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7 Fast-Food Chains That Use Real Chicken for Their Tenders—Not That Mystery Meat

Not every chain is so forthcoming about its chicken, but the best places take pride in using only real whole meat.
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Tenders, nuggets, fingers, strips. When it comes to the fast-food fried chicken scene, there are many options to consider, but they're not all created the same.

For instance, there are menu items like McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, which are made with a blend of ground chicken tenderloin, breast, and rib meat. Then, you've got the fast-food chains that solely use one cut of meat—and keep it in that form. Chicken tenders can fall into this category.

Technically, this form of chicken is made from the pectoralis minor, which is a small piece of meat found under the chicken breast. Chicken fingers can be made with this, too, as noted by Simply Recipes. However, some restaurants will use breast meat and call their product "tenders." Meanwhile, others aren't as forthcoming about revealing what's in their chicken.

Although fast-food chains are known for their processed menu items, there are several places that take additional measures to enhance the quality of their food. Here are seven fast-food spots that serve up chicken tenders made with real, whole pieces of chicken.

7 Restaurant Chains That Serve the Best Fried Chicken

Elevation Burger

elevation burger chicken tenders
Elevation Burger / Facebook

Just because "burger" is part of the name doesn't mean customers can't satisfy their chicken tender fix at this fast food chain. Elevation Burger offers multiple menu items made with chicken tenders, such as the Elevation Chicken Sandwich, BBQ Cheddar Chicken Sandwich, and the Sriracha Chicken Sandwich. These sandwiches come with a choice of crispy or grilled organic chicken tenders, which are made with cage-free chicken.

Within Elevation Burger's nutritional information, you can see that the chicken tenders are made with five ingredients: organic chicken tenders, organic canola oil, organic corn starch, salt, and organic white pepper. The tenders are then coated in a gluten-free flour blend (made with garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour, and fava bean flour), salt, chilies, baking powder, and spices.

Shake Shack

shake shack chicken sandwich, bites, and drink
Shake Shack / Facebook

While this chain is famously known for its burgers and shakes, it also currently has three chicken offerings: the Chicken Shack, the Avocado Bacon Chicken, and the Chicken Bites. Although it's specified that the first two items contain chicken breast meat rather than tenderloin meat, all three of them feature whole white meat chicken that is "hand-breaded and crisp-fried to order in cholesterol-free soy oil," according to Shake Shack's website.

So, are any of these technically tenders? No. But, are they made with whole meat? Yes.

A&W Restaurants

a&w restaurants' hand-breaded chicken tenders
A&W Restaurants

Often associated with its famous root beer brand, this restaurant chain serves burgers, fries, and yes, chicken tenders. The chain's website houses a Menu Ingredient Statement from July 2018, which discloses the recipe of its hand-breaded chicken tenders. The document lists chicken tenderloins as the first ingredient, followed by the marinade and breading ingredients.


chick-fil-a chick-n-strips

It's not surprising that a fast-food chain that's all about chicken uses whole pieces of chicken meat. According to Chick-fil-A's website, the company "sources 100% real whole boneless breast of chicken that has never been ground or separated, and that contains no fillers or added steroids or hormones." The chain has also been sourcing antibiotic-free meat since May 2019.

Take the chain's Chick-n-Strips, for example. These are made with boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins that are seasoned, breaded, and pressure-cooked in 100% peanut oil, which the company says "enhances the flavor of the chicken."


popeyes chicken tenders

Whether Popeyes' chicken tenders should actually be called "tenders" is debatable. A 2022 class-action lawsuit alleged that the chain falsely advertised the menu item because it's actually made from chicken breast meat as opposed to the tenderloin. So, while these may not be true "tenders," the advertisement referenced in the lawsuit states that the chicken is made with "100% whole breast meat."

Popeyes' chicken tenders are marinated in the chain's Louisiana herbs and seasonings, hand-battered in a crunchy southern coating, and fried until golden brown. 

Raising Cane's

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers
Raising Cane's / Facebook

Raising Cane's superfans—aka Caniacs—can take comfort in knowing that the chain is committed to how it prepares its chicken fingers. The restaurant chain notes that it uses premium, fresh, never-frozen chicken breast tenderloins that marinate for a full day before being hand-dipped and fried to order.

Church's Chicken

Church's Chicken: Combo #1
Church's Chicken / Facebook

The menu at Church's Chicken is about as simple as it gets: there's a chicken sandwich, there's bone-in chicken, and there are chicken tenders. Everything can be made into a combo, and ordered in the original or spicy variety. The sandwich is made from breast meat, the combo meals come with a choice of legs, thighs, and tenders, and the tenders are whole cuts of white meat. Simple, sure, but it's been working since 1952.

An earlier version of this article was published in December 2022. It has been updated to include new information.

Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more about Steven