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Nothing beats Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken piled high on a soft toasted bun. Make extra, because hungry people everywhere love the sweet and smoky allure of easy-pulled barbecue chicken.
BBQ pulled chicken is unfussy and perfect for parties. A basket of buns, a bowl of sliced pickles, pickled red onions, extra sauce, and a cooler full of the cold stuff is just about all you need before a bunch of people start knocking at your door asking to be fed.
How to make Pulled Chicken in a slow cooker:
All you need to make the easiest, best crockpot-pulled chicken is chicken and a few ingredients: bbq sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika.
- First, make the sauce. Whisk together your favorite BBQ sauce with brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika in the bottom of the crock pot. Add the chicken breasts and turn them around in the sauce so they’re completely coated in the sauce.
- Then all you have to do is cover and cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours or LOW for 6 to 7 hours.
- Next, take out the chicken and shred using two forks to pull the meat apart.
Or to make things go quickly, you can do this with a hand mixer, too. Place the chicken into a deep mixing bowl and press the beaters into the meat. Slowly turn the mixer on a low speed and let the paddles work through the chicken until fully shredded. It’s a pretty amazing trick.
How to make Pulled Chicken in an Instant Pot:
- Mix together BBQ sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika in the Instant Pot.
- Next, place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the pot and turn them around in the sauce to coat them.
- Place the lid on the pot, turn the vent to the sealing position, and set to “manual” for 10 minutes. Once the pot pressurizes, it will cook the chicken for 10 minutes. That’s all there is to it.
- When the Instant Pot beeps, let it depressurize for 10 minutes. Then you can do a quick release to release the rest of the pressure. Once the pin drops, open the lid.
- Then take out the chicken and shred using two forks to pull apart the meat.
Don’t forget the hand mixer trick. You can do it inside the pot. Press the beaters of a hand mixer into the meat. Slowly turn the mixer on a low speed and let the paddles work through the chicken until fully shredded.
Making large batches of slow cooker pulled chicken:
If you want to triple this recipe, for example, that’s absolutely okay, as long as you have a slow cooker that can fit everything. Aim for the longer time in the recommended cooking window, however, just to make sure the chicken is done. Chicken is fully cooked when it registers an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Here’s a BBQ sauce recipe you can totally call your own:
I won’t mind a bit. Based on Sweet Baby Ray’s classic sauce, this recipe is broken down in step-by-step detail, but here’s the gist to make about 4 cups of sauce. That’s enough to make the pulled chicken and serve lots on the side.
- 2 cups ketchup. Look for an all-natural or organic tomato sauce for the best results, like Annie’s.
- ½ cup brown sugar.
- ½ cup pineapple juice.
- 4 tablespoons molasses.
- 2 teaspoons tamarind paste. Aka tamarind concentrate–this is optional.
- 2 teaspoons liquid hickory smoke.
- 1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard.
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder.
- ½ teaspoon onion powder.
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder.
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne powder.
- 1 tablespoon apple cider or distilled white vinegar.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Whisk all the ingredients together in a stainless steel saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat to boiling, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer together for 15 to 20 minutes, longer if you have the time.
Afterwards, taste and adjust for seasoning. Add more vinegar, or sugar, or salt and pepper to get things exactly where you want them.
Extra smoky pulled chicken:
If you can’t get enough smoked chicken flavor, add a tiny bit of liquid smoke to the cooking liquid to start. Don’t overdo it, though! A little goes a long way. Also, you can use smoked paprika in the cooking liquid.
Pulled chicken thighs:
Great news! Boneless, skinless chicken thighs work just as well as chicken breasts in this recipe.
Reheating leftover pulled chicken:
It’s easy to reheat small amounts of pulled chicken in the microwave. Sprinkle a little water over the shredded chicken, and cover loosely before popping it in the microwave.
To reheat larger amounts of chicken using an oven, place the chicken in an oven-safe container and sprinkle with liquid: water, chicken broth, beer, or soda. Gently toss to distribute. Then wrap the baking dish tightly with foil and bake at 300 degrees.
Check the chicken every 10 minutes, depending on how much you have. It should take about 5 minutes to reheat every pound of chicken.
Or use the slow cooker. Reheat pulled chicken in a crockpot on LOW until warmed through, adding more cooking liquid if needed.
Leftover pulled chicken ideas:
When it comes to what to do with leftover pulled chicken, the only limit is your imagination. It’s one of the best things to have extra of.
- Pulled chicken sandwich. The most obvious choice! Butter up some soft buns and go to town.
- Wraps. When you’re bored of buns, roll some chicken up into a flatbread wrap for an easy-to-eat lunch.
- Pizza. Your favorite BBQ sauce as the base, pulled chicken, sliced red onions, and shredded cheese. Try cheddar and mozzarella….finish off with chopped cilantro or scallions once it comes out of the oven.
- Slow cooker pulled chicken tacos. Corn or flour tortillas, bbq pulled chicken, and every taco topping under the sun.
- Sweet potato hash. Crispy potato hash is the perfect foundation for a dollop of leftover pulled chicken.
- Low carb lettuce wraps. Lettuce leaves provide the crunch, healthy bbq pulled chicken provides the savory, smoky protein.
- Chili. Top bean chili with leftover chicken, or stir it in and let it simmer.
Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
- In the bottom of a slow cooker, whisk together barbecue sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika in the slow cooker. Add chicken breast and turn to coat.
- Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours or LOW for 6 to 7 hours.
- Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred with two forks or a hand mixer. Return to slow cooker and stir to coat with sauce.
- Combine BBQ sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika in inner instant pot.
- Place chicken breast in sauce and use a spoon to cover with sauce.
- Place lid on instant pot, turn vent to sealing position, and set to manual for 10 minutes. Pot will take a few minutes to pressurize, and chicken will cook for 10 minutes.
After pot beeps, allow a 10 minute natural release, then do a quick release to release remaining pressure. When pin drops, remove lid, and shred chicken before serving.
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.