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Chicken Tenderloin Vs Breast – Where Do They Come From

Quick Answer

Tenderloin chicken is thinner, smaller, and has a tendon running through it, whereas breast does not, and is much thicker and larger. Tenderloin is also darker in color since it is closer to the bone. Tenderloin is found underneath the chicken breast, against the bone of the chicken.It is hidden beneath the chicken’s breasts. Tenderloin has more calories and is higher in sodium than a chicken breast, however, it is more rich in flavor as well. Tenderloin will cook faster than breast, since it is thinner. 

Most of us will enjoy a good piece of chicken without really knowing what the different pieces are or where they come from, let alone their differences.

You can often end up choosing the wrong piece of chicken for a meal. 

Some meals will specifically need you to use a chicken breast, but others will need you to use tenderloin. 

Unless you actually understand the parts of the chicken well, you could so easily mix them up. 

While there are many parts to a chicken, we are only interested in the breasts and the tenderloin. 

Breast is very useful, it can be the best and it can be so delicate in parts. But, can the same be said for tenderloin? 

Chicken Tenderloin Vs Breast – Where Do They Come From

Tenderloin Chicken: What Is It?

Let’s introduce you to chicken tenderloin. Tenderloin and breast are so very similar, almost the same. So, it is no wonder that so many people can barely tell them apart. 

They often get confused, but that is not going to be a problem for you any more soon. 

The tenderloin is actually a very thin muscle, one which you find next to the chicken breast. But, it is not the chicken breast, it is very different, it is only found next to it. 

Tenderloin is attached to the breast, hence the confusion. What it is, however, is just a minor muscle that is found on the chicken’s breastbone. 

Chicken tenderloin is a muscle which is found behind the bird’s major pectoralis minor, but it is named tenderloin as it has white meat on it, and it is very tender. 

You will only really see this properly when you separate the meat from the bone. This is the beast why most people do not know it is actually a distinct part of the bird. 

Chicken tenderloin is usually found at only ½ of an inch in width, and 5 inches long. 

If you know where to find tenderloin on other livestock animals, the chicken one should not be too hard to fathom.

What About Chicken Breast?

Breast is a bit easier to identify than tenderloin. A recipe that asks for you to use a lean chicken, is usually asking for breast. 

You always go for a breast when you want something lean. It never has many bones, and it will always have 2 parts. 

Of course, most of us know this. Why? Because the chicken’s breast is the favorite part of the chicken for most people. 

It is also considered to be the most delicious part of the chicken as well. 

It is worth noting that when you cook breast, you should be cautious of overcooking it. Overcooking the breast can make it a bit chewy.

So, What Are The Differences?

When you separate the chicken breast from the tenderloin, you can easily tell the difference between them. 

You would almost be taking these two parts of chicken from the same area. However, they differ in many ways, and that is what we want to talk about next. 

The main points in which they differ include, size, how you cook it, calories, sodium, and nutritional value, among others. 

1. Size

The tenderloin of a chicken is a very specific part of the bird, you only find it once you have removed the breast. 

This means that it is pretty standard to expect that this part will be smaller in size than the breast of the chicken.

Tenderloin is also thinner than a normal chicken breast as well. 

The tenderloin will be around half the size of a chicken breast. Do remember that the breast will also taper towards one end while being comprehensive on the other. 

Nonetheless, it is still one of the most important parts of the meat, it is wide, and it is juicy. 

Tenderloin will be around 4 to even 5 times smaller than a standard chicken breast, however, tenderloin always comes in 2’s. 

The breast, however, is larger. A single side of breast will usually feed 2 people. 

This does mean that if you have kids, it is probably best to give them chicken tenderloin as it will not be too much for them.

2. Calories

Chicken tenderloin will actually have more fat than chicken breast does. This may seem shocking, because you would expect the larger cut to have more fat, right? 

This is part of the reason why most people who want to shed a few pounds usually eat chicken breast. 

Tenderloin is more tender, but it is more calorific. 

Tenderloin is tender, mostly because of the juices from the fat making it so during cooking after all. 

For those who are less weight conscious and who may need more calories, such as athletes, tenderloin is preferable. 

For a meat that is lean and good for your diet, the chicken breast is the one to go for. 

3. Nutrients

Nutrition is very important, and we should really consider it more in our diets. 

When we eat, our body takes nutrients and minerals as part of the digestive process. So, the nutritional value should be considered in everything we eat. 

The chicken breast is low in calories, and it has great nutrition as well. It has zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B-6 and also calcium. 

The tenderloin is about the same, it will grant you the same nutrients, but not as much of them.

4. Sodium 

Sodium is something we should think about more. Too much sodium is not good for you, our bodies only need a small amount of it. 

Amazingly, tenderloin also contains more sodium than the breast does, and this is a great way to define the two. 

If you have a condition such as hypertension, we recommend sticking to chicken breasts, and keeping tenderloin an arm’s length away. 

Heart-related problems should also see you stay away from tenderloin. 

However, if you happen to have a sodium deficiency, and need more sodium in your diet. Tenderloin is the one for you.

5. Texture & Taste

This is the one everyone has been waiting for. Nothing is more important with meat than how it tastes, and how it feels in your mouth.

The flavor and the texture of both of the tenderloin and the breast will be nearly identical. Once cooked, they are very hard to tell apart. 

Make sure that you do not overcook the chicken, if you do, it will be dry. As is with any cut of chicken, the main thing is to make sure that it is cooked the whole way through. 

The only other difference in how the chicken will differ when cooked is that tenderloin chicken will be darker. 

6. How It Looks Uncooked

Speaking of which…

When tenderloin chicken is raw, it will not be quite as plump as chicken breast will be. But the breast is the thicker cut anyway. 

It might seem like it is no big deal, but it is important. 

If you buy your chicken from a superstore, you will be able to tell tenderloin from the breast just by looking at the plumpness of the meat. 

When raw, tenderloin also has a tendon in it. This tendon runs down the meat. When cooking this part is usually removed.

However, if you are cooking this yourself, you can decide if you want to, but it is usually best to remove the tendon pre-cook.

Cooking Differences

Cooking Differences

In spite of how these two cuts of chicken come from the same area of the chicken, they are not the same. 

This means that since they are different, they also need to be cooked differently. Although they do have some similarities in cooking, they can be done in very different ways also.

Tenderloin

Now, you can cook tenderloin in a variety of ways. The ways in which you cook tenderloin or breast can differ. 

We want to look at tenderloin for a moment, as this is the one you are least likely to have cooked before out of the two. 

Baking

Baking chicken is always a healthy option, especially in comparison to frying. 

Baking tenderloin is healthy, but it should be marinated first, chicken can dry out quite easily when baked, marinating just adds that extra bit of flavor and moisture.

A good way to marinate this chicken is to use a mixture of spices, lemon, and herbs, but you may have your own preferences for chicken flavorings. 

You should cover the chicken tenderloin for 30 minutes at least after marinating to ensure that it soaks up all those flavors just right. 

Then you will want to line your tray to bake with parchment paper, or you could lightly oil the tray, to prevent it sticking to the tray. 

Chicken tenderloin should then be baked at a high temperature. We recommend 400 degrees Fahrenheit for this bake. Continue to bake until cooked. 

If you are not sure, get a temperature probe and stick it in the meat to ensure it is at temperature all the way through.

Poaching

We typically associate poaching with eggs. However, you can also poach the thing that created those eggs too! Or at least… the tenderloin. 

Poaching is yet another very healthy method for cooking chicken tenderloin. 

You do not need to add any oil to this meat if you are going to poach. It is probably the easiest method there is of cooking chicken. 

However, you will always need to add water to the chicken when you poach, then add in a bit of garlic, maybe some turmeric, and of course, veggies. 

Allow your chicken tenderloin to cook slowly, simmering gently. If you do it like this, the cook will only take 45 minutes. 

Perfection! 

Steaming

Steaming is a great method, and it always does tenderloin right. Once more, there is no need for any added oil in this way of cooking. 

When you are steaming your tenderloin, you will still get a juicy and mouth-watering chicken tender. 

Ideally you want to add in some thyme, rosemary, and maybe even a dash of oregano if you feel like it, and boil it. 

Chicken done in this regard will need to be seen for at least 10 minutes, for until it is perfect. (Don’t forget that temperature probe!) 

Tenderloin is a fatty part of the chicken, and it is very high in sodium in comparison to other meats. 

This is why, when you cook chicken tenderloin, it is ideal to cook it in these ways, as this makes it as healthy as can be. 

Breast

Now, the breast. The breast has less fat, and it is typically the more healthy option. 

Yet, when you cook the breast, you do want to make sure that you aren’t making a healthy chicken option, unhealthy. 

Also, you still want to be wary of overcooking something like a chicken breast, so always be careful, and do consider a temperature probe, so you feel confident with your cooking.

Here are some options for you to try with chicken breast.

Grilling

Grilling is a common and great way to cook your chicken breast. Of all the many methods there are of cooking chicken breast, grilling is one of the best and most popular options. 

When you grill the chicken breast you can choose to cook it with or without oil. 

The meat will be tender, but you want to ensure it does not dry out. You can add in spices and so on to bring some extra flavor to the breast as well. 

Spices may also help it stay more succulent during the cooking process as well, but choose your spices wisely.

Baking

Baking is also a popular way of cooking chicken breast, just like with tenderloin. 

There are multiple ways you can make your chicken breast juicy and succulent when you bake it. There are YouTube videos galore if you want inspiration, or you could just experiment and come up with something new. 

Do remember, that you have to make it tender and moist when you cook it, or it is a waste of a good breast. 

The breast is also very soft, and it absorbs flavor very well. Do note, also, that when you bake it, it does not take very long to bake in contrast to some other types of chicken.

Tips For The Chef

Understanding the ways to cook different parts of a chicken is important for anyone who enjoys this meat. However, cooking it right is even more important.

If you are a little more on the health savvy side of things, knowing which parts of a chicken are best for you to eat is a must. 

Chicken breast is healthy, but it is only healthy if you remove the skin. Skin on chicken breast is not quite so good for you. 

The chicken skin is probably the most delicious part of a chicken, however, it is quite high in calories. It is a bit TOO fatty. 

So, remove the skin and then marinate the chicken if you decide you want to grill it, or bake it. Chicken can be very nice on its own, but marinating just gives its flavor that extra oomph. 

You can marinate for as little as 30 minutes, but 4 hours is a great time. You judge what you choose to marinate it in and how long you think is best based on your own tastes. 

The thicker the meat is, the longer it will take to soak in as well, so if you have an extra thick breast, give it a little extra time, so it can really absorb into the meat. 

It does depend on how you will be cooking the chicken as well, but generally a marinade is done as long as the chicken needs it to, with less focus on the method of cooking.

Telling The Different Right Away

Telling the difference straight away can help you when you are supermarket shopping. Sometimes stores will package up a breast but sell it as a tenderloin. 

Sometimes they are just confused, sometimes it is a want to make more money, but if you can tell the difference, you will see through this facade. 

Tenderloin has a pretty obvious shape, once you know exactly how it is shaped, no one can fool you into thinking a cut of chicken is tenderloin when it isn’t. 

One thing that you will always notice about tenderloin is that it is smaller than your average chicken breast, and it is more narrow as well. 

Unlike breast meat, they will not be plump. Since it is found near the bone and hidden away, it is also usually a bit darker than breast meat. 

Tenderloin actually has a slightly peachy color to it. It will also have a broad muscle at its end as well, but it also tapers the points at which it is most broad. 

The bigger tenderloins will have a head which is more bulbous, so the small section connects to a thin, white tendon. 

This tendon is probably the biggest giveaway, it connects where the tenderloin is and runs along its length. Then the flat section sticks out to the broader side of the breast. 

If you do choose to cook tenderloin without removing this tendon, it will harden.

Can You Substitute One For Another?

If you are an experienced chef then you will know you can easily switch out these two pieces of chicken, without them declining in value. But, in this sense you can only do this if you know how to blend it into your recipe. 

Let us not forget one of the key differences being that they do not cook at the same time. Breast takes longer to cook than tenderloin does. 

You will know when it is ready by the change of color and how it tastes though. 

Tenderloin will also marinate quicker as well. While you want it to soak up flavor, 4 hours of marinating might be too much and could make your meat a bit mushy. 

What Else Is Different?

What else is different between these two meats? Surely we have discussed everything? 

Wrong. There are still a few more differences worth knowing about these chicken cuts.

Tenderloin Takes Less Time To Cook

If you were to cook tenderloin and chicken breast at the same time, the tenderloin would cool quicker. 

Its juices, flavors, and overall taste is more appealing altogether too. 

So, if all you want is juicy meat that will be done in a flash, tenderloin is probably the best bet. 

Chicken breast does take longer to cook, but it will not be quite as succulent and juicy as tenderloin is, simply because it will dry up much quicker. 

But, Breast Is Cheaper

This is where the logic gets weird. You would think that with tenderloin being the smaller meat, it would be cheaper, but it is not. 

Chicken breast is cheaper, simply because it is less difficult to access. 

Of course, tenderloin is also juicy, tender, and rich in flavor. In some ways, tenderloin is the filet steak cut of the chicken world. 

With chicken breast being less in flavor and more bland, it is more affordable. 

With tenderloin the butcher also needs to be more careful and precise as well, so tenderloin will cost more. 

Hence, why is it so key that you double-check what you are buying, and you do not buy breasts as tenderloin or vice versa. 

Sometimes, the breast may even be cut smaller, to a more narrow cut. However, should you be aware of shape, color, and such, it will be easy to know the difference, even in these circumstances.

Chicken Breast Is More Dense & Tough

Finally, chicken breast is more dense, and tougher. This makes a whole lot of difference. 

The breast will have much more flesh, which makes it more dense. 

It will also be tougher and stringier than tenderloin. Which, with tenderloin, the texture is in the name. 

It is quite obviously very tender. 

Nonetheless, both of these meat cuts are quite alike, and telling the differences is not easy if you are not well versed in chicken. 

But, once you know their differences, it is not so hard to tell them apart. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Want to know more about chicken breast and tenderloin? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about them.

How Do You Remove Tenderloin From Breast

If you bought a whole chicken, then how you will go about separating the tenderloin from the breast does depend on a few things. 

First, get the breast section, and lay it flat. 

If you have the flat side down, you will see primarily, the tenderloin. The tenderloin will be connected to the breast, and you will also clearly see the tender. 

Place your hand on the breast and cut across it to help with the removal of the tenderloin cut.

Which Should You Use For Chicken Strips? 

You can use tenderloin or breasts for chicken strips, however, most will choose tenderloin. They are juicier, and packed with flavor. 

They will have the crunchy outside, and succulent inside. But, do not forget they are more expensive than chicken breasts are. 

Jess Smith