Learn how to make the best smoked chicken tenders on ANY grill or smoker.
Whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger, Camp Chef, or Pit Boss, an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional propane grill like a Weber, we've got you covered!
Everyone knows we love smoking chicken around here.
Today we are keeping it simple and doing some easy and fast cooking smoked chicken tenders.
Rather than picking up and unhealthy fried and breaded version at your local fast food chain, you can quickly smoke some healthier, white meat chicken tenders right at home on your own grill, pellet grill, or smoker!
We season ours with an easy to make, overnight Italian dressing marinade not only to flavor the smoked chicken tenders, but to help keep them moist while they cook.
You can substitute in your own seasonings or a favorite BBQ rub and the cooking times and temperatures will all still be the same.
Let's jump in and look at how we made our own smoked chicken tenders!
Purchasing Chicken Tenders
You shouldn't need to do ANY trimming if you are buying a package of boneless skinless white meat chicken tenders.
They may be labeled "Tenderloins" or "Chicken Breast Tenders," as they are essentially sliced up chicken breasts.
There are usually about 5-6 in a one pound package
Take them out of the package and give them a quick rinse in the sink.
Lay them out on a cutting board or in an aluminum pan and dry them well with some paper towels.
Marinating the Chicken Tenders
For small white meat pieces of chicken like this that can dry out quickly, we actually prefer to marinate them in a homemade Italian dressing.
This gets great flavor deeper into the meat and helps them retain moisture on the grill or smoker.
You can also use a store bought Italian dressing but if you want a better tasting homemade option, you will need:
- Olive Oil (not extra virgin)
- Red Wine Vinegar (can substitute white wine vinegar if desired)
- Garlic Powder
- Dried Oregano
- Dried Basil
- Onion Powder
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
This is enough marinade for up to about 2 lbs or raw chicken tenders.
Combine all these ingredients in a bowl or large measuring cup and whisk together.
Put your chicken in a gallon size resealable storage bag and pour the marinade over the chicken.
Close the bag and work it around the chicken to make sure you are covering all the meat with marinade.
Place the bag in refrigerator and marinate the chicken tenders for at least a few hours or overnight.
If you don't want to mess with the marinade, you can simply season the chicken tenders before you put them on the smoker.
If you decide to add a BBQ rub or more seasoning after you marinade but before you smoke the chicken tenders, go easy so that you don't risk oversalting the meat.
Best Wood Choices for Smoking Chicken Tenders
The best woods for smoking chicken tenders include the fruitwoods like apple, cherry, and peach, but also the milder smoking woods like pecan, oak and alder.
While mesquite and hickory will give a more aggressive smoke flavor, they CAN be used here because the chicken tenders will only be smoking for a relatively short period of time.
If you want to keep it simple and straightforward, choose a lighter smoking wood like oak, apple, or peach.
For the best results, if you are using a pellet grill or pellet tube smoker, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality, airtight container.
To add even more smoke flavor, consider adding a pellet tube smoker or a smoker box with wood chunks like do in our videos How to Light a Pellet Tube Smoker and How to Get Stick Burner Smoke Flavor on a Pellet Grill.
We are going to set up the grill or smoker for medium level indirect cooking at 300°F.
You can get away with smoking boneless chicken thighs for longer periods at 250°F because they are dark meat have higher fat content.
With very lean white meat chicken like breasts and tenders, the meat risks drying out at lower smoking temperatures before it is finished cooking.
Another option, if you want to get some grill marks and extra color on them, is to smoke the chicken tenders low (maybe around 225°F) for the first 30 minutes or so to partially cook and add smoke flavor, and then crank the heat up to 350°F for the last 10 minutes.
Target Internal Temperature
Regardless of what temperature you choose smoke your chicken tenders, you HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer.
Some tenders may be different sizes, some spots on your grill or smoker will be hotter than others, and white meat chicken is notorious for drying out if cooked to too high of an internal temperature.
So always cook to temperature, not time.
We are particular fans of this instant read thermometer from ThermoPro because of its durability and affordable price.
We are targeting a final internal temperature of 165°F on the smoked chicken tenders to know that they are safe to eat and finished cooking.
At 300°F, our smoked chicken tenders will take about 30-40 minutes to cook and come up to 165°F internally.
This timeframe may be shorter or longer depending on whether your grill or smoker runs hot and how big your chicken tenders are.
That is why you need a good instant read thermometer and again, why we always cook to TEMPERATURE, not TIME.
Monitor your Grill Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
This is what makes them so convenient!
If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker, you can't rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge that come installed on them.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from the true actual temperature at the grill grate level!
This is unacceptable.
This is why you will always see competition cooks, and backyard chefs who know their stuff, using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.
We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series for doing this.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot Bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It's got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It's like a GPS for your meat!
Again, we are going to bring the internal temperature of our smoked chicken tenders up to 165°F.
One of the best things to do with smoked chicken tenders is dip them!
You can serve your smoked chicken tenders with BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, honey mustard, or any other sauce you can think like!
Food Safety Tip: Never baste the chicken tenders with the raw marinade you used to initially season them. Once the chicken goes on the grill or smoker, the marinade needs to be discarded.
Smoked Chicken Tenders
- Gas Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Wood pellets, chunks, or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Mixing Bowl or Large Measuring Cup
- Small Whisk
- Gallon-Size Resealable Bag
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Grill Tongs
- 2 lbs Raw Chicken Breast Tenders Or "tenderloins". Boneless, skinless.
Homemade Italian Dressing Marinade
- ¾ cup Olive Oil not extra virgin
- ¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar can substitute white wine vinegar if desired
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Dried Basil
- ½ teaspoon Onion Powder
- ½ teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- ¾ teaspoon Salt
- ½ teaspoon Pepper
Prepare the Overnight Marinade
- Whisk all the Marinade ingredients together in a bowl or measuring cup, set aside.¾ cup Olive Oil, ¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar, 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano, 1 teaspoon Dried Basil, ½ teaspoon Onion Powder, ½ teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, ¾ teaspoon Salt, ½ teaspoon Pepper
- Rinse the chicken tenders under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.2 lbs Raw Chicken Breast Tenders
- Put the chicken tenders in a gallon size resealable storage bag and pour the marinade over the chicken.
- Close the bag and work it around the chicken to make sure you are covering all the meat with marinade.
- Place the bag in refrigerator and marinate the chicken tenders for at least a few hours or ideally overnight.
Set up your Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker, grill or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 300°F. If using a grill, only light a medium amount of charcoal or light one or two burners on one side for indirect cooking
- Brush the grill grates with oil to keep the chicken from sticking.
- Add your wood chunks directly to the firebox of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker or pellet grill.
- Once smoke is being produced and the grill or smoker is at 300°F, put your marinated chicken tenders on the COOL side of the grill.
Smoking the Chicken Tenders
- Smoke the chicken tenders for about 30-40 minutes, flipping and rotating occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F using an instant read thermometer. DO NOT baste with the marinade mixture that the raw chicken was in.
- Remove the smoked chicken tenders from the grill or smoker and serve with a sauce for dipping such as barbecue, ranch, or honey mustard.