Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

5 from 26 votes
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Slow cooker chicken tacos make for an easy Mexican feast any day of the week. Bone-in chicken breasts simmer in a savory chipotle sauce until fork tender. Once shredded, generously stuff the chicken in lightly charred tortillas with your favorite toppings.

Tray of slow cooker chicken tacos topped with pineapple salsa.

I hate waiting for the widely-celebrated Taco Tuesday to enjoy handheld wraps. At home, I always switch up the protein and topping combinations to make shrimp tacos or ground beef tacos. For this quick and easy recipe, I use the slow cooker to make shredded chicken tacos.

The combination of spices and chiles in the sauce is what makes this recipe unique. Bold flavors shine through when chipotle chilis, coriander, and cumin gradually infuse with the pot of shredded chicken. One common concern is always to prevent the protein from drying out over time. After some tasty experiments, I’ve found that bone-in meat keeps things juicy, adding more flavor to the sauce.

Two bone-in chicken breasts simmering in a slow cooker.

Slow cooker chicken taco ingredients

  • Bone-in chicken breast
  • Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Tomato sauce
  • Minced garlic
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Chile powder
  • Maple syrup

Using a slow cooker allows the ingredients to gently coax out the flavor molecules in the dried spices. The sauce for this recipe is earthy and smokey, with a hint of heat from the taco seasoning, making a rather bland piece of chicken much more delightful.

Shredding chicken breasts with two forks.

Use bone-in chicken

Nobody likes dry chicken. It’s just a fact. In this case, bone-in is better to use than boneless skinless chicken breasts. You’ll be delightfully surprised at how delicious the end product will be.

The bones act like a little insulator and barrier, protecting the lean meat from cooking too quickly and losing surface moisture. It also adds more flavor to the sauce, which is a bonus.

Make a flavorful sauce

I have to mention my secret weapon ingredient for building an excellent Mexican pantry. Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Just a few chopped peppers instantly add a deep smoky flavor. The mixture consists of dried chipotle peppers rehydrated in water, tomato paste, distilled vinegar, oil, and spices.

The combination adds just the right south-of-the-border characteristic to any recipe, like my slow cooker red pork chili. Grab a can and give it a try. It’s a game-changer!

Shredded chicken simmering in seasoned sauce.

Ready to serve

Add the pulled chicken straight back into the tasty sauce, and give it a good stir to toss everything together. You can keep the slow cooker on “warm” until you’re ready to serve, but I bet you won’t be able to wait too long.

I like to serve this shredded chicken taco recipe with either pineapple salsa or mango salsa. The sweet and tart flavors balance the mild spiciness of the chipotle tomato sauce. After loading warm corn tortillas, the filling will burst with flavorful meat and toppings. A squeeze of lime, and you’re all set.

More slow cooker recipes

Family-style tray of chicken tacos on a black platter.

Recipe Science

Warm the spices to intensify the flavors

Dried spices benefit from “blooming” in a small amount of fat, like oil, to dissolve the fat-soluble flavor compounds and disperse them into the sauce. The chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, and chipotles are microwaved with olive oil to warm the mixture quickly. The flavor compounds release into the oil and then can be more efficiently infused into the tomato sauce base.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

Love a meal that practically cooks itself? Making slow cooker chicken tacos is a game changer – juicy, flavorful chicken with minimal effort and endless possibilities for toppings and fillings.
5 from 26 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time2 hours 10 minutes
Servings 12 tacos
Course Entree
Cuisine Mexican

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 cup canned tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • black pepper, as needed for seasoning
  • 2 pounds bone-in half chicken breasts, skin and excess fat removed
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  • 12 tortillas, 6-inch
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges

Instructions 

  • Bloom the Spices – In a microwave-safe bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, chipotle, chili powder, coriander, and cumin, and microwave for 30 seconds.
  • Add to the Slow Cooker – Add the spice mixture, tomato sauce, maple syrup, and salt to the slow cooker, and stir to combine. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the slow cooker, and coat both sides with sauce.
  • Cook the Chicken – Cover and cook on high setting for 2 hours or low setting for 3 to 5 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160°F (71ºC). 
  • Shred the Chicken – Transfer the chicken to a plate, and shred it with two forks. Place it back into the slow cooker and stir to coat. Add in lime juice and stir to combine.
  • To Serve – Fill warm tortillas with about ¼ cup of shredded chicken. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and any additional toppings.

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 3 cups of shredded chicken.
  • Topping Suggestions: Red salsa, guacamole, radish, avocado, cilantro, sour cream.
  • Make Using the Instant Pot: Heat the pot on the saute function. Add the oil. Once hot, add the garlic, chipotle, chili powder, coriander, and cumin, and cook for 30 seconds. Add spice mixture, tomato sauce, maple syrup, and salt, and stir to combine. Add seasoned chicken into the sauce and cook on manual high-pressure setting for 7 minutes. Naturally release for 10 minutes. If the chicken is not fully cooked, add a minute of high pressure for every 5 degrees under the target breast temperature, then quick release.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 12 tacos
Calories 201kcal (10%)Carbohydrates 18g (6%)Protein 18g (36%)Fat 5g (8%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Cholesterol 48mg (16%)Sodium 509mg (21%)Potassium 420mg (12%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 3g (3%)Vitamin A 335IU (7%)Vitamin C 6mg (7%)Calcium 47mg (5%)Iron 1.8mg (10%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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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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16 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Jackie says

    This was a huge hit. Some flavorful and so moist. Did use boneless chicken thighs instead but it was amazing. Will definitely be making this regularly.

  2. Tri says

    Hi Jessica,

    This recipe is a new family favorite. We made it twice in three days. The chicken is so moist and so favorable. What I found amazing is the explosion of flavors in the taco using this recipe. The chicken, pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, shredded carrots, salsa and a squeeze of lime made every bite a pure delight. Thank you for such a fantastic recipe.

  3. Sheila M. says

    My family loved the slow cooker chicken tacos with the pineapple salsa. The spices really gave it great flavor. I thought there would be enough for left overs, but everyone went back for more until it was all gone. Will definitely make this on a regular basis. Thank you Jessica, for a great recipe. I enjoy reading your instructions and science tips too!

  4. Alison says

    These are sooooo good! We absolutely loved your pineapple salsa with them. Jessica, you could put the Texas Torchy’s Tacos out of business with this recipe!

  5. Craig says

    This one is a big hit, Jessica. The spice combination combined with slow cooking makes the chicken moist, tender and very flavorful. Combine it with the salsa of your choice (we used tomatoes, poblano peppers, onion and corn) garnished with the cilantro and lime juice – wonderful! Thanks, Jessica.

  6. Judy says

    Jessica I can already taste the mix of ingredients in this dish and cannot wait to get home to CA to try it.

    I was just on Amazon looking at all the five star reviews of your cookbook and also wondering why the review I did when I first got your lively cookbook is not showing. When I get to go home I will do another on there.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I know your family will love this recipe Judy, and it’s so simple to make. Thank you for adding another review on amazon for my cookbook, you are the best!