Whenever I’m trying to figure out what to make for dinner (a scene that looks less like an episode of Chopped and more like me rifling around the darker corners of my refrigerator), stir fry–style meals like this recipe for Crock Pot Pineapple Chicken are my saving grace.
Recipes like Pineapple Chicken are the perfect way to use up odd bits of produce threatening to expire, hit every food group in a single pan, taste great leftover for lunch the next day, and best of all, never ever fail to satisfy.
Preparing stir fries in the slow cooker (a concept that I readily admit is a misnomer, since no actual stir frying is involved) has the added benefit of being flexible on timing.
By the time a slow cooker recipe is ready, you can have the kitchen clean, the table set, a load of laundry in the dryer, and a glass of wine in your hand. Cheers to you and your domestic prowess!
Healthy slow cooker versions of Chinese- and Thai-inspired favorites are some of the longest-running and most-popular recipes around here, from newer ones like Crockpot Chicken and Broccoli, Crockpot Sweet and Sour Chicken, Crock Pot Honey Garlic Chicken and Crock Pot Cashew Chicken, to treasured standbys like Crockpot Orange Chicken and Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli.
If you haven’t tried this particular recipe yet, bookmark it for your weekly meal plan. This Pineapple Chicken is healthy, sweet, and easy to make, and the leftovers will last all week in your refrigerator, so it’s ideal for meal prep too.
The (Moderately Mysterious) Origin of Pineapple Chicken
Growing up, I considered Pineapple Chicken Chinese because our grocery store carried it in its Chinese takeout case. According to my cultural culinary education at the time, this made it Totally. Legit.
Looking back, while the grocery case wasn’t a reliable test of authenticity, it did make an impact on my culinary life (see General Tso’s Tofu, Healthy Shrimp Pad Thai, and all of these healthy stir fry recipes).
Online, I’ve seen similar recipes called Thai pineapple chicken, which made me wonder what the difference is between Chinese Pineapple Chicken and Thai Pineapple Chicken.
After a variety of reading, both cultures seem to have similar dishes, so the distinction is more about the ingredients that differentiate Thai and Chinese food in general.
Note that the below is a MAJORLY BROAD statement, as within any country, the food varies by region. I’m including the below blurb in case you are curious.
- Chinese stir fries are (usually) more mild and rely on soy sauce with some vinegar.
- Thai stir fries rely more on fermented ingredients like shrimp paste and fish sauce (though to be certain, there’s plenty of soy sauce too) and have more vinegar than Chinese stir fries.
- Both countries use chiles. Both can have stir fries that are sweet. Both are SUPER TASTY.
If I had to choose between the two, I’d say this recipe leans more towards Chinese Pineapple Chicken, given the ingredient list, which relies on soy sauce (versus fish sauce), and that it is more sweet than acidic.
To make things more confusing: I’ve seen similar recipes to this one titled Hawaiian chicken, so THEN I attempted to research if pineapple chicken is actually Thai, Chinese, Hawaiian, or merely the product of restaurants catering to pineapple-loving Americans. The research is… inconclusive.
Let’s just set the forks (and chopsticks) down and appreciate this Pineapple Chicken for what it is: a healthy rendition of a takeout favorite that includes lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, keeps the added sugars to a minimum, and will be a sure hit in your household this week.
About This Crock Pot Pineapple Chicken Recipe
Whatever its lineage, this sticky Pineapple Chicken is delicious.
- The pineapple sauce is sweet and tangy. The sweetness comes entirely from the pineapple! No extra sugar needed.
- The other ingredients in the pineapple chicken sauce are a mix of Asian pantry staples like soy sauce and sesame oil (put them in your pantry now, and it will open to you a whole new world of quick, healthy recipes you can make on demand) and fresh ingredients like garlic and ginger.
- The sauce acts as a pineapple marinade that the chicken cooks in directly.
- I made this slow cooker recipe with chicken thighs, but you can certainly turn it into a pineapple chicken breast recipe if that is what you or your family prefer.
- For veggies, I love the combo of pineapple with red peppers, though you can certainly swap in other veggies you prefer or have on hand.
Fresh Pineapple versus Canned Pineapple Chicken—The Shortcut Decision
This recipe works well with canned or fresh pineapple, so choose based on your preferences, the ingredients you have available to you, and the amount of time you want to spend cooking.
- Canned Pineapple. The fastest possible prep, and what I opted to use. Look for canned pineapple in 100% juice versus in syrup. This recipe calls for both the pineapple chunks and the juice.
- Fresh Pineapple. If you have time, have a ripe pineapple lounging on your counter, and are better at slicing pineapple than I am, you could certainly make this a fresh pineapple chicken recipe instead. Be sure to also purchase pineapple juice, since you will need 1 cup for the recipe.
The Finishing Recipe Touches
Two last steps make this Pineapple Chicken ready for its mealtime debut:
- At the end of the recipe, I strained and simmered the sauce on the stove, which reduces it into a wonderful pineapple chicken glaze that has all the craveable features of your favorite takeout. It’s sticky, sweet, and coats every bite of the chicken and veggies.
- Water Chestnuts. Mild in flavor, they add a delightful crunch that makes each bite pop.
Serving Pineapple Chicken + Dietary Considerations
We served this dish as a straightforward, ultra tasty pineapple chicken and rice. You can also use quinoa, and if you’d like to make it more low carb, you can swap cauliflower rice instead. Lately I’ve been loving a blend of brown rice and cauliflower rice for the extra serving of veggies.
For those with dietary concerns:
- This is a slow cooker Whole30 chicken recipe and Paleo approved too, provided you swap coconut aminos for the soy sauce and use arrowroot starch in place of cornstarch.
- This Pineapple Chicken is dairy free and gluten free as well.
(If the words “Whole30” above peaked your interest, check out this list of Whole30 recipes, which includes both more Whole30 slow cooker and more Whole30 chicken options.)
Whether you are prepping for a busy week ahead, looking to return to a healthy groove after an indulgent weekend, or simply never run out of reasons to eat yummy, colorful food on top of rice (ME!), this Crock Pot Pineapple Chicken hits the spot!
Recommended Tools to Make Crock Pot Pineapple Chicken
Crock Pot Pineapple Chicken
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts) cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in natural juice (not syrup)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes plus additional to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 small red bell peppers cored seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 5-ounce can water chestnuts
- 2 chopped green onions
- Prepared brown rice quinoa, or cauliflower rice
- Lightly coat a 5-quart or larger slow cooker with baking spray and arrange the chicken thighs in a single layer on top. Drain the pineapple juice from the can into a large liquid measuring cup or mixing bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch. Once smooth, stir in the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Pour over the chicken. Add the pineapple chunks and red pepper.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 4-5 hours or HIGH for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until cooked through.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and vegetable mixture to a plate. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan. Simmer over high until it reduces by half, about 4-5 minutes, stirring very frequently. Add back to the slow cooker with the chicken mixture. Add the water chestnuts and green onion. Stir to combine. Serve hot with cauliflower rice, brown rice, or quinoa.
- TO STORE: Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stove top.
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