A copycat version of Cracker Barrel’s grilled chicken tenderloins, these juicy grilled chicken tenders are marinated in a zesty flavoring that no one can resist!
Okay, y’all, listen to me here: you are going to love these grilled chicken tenders! This is a widespread copycat version of Cracker Barrel’s grilled chicken tenderloin dish and they are absolutely amazing. I’ve been making them on a regular basis for the past 20 years and they are a beloved family favorite.
Fortunately, this grilled chicken tenders recipe is super quick and easy to make. All you have to do is marinate the chicken tenders in the deliciously zesty marinade and then cook them on the stovetop or grill. These grilled chicken tenders are as flavorful, juicy, and tender as the name suggests.
So, what’s in this flavoring? You’ve got lime juice, zesty Italian dressing, and honey. They combine to make a marinade that’s to die for (trust me on this, folks).
I like to serve my grilled chicken with a simple side salad (check out Texas caviar and my Greek salad) or some vegetables like grilled asparagus.
- Lime juice
- Zesty Italian dressing (or just plain Italian dressing)
How to Make Easy Grilled Chicken Tenders Without the Grill!
Prepare the Marinade
First, I usually mix my marinade in a quart-sized mason jar. Begin by pouring in your 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?
Add your honey…
and lime juice…
Screw the lid on the jar and give it a good shake.
If you are making your grilled chicken tenders with chicken breasts, cut them into strips.
Here is our chicken, all ready for the marinade ingredients.
Now what I do is put all of my chicken in a big gallon ziplock bag and just pour the chicken marinade in there with it. Seal the bag and stick it in your fridge for at least an hour.
Grilling the chicken tenders
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 thirty 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/burner 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.
30 minutes later… now we’re starting to get somewhere!
A little after the 30-minute mark, the sauce thickens and begins to caramelize.
It’s getting really thick on the bottom now and this is where I start moving my meat around a lot, getting it all nice and browned.
Once it gets dark, 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.
These grilled chicken tenderloins are full of flavor that I like to serve them with a simple side dish. Tonight we’ll have it with butter stewed potatoes. YUM!
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat them either on the stovetop or in the oven or air fryer. You can also keep leftovers in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating as mentioned.
- In a pinch, you can substitute the lime juice for lemon juice if you like. Another option is apple cider vinegar. 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 make a delicious breakfast.
- You can prepare the marinade and chicken tenders the night before if you like and just keep them in your fridge until you’re ready for supper. Another thing I have done before is mix up the marinade and chicken and just freeze the whole bag. Then on a morning, before you head off to work, just pop the bag in the fridge to thaw out during the day.
- If you’re using a grill to make your grilled chicken tenders, it will take about 10 minutes (turning halfway). You’ll want to make sure the internal temperature is 165 degrees before taking them off the grill.
- A different serving suggestion: sprinkle with parsley and serve with lime wedges.
- If you love garlic, add one clove of minced garlic or a teaspoon of to the chicken marinade.
- Make sure you don’t overcrowd your pan or move the chicken too much while cooking.
- Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving, as this gives the chicken time to soak up the juices.
What type of chicken do you use for this grilled chicken tenders recipe?
You can purchase chicken tenderloins or just do like I do and buy boneless skinless chicken breasts and cut them yourself. It’s cheaper to buy them this way and I just use 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!).
What do you serve with your grilled chicken tenders?
The options are nearly endless, but here are some serving suggestions:
- Serve them with a dipping sauce like our chipotle ranch dressing.
- Do a side of crispy fries or mashed potatoes.
- Serve with a side salad, a simple vegetarian dish like zucchini and squash, or roast vegetables.
- Place them on a bed of rice or pasta, like my cilantro lime cauliflower rice.
You may also enjoy these chicken recipes:
Cheesy Chicken And Rice Crock Pot Version
Easy Chicken and Dumplings Recipe
You may also like this Cracker Barrel Copycat recipe:
Cracker Barrel Hash Brown Casserole Cheesy Copycat
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
- 1 cup zesty Italian dressing
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 3 teaspoons honey
- Combine all marinade ingredients in a mason jar and shake well to combine.1 cup zesty Italian dressing, 2 teaspoons lime juice, 3 teaspoons honey
- Place the chicken strips in a gallon-sized ziplock bag and pour over the marinade. Seal and marinate for at least an hour.4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
- Pour all of the ziplock bag's ingredients into a large skillet and cook over medium heat until liquid evaporates and the remaining marinade becomes thick and caramelized, about 30 minutes (May take up to 40).
- Coat each chicken piece in marinade by rubbing it around on the bottom of the pan before removing it.
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!!!
I am going to make these soon. I have used the italian dressing before, but I know it will be even better using the honey and lime juice. Thanks Christy.
I hope you enjoy them Deborah!!!
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.
What a great idea Lisa!! Thanks for sharing!!
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?
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.
Thanks Christy!!! I wouldn’t have stuck with it that long if I didn’t trust you!! Thanks for the heads up, will try the full fat – full flavored version next time.
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!
I am so glad you liked them Mellie!!!
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!!
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. 😉
LOL, I just love you Debbie! So glad you are enjoying the chicken planks!!!
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!
🙂 I am so glad you liked it Debbie, enjoy your salad and I will make sure to hug Mama for you!!!
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…. 😉
I am so glad you liked them Debbie!!!! The first time you make them it does seem like too much liquid, but it always turns out perfectly!
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!
What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!!