Learn how to make shredded chicken for meal prep or add extra protein to recipes. A quick sear of the meat adds more flavor to soups, salads, and more.
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Mastering flavorful shredded chicken allows for numerous options and versatility at mealtime. I often make a big batch for meal prep to toss in sauces and add to soups, stews, tacos, enchiladas, and pizzas. Boiling or poaching the chicken is often the traditional cooking method, but it can lack flavor and require a lot of liquid to properly cook the poultry.
Instead, I use a simple two-step process in one pan that takes a fraction of the time. For layers of flavor, the meat is generously seasoned and seared. A golden brown crust ensures tastier shreds. To gently finish cooking, just add a little stock, cover, and let it bathe in the steamy environment. In just 15 minutes, you’ll have tender meat ready to shred.
Shredded chicken, also called pulled chicken, can be prepared with boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs. White meat is leaner, so monitoring of doneness is crucial. The fat in the dark meat adds insurance to prevent it from drying out but requires additional cook time to tenderize the connective tissues. Bone-in adds many flavors, and the bones act as insulators, requiring a more prolonged exposure to heat to cook through. I recommend removing any skin attached, or the surface will not develop a flavorful crust.
For this recipe, I use breasts, about 8 to 10 ounces in size. More liquid and cook time will be needed if using larger pieces, around 11 to 12 ounces. What’s great is you don’t need any slicing or pounding. Just add straight to the pan. If you are using thin-sliced cutlets or don’t have a covered pan, try this recipe for pan-seared stovetop chicken breast instead.
How much shredded meat will the chicken yield?
A good rule of thumb is that every 8 ounces of boneless chicken breast or thighs will yield about 1 cup of cooked shredded chicken. You can easily adjust the recipe yield if you need a smaller amount. If you halve the recipe, use a smaller pan, 8 to 10-inches wide, so the liquid will still cover the bottom of the pan.
How to make shredded chicken
My shredded chicken recipe uses a flavor-enhancing two-step process. First, dry-heat cooking is applied to briefly sear the chicken and develop a golden brown, flavorful crust. Second, the meat cooks with moist heat, using gentle steam which traps moisture. The result is juicy pieces in 15 or fewer minutes! Choose the desired shredding method to break down the meat.
Season the meat
I like to keep the seasoning simple with salt and pepper added to the surface. The sodium helps enhance the poultry’s natural umami taste, so it’s not so bland, and the pepper adds a hint of spice. Garlic powder or onion powder adds a pleasant roasted allium flavor without the astringency or risk of burning like fresh.
You can apply dried herbs and seasonings based on the cuisine the meat will be used for, like Italian seasoning, taco seasoning, or even let it soak in a chicken marinade if you have more time. Most often, you will coat the shreds in a sauce, or it will be used as an ingredient for something like enchiladas, so you don’t need to overdo it.
Sear the surface
Use a large 12-inch skillet for cooking the chicken. Cast iron, stainless steel, or a wide dutch oven with a lid is ideal. Sear the pieces in hot olive oil over medium-high heat. This process will kickstart the browning, developing hundreds of new flavors and aromas due to Maillard browning.
Creating a flavorful crust takes about 3 minutes. Flip the chicken over to brown the other side for about 1 minute. The goal is not to thoroughly cook the meat. Instead, we will finish the chicken using moist-heat cooking.
Steam to finish
Steaming with a small amount of liquid to just cover the bottom of the pan will gently finish the cooking process and keep the meat juicy. Using medium heat with a covered pan will create a steamy environment, keeping the pieces moist. I like to add unsalted chicken stock or broth to control the sodium level. The concentrated juice is made with bones or chicken meat, vegetables, and aromatics to enhance the flavor.
Water is a suitable swap if you don’t have chicken broth or stock in your pantry. If you want more aromatics, add herbs like sprigs of thyme or rosemary or spices like peppercorn to the cooking liquid. Let it cook until the chicken reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 7 to 9 minutes. Save some liquid to season the meat, or use it for storage to moisten the texture.
Rest the meat
It’s essential to let the cooked chicken rest on a cutting board or clean plate. Shredding too early will cause the delicious juices to run out. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes. The pieces will still be warm, which is easier to shred because the meat is softer.
When chilled, the muscle fibers contract, firming up and making it harder to break apart. If you plan to break up the pieces with your hands, let it cool longer to prevent burned fingertips.
How to shred chicken
Once the chicken has rested, you have various options. For shredded pieces, pull apart with the grain, where the muscle fibers naturally run in lines. They should be small bite-sized pieces. Big chunks will be hard to chew since you’re not cutting against the grain.
Ways to shred include using fingers, two forks, a hand mixer, a stand mixer, a food processor, and a blender. Check out my step-by-step guide for how to shred chicken for a full tutorial of the options. You can use these tips if you have leftover rotisserie chicken that you want to transform into a new delicious dish.
Recipes using shredded chicken
- Chicken enchiladas
- Chicken salad sandwich
- Chicken nachos
- Buffalo chicken pizza
- Chicken noodle soup
- BBQ chicken sandwiches
- Chicken vegetable soup
- Lemon chicken orzo soup
- Chicken and rice soup
- Chicken tacos
- Chicken tortilla soup
- White bean chicken chili
Sauce to serve with shredded chicken
- Enchilada sauce
- Chimichurri sauce
- Buffalo sauce
- Alfredo sauce
- Marinara sauce
- Barbecue sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
Both boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs work great for shredding. White meat will be leaner than dark meat, which will have more rendered fat that contributes extra flavor. Bone-in chicken can be cooked but must be pulled off the bone, increasing the prep time. However, the bones do add flavor to the meat.
Shredded chicken and pulled chicken are terms often used synonymously. It describes meat cooked through until tender, then “pulled” or “shredded” along the meat’s grain. The bite-sized pieces are perfect for sandwiches, wraps, salads, pizza, soups, chilis, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, or tossed with a sauce like barbecue or buffalo.
For a small batch, using your hands is the easiest. However, a fork will work better if the chicken is still hot but takes a few extra minutes. The paddle attachment on a stand or hand mixer will shred chicken the fastest and is ideal for cold or hot pieces. It’s the best method if you have a large batch to break down.
The benefit of searing and steaming chicken
Searing for a few minutes creates a flavorful crust, then steaming in a delicious liquid infuses more flavor into the meat and keeps the texture juicy. This two-step method is similar to using a multi-cooker like an Instant Pot to brown, then pressure-cook the meat.
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How to Make Shredded Chicken
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, 8 to 10 ounces each
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ⅔ cup unsalted chicken stock, broth, or water, more as needed
- Season the Surface – Thoroughly dry the chicken breasts with a paper towel. Evenly season each side with salt and pepper.
- Sear the Chicken – Heat a large 12-inch skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Once hot and shimmering, carefully add the chicken to the pan. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and sear the other side for 1 minute.
- Steam the Chicken – Reduce the heat to medium and add the chicken stock. Cover and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 7 to 9 minutes, depending on the thickness. If more cook time is needed or the liquid starts to evaporate, add ⅓ cup more chicken stock to generate additional steam.
- Let it Rest – Remove the chicken from the pan and transfer it to a clean plate or cutting board. Rest for at least 10 minutes to let the moisture redistribute and cool slightly, making it easier to handle. Any pan juices can be used to drizzle over the shredded chicken.
- Shred into Pieces – Break the chicken into smaller pieces, using your hands, two forks, or a mixer to shred it into the desired size.
- Recipe Yield: About 4 cups shredded chicken
- Serving Size: ½ cup
- Using a Smaller Pan: For an 8-inch pan, add ⅓ cup water. For a 10-inch pan, use ⅔ cup water.
- Using Smaller Pieces: Check for the doneness of thinly sliced pieces after 5 minutes of steaming.
- Using Larger Pieces: Chicken over 10 ounces in weight will need longer cooking time. Add ⅓ cup extra stock or water if you see the liquid evaporate towards the end of cooking.
- Storing: Store cooled chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
- Reheating: Cover and microwave in 15 to 30-second increments until hot. Alternatively, reheat on the stovetop in a skillet over medium-low heat. If desired, sprinkle on chicken stock or water to prevent dryness.
- Freezing: Place in a resealable plastic bag for up to 4 months. If desired, make smaller 1-cup portions for 8-ounce servings. Defrost when ready to use.
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