zesty Italian!
Oh, and in a pinch you can use lemon juice if you like. I know I usually have lemon juice on hand but not lime. I happened to have this because I made Bananaritas the other morning. For any new readers, Bananaritas are not alcoholic and they are sooooooooo good for breakfast!
Pour in your Salad Dressing.
The original recipe said to strain and discard the spices but i really like them in here and I have never once actually noticed them on the finished chicken. They either cook up or magically disappear. Either way, why add another step if we don’t have to?
I like to mix this up in a mason jar because it is so dern easy that way. You can just stir it up in a small bowl if you like though.
Add your honey..
Add Lime juice.
For some reason I am wanting to speak with a German accent as I do this tutorial tonight. I think I need sleep and lack thereof is making me silly. So in my mind, I am doing this entire tutorial in a German accent. Folks, I’ve gone off my rocker after the day I had today! (By the way, my German accent is learned entirely from one of those Disney Characters that looked like Donald Duck but was actually a distant relative…)
Don’t you just love German chocolate, though? Ritter bars are my favorite….
Screw Ze Lid On Ze Jar!
(give it a good shake)
If you’ve got chicken breasts, cut them into strips.
I used my kitchen shears, by far the greatest utensil known to mankind. This is what I call a “fish and loaves” recipe because the chicken tends to plump up and be extra filling, therefore feeding a much larger amount than it normally would have. I used four chicken breasts and we easily have enough left for another meal (or some great lunches!).
Voila! Ze Chicken!
Now what I do is put all of my chicken in a big gallon ziplock bag and just pour the marinade in there with it. Then you seal it and stick it in your fridge for at least an hour.
You can do this the night before if you like and just keep it in your fridge until you’re ready for supper. Another thing I have done before is mix this up and get it to this stage and just freeze the whole bag. Then on a morning you are headed off to work just pop the bag in the fridge to thaw out during the day.
After at least an hour, dump the entire contents of the bag into a large skillet.
You are going to be thinking “Wow, this is awful watery, there is no way it is going to look like hers” but oh yes it will!! Hang in there with me, this just takes a little patience (actually it takes about forty minutes or so).
This is how it will look after ten minutes over medium heat. Just hang in there and let it cook.
I keep my stove eye dial on five. Good thing is, you don’t have to fret over this, just go check on it about every ten minutes and turn it and you’ll be fine!
This is after about twenty minutes.
About thirty…now we’re starting to get somewhere!
And around forty minutes the good stuff starts showing up!!
Its getting really thick on the bottom now and this is where I start moving my chicken around a lot, getting it all nice and browned.
In another minute or two that watery stuff will all be caramelized and wonderful….
Like this. It looks black in the pic but its really not. That dark stuff is the carmelized marinade. At this point, I take every piece of chicken and one by one rub it around in that marinade before taking it out of the pan and putting it on my platter.
Like this!!
(It tastes even better than it looks!)

This has so much wonderful flavor that I like to serve it with a simple side dish. Tonight we had it with stewed potatoes that I had just put a little butter and salt on. YUM!

Grilled Chicken Tenderloins
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips.
  • 1 cup zesty Italian dressing
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 3 teaspoons honey
  1. Place chicken in gallon ziplock bag. Combine all other ingredients and pour over. Seal and marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Pour all ingredients into a large skillet and cook over medium heat until liquid evaporates and remaining marinade becomes thick and caramelized.
  3. Coat each piece of chicken in marinade by rubbing it around on the bottom of the pan before removing it

*I put off doing the newsletter until this weekend after my little mishap with emails and google yesterday. I figured all of you wonderfully kind people deserved another recipe today!Thank you all so very much for your understanding. I’ve gotten a multitude of emails that are so very kind and reassuring and I cannot tell you how much better today is as a result of that! You are so wonderful. Someday, SOMEDAY, I AM going to figure out how to cook a big old meal for you all, just wait! OOoh, how about an embarrassing Halloween story? Yup, thats just what we need! Here goes…


Let me tell y’all what I did one Halloween, and this is really pretty embarrassing and out of character for me but hey, its just us I’m talking to, right?
If you’ve read the coconut pie post, you know all about Mama’s accident. She was completely bedridden for several weeks and her spirits were understandably very down. I had never seen Mama anything but upbeat and I took every opportunity to try to cheer her up as best I could.
Then she called me on her cell phone one day and said “Guess what I’m doing?” Mama sounded happy and I instantly perked up. She was all excited because she was actually out, riding in a car, for the first time in weeks. It had been quite an ordeal to get her in the car with both legs in casts but she was sitting in the back seat with her legs up on the seat and looking out the window, and called me to tell me about it. I was thrilled.
“Where are you now?” I asked, all excited. 

“We’re in Athens, almost close to your neighborhood”
so I replied “Well come on by and we’ll come out and see you and do the happy dance!”
This really was a big day for us and I was so happy for her, couldn’t wait to see her.
Then I got to thinking, what else could I do to get her to smile, maybe even make her laugh, and help her remember this day?
It came to me….I was about eight months pregnant and it was almost Halloween….
Now y’all, I am NOT someone who likes in any way, shape, or form, to have my stomach touched, caressed, cuddled, or otherwise noticed any more than it has to be whilst I am with child. I tend to be an EXTREMELY modest person as well. So I thought of it, the one thing that would shock my mother (the person who knows me better than anyone) and get a good laugh at the same time.
I hurried into the kitchen and grabbed the first thing I could find to write with and then darted off to the bathroom. When Mama pulled up in the driveway, I went out, walked up to her window with a huge grin and pulled up my shirt just enough to reveal a very pregnant belly with the face of a jack o lantern drawn on it!! (You know, this really is embarrassing to tell…I bet Mama will be surprised I admitted to it and it will make her laugh again today!).
Mama’s eyes got so big and she looked at me and said “Don’t you have a Doctor’s appointment tomorrow?”.
Then we both burst out laughing after I said “OH my goodness, I do…and I USED A SHARPIE!!”.
I found out just how permanent sharpies were as it took quite a bit for that to wear off, but my midwife had a good sense of humor and she had been well aware of Mama’s ordeal and how much it meant to me to get one more laugh out of her on that day!

And that was a REALLY great day!



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  1. Janel says

    Well, Christy, you scored again! I fixed this recipe for dinner tonight and it was a big hit. Like another lady said, I thought it would never cook down like you said it would, but it finally did and the results were so good. My husband said this recipe is a keeper! When he says that, I know he liked it! So, thanks again for sharing with us! God bless you!

  2. Katie says

    This was a fabulous tasting recipe, and tasted identical to Cracker Barrel, but by the time I had the sauce and everything cooked down after 40 min, and went to eat the chicken, it was very very dry. Again, the taste was great, but it was definitely not as moist and tender as the restaurant. Any tips for next time?

  3. Krista says

    I tried the recipe twice with the Kraft dressing, in two different pans, and both times the sauce would not cook down. The sauce just burned at the bottom of the pan and never caramelized. I’m not sure if anyone else has had this issue with Kraft, but I thought I would just make a comment in case someone else has problems making the recipe.

    I normally make this with the Wishbone brand Italian dressing, but I tried it with a bottle of Kraft dressing because it was on sale. I have never had an issue with the Wishbone.

  4. Laura says

    Yummy, yummy, yummy!!!!! I made this tonight and it was FANTASTIC!!! I was worried that it might be dry on the inside but it was juicy and perfect!!!! Thanks for sharing! I will be making this frequently.

  5. Laura says

    I cooked this for dinner and my husband loved it. We eat chicken about 4 days of the week, so this was an amazing way to change it up! I My whole house smelt amazing and it was very delicious..&& EASY Thanks!

  6. Kaitlyn says

    These are absolutely fantastic but I highly recommend the cheap brand of italian dressing otherwise your sauce won’t caramelize like Christy’s does ! I know I tried it with Kraft and it didn’t work out well but was edible but then I chose to use a 88 cent bottle and it was perfect :))

  7. Krista says

    I’m going to have to try this.

    My guess is that the cheaper brands have more sugar in them, and therefore caramelize better. Also, I think I’m going to just try mixing in the zip lock bag instead of in a bowl or mason jar. Since the marinade is just going to go in there anyway, it might save a step, and then you would not have to wash the jar or bowl.

  8. emily says

    I made this last week and it turned out really well. I would recommend doubling the marinade because there did not seem to be enough to glaze the chicken after it cooked down. It was still delicious and I will make it again.

  9. Samantha says

    I just tried this for the first time and it was amazing! I did use Kraft zesty Italian because it was what I had on hand and I think I can help with the issues some have had using this brand. I just cooked the chicken until it was done and removed it from the pan. Then I cooked the dressing down in the pan and when it had started to brown up and thicken I added the chicken back in to glaze it. That way the chicken won’t dry out.

  10. Joann says

    Christy I enjoy your stories as much as I no that I will enjoy all your recipes ….I just found you on Pinterest and on zip line …you are a amazing southern cook with a awesome twist….we had your sticky chicken last night and we are having your deep dish pizza tonight and your Butterfinger cake…yummy yum..I am going to get my first magazine soon..God Bless you and yours…

  11. Brandy says

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe!! My husband LOVES the chicken at Cracker Barrel but it tends to be costly to take a family of six to eat there. This wonderful recipe enables me to give my family the same awesome chicken for so much cheaper!! God Bless you!!

  12. Amanda W says

    My husband found this earlier today and wanted me to try it. We only had turkey tenderloins on hand, so we’ll see how this goes! The marinade smells delicious though!

    *Side note* Am I the only one who hasn’t had this chicken from Cracker Barrel? I always get the dumplins platter or the chicken fried chicken. I’m not one to change my favorite menu items, but if this turns out good, I think I’ll be ordering this next time! :)

  13. Anna Hoffman says

    Just made this for dinner! So easy and very good. I did cook the chicken first then placed it back in the pan once the sauce was carmalized. I didn’t want the chicken to be dry. It looked just like the chicken in the picture. This will be another one of my easy weeknight meals.

  14. Acinom says

    I used Kraft and it turned out perfectly. For me, this chicken was absolutely not dry; in fact, it was very moist and I did not have an issue using Kraft dressing. This will be in heavy rotation at our house. In fact, I’m thinking about making it tonight, increasing the sauce & serving over a mix of brown rice & broccoli.

  15. Carol says

    I made this fabulous chicken dish last night. My husband really loved it. It was so good. The chicken gets so tender and soft and is so moist. The trick is to cook the liquid down (no cookware top on the sauce pan) to a very thick caramelized glaze. It takes a while to cook the liquid down but its what makes the chicken so good. Right before the sauce completely caramelizes, I removed about 1/2 cup of the liquid to use as a glaze for the chicken when served. Yummy! I served it with fresh roasted cauliflower, brocolli, and carrots and seasoned quinoa. My husband told me the meal was wonderful and that I could be a chef.

  16. Jessica S. says

    So when you cook this in your skillet, do you cover it with a lid or do you just leave it open and let it cook? I’m making this tonight but don’t know if I should cover it or not. Please respond thanks 😉

  17. Jennifer says

    I made these tonight, followed the receipe exact, they came out exactly like your pictures & are very good, & the 40 min is exactly how long it takes, but, they are a little dry, next time I’ll use whole breasts. Will definitely make again.

  18. Amy says

    My husband is a very accomplished home cook. As a matter of fact, he does most of the cooking in our family and all of my friends are jealous! But I want to serve him, so sometimes I (try) to make dinner for us.
    While I was making this, he was skeptical because he thought the chicken would be overcooked, but when dinner time came he was pleasantly surprised! So surprised, as a matter of fact, that there were zero leftovers. Zero.
    So thanks for making me look like I know what I’m doing I’m the kitchen!!

  19. Polly Beth says

    Girl! I so wish we were neighbors! I LOVED THE JACK ‘O LANTERN belly story! Priceless!
    See…it’s good to be a little crazy once in a while! MEMORIES!!…and a happy dance!
    Working on the recipe now…thought I’d screwed it up with the closest marinade in my fridge…please, pray that your recipe, on top of my screw up, turns out yummy!
    Just found this looking for a “chicken tenderloin recipe” and yours popped up!
    I just love the embarrassing stories the most! They are typically epic and WORTH remembering…hehe.

  20. Barbara says

    Oh my word! Just finished cooking this for supper and had to take a little pre-meal taste. Sooo good! Followed your directions but cooked in electric skillet. Did great and so easy! Thanks for a yummy new way to fix chicken!

  21. Shay Brown says

    I just made this for my husband and myself & we both fell in love! I will definitely save this recipe for the rest of my life. (: Thank you for sharing this recipe with us, it’s truly appreciated!

  22. Barbara Miller says

    making these tonite but using drumsticks (they were on sale for .89 cents a pound.) using electric skillet. will cover it for 20 min to start the chicken then un-cover and cook till the sauce reduces. wish me luck. gonna serve it with pasta with alfredo sauce and carrots and broccoli.

  23. Connor Ford says

    I am new to cooking and am trying to find easy healthy recipes and this looks amazing but I am told that you need to brine your chicken before you cook it. Is the salt, pepper, and honey is that the brine or do I need to let it sit in salt and water first. Just curious. Thank you for the great information.

  24. Maria EC says

    I don’t normally leave comments on recipes, however I am making exception to yours. I made this the other day and my husband absolutely loved it! He normally doesn’t like eating the same thing every single day, but when I asked him what he wanted me to make next, he said he wanted to me to make this chicken again! As for myself, I’m not usually a fan of chicken breast, but even I liked it! It was tender and moist, and your posted cooking time is exact, in 40 minutes, I the chicken was perfect! I did everything per your recipe and didn’t change a thing!

  25. Leigh says

    Christy I have been using this recipe/technique for my potatoes for years. Just cube (large) potatoes and do it the same way. You gotta try it. So good. I use it as a side dish to BBQ foods. Can’t wait to try it with chicken though! Thanks!

  26. Debbie I. from NC says

    These look so good! I’m defrosting chicken now. Have the honey, the store brand zesty Italian and some lemon juice. ( I’ve never needed lime juice, so using what I got). I plan to marinate overnight. The thing for me is that I live alone so I am going to attempt to prepare this with the recipe decreased to 1/4. Wish me luck! Oh, I’ve never had this chicken from Cracker Barrel either. I’ll let yall know how it comes out for me. Thanks Christy! I’ve fixed a many of your recipes and loved ‘ em all!!

    • Debbie I. from NC says

      Sigh, guess these four little tenderloins won’t be marinating tonight. I got to scrolling through Christy’s recipes and came back across those chicken planks! I got the awfullest hankering for those again so….sigh…I pounded out those four little loins, sliced ‘ em in two and yep, made those awesome planks again. ( It helped to have comeback sauce already prepared in the fridge). If yall aint tried her planks, yall are missing a piece of Heaven. So,… I still plan on making this grilled recipe too. It’ll just have to wait a bit! ( I’m so full right now!!! I don’t want to think of food!) Thanks Christy! Those planks are awesome! Sorry, didn’t mean to go off topic…I couldn’t help myself. 😉

        • Debbie I. from NC says

          Enjoying is an understatement!…Well, those four little tenderloins yielded me 8 good sized planks! I have 3 left over. They will be cut into bite-sized pieces for tossing on a green salad for tomorrow’s lunch at work. ( I will use the comeback sauce for dressing!…soooo good!). Now, ( smiles) I happened to ” find” 4 more little tenderloins all by their lonesome in my freezer. I have made them happy now as they enjoy an overnite ” Italian- honey” soakin’. Fixin’ this un when I get home from work! You are precious Christy! Hug mama for me…I’ll let ya know how these come out for me!

            • Debbie I. from NC says

              Well, just fixed them ” grilled” tenderloins. Christy, they came out beautifully! I did use a non- stick skillet, and all I had to do to clean it was rinse and wipe! Girl, you sho nuff know your stuff! When I dumped ‘ em in the pan, I thought ” oh no” that’s just too juicy. But I bit the bullet and did exactly as you said. Cooked mine a bit lower as my stove eyes run a might hot. I turned about every 10 mins. and they carmelized perfectly! and on my , they are so good! Fixed me bit of rice to go with mine. I so love scrolling and trying your recipes! When Christy says ” trust me on this”, this old gal surely does! Man, these are really good! Mine were moist, juicy and covered in that savory carmalization! ( and I scaled the recipe down to 1/4!). Thank you again! Look every day for your posts! Now, I believe I need some ground beef. Saw an awesome spaghetti sauce recipe modified for a crock pot on here somewheres…. 😉

  27. mellie says

    These were outstanding! I too, at first thought there might be too much juice in the pan but it was perfect. They carmelized nicely. We had mashed potatoes and corn on the cob with this, a perfect meal!
    Thank you for sharing this great recipe with my family, we will be making it again real soon!

  28. Karen says

    Okay Christy, I made this yesterday. I marinated about 2 1/2 hours. It took right at 1 hour 15 mins. for all liquids to be absorbed, I never did get that great carmaelization you did. The chicken has a good taste, but is dry. Suggestions for what I did wrong? I used a whole lime, so it might have been a little more than 2 tsps., but couldn’t have made that much difference surely. I also used Lite dressing, was that a no-no?

    • says

      I think the light dressing is gonna be our culprit here as it isn’t going to get all thick and caramelized like the regular dressing would. Kudos for sticking with it for that long though! I appreciate that you trusted it would happen like I said! Some recipes, small deviations are just fine, but in this case a different fat and sugar content in the dressing is gonna bite you, I’m afraid. Sorry this didn’t turn out for you! It really is delicious.

  29. Lisa Harper says

    I love Italian dressing as its so versatile. For example, when the scalloped potato (that comes in small boxed) are on sale for like 1.25, I will buy several boxes. Follow the cooking instructions on back of box. I bake mine in the oven; however I add about a cup of the Italian dressing in prior to baking. It adds a great taste and texture and these potatoes are simply amazing.

  30. Kathy says

    Made these last night and will make again! Two thumbs up! Awesome and not dry at all. only comment was to not cook down as much next time to use some of the sauce for rice. I think I am going to be making this A LOT!!!

  31. susan says

    I’m here to tell you that this became one of our FAVORITE recipes the first time I made it a couple of years ago when I first saw the recipe! I fixed it about 3 more times in the subsequent week and a half! Everywhere I take these marvelous little bits of chicken, they get rave reviews and the recipe is always requested. Even my ultra-picky son-in-law loves them. (and everybody agrees that they are even better than the ones from the famous restaurant chain)
    Thank you again for sharing all the goodness with the rest of us!


  1. […] Cracker Barrel’s Chicken Tenders – I think this was the overall winner for April. I may never have to set foot in a Cracker Barrel again now that I’ve found the recipe for my favorite menu item. Not only is the chicken marinated in Italian dressing, it’s cooked until the dressing caramelizes into complete and total deliciousness. The chicken is great served atop salad or pasta, with rice or veggies, or any other way you can imagine it.  […]

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