These moist and juicy Air Fryer Turkey Tenderloins boast a flavorful panko coating with Mexican spices and orange zest. Kick it up a notch with an optional 4 hour soak in a citrus-y brine. Twenty-five minutes in the air fryer is all you need to finish the boneless, skinless turkey tenderloins. Serve it with your favorite salsa and sides on a weeknight, or dress it up for your holiday table or dinner party! Delicioso!
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - Why Brined Turkey Tenderloin?
The turkey tenderloin is part of the turkey breast that is boneless and skinless, and very tender. Turkey tenderloins are the tender long strip of white meat hidden under the turkey breast. Because this strip of meat is an underused muscle of the turkey, it is very tender and excellent for recipes. Tenderloins cook quickly, and because they are low in fat, they can dry out with just a little overcooking.
When I roast a whole turkey, I must admit that I gravitate toward the moist dark meat. However, I do love the elusive, perfectly cooked turkey breast. I have often used turkey tenderloin in stir-fries and other saucy dishes. I have not tried them as a stand-alone protein. This roasted whole turkey breast was a stunning success, though, so I decided to give the air fryer a try!
The roasted turkey breast soaks in a brine for 12 hours, and I believe brining preserves the moisture in the turkey. The same thought process went into creating the brine for these tenderloins. Given that I have had brined turkey that was too salty, I decided to cut the soaking time in half for this smaller cut. It was about right...
Keep in mind that the brine is optional, but if you have the time, you'll appreciate the results. Without the brine, you'll need to closely monitor the cooking time to avoid drying out the turkey.
📋 Ingredients You'll Need
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
The Citrus Brine
- kosher salt
- citrus - I use a mix of citrus including (but not limited to) oranges, limes, and lemons.
- onion - Use whatever onion you prefer - yellow, red, white, shallots.
- fresh garlic - I use 5-6 cloves, and smash them before adding.
- herbs - On photo day, I used epazote, however it is NOT ESSENTIAL! Cilantro, parsley, Mexican oregano (fresh or dried), and thyme are good options as well.
- turkey tenderloin - Turkey tenderloins typically weigh 1.5 to 2 pounds.
The Air Fryer Turkey Tenderloins
- panko bread crumbs
- red chile powder - Chipotle, ancho, and New Mexico red chile powder are good options. Avoid generic "chili powder" as it is a spice blend that contains other ingredients.
- ground cumin
- garlic powder
- ground achiote (aka annatto) - Achiote and annatto are used interchangeably. While it's often used to give Latin dishes a yellow-orange color, it also has an earthy, mild peppery flavor. I keep ground achiote as well as achiote paste in my pantry. For more, see What is Achiote?
- citrus zest - I use the zest from one of the oranges that I later squeeze for the brine. Lime and lemon are fine as well.
- sea salt
- Dissolve the salt in 2 cups of water. I use a glass pitcher and the microwave for this task. Pour the mixture into a bowl or bag large enough to hold the citrus, onions, and turkey.
- Make the brine - Add the remaining brine ingredients to a bowl with the dissolved salt water. Stir to combine.
- Brine the turkey - Add the turkey tenderloin pieces. Push them down into the brine. Move the pieces around periodically for 2-4 hours.
- Make the panko breading mixture - Preheat your air fryer to 400°. Add all of the ingredients for the breading - panko, spices, salt, zest - to a bowl. Use your hands to thoroughly combine.
- Bread the turkey tenderloins - Spread the breading mixture out in a shallow tray or bowl. Press each tenderloin into the breading to coat.
- Cook the turkey tenderloins - The air fryer should preheat to 400°. Place the breaded tenderloins in the air fryer. I have 2 shelves, and place 1 on each shelf. Set for 20-25 minutes according to size. If your tenderloins are on the thicker side, they'll need the longer time. Flip them after 10 minutes.
- Finish the air fryer turkey tenderloins - I use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature. I shoot for 160-165° F. I hate dry turkey breast. 20-25 minutes gets me to this point, but I tend to look for the smaller packages because I'm cooking for two.
- Serve - I slice the turkey tenderloin into 1" pieces. I love it with this kumquat salsa, cilantro rice, and this tomato and tomatillo salad!
The turkey tenderloin is a portion of the turkey breast, and it is boneless and skinless. A turkey breast, on the other hand, is usually bone-in, skin-on. Since that area of the turkey is not exercised frequently, turkey tenderloin can be a very tender cut of meat. Tenderloins cook quickly, and because they are low in fat, they can dry out with just a little overcooking.
If you don't have 4 hours to brine, you'll still love this Mexican spiced turkey tenderloin. Be sure to use an instant read thermometer to prevent drying it out.
This Mexican-spiced turkey tenderloin recipe is a healthy option for a small Thanksgiving for 2 to 4 people. We're spending Thanksgiving this year in a Texas State Park, and I'm thinking it will be quite doable with my Instant Pot and its air fryer lid!
Air Fryer Turkey Tenderloins
Herb and Citrus Brined Turkey Tenderloins
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 1 onion - sliced
- 1 each orange, lime, lemon - cut in wedges; see notes below!
- 2 teaspoons peppercorns
- 5 cloves garlic - smashed
- 2 sprigs cilantro or epazote - smashed to release oils
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 2 pounds turkey tenderloin - see notes below
Mexican Spiced Panko Breading
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon ground red chile - chipotle, ancho, New Mexico red chile powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground annatto/achiote - see notes below
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- zest of 1 orange
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Dissolve the salt in the water. I use the microwave.
- Add the remaining brine ingredients to a bowl with the dissolved salt water. Stir to combine.
- Add the turkey tenderloin pieces. Push them down into the brine. Move the pieces around periodically for 2-4 hours.
- Add all of the ingredients for the breading - panko, spices, salt, zest - to a bowl. Use your hands to thoroughly combine.
- Preheat your air fryer to 400° for 5 minutes. Spread the breading mixture out in a shallow tray or bowl. Press each tenderloin into the breading to coat.
- Place the breaded tenderloins in the air fryer. Set for 20-25 minutes. Flip them after 10 minutes.
- Check the internal temperature. It should read160-165° F. Rest the turkey for a few minutes before slicing the turkey tenderloin into 1" pieces.
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.