BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

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When the craving for barbecue hits, these pulled chicken sandwiches are the answer! My easy dry rub adds instant flavor to the meat, while my crunchy coleslaw brings it all together.

bbq chicken sandwich with coleslaw
Table of Contents
  1. Protein selection
  2. Quick, flavorful dry rub
  3. Cooking on the grill
  4. Cooking on the stove top
  5. Checking for doneness
  6. Shred the chicken
  7. Coat with barbecue sauce
  8. Homemade coleslaw
  9. Bread selection
  10. Serve this with
  11. BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Coleslaw Recipe

Get ready to fire up the barbecue -or take out the grill pan to transform boring chicken pieces into something exciting for your taste buds. This hearty pulled chicken sandwich recipe makes a big batch to share with family and friends. The process is straightforward for weekend gatherings or weeknight meals.

Before cooking, sprinkle on a flavorful dry rub to instantly boost the taste of the meat. Shred the grilled chicken into bite-sized pieces, then toss in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. But that’s not all! There’s a quick creamy coleslaw to pile high on the sandwich for extra crunch.

Two grilled chicken pieces on a sheet pan with a toasted buns

Protein selection

I use boneless skinless chicken breasts for a lean option. Although, it’s essential to flatten them to a uniform thickness so they cook evenly. Store-bought rotisserie chicken works well as a substitute for a quick weeknight meal, or I often use leftover pieces from my slow cooker chicken recipe. It makes meal prep so easy.

If you enjoy dark meat, chicken thighs are a good option as they stay moist due to higher amounts of fat. You don’t have to pound them out since the pieces are already relatively thin. Both light and dark meat provide a combination of textures.

Recipe Resources

Quick, flavorful dry rub

For instant flavor without the need to spend time marinating, make a sweet and spicy dry rub. The seasonings are concentrated in flavor, so a little goes a long way. Dried spices like cumin, onion, garlic powder, chile powder, and paprika cling to the meat once applied, enhancing the taste on the surface of the chicken. 

The rub contains brown sugar, which intensifies the caramelized flavor and accelerates browning on the grill grates. Keep a close eye on the meat to prevent burning and flip once you see dark char marks form.

Cooking on the grill

Heat the grill until very hot so that the Maillard reaction can rapidly occur, giving those gorgeous browned marks and smokey flavor. Close the lid and finish cooking the chicken covered, creating an oven-like environment through conduction as the heat circulates inside. This method produces the most flavor on the exterior while maintaining a moist piece of meat.

Shredded pieces of barbecued pull chicken mixed with bbq sauce

Cooking on the stove top

You don’t have to wait for warm weather to make this meal, as a simple grill pan can create gorgeous grill marks. Although, with this method, the cooking temperature needs adjustment. The dried spices and sugar will smoke at high heat, which can become an issue indoors. Instead, use moderate heat for better control and a few extra minutes of cook time.

Checking for doneness

The chicken should be opaque and no longer pink in the center. Use an instant-read thermometer to test for an internal temperature between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute, keeping the poultry moist and tender.

Shred the chicken

Pulling or shredding the chicken apart makes it easier to eat in the sandwich. This process also allows more surface area for a barbecue sauce to coat each piece. I find it easiest to use two forks to separate the parts, working in the same direction as the natural lines of the muscle fibers.

colorful coleslaw placed on top of shredded chicken

Coat with barbecue sauce

Although very flavorful with dried spices alone, tossing the shredded chicken in barbecue sauce provides extra dimension and moisture. I like to use my go-to homemade barbecue sauce recipe, which comes together in less than 30 minutes.

My sauce uses ingredients you may already have in your pantry, like tomato paste, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and a whole lot of spices. Although, if you’re pressed for time, go ahead and reach for a bottle of pre-made BBQ sauce (it’s okay, I don’t mind).

Homemade coleslaw

For added texture contrast, it’s nice to have fresh crunchy coleslaw to go with these chicken sandwiches. I like to cut the cabbage so that I can control the size. The base is a mixture of red and green cabbage and shredded carrots. The dressing is a combination of Greek yogurt, a hint of mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, honey, and paprika. You can even make a bigger batch to serve as a side dish.

Bread selection

These delicious barbecue chicken sandwiches deserve a fantastic bun. I prefer brioche or whole wheat. My pet peeve is hamburger buns that disintegrate with each bite, so find one that holds together. Sandwich architecture is essential! 

I like to toast the buns on the grill or pan, just until the bottoms are nice and crunchy but still soft to the touch. Top the bread with a generous amount of chicken, more sauce, and creamy coleslaw. A mini hand-held feast!

Serve this with

pulled chicken sandwich dripping with barbecue sauce

Wait to make the coleslaw

When you cut cabbage leaves, the cell walls are exposed. Combined with a dressing that contains salt and sugar, those ingredients like to draw out the moisture. The longer the mixture sits, the more wilted the leaves become and more diluted the dressing. For the crunchiest texture and best flavor, wait to combine the cabbage with the coleslaw dressing until ready to serve.

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BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Coleslaw

Flavorful BBQ grilled chicken sandwiches tossed in a tangy barbecue sauce and topped with homemade crunchy coleslaw.
Pin Print Review
4.52 from 27 votes
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time45 mins
Servings 4 sandwiches
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients

Chicken Sandwiches

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, or boneless thighs
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, or vegetable oil, for greasing
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 4 hamburger buns

Coleslaw

  • ½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon honey
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup green cabbage, ¼-inch shreds
  • 1 cup red cabbage, ¼-inch shreds
  • ½ cup carrots, grated

Instructions 

Grilled Chicken

  • Place one of the chicken pieces in between two plastic sheets or in a large plastic bag. Flatten to an even thickness, about 3/4-inch. Repeat with remaining pieces.
    Alternatively, for pieces about 2-inches thick or larger, cut in half horizontally to create two cutlets, repeat with the remaining pieces.
  • In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper.
  • Evenly sprinkle the dry rub over each piece of chicken, about 1 teaspoon per side.
  • Cook on the Stovetop: Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Evenly grease the surface with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once the oil is hot, working in batches, add the seasoned chicken. Cook until char marks appear, about 4 to 6 minutes. Flip and cook about 3 to 5 minutes. Clean and grease the pan as needed, repeat with the remaining pieces.
    Cook on the Barbecue: Heat grill over medium-high heat. Clean and oil the grill grates. Once hot, add the seasoned chicken. Cover with the lid and cook until char marks appear, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the pieces and cover, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Cook until the internal temperature reaches between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Clean and grease the grates as needed. Rest the cooked chicken for 5 minutes.

Coleslaw

  • In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, honey, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  • In a large bowl, combine green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If not used immediately, cover and refrigerate.

To Serve

  • Use two forks to shred into smaller pieces. Combine shredded chicken with barbecue sauce.
  • Right before serving, grill the buns cut-side down. Heat until toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add pulled chicken to each toasted bottom bun and top with coleslaw.

Recipe Video

Notes

  • Using leftover chicken: Shred leftover chicken pieces or rotisserie chicken into smaller pieces. You will need about 5 cups. Heat in the microwave on high power until hot. Toss with some dry rub and barbecue sauce.
  • Storing: Cover and refrigerate grilled chicken up to 5 days in advance. Wait to toss with the barbecue sauce until ready to serve. Store the coleslaw in an airtight container for up to 1 day in the refrigerator.

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Nutrition Facts
BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Coleslaw
Amount Per Serving
Calories 301 Calories from Fat 54
% Daily Value*
Fat 6g9%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 144mg48%
Sodium 692mg29%
Potassium 213mg6%
Carbohydrates 20g7%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 16g18%
Protein 44g88%
Vitamin A 3300IU66%
Vitamin C 28.9mg35%
Calcium 60mg6%
Iron 0.5mg3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Reader Interactions

11 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You’re so welcome Steve! I hope you and the family are enjoying the summertime 🙂 Miss you guys!

  1. Maria says

    I made this tonight. My husband and I enjoyed the flavors and textures. Will make this again. The coleslaw on it’s own is also really good.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Maria! Thank you so much for making the recipe, I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the chicken sandwich and coleslaw too 🙂

  2. Joel says

    Is it possible to make this on the stove instead of on the grill. I understand that it won’t be the same, however it’s like 10 below zero here and I’m not grilling, but i love this recipe. Thanks.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Joel- Oh man, I feel for you in that cold weather, but I love that you are still craving some BBQ! Yes, I would just saute the chicken breasts in a pan with 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Saute the first side on medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then flip over. Lower the heat to medium and cook until no longer pink, about 4-7 minutes (165 degrees F). Pull the chicken into smaller pieces and you’re ready to go!

  3. Alison says

    This is just what I was looking for. However, 2 pounds of boneless breasts for 4 sandwiches? Thats 1/2 # per sandwich. Those are big sandwiches

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Allison- Feel free to make smaller sandwiches if you prefer 🙂 They make good sliders too!

  4. Teila says

    This is seriously one of the best recipes ever! It remains in our rotation all year long. We just had the chicken tonight with rice and veggies, since it was an “on the fly” night and I didn’t have everything to make the sandwiches. Still AH-MAZING!!! I like to make the chicken keto-friendly by substituting monk fruit sweetener for the brown sugar, I can’t even taste the difference. I also use this spice on bone-in BBQ chicken and it’s fantastic. Favorite buns to use are brioche buns. Highly, highly recommend this recipe.

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