BBQ Pulled Chicken for Instant Pot or Slow Cooker
This easy, flavorful four-ingredient pulled chicken is great for those busy weeknights during the back-to-school season. Make it low and slow in the slow cooker or fast and furious in the Instant Pot, whichever suits your schedule. Serve on brioche buns with coleslaw and pickles or over a simple salad for a family-friendly meal. It’s so easy and SO good.
Thanks to North Coast for sponsoring this post, and thanks to you for supporting our partners.
Why we love Instant Pot or slow cooker BBQ pulled chicken
This wholesome, flavorful four-ingredient recipe couldn’t be better suited to weeknight dinners. You can choose whether to make it low and slow in the slow cooker or fast and furious in the Instant Pot. You can choose whether to tuck it into a brioche bun with coleslaw and pickles or layer it on top of a simple salad. Either way, it’s a crowd pleaser.
BBQ pulled chicken in the Instant Pot or slow cooker also makes great meal prep food. Try layering it with cooked corn, black beans, and baby spinach for a week of not-sad desk lunches.
Pulled chicken ingredients
This recipe uses just a handful of simple, healthy ingredients. Here’s all you’ll need:
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Pourable barbecue sauce (or thicker barbecue sauce thinned with water to a pourable consistency)
- Apple cider vinegar
Our favorite source for meat
For years, we’ve been sourcing our meat from Butcher Box. 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 our extensive Butcher Box review and unboxing.
How to make pulled chicken in the Instant Pot or slow cooker
This method couldn’t be easier or more hands-off. Here’s what you’ll do:
- In a 6-quart 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 6-quart 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 sautee function) while you shred the chicken if you like. Stir the shredded chicken back into the sauce and serve.
- 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, or divided into a week’s worth of not-sad desk lunches for meal prep.
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. (We get all of our fabulous meat from Butcher Box, so they always start out frozen.) 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.
North Coast applesauce
North Coast’s 100% Organic certified, non-GMO Project verified products have been favorites on the west coast and in the midwest for years, and now they’ll be more widely available thanks to boxed.com and jet.com. North Coast starts with USA-grown fruit of exceptional flavor and quality and produces juices, ciders, cider vinegars and a wide variety of applesauce flavors that are BPA-free, fresh pressed, Kosher and added sugar- and preservative-free. They even manage to do it all with about 50% solar energy.
We love North Coast’s delicious applesauce cups on their own as a quick, healthy snack or breakfast, and we had a hunch they’d also make a great addition to BBQ pulled chicken. Guess what? They really do. They add just the right amount of natural sweetness to this meal while sneaking a little extra fruit into the family to fuel everyone’s new and exciting adventures.
It couldn’t be better, and it couldn’t be easier.
- 1/2 cup jarred applesauce
- 1 1/2 cups of your favorite homemade or purchased pourable barbecue sauce (see note)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
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 make sure valve is set to “sealing.” 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.
- 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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