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.
I hate to wait around for the widely-celebrated Taco Tuesday to enjoy handheld wraps. At home, I switch up the protein and topping combinations all the time. For these shredded chicken tacos I use the slow cooker to make preparation a breeze. The tortillas can’t pack enough of the chicken and salsa, be prepared to get messy. Each bite will be worth it!
The combination of spices and chiles of the sauce are what makes this recipe special. Bold flavors shine through when chipotle chilis, coriander, and cumin gradually infuse together with the chicken. One common concern is always to prevent the protein from drying out over time. After some tasty experiments, I’ve found that using bone-in meat keeps things juicy, and adds more flavor to the sauce.
Slow cooker chicken taco ingredients
- Bone-in chicken breast
- Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Minced garlic
- Chile powder
- Maple syrup
Using a slow cooker allows the ingredients to coax out the flavor molecules in the dried spices gently over time. The sauce for this recipe is earthy, smokey, with a hint of heat, making a rather bland piece of chicken much more delightful.
Use bone-in chicken
Nobody likes dry chicken. It’s just a fact. Use bone-in half chicken breasts with the skin removed. You’ll be delightfully surprised 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.
I have to mention my secret weapon ingredient for building a good Mexican pantry. Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I find that just a few chopped peppers instantly add a deep smoky flavor. The mixture consists of dried chipotle peppers that have been 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 New Mexican red pork chili. Grab a can and give it a try, it’s a game changer!
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 these chicken tacos with fresh pineapple salsa. The sweet and tart flavors balance the mild spiciness of the chipotle tomato sauce. After loading warm tortillas, the filling will be bursting with flavorful meat and toppings. A squeeze of lime and you’re all set.
More slow cooker recipes
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. The result, bold and memorable flavors in each taco.
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Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
- 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
- In a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl combine olive oil, garlic, chipotle, chili powder, coriander, and cumin, microwave for 30 seconds.
- Add spice mixture, tomato sauce, maple syrup, and salt to the slow cooker, stir to combine.
- Season chicken with salt and pepper, add to slow cooker and coat both sides with sauce.
- 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).
- Transfer chicken to a plate, shred with two forks and place back into the sauce, stir to coat.
- Add in lime juice and stir to combine.
- Warm the tortillas and fill them with about ¼ cup of shredded chicken.
- Garnish tacos with cilantro, serve with limes and any additional toppings.
- Recipe Yield: 3 cups of shredded chicken.
- Topping Suggestions: Pineapple salsa, 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, cook for 30 seconds. Add spice mixture, tomato sauce, maple syrup, and salt, 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 1-minute high pressure for every 5 degrees under the target breast temperature, then quick release.
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