This is the ultimate dinner time saver! This guide shows you 5 different ways to cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts to make shredded chicken to use in other recipes. How to make baked chicken, grilled chicken, Instant Pot chicken, slow cooker chicken, and poached chicken.
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This post is a long time coming. For years, I have harped about the benefit of using cooked, shredded chicken in recipes. It’s easy to make ahead of time and freeze so that when a busy night rolls around, dinner can be finished in minutes.
It really has saved so many dinners in our house.
When I redesigned my site, I even made sure that the shredded chicken recipes had their own category. (You can always find them by clicking on Shredded Chicken in the ingredient drop down at the top of the site.)
So I can’t believe that I have never had a resource here on how to actually make that shredded chicken.
Today that changes.
This is the ultimate guide – with 5 different ways to make shredded chicken. Each of them has different benefits and different drawbacks, so I’ll talk about all of those below. And you may prefer a different method as your favorite than I do. But I wanted to give you one place to come where you can get all of the information you need.
Tips for Making Shredded Chicken
Here are a few things before I get into the different methods that apply to all!
- I only season the chicken with salt and pepper unless I am making the chicken for a specific recipe. That way it remains pretty neutral and can be easily used in any recipe.
- I like to shred the chicken when it is still a little warm. I have cooked the chicken and refrigerated it before shredding, but I think it shreds a little easier and more consistently when it’s not cold.
- You can also apply all of these methods to chicken thighs, but cook times will be a little different.
- I invested in a good internal thermometer years ago, and it has been one of my best investments. Especially when it comes to chicken. If your chicken is dry or tough, it’s most likely overcooked, and an internal thermometer helps to avoid that. I have a Thermapen and highly recommend it. It is a little pricey, but I use it almost daily. (This is one thing I don’t suggest buying on Amazon because it’s usually more expensive!) You need to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165º. I’ll sometimes take it out when it’s a few degrees short because it will still continue to cook just a bit.
How to Make Grilled Shredded Chicken
In the summer, grilled chicken is one of my favorite ways to make chicken because it’s easy, fast, and it doesn’t heat the house up. This is actually one of the fastest ways to make shredded chicken, and I love the extra flavor I get from the grill (especially when I use the Traeger). The other plus to this one is that it is easy to make a lot of chicken. You don’t have to adjust cook time, and the only limit you have is how big your grill is.
The one downfall to this method, for me, is that it’s harder to get the perfect shredded texture. The chicken remains more on the firm side. So what I’ll do sometimes with the grilled chicken is instead of shredded it, I’ll cube it. It can be used identically to shredded chicken in most recipes, but I prefer the texture and ease when I do grill my chicken.
Here is how I make it:
- Preheat your grill to medium heat.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Grill the chicken for 15-20 minutes, turning once halfway through the cook time.
- Once the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165ºF, remove to cool before shredding.
How to Make Instant Pot Shredded Chicken
This has become my #1 way to make shredded chicken. I feel like the texture is good, the flavor remains in the chicken, and it’s easy and fairly fast. The only reason this isn’t the fastest method is because it takes some time for the pressure cooker to come up to pressure, but the cook time is fast.
It’s also easy to up the amount of chicken. And as long as you don’t have any really big or thick pieces of chicken, the cook time should stay the same. If you are using 8 oz breasts, follow the cook time below. But if your breasts are bigger, you may need to add on a few minutes.
Also to note – I will sometimes use the trivet in the bottom so that the chicken isn’t sitting in the liquid, and sometimes I don’t. Honestly, I like it both ways. You may need to experiment to see which way you like better.
Here is how I make it:
- Season the chicken. Again, super simple with just salt and pepper.
- Place the chicken in the Instant Pot. With or without the trivet.
- Pour the chicken broth around the chicken. The reason I pour it around is to try not to wash off the salt and pepper from the chicken.
- Lock the lid in place on the Instant Pot and make sure the vent is closed. Set it for high pressure for 10 minutes.
- When the time is up, I do a quick release. Some people swear by a 5 minute natural release followed by a quick release, but I’ve found that it isn’t needed for my preferences.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and allow it to cool slightly before shredding.
How to Make Crock Pot Shredded Chicken
Before the Instant Pot, this used to be my go-to method. But to be honest, I don’t love the texture of slow cooker chicken all the time. I think the secret, though, is to not cook it too long. I think most people think that things can be cooking in a slow cooker all day, but if you cook chicken breasts in the slow cooker, you will end up with overdone chicken.
One of my favorite things about this method, though, is that I think this one makes the chicken that is easiest to shred. The chicken should shred very easily when it is finished cooking.
I’ll still use this method from time to time, but it’s no longer my go to. But it is super easy and it’s one of those recipes that’s easy to do on a Saturday morning.
Here’s how I make it:
- Season the chicken and place it in a slow cooker that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. You don’t have to spray it, but it makes clean up a lot easier. The amount of chicken you can make depends on the size of your slow cooker. I like to keep it in a single layer for even cooking.
- Pour 1/2 cup of chicken broth around the chicken. You don’t need a lot, as the chicken will release some juices as it cooks as well.
- Place the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours, or until it is done. The chicken should shred very easily when it is done.
How to Make Baked Shredded Chicken
So this one is a tricky one for me. I love the texture of baked chicken, but I also feel like this one is the hardest to get right. The chicken can go from rare to overcooked in the blink of an eye so you really have to keep your eye on this one. Plus, the edges will sometimes dry out more than the thicker middle, which makes it harder to shred.
But – the plus side of baked chicken is that is has such great flavor.
Really, the only time I use this method is when I have to have baked chicken breasts for another recipe and I’ll make extra. It is definitely a good method, but not the easiest or the fastest.
Here’s how to make it:
- Season your chicken and place in a baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Keep the chicken in a single layer for even baking.
- Place in an oven that has been preheated to 400ºF. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink inside and it is cooked through.
- Remove and allow to cool slightly before shredding.
How to Make Poached Shredded Chicken
Our last method is poaching the chicken, or boiling it. When I first started making shredded chicken for recipes, this is what I would do. It was just my husband and I, and this was an easy, fast way to make enough chicken for the two of us.
But as we started having kids, I did this less and less because you are so limited by how much chicken can fit in your pot. And if you fill it too full, the chicken doesn’t cook evenly.
I also realized, once I started using other methods, that this method produced the most bland of all the methods. The chicken didn’t taste as much like chicken as the other methods. It does end up very moist, but to me, it doesn’t have as much flavor. So I really don’t use this one much anymore, but I do feel like it’s worthy of a mention. Especially if you don’t need as much chicken.
This is the only recipe I add additional seasoning to because of its blandness. I add in a bay leaf or two. Also, sometimes I will make it in chicken broth and sometimes water. Obviously, the chicken broth will give it a lot more flavor but you need enough to cover the chicken, and I don’t always want to sacrifice that much chicken broth. You can reuse the chicken broth after you’ve poached your chicken, but it usually ends up with bits of fat and seasonings floating in it, so be prepared to strain the liquid.
Here’s how to make the poached chicken:
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. This will most likely come off and end up in the water or broth, but it’s still there to help season the chicken.
- Place the chicken in a pot (keeping it to one layer as much as possible) and fill with enough water or broth to cover the chicken.
- Add a bay leaf to the liquid and place the pot over medium-high heat.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through.
*I like to check the smaller pieces earlier and take them out as they are done cooking, as they will cook faster.
How to Shred Chicken
Now that you have your chicken cooked, it’s time to shred it so that you can use it in other recipes.
A lot of people love putting the chicken in a stand mixer or use a hand mixer to shred the chicken. Is this easy? Yep. But I’m going against the grain here to say it’s not my favorite way to shred the chicken. I feel like it tears it apart and gives the chicken a sort of frayed texture. If you’re crunched for time or if you are making a huge amount of chicken and just want the easiest way to shred the chicken, then go for it.
But for the best texture, I like to go old fashioned and use my hands or use 2 forks. This way you still have some chunks of chicken, the chicken keeps its texture, and you just have a lot more control. If I wait for the chicken to cool down enough, I think pulling it by hand is the easiest way to do it. But if it’s still warm and I need it, I’ll use two forks. It really doesn’t take long to do this by hand (or fork) so it’s the way I recommend.
How To Freeze Shredded Chicken
You’ve made your chicken. You’ve shredded your chicken. And maybe you’ve even used your chicken in a recipe for dinner. But what do you do with the rest of it? And how does this solve your dinner dilemas?
You freeze it!
Most of my recipes call for chicken in cup measurements, so I’ll divide it into 2 cup portions and freeze them individually. You can use freezer safe containers, or I find that freezer ziplock bags take up the least amount of space in my freezer.
If you are refrigerating the chicken, it will be good to use for 3-4 days.
If you are freezing the chicken, it’s best if used within 4 months.
To use the frozen chicken, I’ll take it out of the freezer the night before and place the bag in the refrigerator to thaw. But if it’s last minute and I’m not prepared ahead of time, it defrosts in the microwave really quickly, too.
Recipes that Use Shredded Chicken
I have a lot of recipes using the shredded chicken. Make sure to check out the Ingredient drop down at the top of the blog for a full list. But here are a few of my favorites!
White Chicken Enchiladas Cream Cheese Chicken Enchiladas Chicken and Gnocchi Soup California Club Chicken Wrap Cheesy Chicken Tetrazzini 24 Ways to Use Shredded Chicken