Sweet, savory, and sloppy in the best possible way, these Pulled Chicken Sandwiches are an ideal summer meal or game day entertaining recipe.
Tender shredded chicken bathed in a homemade maple bourbon BBQ sauce, the slow cooker makes this juicy pulled chicken your pal.
This is a dump-and-go style of crockpot meal.
Arrange your chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker, pour the sauce on top, and press play.
The chicken will become meltingly tender and absorb the sauce’s sweet and savory flavors.
From there, it’s shred, serve, and savor!
Whenever I’m not sure what to make for a party, a crockpot (or Instant Pot) of tender, saucy pulled meat that we can serve sandwich-style is my go-to.
As with this Crockpot BBQ Chicken (a close cousin to this BBQ pulled chicken sandwich recipe, but with a different style of sauce), Slow Cooker Pulled Pork, and Italian Beef, using the slow cooker means:
- You can prep the meal well in advance. Cook this pulled chicken the day before, then reheat it in the crockpot prior to serving.
- Hungry guests can help themselves directly from the slow cooker while you relax.
- Bun or no bun? Topped with Healthy Coleslaw or slaw on the side? Each person can assemble according to her preferences.
- Everyone is licking their fingers happily by the end!
5 Star Review
“One of the best recipes I’ve tried. A winner every time!”— Christine —
How to Make BBQ Shredded Chicken Sandwiches
- Chicken. For pulled chicken sandwiches, I prefer to use chicken thighs. The meat holds up best in the crockpot without drying out. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of dark meat, by the time it’s bathed in the sauce, all you will taste is juicy goodness.
- Ketchup. While I usually prefer to make my own barbecue sauce without ketchup (like with this Instant Pot Pulled Pork), when you are looking for a timesaver, ketchup is an excellent short cut to give you quick pulled chicken sandwiches in less time.
Not all ketchup is created equal. To keep this pulled chicken healthy, look for ketchup with no added sugar. Even better, see if you can find one that is sweetened naturally with fruits and/or vegetables.
- Bourbon. With its buttery, smooth, and lightly smoky flavor, bourbon makes a standout addition to BBQ pulled chicken.
- Pure Maple Syrup + Molasses. A touch of each deepens the sauce’s flavor and gives it the right notes of natural sweetness.
- Apple Cider Vinegar + Dijon Mustard. The acid and the zip to balance the sweet.
- Worcestershire Sauce. The umami factor! It’s one of those ingredients you can’t pick out separately but that contributes to the overall flavor of the dish.
- Garlic Powder + Onion Powder + Red Pepper Flakes. Each ups the taste-factor of the sauce.
- Add the Thighs. Use a 5 or 6-quart slow cooker.
- Prepare the BBQ Sauce. Homemade is worth it here!
- Coat the Chicken. Make sure it’s fairly well covered.
- Cook the Chicken. Cook for 2 hours on high or 4 to 6 hours on low.
- Shred the Chicken. Two forks work well for this.
- Assemble the Sandwiches. Add the coleslaw and ENJOY!
Pulled Chicken Sandwich Toppings
Set up a sandwich bar and allow guests to assemble their own. Here are a few of my favorite ways to top a pulled chicken sandwich.
- Healthy Coleslaw. In my family, it’s not a barbecue sandwich until you add the slaw. This is creamy, fresh, and bright.
- Barbecue Sauce. Your favorite store brand, or try this homemade Barbecue Sauce.
- Cheese. Take a note from the BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes in my cookbook and top your pulled chicken sandwich with cheese. Sharp cheddar or pepper jack would both be an excellent pairing.
- Potato Chips. OK, I know this sounds weird, but the saltiness and crunch are a surprisingly delightful counterpoint to the tender, sweet pulled chicken.
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover pulled chicken for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm the meat over the stovetop or gently in the microwave, with a splash of water or chicken broth to keep the chicken from becoming too thick or dry if needed.
- To Freeze. Let the chicken cool completely, then portion into freezer-safe containers of your desired size (you also can freeze it flat in a sturdy ziptop bag). Freeze for up to 3 months (I’ve gone even longer). Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Meal Prep Tip
Fully cook the pulled chicken up to 1 day in advance. Rewarm it on the stove or directly in the crockpot with a splash of water or broth stirred in if it starts to become dry.
While a sandwich is the obvious answer for how to serve pulled chicken, it’s certainly not the only option! In addition to making a leftover pulled chicken sandwich, you can use your bounty to make:
What to Serve with a Pulled Chicken Sandwich
- Salad. Healthy Potato Salad, Arugula Salad, or Grilled Corn Salad.
- Beans. These Easy Baked Beans would be a tasty side dish.
- Fries and Chips. Homemade Fries or Air Fryer Potato Chips would be delicious.
- Onion Rings. For a crowd-pleasing side, try Air Fryer Onion Rings.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Slow Cooker. Perfect for making this chicken sandwich.
- Whisk. This smaller whisk gets the job done, but takes up less space in your drawers.
- Measuring Cups. Durable, microwave-safe, and dishwasher-safe.
Pulled Chicken Sandwich
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs trimmed of excess fat
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup (I recommend Grade B)
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard plus optional additional for serving
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Healthy Coleslaw for serving (I recommend swapping the bell pepper for 1 Granny Smith apple cut into matchsticks)
- Whole wheat buns for serving
- For the chicken: Place the chicken thighs in the bottom of a 5 to 6-quart slow cooker.
- In a mixing bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the ketchup, bourbon, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, molasses, mustard, Worcestershire, onion powder, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes.
- Pour the sauce over the chicken.
- Cover and cook for 2 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low, until the chicken is cooked through.
- While the chicken cooks, prepare the Healthy Coleslaw.
- Transfer the cooked chicken to a large bowl or plate and shred with two forks.
- Assemble the sandwiches: Spread the buns with Dijon mustard (optional). Pile the shredded chicken onto the bottom bun, top with slaw, then add the top bun. Enjoy warm.
- TO STORE. Refrigerate leftover pulled chicken for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT. Rewarm the meat over the stovetop or gently in the microwave, with a splash of water or chicken broth to keep the chicken from becoming too thick or dry if needed.
- TO FREEZE. Let the chicken cool completely, then portion into freezer safe containers of your desired size (you also can freeze it flat in a sturdy ziptop bag). Freeze for up to 3 months (I’ve gone even longer). Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
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Frequently Asked Questions
These pulled chicken sandwiches are more smoky and sweet than spicy, but if you prefer a spicy chicken sandwich, feel free to up the amount of red pepper flakes or add hot sauce. Or, check out my recipe for a Spicy Chicken Sandwich.
If you prefer, you can use this recipe to make pulled chicken breasts. Cook on low and start checking the chicken for doneness at the 90-minute mark. If the sauce is thinner than you would like, you can simmer it on the stove to thicken it further.
If you’re looking for a pulled chicken sandwich without BBQ sauce, check out my cheesy Shredded Chicken Sandwich. It’s creamy, made in the crockpot, and perfect for entertaining and make-ahead family dinners.