How to Cook Shredded Chicken
Cooked shredded chicken and cooked diced chicken are listed as ingredients in many recipes, but have you ever had a recipe that called for them, without any direction for how to go about cooking the chicken in the first place? This step-by-step tutorial for how to cook shredded chicken is your answer! I’ll go over the easiest way to make shredded chicken breasts. This simple method works for shredded chicken thighs too.
Whether you need to know how to make shredded chicken for chicken enchiladas (like these Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas), chicken tacos, chicken sandwiches, Greek yogurt healthy chicken salad (or Whole30 chicken salad), shredded chicken enchilada dip, or just to munch straight from your refrigerator when you’re hungry and in total desperation mode, this is the post for you!
While you can cook shredded chicken in the oven or slow cooker, the method I show step-by-step below (cooking the chicken in a pot on the stove) is by far the fastest and easiest way to make it. The chicken comes out perfectly moist and juicy every time.
You can also refrigerate the chicken for up to 4 days or freeze it, so it’s perfect for meal prep too!
While there are a variety of different methods to cook chicken for shredding or dicing, poaching (gently cooking the chicken in water) is the one I’ve found to be the quickest and easiest, with the smallest amount of clean up. You don’t need any equipment other than a pot to make it.
In today’s post, I’ll be reviewing:
- How to cook shredded chicken via the poaching process
- Seasoning tips
- Ideas for ways to use shredded (or diced) chicken
- How to make shredded chicken for a crowd
- Serving size and yield
You scroll down to see step-by-step photos, check out the video with a how-to after the photos, and finally you’ll find a recap for the steps at the very end of the post.
How to Make Shredded Chicken: Recipe Step-by-Steps
- STEP ONE: Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs) in the bottom of a large pot, then season them.
- For seasoning, I opt for a generous pinch of salt and pepper. If you like, you can add other seasonings, such as a bayleaf, poultry seasoning, or a few springs of fresh herbs.
- This shredded chicken recipe is meant to be more of a blank canvas to add to a wide range of recipes. Because I know I have some fellow Tex-Mex fans, if you are looking for Mexican shredded chicken options, I recommend these Instant Pot Shredded Chicken Tacos and this Instant Pot Mole Chicken.
- ARRANGING THE CHICKEN: If you are cooking a larger number of chicken breasts or thighs, you can overlap them slightly.
- If you have a lot of overlap, I’d suggest upgrading to a larger pot or using two separate pots.
- STEP TWO: Cover the chicken with 1 inch of water (not broth!).
- YES, water! If you like you can use chicken broth, though I find that with this cooking method, you don’t need it. Unless you have some that you need to use up, save yourself an ingredient and make this shredded chicken without broth.
- STEP THREE: Place the pot on the stove and bring the water to a gentle boil.
- Once the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer for 8 to 16 minutes, depending upon the size and number of chicken breasts that you are poaching.
- If the idea of boiling chicken sounds unappealing, I promise this gentle simmer method will turn out for you. As long as you check the chicken and remove it once it reaches the magic temperature, your chicken will be perfect every single time.
- STEP FOUR: Check for doneness.
- The chicken is done when the center reaches 165 degrees F (use an instant-read meat thermometer for guaranteed safety and accuracy—I love this one and use it regularly).
- Check your chicken OFTEN towards the end. If your chicken is dry or tough, it is because it is overcooked. You can even remove the chicken as soon as it reaches 160 degrees F. Place it on a plate, cover it, and let rest for five more minutes. Check for doneness once more. The carry over should cooking finish the job.
That’s it! From here, you can use the poached chicken however you please.
My Secret Tip to Easily Shred Chicken
- The easiest way to shred chicken is with a hand mixer! Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl, then use a hand mixer on low speed to break the chicken into shreds. It’s a complete timesaver, especially if you are making a larger amount.
- No mixer? No problem. You can shred the chicken the old fashioned way with two forks, or my other favorite method: your fingers. Just be sure to let the chicken rest until it is cool enough to handle safely first.
- Instead of shredding the chicken, you can also slice or dice it, which is even faster and perfect for green salads, pasta salads, and wraps.
Ways to Use Shredded Chicken
- Pasta Salads. This Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad is a must.
- Green Salads. ANY salad you like, from this BLT Chopped Salad to this BBQ Chicken Salad to this Caribbean Chicken Salad.
- Frittatas. This Chicken Broccoli Frittata is one of my favorite brunch recipes, and the leftovers are fantastic for lunch.
- Chicken Sandwiches. Chicken Caesar Sandwich, anyone?
- Chicken Casseroles. Chicken and Biscuits and Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole are classic, comforting, and forever scrumptious. For a different spin, try this Cheesy Corn Quinoa Casserole.
- Spaghetti Squash Boats with Chicken. A low-carb option that’s to-die-for no matter what diet you do (or do not!) follow.
- Chicken Tacos, Chicken Tostadas, Chicken Burritos…the Tex-Mex options are wide and begging for experimentation!
- Chicken Soup. This Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup is healthy, comforting, and ready in 30!
How to Store Shredded Chicken
Shredded chicken is perfect to keep on hand in the refrigerator during the week to cut down on meal-prep time too.
- TO REFRIGERATE SHREDDED CHICKEN: Let the cooked chicken cool completely. Place in a shallow, airtight container and press a sheet of plastic against the top. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- TO FREEZE SHREDDED CHICKEN: Follow the steps above, but instead of refrigerating, store the chicken in the freezer for up to 2 months. You can also store it in heavy duty freezer bags. Be sure to squish out as much extra air as you can.
Why Not Just Buy Shredded Chicken?
I also use this method for making shredded chicken any time a recipe calls for storebought sthredded rotisserie chicken.
While buying shredded chicken is quick, the benefits of making it yourself are notable.
- Health Considerations. Shredded chicken that you make at home is almost guaranteed to be lower in sodium and fat than store-bought rotisserie chicken.
- Cook the Meat You Want. I like to make shredded chicken breasts, because most of the time I prefer white meat. If your household is more into dark meat, you can cook all chicken thighs. Want a mix? You can choose a blend too!
- By weight, homemade shredded chicken is far less expensive than precooked store bought chicken.
What About Other Cuts of Chicken?
While I photographed this recipe with shredded chicken breasts, this poaching/boiling method also works for making boneless, skinless shredded chicken thighs.
If you use thighs, the meat may cook more quickly depending upon their size, so I recommend checking a few minutes early to ensure that you have moist, juicy diced or shredded chicken.
I would not recommend this method with chicken wings or legs. Because neither contains a significant amount of meat, these cuts are better to cook for enjoyment on their own, versus for shredding to use in other applications.
Frozen Chicken – Yes You Can!
- While starting with thawed chicken is preferable, you can use this method with frozen chicken too, though it will take longer to cook.
- Resist the urge to boil the chicken rapidly to speed things along. A slow simmer is critical for even cooking and juicy chicken.
- For the chicken to be safe to eat, it is IMPERATIVE that you test the chicken for doneness. An Instant-read meat thermometer will be your BFF.
- Want to start with thawed chicken but you forgot to pull it out of the freezer the night before? (guilty!) Check out this guide for how to quickly thaw meat from Real Simple.
Helpful Tools Make Shredded Chicken or Diced Chicken
- Instant-read meat thermometer
- Easy-to-store plastic containers, for leftovers (these are the only ones that actually stay organized in my cabinet and refrigerator)
Shredded Chicken Yield and Serving Sizes
The amount of shredded chicken your breast or thigh yields will vary widely depending upon their size. Generally:
- 1 1/2 pounds of boneless chicken will yield about 4 cups of shredded chicken.
- 1 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast will yield about 1 1/3 cups of shredded chicken. This is a medium breast. The average ones at our grocery store tend to skew larger, but it will depend on the specific brand you purchase. Organic breasts are usually smaller.
- Plan on about 1/3 to 1/2 pound of uncooked boneless chicken per serving.
- If you are adding the shredded chicken to a recipe with a large amount of other fixings (such as chicken tacos), you will likely need less. For example, I find 1/4 pound per person for chicken tacos be plenty…assuming we have plenty of chips and guac.
- The nutritional information in the recipe below is calculated for 1/2 pound or 1 (8-ounce) breast.
I hope this guide on shredded chicken was helpful for you! What are some of your favorite ways to use shredded chicken? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
How to Cook Shredded Chicken
- 1 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts - 8 to 12 ounces each
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Black pepper
- Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of a large pot, then season them lightly with salt and pepper. The amounts in the recipe are just a suggestion, so don't feel pressured to measure. Give each breast a nice sprinkle. If you are cooking a lot of chicken breasts, you can overlap them slightly. If you have a lot of overlap, use a larger pot.
- Cover the chicken with 1 inch of water.
- Place the pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer or is no longer pink in the center, about 8 to 16 minutes, depending upon the size and number of chicken breasts that you are poaching. A 10-ounce chicken breast will need to simmer for about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove the chicken from water and let rest until cool enough to handle. Dice, slice, or shred as desired.
- This method for how to poach chicken is intended for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It also works well for boneless, skinless chicken thighs or bone-in chicken breasts too, though you will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. If using bone-in chicken breasts, extend the cook time; for thighs, check them early.
- Store leftover chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. If dicing the chicken, I prefer to cut the chicken just before serving. If shredding, I find that the chicken is the easiest to shred apart while it is still slightly warm, before I place it in the refrigerator. You can shred by hand or use a hand mixer on low speed.
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