Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Taco Meat

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

So, what’s your favorite burrito filling? While I’m sometimes tempted towards chile verde or pulled pork, I usually pick the spicy shredded chicken.

No need to go out for this though, it’s easy to make at home, especially with a slow cooker! 10 minutes prep, slow cook for hours, then shred with a couple of forks. Perfect for tacos, burritos, tostadas, tamales, or even a taco salad.

There are three elements to perfect shredded chicken—the chicken, the rub, and the sweetness. For the chicken we use skinless chicken thighs because they have more internal fat, more flavor, and they hold up better to long slow cooking than breasts.

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Meat

For the rub we are using chili powder, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, onion and garlic powder, and salt. Spices vary by brand and age so you may need to experiment to get the right mix for you.

The “secret sauce” of this shredded chicken recipe is the addition of pineapple juice. Not only does pineapple juice add sweetness (needed for balance of flavors), it helps tenderize the chicken, making it even easier to shred. Pineapple is the essential ingredient in “tacos al pastor”, it works great with this shredded chicken.

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Taco Meat

Finally, it always helps to have an endorsement from an unsuspecting guest. My father dropped by for a taste and declared that it was excellent pulled pork. When I pointed out that it was indeed chicken, he couldn’t have been more surprised!

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Taco Meat Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 3 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8

We're using boneless chicken thighs because they're easier to shred, and you don't end up with stray bits of hard cartilage in your shredded chicken. If you use bone-in chicken thighs, increase the amount by 1/4 pound and once the meat is done, cut away the bones before shredding the meat.

I recommend not removing the excess fat that comes with skinless chicken thighs. You'll need it to help keep the chicken from drying out and to help make it more flavorful. Please do use skinless thighs, otherwise you'll have way too much fat.

If the shredded chicken is a bit liquidy, don't worry. The chicken will absorb back more of the liquid as it sits, especially if you make ahead and chill.

Ingredients

The rub:

  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled fine between your hands
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice (can sub a scant pinch of ground cloves)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional, add more or less depending on how much heat you want)

The chicken:

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (do not remove excess fat)
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) pineapple juice
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste

The rest:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Finely shredded cabbage
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Chopped avocado
  • Cilantro
  • Lime wedges

Method

1 Coat chicken with rub, place in slow cooker: Whisk the rub ingredients together in a bowl. Dredge the boneless skinless chicken thighs in the rub. Place the chicken thighs in a slow cooker.

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2 Add pineapple juice, tomato paste: Pour the pineapple juice over the chicken. Add the tomato paste to the juice.

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3 Cover and slow cook: Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 3 hours on high setting or 6 hours on low.

4 Shred chicken meat with forks: When the chicken is done, it should be fork tender. Use two forks to shred the meat completely in the slow cooker bowl.

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Use the taco meat with heated and softened corn tortillas, sprinkle with lime juice, adding garnishes of finely shredded cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, avocado, and cilantro.

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Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken

Showing 4 of 55 Comments

  • Kate

    Another amazing recipe! I used chicken breasts because that’s what I had in the refrigerator … and it was delicious! Thank you, Elise!

  • Mike

    I have friends over for Game of Thrones on Sundays and we each take turns cooking food. I made this last week and it was amazing! I also threw a couple of jalepenos in the slow cooker to add some spice.

    Instead of your toppings I went with homemade guac, lettuce, and cheese…but I will definitely try yours next time :). Thanks again for the recipe!!

  • Kgirl

    This was the easiest dish to make for a taco night. Everyone liked it and requested the recipe. I drained a can of crushed pineapple to get the needed juice instead of buying pineapple juice. The can yielded about 7 oz of juice.m

  • Chris

    Love this recipe and have been using it for months. Lately, I have been adding a can of mild green chillies and I replace the tomato paste with chipotle sauce. Adds a nice smokey flavor and not much heat.

  • Charles

    Would it be a good idea to sear the chicken first? To get a bit of browning to add flavor? Or is that a waste of time?

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