Shredded meat -- beef, pork or chicken -- is one of the most versatile dinner elements you can imagine. Cook up a few pounds of shredded pork and freeze it, then dole it out for weeknight meals. Or make some shredded beef and serve a crowd. Today, let's talk chicken: simple, inexpensive and relatively quick, chicken has some advantages over the heavier beef and pork. Here's how to make a batch of tender and delicious pulled chicken in the oven -- or your slow cooker!
Pulled chicken is just as easy as its beef and pork counterparts, but it takes less time and is lighter in fat and calories (if you pay attention to that sort of thing!).
I feel, though, that there is one key element to making good barbecue sauce chicken, whether it's in the oven or the slow cooker: Use dark meat. Chicken breasts don't have enough fat or tenderness to get soft while braising; they just aren't going to fall apart into soft threads the way a slightly fattier meat will. I like to use mostly boneless skinless chicken thighs, which aren't as dark as legs, but offer a light yet succulent texture. I do mix in a breast or too as well, but I would never use them for more than 25 percent to 30 percent of the total meat.
You can also opt to use bone-in chicken, but for me the whole point of this dish is for it to be extremely easy and hands-off, and the extra work of skinning the chicken or working with the bones isn't worth it.
After that, it's all easy! Here's a very basic, simple recipe or set of instructions for making barbecue sauce pulled chicken.
Barbecue Shredded Chicken
Serves 8 to 10.
3 to 4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, or a mix of thighs and breasts
1 large onion, diced
2 (or more) cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 (1 1/2 cups) ounces barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade, plus more for serving
Heat the oven to 325 F. Remove the chicken from its packaging and pat it dry.
In a Dutch oven or heavy pot (with a lid), heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes or until quite soft. Add the smoked paprka and stir. Add the chicken piece by piece, stirring to mix well with the onion. Stir in the salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Pour in the barbecue sauce and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat.
Cover the pot with a heavy lid and put in the oven. Bake, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the chicken is extremely tender. Remove from the oven and use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken to a large bowl. Use two forks to shred the chicken finely.
Meanwhile, while you're shredding the chicken, put the sauce, uncovered, back on the stove over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid in the pan to about half of its volume. Pour this thickened sauce over the chicken and stir.
Serve with buns, slaw, avocado and extra barbecue sauce on the side.
Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Slow Cooker Instructions:
Follow the recipe as written above, but instead of putting the chicken and sauce in the oven, pour it all into a slow cooker. Cook for 5 to 7 hours on LOW. If desired, you can lift out the chicken and reduce the sauce in a separate pan on the stovetop, but this may not be necessary; it simply depends on your preference.
(Faith Durand is managing editor of TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)