I have a not-so-basic version of a core recipe that is essential to our dinner (and therefore our general) well-being: Crockpot Mexican Chicken. This healthy southwest-spiced chicken is tender and juicy, a little bit smoky, and crying to be tucked into tortillas, scattered over chips, mixed with rice burrito-bowl style, and more.
From quesadillas to even salads, we haven’t run out of ways to use this crockpot chicken yet. I’m not concerned. It’s so darn tasty and healthy to boot, I am content to continue to brainstorm more ways we can enjoy it. So far, I’ve come up with 10 different ideas—be sure to check them out later in the post!
Making Mexican chicken in the slow cooker is one of those “coming of age” foundational kitchen hacks that will suit you at any and every phase of life.
- New to cooking? This recipe is easy and indisputably delicious.
- Cooking for a busy family of picky eaters? These flavors are appealing, the chicken isn’t too spicy, and the prep work is short.
- Working on your meal prep game? This chicken is the make-ahead, freezer-friendly, and all-around “I got this” dinner for the deities.
- Trying to eat healthy? This chicken is lean and mean, but doesn’t skimp on flavor.
- Just love Mexican food? <—This is every life phase.
No matter your season of life, chances are you’ve gone the route of dumping a jar of salsa and pile of chicken breasts in the slow cooker together, then call it a day, and you know what? THAT’S FINE. This is just not that recipe.
While I love the ease of the salsa + chicken slow cooker formula, to me it’s always tasted exactly like what it is: bland chicken with some salsa on top.
I want to do better. I know that we can.
Thus, I set off to come up with an easy crockpot shredded Mexican chicken that was still reasonably quick and easy to prep (I mean, isn’t that half the selling point of making it in the first place?). It lead me to these Instant Pot Shredded Chicken Tacos.
It’s a stellar recipe and lead me to unlock the two top secrets to making shredded Mexican chicken with superior flavor (both of which I used in this crockpot version!), but I know we don’t all own an Instant Pot.
And even if we do, it’s not always the appliance we need on a particular night. Whether it’s for its make-ahead ease or the set-it-and-forget it appeal, sometimes only the slow cooker will do.
This recipe is your starter, better-than-salsa, Mexican-style chicken breasts. Or make slow cooker Mexican chicken thighs (this recipe works for either cut). Mix the shredded chicken with corn and beans to bulk it up or add rice (or both!). Or, make the recipe exactly as it is, then use and love it for all of your Mexican food whims.
How to Make Crockpot Mexican Chicken
Three key tips give this Mexican chicken authentic flavor:
- Brown the Chicken. I KNOW. I’m asking you to get an extra skillet dirty. I promise the flavor it locks into the meat is well worth it.
- Use Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. A can of these beauties imparts more taste than plain diced tomatoes. The chicken cooks in their liquid, absorbing more flavor.
- Chipotle Peppers in Adobo. Smoke city! Chipotles are smoked jalapeños that you can purchase in a can at almost any major grocery store. They make recipes taste complex. Adobo is a tangy, slightly sweet red sauce that these chipotles come packed in. It’s a two-fer when you buy them, and this recipe takes advantage of both.
Once you’ve embraced these three, this recipe is a snap to make and uses spices any Mexican food lover will already have in his or her pantry.
- Chicken. While in the slow cooker, the chicken meat will become incredibly tender, moist, and flavorful. Watch it carefully for over cooking. I opted to use boneless skinless breasts for this recipe, but you could use thighs as well. Thighs are also less prone to drying out.
- Spices. No bland chicken here! I used a mixture of salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried oregano to create robust flavor with a hint of heat.
- Tomatoes. Fire-roasted diced tomatoes add a subtle smokiness to the chicken and help it stay moist.
- Chipotle Peppers in Adobo. A powerhouse of smoky flavor wrapped up in the convenience of one can. (You’ll have some left in the can—use it in any of these recipes.)
- Optional Additions. I loved adding a can of black beans and Mexican corn for additional flavor and texture. You can stir them in at the end if you’d like to make the chicken even more substantial.
- Coat your slow cooker with nonstick spray. Season the chicken.
- Sauté the chicken, searing each side until brown. Transfer chicken to the slow cooker.
- Sprinkle the spices over the chicken, and pour in the tomatoes. Scatter the peppers on top.
- Cover and cook until the chicken reaches 165 degrees F. Shred the chicken, either on a cutting board or right in the slow cooker.
- Return the chicken to the slow cooker, and stir. Add in the beans and Mexican corn (if using). Cover and cook on low for a few additional minutes to allow the flavors to marry. Use for any of your favorite Mexican recipes, and DIG IN!
10 Ways to Use Crockpot Mexican Chicken
- Mexican Chicken Nachos. Scatter over chips with black beans. Sprinkle with cheese then bake. Smother with any of your favoring nacho toppings.
- Burritos. Wrap inside a warmed tortilla with beans, rice, salsa, and cheese.
- Tacos. Especially delicious topped with the avocado slaw from these Shrimp Tacos.
- Tostadas. Add the chicken to these Black Bean Tostadas.
- Salad. Use it in place of turkey in this Healthy Taco Salad or add it to this Mexican Salad.
- Creamy Mexican Chicken. Mix with cream cheese, mashed avocado, and Greek yogurt. Season to taste then use in any of the other suggestions on this list.
- Mexican Chicken Taquitos. Wrap tortillas around a handful of cheese and a spoonful of the chicken (or the creamy Mexican chicken suggested above). Coat a foil-lined baking sheet with nonstick spray and arrange the taquitos on top. Spritz the top of the tortillas with nonstick spray, then bake in a 350 degree F oven until the filling is hot and the tortillas are crisp (about 10 minutes).
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. Pile a baked potato or baked sweet potato with the filling, then add all of your favorite Mexican toppings.
- Burrito Bowl. Serve the Mexican chicken and rice with beans, corn, salsa, and all of your favorite toppings. (If this sounds good to you, be sure to check out my knock off Chipotle Burrito Bowl.) Or add it on top of this Mexican Quinoa.
- Quesadillas. Don’t let tacos or burritos have all the fun. Layer the filling inside of tortillas with cheese, then cook them in a skillet with a bit of butter or oil to prevent sticking, until they are golden and crisp.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
- To Store. Store leftover chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To Freeze. Place leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- To Reheat. Reheat gently on the stove with a splash of chicken stock or extra salsa to keep it from drying out.
More Favorite Mexican Chicken Recipes
- Crock Pot Mexican Casserole
- Instant Pot Mexican Casserole
- Mexican Stuffed Peppers
- Mexican Chicken Casserole
- Mexican Chicken and Rice
Looking for more crock pot inspiration? Be sure to check out my full list of healthy slow cooker recipes.
Looking for slow cooker recipes with chicken specifically? Don’t miss this helpful post with everything you need to know about how to cook healthy chicken in the crockpot. It includes my best tips and a collection slow cooker chicken recipes too! This post on Crock Pot Shredded Chicken is another great resource.
Tools Used to Make this Recipe
- Slow Cooker. A prized appliance in my kitchen, and the perfect size for this recipe.
- Skillet. Perfect for browning the chicken.
- Instant Read Thermometer. The best way to ensure your chicken is cooked through and to avoid overcooking the chicken.
If you try this crockpot Mexican chicken, I’d love to hear how it goes! Please leave a comment letting me know how the recipe came out. It keeps me so motivated each time I hear from you.
Crockpot Mexican Chicken
FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts about 4 small/medium or 3 medium/large
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt divided
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes in their juices 14 ounces
- 2 - 3 chipotle peppers in adobo individual peppers from a can; NOT 3 cans, finely chopped (three peppers has a definite, though not unbearable kick. Used 2 if you are more sensitive to spice, 1 if you do not want it to be spicy at all)
OPTIONAL ADDITIONS & SERVING SUGGESTIONS:
- Canned reduced-sodium black beans rinsed and drained
- Canned Mexican corn drained
- Prepared brown rice or quinoa
- Your favorite Mexican toppings: fresh cilantro nonfat plain Greek yogurt, diced jalapeno, thinly sliced radishes, cheese, additional salsa, diced avocado
- Lightly coat a 6-quart slow cooker with nonstick spray. Season both sides of the chicken with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot and shimmering, add the chicken. Sear each side for 2 to 3 minutes each, just until brown (the chicken does not need to be cooked through). Do not disturb the chicken while each side sears. Transfer to the prepared slow cooker.
- Sprinkle the chicken with the chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Pour in the tomatoes including their juices. Scatter the chipotle peppers over the top.
- Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or on high for 1 to 2 ½ hours, until the chicken is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. The cooking time will vary based on your slow cooker and the size of your chicken breasts. Remove the chicken to a cutting board. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then shred with two forks, either on the cutting board or return it to the slow cooker and shred it directly in the slow cooker with two forks (or for even faster shredding) a hand mixer.
- Return the chicken to the slow cooker (if needed) and stir in with the cooking liquid. Add in the optional beans and Mexican corn (if using). Cover and cook on low for 15 minutes to allow the chicken to absorb the flavor and cooking juices. Taste and season with additional salt as desired. Serve the chicken hot, on top of brown rice, inside enchiladas, for quesadillas or tacos, or any way you like.
- TO STORE: Store leftover chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- TO FREEZE: Place leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- TO REHEAT: Reheat gently on the stove with a splash of chicken stock or extra salsa to keep it from drying out.
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