This easy, flavorful, four-ingredient BBQ pulled chicken is worthy of a dinner party but equally great for busy weeknights. Make it low and slow in the slow cooker or fast and furious in the Instant Pot, whichever suits your schedule. Turn it into sandwiches or serve it with Southern-style sides. It's so easy and SO good.
Why we love this recipe
BBQ pulled chicken in the Instant Pot or slow cooker is as easy and hands-off as it is memorable. It's become one of our (and many of your!) go-to recipes, for both busy weeknights and casual gatherings. It's equally at home:
- Tucked into a brioche bun with coleslaw and pickles
- Served alongside classic Southern-style sides like mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread
- Layered into a salad or grain bowl with corn, black beans, and baby spinach
I first published this recipe here back in 2018. I've since updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make Instant Pot shredded BBQ chicken and turn it into sandwiches.
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cook quickly and shred well. You can use thighs instead if that's what you've got.
- Pourable barbecue sauce (or thicker barbecue sauce thinned with water to a pourable consistency) provides the bulk of the sauce. Ue your favorite jarred kind or make your own in 10 minutes.
- Jarred or homemade applesauce and a bit of apple cider vinegar contribute lots of nuance to this simple recipe, without making it taste like apples.
- I've also pictured the brioche buns, coleslaw, and pickles you'll need if you want to turn the pulled chicken into sandwiches. See the FAQ section below for other serving suggestions.
Our favorite sources for meat
For years, I've been sourcing our meat from ButcherBox. We love this curated meat delivery service, which provides grass-finished beef, heritage breed pork, organic chicken, and more from small farms direct to the customer. You can learn more in my extensive Butcher Box review and unboxing.
More recently, we've also become big fans of Cooks Venture for chicken.
How to make it
Here's an overview of what you'll do to make an easy, hands-off batch of Instant Pot BBQ pulled chicken. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.
- In a 6-Instant Pot or a slow cooker, stir together the barbecue sauce, apple sauce, apple cider vinegar, and salt. If your barbecue sauce is very thick (think too thick to pour easily), stir it together with some water until it's easily pourable.
- Add the chicken breasts to the pot.
- In the Instant Pot: cook on high pressure for 8 minutes with 10 minutes of natural pressure release. In the slow cooker: cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or low for 6 to 7 hours.
- Shred the chicken. You can thicken the sauce by simmering it (using the Instant Pot's sauté function) while you shred the chicken if you like. Stir the shredded chicken back into the sauce and serve.
A note about using frozen chicken breasts in this recipe
I tend to prefer defrosting chicken breasts before cooking them, because I think the texture tends to be more consistently excellent that way. Here are three ways to defrost meat:
- If you have 24 hours, thaw your sealed meat in the fridge in a bowl or plate
- If you have two hours and two metal baking sheets, place your sealed meat on one of them and cover it with the other one. Because metal — especially aluminum —conducts heat, you’ll be amazed how quickly and evenly your meat will thaw.
- If you have 30 minutes, place the chicken breasts (still sealed) in a bowl of cold water
If you would rather cook frozen chicken breasts in the Instant Pot without thawing first, you can do that too. They need to be separated rather than in a big clump, so if they're stuck together, thaw them briefly in a bowl of water until you can separate them. Then simply add two minutes to the cooking time (for a total of 10 minutes). The pot will take a few minutes longer to come up to pressure, but that's 100% fine.
Expert tips and FAQs
Pulled chicken is great as a sandwich on a brioche or other hamburger bun with coleslaw and pickles, or served Southern-style with IP mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread.
It's also fabulous on a salad, or divided into a week's worth of not-sad desk lunches for meal prep.
If your BBQ sauce is thin enough to pour, you will not get a burn notice. This recipe has been tested hundreds of times in 6-quart Instant Pots, and it works well, I promise. If you're working with very thick BBQ sauce, follow the directions in the recipe and mix it with water until it's easily pourable.
I have heard from many people who have made it in 8-quart IPs with no problems, but since I don't have one myself, I recommend adding ½ cup water just to be safe, then simmering the sauce while you shred the chicken until it's as thick as you like.
Yes! Instant Pot BBQ pulled chicken will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week and can be reheated in the microwave.
More favorite boneless skinless chicken breast recipes
And if you're looking for basic Instant Pot shredded chicken breast, we've got that, too.
For the chicken
- ½ cup (125 grams) jarred applesauce
- 1 ½ cups (350 ml) of your favorite homemade or purchased pourable barbecue sauce (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 pounds (907 grams) boneless skinless chicken breasts
For sandwiches, if you like
- 4 brioche or other hamburger buns
- Pickle slices
- In a 6-quart Instant Pot or a slow cooker, stir together the applesauce, barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, and salt. If your barbecue sauce is too thick to pour easily, stir in some water to thin it to pourable consistency.
- Nestle chicken breasts into sauce.
- 6-quart Instant Pot instructions: Close lid and set valve to sealed position. Cook on the manual setting, high pressure, for 8 minutes. When cooking time ends, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then release any remaining pressure by opening the valve.
- Slow cooker instructions: Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 6 to 7 hours.
- Chicken is done when cooked through (165° F) and easy to shred.
- Remove chicken to a cutting board and, while hot, shred using two forks. If using an Instant Pot, press the sauté button and let sauce simmer to thicken slightly while you shred the chicken.
- Return shredded chicken to pot and stir to coat with sauce.
- As long as your barbecue sauce is pourable, it will work well in a 6-quart Instant Pot. If it’s extraordinarily thick, thin it with water to a pourable consistency before proceeding. Here's how to make your own in 10 minutes. If you're using an 8-quart IP, I recommend adding ½ cup water just to be safe. I've heard from many reviewers who have used the original recipe in an 8-quart pot without extra water and haven't had any issues, but since I don't have one myself, I haven't tested it that way.
- Pulled chicken is great as a sandwich on a brioche or other hamburger bun with coleslaw and pickles. It's also fabulous on a salad, divided into a week's worth of not-sad desk lunches for meal prep, or served Southern-style with IP mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread.
- Leftover chicken will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week and can be reheated in the microwave.
- If you would like to cook frozen chicken breasts in the Instant Pot without thawing first, follow these instructions: Chicken breasts need to be separated rather than in a big clump so that they'll cook evenly. If they're frozen together, thaw them briefly in a bowl of water until you can separate them. Then simply add two minutes to the cooking time (for a total of 10 minutes). The pot will take a few minutes longer to come up to pressure, too. That's 100% fine.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 422Total Fat: 7.4gCarbohydrates: 33.8gFiber: 0.8gProtein: 51.5g