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.

white platter of shredded chicken breast

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 (though if you own an Instant Pot and prefer that route, check out this post for how to cook Instant Pot chicken!)

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
  • Storage
  • 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.

sauce pan with uncooked chicken breast for poaching

  • 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.

sauce pan with poached chicken covered in water (not broth) sitting on a green checked kitchen towel

  • 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.

cutting board with sliced cooked chicken breast

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

clear plastic storage container of shredded chicken breast ready for refrigerating or freezing

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

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!

plate of poached and shredded chicken
5 from 21 votes
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How to Cook Shredded Chicken

Yield: 1 –4 chicken breasts
Prep Time:
2 mins
Cook Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
20 mins
Use this easy method for how to cook shredded chicken anytime a recipe calls for diced or shredded chicken. Perfect for enchiladas, chicken salad, and more!

Ingredients

  • 1 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts — 8 to 12 ounces each
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black pepper

Instructions

  1. 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.

  2. Cover the chicken with 1 inch of water.
  3. 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.

Recipe Notes

  • 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.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: How to Cook Shredded Chicken, Shredded Chicken Recipe

Nutrition Information

Amount per serving (1 (8 ounce) chicken breast) — Calories: 367, Fat: 4g, Protein: 34g

Did you try this recipe? I want to see! Follow Well Plated on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #wellplated. I love to know what you are making!

This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I make a small commission off items you purchase at no additional cost to you.

About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…

88 comments

  1. Thank you. I will use this the next time a recipe calls for shredded chicken!

  2. I haven’t poached chicken in ages, but it really is so good! Poached salmon is also delicious. :)

  3. Shredded chicken is one of our favorite in the house and I am just happy to see another recipe which I can make from it. Thanks for sharing this one. Since Halloween season is coming, this will be a great addition to our menu.

  4. Thank you so much for teaching us this method! Seems like such a basic culinary skill, yet I hadn’t done it until this evening! I really appreciate you sharing this with your readers. Now I have cooked chicken ready-to-go for next week’s lunches.

    • You’re welcome, Stefanie! I’m so glad you found it helpful. It sounds like your lunches next week are off to an awesome start!

  5. This method was so easy and the results were marvelous!  I was a little doubtful at first because I’d cooked chicken in water before and i’d always over cooked it. But this chicken turned out very moist and is my go to recipe when I need diced or shredded chicken now

    • Mollie, I am so excited to hear that this method worked so well for you. Thanks so much for trying it and taking time to come back by and leave this lovely review!

  6. Do you have a version of this recipe that you do in the slow cooker? I thought I saw this on your website but I can’t seem to locate it.

    • Hi Lauren, this stovetop method is my preferred way to cook plain chicken breasts since it takes much less time than a crock pot (generally under 20 minutes) and there’s less risk of overcooking it, which I find can happen quickly in the slow cooker. But there are other sites that have done a slow cooker version—I found a few just by searching “shredded chicken crock pot”! I hope that helps!

  7. Using this method tonight for zucchini enchiladas! Thank you!! 

  8. I’m using this technique all the time now. Thanks for sharing this tip!!!

  9. Do you know if I can use this same method for turkey breast?

  10. Thanks for sharing this useful technique; I am eager to try it.  

    Somewhat off topic, what brand or brands are the pots and pans  you use?  I need to get a new stockpot, preferably nonstick, and I am overwhelmed by all the choices.  Thank you!

  11. I am trying this with veggie broth instead of water….maybe a little more flavor?

  12. A great way to shred this chicken (think Enchiladas), is with the dough blade of a Cuisinart. I used to do it by hand with a fork. This takes seconds and I use the chicken so many ways!

  13. To be honest I thought this would be pretty gross. But I tried it and it was delicious. I was going to put it in a casserole and ended up just eating the chicken!

  14. I love it shredded, instead of dicing it. I use it to make chicken salad, chicken enchiladas and chicken and rice. Thanks for posting. ? It just taste better shredded instead of dicing it. I have been using more water than your method, but I’m going to try your way. Thanks.

    • I am so happy to hear this method has been working well for you! All the ways you mentioned to use the chicken sound delicious. Thank you so much for trying it and reporting back. I really appreciate it!

  15. Simple, easy AND tastes great! I try to keep some on hand for quick lunches since my husband sometimes gets called out to work really early (4 am) just add to mixed vegetables or rice (our both lol)
    I also use hand mixer to make shredding easier.

    • I am so happy to hear this works for you Sarah! It’s my favorite way to make chicken too. Thanks so much for taking time to report back!

  16. Great way to have chicken on hand for fast dinners. Please keep the leftover broth. Freeze it and use it in your next soup recipe or wherever chicken broth is needed. 
    Always so inspiring and fun reading your blogs. 

    • Lynn, this is my favorite way to keep chicken on hand too! I’m so glad it’s been useful for you. Thanks for the tip about saving the water. I’ve never tried that and will keep it in mind!

  17. Another easy way to shred chicken (especially if you have a lot) if you have a stand mixer is to put the still warm (deboned!) chicken into the work bowl, and using the paddle blade, mix it on medium for about 30 seconds. Voila! Shredded chicken with no “clawed up” cutting board. Swellegant!

  18. Wow. Thanks for posting. I never thought of cooking chicken this way. Nicer than oven during hot summer day and no need for frying oil( (read less calorie) than over a stovetop.

    • Absolutely! I’m glad you found this method, Bunnee! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this great review.

  19. This is the best method I’ve found for cooking chicken in water, the poaching method leaves the chicken so tender!

    • I’m glad it’s a winning technique for you, Jamie! Thanks so much for giving it a try and letting me know how it went.

  20. I’m new to cooking and I don’t have a meat thermometer, what is the next best way to tell if the poached chicken is completely cooked without over cooking it?

    • Hi Danielle, unfortunately, the thermometer is really the only 100% reliable way to tell. They aren’t too expensive and are really worth it! Otherwise, you should cut into a piece after the suggested cooking time and make sure the juices run clear.

  21. Do you put a cover on the pot?

  22. Thank you for the great tips! Do you know if you can cook thin sliced breasts in this same method? I need shredded chicken for a recipe and that’s all I have on hand. thanks in advance!! 

    • Hi Shannon, I think you could, but they may be done much faster than a whole piece. I’d check them frequently for doneness to make sure they don’t overcook.

  23. When you poach the chicken, do you ever make a large batch and freeze some?

  24. This worked!  Perfectly!
    Thank you Erin.
    Lisa 

  25. Should you add more water if some of evaporated once’s it tatted boiling and the chicken is peaking through?

    • Hi Lisa! It’s OK if the chicken peeks through a bit (mine sometimes floats) as long as it was covered with the right amount at the beginning. Just make sure it is mostly submerged and not drying out.

  26. This looks great! Can I use any seasoning I want and it’ll turn out okay?

    Sometimes just salt is awesome but I love chicken because there are so many flavorful options. 

    I want to make shredded seasoned chicken for tacos. ?

    • Hi Avery, the chicken is really meant to be more of a blank canvas to add to other recipes, so you can add any spices that you like!

  27. Can you use frozen chicken?

    • Hi Rhonda, yes, you can use frozen chicken. It may take a little longer, so make sure to use check the temperature for doneness.

  28. DANIELLE HARRISON Reply

    Hi have you ever started this process with frozen chicken breast. If so any suggestions on what to do differently.

    • Hi Danielle, I start with my chicken already thawed, but you can do this from frozen as well. It may take a little longer, so make sure to test for doneness with a meat thermometer.

  29. Wow! This is such a great an simple recipe!

  30. Thank you for this recipe & also for including info/link re: the instant-read meat thermometer that you use. I really appreciate that. 

  31. Beginner cook here, every recipe for chicken salad said to add cooked chicken to recipe. Never would say how to cook the chicken or worse recipe would call for store bought rotiserie chicken. Glad I found your web page,now I know how to poach chicken. Thanks.

  32. Hi Karen, I appreciate the feedback—unfortunately, I don’t have that level of control to decide how the ads are designed, but I do try to make sure that any video ads never play sound or cover any text or photos, so if you sees one that blocks those in the future, please let me know.

  33. Thank you so much for this tip! I’d never even heard of poached chicken until I saw your post and I think it’s my new favorite way to cook chicken! Thanks for teaching a cooking newbie some helpful tricks!

    • YAY Courtney!! I’m so happy this post was helpful for you. Thank you for taking time to leave this wonderful review. It means a lot!

  34. Thank you, thank you! Can’t believe I’ve went this long without knowing to do this. So simple for weeknights and sure to please the whole family! Everything taste better simple and made at home!

  35. Thanks for the great recipe! I’ve never made chicken like this and I absolutely love it! A tip I picked up from somewhere is to shred your chicken using your kitchen-aid mixer if you have one! So easy, just throw the cooked chicken in and let the mixer do it’s job, and voila! Beautifully shredded chicken. 

  36. Is there a way to stop your chicken breast from being slimmy? I have tried this recipe a few times and the outside of the chicken breast needs to be cut off because it is gross and gummy.

    Thanks!

    • Brooke, that has never happened to me! It could be the quality of your chicken. Have you tried a few different brands? Also, make sure that you aren’t overcooking it and causing the outside to have a different texture. An instant read thermometer is perfect for this. I hope that helps!

  37. Came out perfect for chicken salad! Thank you so much for this easy and perfect recipe.

  38. I have used the shredded rotisserie chicken at Kroger in recipes, but it’s $6.99 a pound! So I looked up cooking chicken for shredding and found your recipe. So I’m trying it today; hopefully, it will come out ok! Then I will freeze it to use for future recipes. Thanks!

  39. Sorry to sound dense… but when you say cover it with an inch of water, do you mean an inch total in the pot, or an inch above the top of the chicken?

  40. I found a recipe for chicken soup I’ve been wanting to try, but it calls for cooked chicken. Do you think this would be a good method for cooking chicken before adding it to soup?

  41. Can you add any flavorings to this so that it would taste more like a rotisserie chicken?

    • Hi Tammy! This recipe is a starting point for shredded chicken to flavor and mix into things (chicken salad, tacos, etc.). For a rotisserie chicken flavor, you’d probably be better off roasting or baking the chicken with the spices on it. I’d recommend doing an online search for common rotisserie spices and go from there!

  42. Thank you Erin for the shredding chicken with a hand mixer tip. Using forks is hard and hurts my hands! Grateful for that info!

  43. Thanks so much, Erin, for the detailed post on poaching chicken. I’m definitely saving your recipe. I’m intrigue by the idea of shredding chicken with the hand mixer but I’m scared to try it because it sounds like it could become a total mess. I wish you’d do a video showing that method so I could actually see what happens. Again, that so much for the detailed post on poaching chicken.

    • Kris, I’m glad to hear this is helpful for you! (As for seeing it happen, there are some videos on youtube if you do an internet search.)

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