Chicken Breast Vs Tenderloin – What’s the Difference?

While you’ve probably tried or even prepared both these chicken products yourself, you might not be familiar with how they differentiate from one another, or how they need to be prepared so you can get the optimal flavor, texture and nutritional value.

There are several different distinctions you can make between these two types of chicken meat, including their size, shape and taste. So, before you head on to the grocery store or your local farmer’s market to get the right ingredients for your next chicken dish, stick with us to find out more about these two different products and the best ways you can prepare them.

First off, before we go into all the ways you can prepare a chicken breast or a tenderloin, we need to cover our basics and go over the differences between chicken breast and chicken tenderloin.

What Is a Chicken Breast?

Chicken Breast
Image Credit: @zeropointsgiven

The chicken breast is the biggest piece of meat on the chicken, and is typically twice or three times as big as the tenderloin. The chicken breast is also a lot dryer than the tenderloin and less tender.

Chicken breasts can be sold as boneless chicken breasts or skinless and boneless chicken breasts, which are the main reasons why the chicken breast is one of the most expensive cuts of chicken meat.

Chicken breasts are low in fat and high in protein and niacin (vitamin B3), which is why many experts promote them as quite healthy.

What Is a Chicken Tenderloin?

Chicken Tenderloin
Image Credit: @grizzly.bbq

While most inexperienced cooks might see the tenderloin as a part of the chicken breast, or not associate it with chicken meat at all (most think of pork when they think of tenderloin), this piece of the chicken is a separate part of the breast, located in between the breast and the ribs.

As we mentioned before, tenderloins are smaller in size than chicken breasts. They also have a different and distinct shape and color, which can help home cooks differentiate them easily so they can prepare them properly.

Tenderloins are smaller and narrower than chicken breasts. Their meat is less plump and they have a distinctive peachy color. Simply put they look like thin chicken strips with a white line running down the middle of the meat. That white line is known as a tendon, but we’ll talk more about this later on, when we go over the preparation process and teach you how to properly remove the tendons so you can get a nice, clean piece of tenderloin that’s ready for cooking.

While tenderloins and chicken breasts are typically packaged separately, some supermarkets can simply cut up chicken breasts into long strips and market them as tenderloins, which is why it’s important that average shoppers and home cooks are able to tell the difference between these two pieces of meat so they can prepare them properly and get the best taste and texture.

Now that we’ve covered the basics it’s time to go over the preparation process for each of these types of chicken meat and outline some of the main differences in the preparation and cooking process.

How to Cook A Tender and Juicy Chicken Breast

Chicken is a very versatile protein that’s used in many cultures around the world. While each cuisine may have its own special ways of preparing chicken, there are a few simple and really easy methods you can try so you can prepare a tasty, juicy and nutritious meal using chicken breasts, even if you don’t consider yourself to be especially talented in the kitchen department.

When it comes to preparing chicken breasts, you have more varied options than you do with tenderloins. The meat is quite bland on its own, but it absorbs flavors quite nicely, so as long as you season it well and cook it properly, you should end up with a quite tasty dish.

Let’s see how you can achieve that!

How to Prepare the Chicken Breast

The first thing you need to do to prepare a tasty and tender chicken breast is to flatten out the chicken breast and make it more manageable and easier to cook thoroughly. You can do this using a meat mallet or a rolling pin.

Note: If you’re using frozen chicken breast, make sure you allow the meat to come to room temperature before preparing it so it can cook thoroughly and evenly.

Pound down and out instead of just down, so you don’t risk tearing a hole in the chicken breast. Once it’s flattened out and thinner, the chicken breast is ready for seasoning and cooking.

Chicken meat requires a generous amount of seasoning because it’s quite bland on its own. Season it with a generous pinch of salt and a bit of pepper, or if you’re looking to add even more flavor, you can also sprinkle it over with some smoked paprika and cumin powder. Whether you’re cooking it in a pan or in the oven, you can use olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil or any other oil you prefer.

Get the Cooking Temperature Right

There’s a fine line between undercooking and overcooking a chicken breast. While most cooks recommend preparing your seared, grilled, or baked chicken at 165° F, you may risk getting a really dry chicken breast if you take it out at that exact temperature.

If you take out your chicken breast when the temperature reaches 165° F, its internal juices will continue cooking the meat for a few more minutes after it’s taken out and the internal temperature of the chicken will go up to 170° F to 175° F, which will make it quite dry.

To make sure you get a really moist and juicy chicken breast that’s thoroughly cooked, you should pull the meat out from the pan, the oven or the poaching liquid when it’s at 155° F and leave the juices boiling inside it to reach a final temperature of 165° F. This will help you retain all the moisture and juices from the chicken breast, and avoid overcooking it.

Pro tip:

Invest 15-20 dollars in a digital cooking probe thermometer that will allow you to not only monitor the temperature of the chicken you’re cooking without removing it from the oven, but to also set the target temperature and a timer alarm to notify you when you need to take out the meat out of the oven, the pan or grill. This way, you won’t need to disturb the cooking process by opening the oven, and loosing oven temperature and moisture. Instead, you can monitor the whole process on your digital thermometer.

How to Prepare Chicken Tenderloin

While chicken breast and tenderloin can both be used interchangeably, tenderloins require a small amount of prep before cooking so they can be truly tender. This involves removing the tendon from the chicken tenders, which is that white line that runs in the middle of the meat. If it’s left in, the meat will come out a bit tough and chewy, which is why you shouldn’t skip this step.

To do this you’ll need a boning knife or a small paring knife and a cutting board. Use the knife to make a small cut at the top of the tenderloin where the tendon is the toughest and then use that part to pull down the entire tendon by scraping it off with the knife. Just scrape off the tendon, without cutting the meat so you can have a nice piece of tenderloin, without any of the white tendon inside.

Once the prep process is complete, you can marinate the meat and start cooking it. Since tenderloins are much smaller and thinner, there’s no need to flatten them out using a meat tenderizer. You can simply jump onto the seasoning part of the process and start cooking the meat once it’s marinated. You can marinate the meat in any seasoning you normally use, and add lemon juice, olive oil or other type of oil, depending on your preferences.

Once the meat is ready for cooking, you can bake it in the oven, grill it or cook it whichever way you prefer. Cook chicken tenderloins at a temperature of 155° F – 165° F for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are thoroughly cooked.

Chicken Breast VS. Chicken Tenderloin – Which is Healthier?

There aren’t a ton of differences between chicken breasts and chicken tenderloins, however, they are still two very separate pieces of meat with their own specific nutritious value, as well as fat/protein content.

Let’s see how they differ in this way.

Chicken breasts are low in calories and a great source of a lot of minerals and vitamins, such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B6, while tenderloins have only trace amounts of them. Chicken breasts have lower sodium levels as well, which makes them more suitable for those that want to maintain a healthy diet.

Chicken breasts are also a popular choice when it comes to athletes and those looking to shred some fat and gain muscle, although tenderloins have a higher calorie count which makes them a more appealing option for body builders who are looking to bulk up using lean protein.

In addition to having a higher calorie count, chicken tenderloins have higher sodium levels as well.

The table below illustrates the main differences between chicken breasts and chicken tenderloins when it comes to their nutritional values.

Nutritional Facts Chicken Breast (100g) Chicken Tenderloin (100g)
Calories 136 165
Fat 3g 3.6g
Cholesterol 84mg 85mg
Carbs 0g 0g
Sodium 52mg 74mg
Potassium 256mg 256mg

What You Need to Know When Buying Chicken Products

There are so many different options you can choose from when buying chicken at the grocery store. From organic, to cage-free, hormone-free, air-chilled and so on, there are all these seals, stamps or labels you need to take into consideration to make the right choice that works best for your needs and budget.

While it can be hard to understand what each label means, there are a few simple steps you can follow to make sure you make the best choice for you and your family.

  1. Buy Fresh

If you have the option of buying fresh meat, instead of frozen, go with that option. Although it can be a bit more expensive, since the meat has never been frozen it will end up being more tender and juicier and produce the optimal texture when cooked.

  1. Look for Organic Products

If the meat you buy has the organic label or seal on it, it means that the chickens are fed by organic vegetarian feed that doesn’t contain any animal byproduct, sludge and floor droppings, and that they have not been given any antibiotics.

  1. Don’t Fall for Marketing Tricks

While there are many labels you can see on chicken products in the supermarket, there are only a few of them that actually mean something and aren’t just a marketing term that’s used to grab the customer’s attention.

Terms such as cage-free and hormone-free/no added hormones or steroids are two of those terms that are just used for marketing purposes. No chicken meat is raised in a cage, they all live in open structures, no matter how crammed they may be in most cases, and no chicken meat has added or artificial hormones since this practice is forbidden by law by the FDA.

This means that these terms are just added to make the product more appealing, and don’t add any significant value.

These are some of the main things you should look out for when buying chicken products of any kind so you can get the best and safest product for you and your family, and prepare a healthy and tasty dish.

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