Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

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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.

a tray of slow cooker chicken tacos topped with pineapple salsa

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.

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 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.

Shredding chicken breasts with two forks

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!

Shredded chicken simmering in mexican-spiced 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 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.

Family-style tray of chicken tacos on a black platter

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

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.
Pin Print Review
4.39 from 13 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 10 mins
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 

  • 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.

Notes

  • 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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Nutrition Facts
Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
Amount Per Serving
Calories 201 Calories from Fat 45
% Daily Value*
Fat 5g8%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Cholesterol 48mg16%
Sodium 509mg21%
Potassium 420mg12%
Carbohydrates 18g6%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 18g36%
Vitamin A 335IU7%
Vitamin C 6mg7%
Calcium 47mg5%
Iron 1.8mg10%
* 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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14 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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