Chicken Tenders in the Smoker

  • By: Jack Mancuso

Chicken Tenders in the Smoker - Cuso Cuts

If you look in the culinary book’s dictionary under versatile, you might well find chicken tenders. Well, you’ll find chicken cooked in many ways there, including smoked. Think of the applications!

  • Marinated for Greek salad
  • On sandwiches
  • As a “main” with sides
  • In fajitas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas
  • Pot pie
  • Chicken Alfredo
  • Pizza topping
  • Rice casserole

Well, you get the idea. 

Smoked Chicken Tenders vs. Smoked Chicken Strips

When you go shopping, you’ll see chicken nuggets, tenders, strips, fingers, etc. The nuggets are easily recognized, being made from ground chicken meat. But the rest? Not so much so. To add to consumer confusion, the terms “chicken tenders” and “chicken strips” are often used the same way, even though they’re different cuts. Of the two, chicken tenders are juicier and cook more quickly, especially if you wrap them in bacon.

The tenders are a special cut of chicken taken from the pectoralis minor (the inner chicken filet), just below the breast. Strips come from the other side. Chicken fingers can be tenders if taken from this region. Strips, on the other hand, may not be a whole slice of meat. Some are like nuggets, formed and breaded.

Best Smoking Woods

You have a world of smoking woods from which to choose. Fruit woods like apple, cherry, and peach impart a hint of sweet smoke, ideal for tenders. Alternatively, consider pecan for nutty notes. 

Tip: Slow smoke tenders at 225F. The safe internal temperature for chicken strips is 165F. However, if you can hold your tenders at 145F for 8 minutes, you get the same results. 

Let’s Get Spicy

Before you smoke your chicken, you can apply a barbecue rub of your choosing.It helps if you can let them set in the refrigerator with the rub for a few hours. Just remember to bring the tenders back to room temperature before you cook. 

At CusoCuts, we have several all-natural rubs you can use for flavoring your chicken tenders. 

Cuso’s Hot Honey Seasoning: moderate heat with sweet honey

Cuso’s Lemon Pepper Seasoning: a classic blend containing both lemon extract and lemon flavoring.

Cuso’s Coconut Rum Seasoning: gives chicken a facelift and amazing aromatics.

Cuso’s Tequilla Lime Habanero Seasoning: A smoky edge blends heat and citrus. Split your tenders and make half this way, and the other with the Coconut Rum.

Cuso’s Spicy Garlic Buffalo: Trim your tenders with the flavor of traditional Buffalo wings. 


  1. Set the smoker to 225F.
  2. Lay out the tenders on the smoker racks (make sure they do not touch each other for even smoke distribution). Generally, they take 90 minutes, but do a temperature check after an hour to ensure you don’t overcook them.
  3. Serve

At this point, you can offer your guests dipping sauces like ranch, your favorite barbecue sauce, mustard, teriyaki, ginger-scallion, or white wine with lemon.

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