There is nothing worse than overcooked, dry chicken. But I can think of a very close second. Mushy, mealy, stringy chicken, which is sometimes the result of cooking low and slow for an extended period of time. I’ve learned this the hard way, after many attempts at cooking chicken in the crockpot on a workday, for 8 plus hours at a time.
I love my crockpot like a third child, but I realize it comes with some limitations. For a long time, I could not find the sweet spot with chicken. Most recipes were flops, but a few worked and landed themselves in the rotation. As a result of failures and successes, here are my top 5 tips for cooking chicken all day in the crockpot, plus a few recipes worth trying.
1. Use chicken thighs or leg meat over chicken breast
We’ve come to love chicken thighs over chicken breast in general because they have more flavor and don’t dry out as quickly. The same holds true in the slow cooker. Whether you go boneless or bone-in is up to you, but bone-in will have more flavor. I do recommend removing the skin in this case (unless it’s a whole chicken) because it makes the entire dish oily and will not crisp up.
2. Plan to use the meat shredded
You’re going to compromise the texture of chicken a bit when you cook it for 8 hours in the slowcooker. It’s going to be super tender, but not “sliceable”, so use this to your advantage and shred the meat using two forks and toss it with the cooking liquid. There are plenty of amazing uses for this, like shredded chicken for tacos or BBQ chicken sandwiches.
3. Do not start with frozen chicken, any type, no exceptions
I know there are many opinions on this, and folks swear by this method, but just save yourself the salmonella poisoning and only used thawed chicken in the slowcooker. The long and short of it, frozen chicken will likely not reach 165 degrees within the “safe window” in the crock pot. One exception would be to start 8-12 hours in advance of slow cooking, i.e. throw all ingredients in the crock, including frozen chicken, and allow to thaw overnight in the fridge (like I do with this Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili). In the morning, transfer the crock to the slow cooker to do its thing (provided the chicken has thawed, which would be the case for smaller chicken breasts or thighs, not whole chickens).
4. Cook the whole chicken
You’re not going to end up with a golden brown, crispy skinned roast chicken in this case, but you will have fall of the bone meat and flavorful juices. Keep the skin on (you can remove after cooking), add lots of herbs, layer the bottom of your crock with potatoes, carrots and onions, let it go unsupervised for 8 hours, and walk into a very nice weeknight version of the Sunday Roasted Chicken. Try this recipe to get you started.
5. Chicken on top
Chicken pieces, particularly chicken thighs and legs, will dry out less quickly and maintain their texture best when layered on top of other ingredients. Plus, this helps to flavor the entire dish as the chicken cooks and releases juices.
Do you have a go-to chicken recipe that you can cook for 8+ hours in the slow cooker? Please share in the comments!