Carl’s Jr chicken tenders are a popular menu item at the fast food chain. But what exactly goes into making these breaded and fried pieces of chicken? Here is a comprehensive look at the ingredients and preparation process for Carl’s Jr chicken tenders.
Ingredients in Carl’s Jr Chicken Tenders
According to the Carl’s Jr website, the chicken tenders contain the following ingredients:
- Chicken breast strips with rib meat, water, seasoning (sea salt, yeast extract, natural flavors)
- Batter (water, whole wheat flour, enriched wheat flour [enriched with niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], yellow corn flour, leavening [sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate], salt, whey protein concentrate, spice extractive, dried garlic, dried onion)
- Breading (whole wheat flour, enriched wheat flour [enriched with niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], yellow corn flour, salt, dried garlic, dried onion, leavening [sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate], whey, wheat gluten, yeast extract, extractives of paprika, spice extractives, dried celery)
- Cooking oil (canola oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness of oil, dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent added)
The main ingredient in Carl’s Jr’s chicken tenders is chicken breast meat with rib meat attached. Chicken breast is known for being lean and low in fat. The rib meat adds more flavor and tenderness. The chicken is seasoned with just sea salt and natural yeast and flavor extracts. This keeps the chicken tasting simple and light.
The batter used to coat Carl’s Jr chicken tenders contains a blend of flours like whole wheat flour and yellow corn flour. This gives the batter a light crunchy texture. Leavening agents like sodium acid pyrophosphate and baking soda are added to help the batter puff up and get crispy when fried. Whey protein concentrate strengthens the protein structure of the batter. Spices and dried vegetables provide flavor. Overall, the batter provides a crispy coating for the juicy chicken inside.
The breading is very similar to the batter but also includes wheat gluten and yeast extract. The gluten develops a chewy texture while the yeast extract boosts savory umami flavor. Paprika and other spices are added for more flavor and color. The breading forms a seasoned outer crust on the chicken tenders when fried.
The Cooking Oil
The chicken tenders are fried in a blend of canola oil and soybean oil. The oils are hydrogenated and treated with preservatives TBHQ and citric acid to maintain freshness and resist spoilage during frying. An anti-foaming agent is added as well. The oils allow the chicken to fry up crispy and golden brown.
Preparation Process for Carl’s Jr Chicken Tenders
Carl’s Jr uses the following process to turn raw chicken into hot, juicy chicken tenders:
- Chicken breast fillets are cut into long strips with rib meat attached
- The chicken strips are marinated in a blend of salt and yeast/flavor extracts
- The marinated chicken strips are dipped into the thin batter to evenly coat
- The battered chicken strips are coated in the breading mixture, pressing to adhere
- The breaded chicken strips are arranged in fryer baskets and lowered into hot oil (~350°F)
- The chicken is fried for 5-7 minutes until golden brown and cooked through
- Fried chicken tenders are removed from oil and allowed to drain briefly
- Tenders are seasoned additionally with salt and served hot
Proper deep frying is essential for getting Carl’s Jr’s signature crunch and juicy texture. Frying at the right high heat crisps up the batter and breading perfectly.
Nutrition Facts for Carl’s Jr Chicken Tenders
Here is the nutrition information for a 6 piece serving of Carl’s Jr chicken tenders, as per the company website:
As you can see, a 6 piece serving provides over 50% of calories from fat, and over 50% of daily sodium intake. But it also delivers a good amount of protein. Overall, chicken tenders are a high calorie and sodium food with less nutritional benefit.
Are Carl’s Jr Chicken Tenders Healthy?
Carl’s Jr chicken tenders are certainly tasty, but are they actually healthy? Let’s dive deeper:
- Provides lean protein from chicken breast
- Whole wheat flour adds fiber
- Low in sugar
- Chicken raised without antibiotics important for health
- Trans fat free
- High in calories and fat from frying oil
- Contains large amount of sodium
- Minimal vitamins and minerals
- Heavily processed
- Frying creates unhealthy compounds
Overall, Carl’s Jr chicken tenders are an indulgent food that is high in fat and sodium. The chicken provides protein but minimal other nutrients. They are fine to enjoy occasionally but are best avoided on a frequent basis.
Alternatives and Healthier Preparation
If you love chicken tenders but want a healthier option, try the following:
- Buy plain chicken tenders and bread/air fry them yourself
- Coat chicken in breadcrumbs mixed with healthy grains and spices before baking
- Swap out part of the refined flour in the coating for almond or coconut flour
- Use olive oil or avocado oil instead of soybean oil for frying
- Season cooked tenders with fresh herbs and lemon instead of salt
Preparing chicken tenders at home allows you to control the ingredients and cooking method. Opting for baking, air frying, or pan frying using healthy oils is much healthier than deep frying. And experiment with fresh seasonings and coatings to boost nutrition and flavor.
Carl’s Jr chicken tenders are made from chicken breast meat, coated in a batter and breaded coating, then deep fried in a blend of oils. While they provide protein, they are high in calories, fat, and sodium due to the frying method. Chicken tenders are fine for an occasional treat but are not part of a balanced regular diet. Preparing healthier versions at home is the best way to enjoy this tasty food while avoiding the downsides.