Many summer barbecue recipes are anything but weeknight friendly. They might require an overnight marinade, heating up the grill, or to be cooked “low and slow.” While they’re almost always worth the extra time and effort, sometimes you want to throw a more spontaneous affair or just channel those vibes on a weeknight, and this recipe is just the right fit.
Most pulled chicken recipes rely on the oven or slow cooker, but this one cuts the time in more than half by cooking the chicken directly in a tangy, homemade barbecue sauce on the stovetop. Here’s everything you need to know to make this easy, tender, weeknight friendly barbecue pulled chicken.
Tips for Shredding Chicken
The most difficult thing about this recipe (seriously!) is shredding the chicken. If you’ve ever shredded chicken before, you know how tedious it can be. In this recipe, we opt to shred the chicken with two forks directly in the pot you cook the chicken in.
The main reason we decided to do this was to avoid making any unnecessary messes. There’s no need to remove the chicken and pull it apart on a cutting board while the juices and barbecue sauce run off onto your counter.
However, if you are a fan of kitchen hacks and would rather save yourself some arm effort, there is another option: using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer with beaters). Simply remove the chicken thighs from the sauce before adding them to the stand mixer or a deep bowl if you’re using a hand mixer. Use the lowest speed of your machine for 30 seconds to 1 minute to shred the chicken before adding back to the sauce.
How and What to Serve with Barbecue Pulled Chicken
One of the most common ways to serve this pulled barbecue chicken is as a sandwich on a nice soft bun (highly recommend this with some pickles, too), not unlike a classic pulled pork sandwich. However, it can also be served as is with a smattering of sides like potato chips or roasted potatoes, your favorite coleslaw, baked or green beans, collard or beet greens, or grilled corn. Just about anything that might be at home at a summer barbecue or picnic would be welcome here, too.
Make Ahead and Freezing
Since this recipe is easy to store and reheat, it’s perfect for preparing ahead if you want to meal prep or just have a quick and easy dinner ready to go in the fridge or freezer. To freeze, transfer the room temperature chicken and sauce to resealable freezer bags, seal and flatten as much as possible before labeling and storing in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Other Methods for Making Barbecue Pulled Chicken
While we opted to cook this chicken on the stovetop, there are many other ways to make barbecue pulled chicken. If you have more time, and prefer a method that’s even more hands-off, one of the below techniques may be better for you.
- Oven baked: Mix the chicken and the sauce ingredients together in an 8×8-inch glass or ceramic baking pan. Transfer to a preheated oven at 300°F and bake for 2 hours, tossing the chicken with tongs halfway through. Increase the heat to 375°F and continue baking for 45 minutes more. Remove and carefully shred the chicken directly in the pan.
- Slow cooker: Mix the chicken and the sauce ingredients together in the slow cooker. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 3 hours on high setting or 6 hours on low. Use two forks to shred the chicken directly in the slow cooker before serving.
If any of the above techniques result in a sauce that’s too thin and liquidy, transfer it to a pot and boil over medium-high heat until it thickens and reduces.
More Weeknight Chicken Recipes to Try
- Microwave Oyakodon (Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl)
- Lemon Pepper Chicken Breasts
- Chicken Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Baked Chicken Meatballs
- Chicken Carbonara
Make the barbecue sauce:
Use a whisk to mix ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, salt and pepper together in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid until well combined.
Add chicken to the barbecue sauce and use tongs to toss the chicken in the sauce until coated. Place the pot over medium heat and let cook, uncovered, until the sauce is simmering. Use the tongs to toss and stir the chicken, then turn the heat down to medium-low and cover partially with the lid; rest the lid on the edge of the pot, leaving at least a 1-inch gap for steam to escape. Let cook for 20 minutes.
Shred the chicken:
Uncover the pot and toss the chicken again. If you squeeze a piece with the tongs, it should just about fall apart. If it doesn’t, cook uncovered for another 5 minutes before testing again. Once it’s very tender, use two forks to carefully shred the chicken directly in the pot. If your pot is too deep, or you’re finding this difficult, you can also take the chicken out of the pot and shred it on a cutting board or in a bowl using a hand mixer with beaters.
Finish and serve:
Once the chicken is shredded, turn the heat up to high and keep cooking until the barbecue sauce is thickened and reduced, about 5-10 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the chicken, not so liquidy that it drips off the chicken. Remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve as desired.
If you have leftover pulled chicken, let it cool to room temperature before transferring to an airtight container and refrigerating for up to 5 days. Remember that acidic sauces (like this homemade barbecue sauce) do not mix well with aluminum foil, so don’t use it here. To reheat, simply pop it into a pot with a little bit of water and heat over medium-low until bubbling and hot all the way through.
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