Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Outdoor flavor, indoor easy

Here in the US, we’ll be celebrating Memorial Day this weekend. And that means the start of cookout season.

Problem is, the weather forecast says rain in our area. Bummer.

Fortunately, we have the perfect dish for days when the weather gods refuse to cooperate. This slow-cooker BBQ pulled chicken tastes like you cooked it long and slow over an outdoor smoker. But you never need to leave the house.

Most of the cooking is unattended, too, giving you time to do other things. Like chat with your guests over a cocktail. Or two.



Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Recipe: Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Traditional BBQ means slow cooking outdoors over a wood fire (the fire burns at a fairly low heat, so it takes the Q a while to cook). This long cooking dissolves the meat’s inner connective tissues, resulting in tender succulence. As a bonus, the wood smoke adds flavor and aroma.

Using a slow cooker isn’t an “authentic” way to make barbecue (you’re really braising the meat). But who cares when the flavor is excellent? In fact, this dish is so good that we think it rivals meat from an outdoor smoker. And this method works particularly well for chicken.

We’ve used a slow cooker to make BBQ before – see our recipe for Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork. Our chicken recipe was adapted from that one.

We like to use chicken pieces (not a whole chicken) for this dish. And though bone-in meat has a bit more flavor, we opt for boneless – it’s always available in the supermarket, and is very convenient. The best cuts to use are skinless, boneless chicken thighs and/or breasts. We like a mix of the two: Thighs give terrific flavor and are very moist, but the breast meat adds interesting texture.

We use a rub to season the meat. It’s best to apply the rub several hours before you plan to cook the chicken (this allows the flavor of the rub to penetrate the meat). We generally apply rub the day before, then refrigerate the chicken until ready to cook. You can use a commercial rub, or make the one we describe below.

Prep time for this recipe (making the rub and applying it to the chicken) is about 20 minutes. Then the rubbed chicken needs to rest in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) before cooking.

Cooking time is 5 to 6 hours if you set the slow cooker on low (we don’t recommend using the high setting).

Each pound of meat yields about 3 servings. Leftovers keep well for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the rub:
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 2 tablespoons dried chipotle chile powder (can substitute ancho chile powder; it doesn’t have a smoky flavor, but it’s milder than chipotle)
  • 1 tablespoon dried ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder (not onion salt)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
  • 1 tablespoon hickory-smoked salt (may substitute kosher or table salt)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
  • ~1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional, and not to be included in the dry rub; see Step 2 of the Procedure)
For the chicken:
  • ~4 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breasts (we like a mix of the two)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)
Procedure
  1. Prepare the rub (and coat the chicken with it) ahead of time—preferably, the day or evening before you plan to cook the chicken: Combine all the rub ingredients (except liquid smoke) in a mixing bowl, then mix until well blended.
  2. Coat the chicken pieces with the liquid smoke (if using) and then with the rub: Remove the chicken pieces from their packaging and pat them dry. Rub the surface of each piece with liquid smoke (we put a bit of liquid smoke onto the palms of our hands, then massage the chicken). Next, with your hands, pat the rub onto all sides of each chicken piece (you’ll use about half the rub recipe, perhaps a bit less; reserve any unused rub for another purpose). Work the rub into the chicken well, because it will provide most of the smoky BBQ flavor. BTW, it’s best to “unroll” chicken thighs and apply rub to both sides; when you’re finished, roll them up again. (If you haven’t worked with skinless, boneless thighs before, this direction will make sense when you see them.)
  3. Place the prepared chicken pieces in a plastic freezer bag. Seal the bag, then place it in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
  4. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, position a slow cooker on the kitchen counter. The cooker will be plugged in and operating for several hours, so make sure it’s in a place where it will be out of the way.
  5. Remove the freezer bag containing the chicken pieces from the refrigerator, and add the contents to the slow cooker. We generally position the thighs at the bottom of the cooker, and the breasts on top, but it doesn’t matter much. Add the chicken stock and cider vinegar (it won’t cover the chicken, but that’s OK). Add the liquid smoke if using. Cover the slow cooker, turn it on, and set it to low. The chicken will be done in 5 to 6 hours (we usually cook it for 6, which makes for extremely tender chicken).
  6. When the chicken is done, remove it from the slow cooker and place it on a cutting board or a metal sheet pan. (You can discard the cooking liquid at this point, but see Notes before you do so—it’s really flavorful and has a couple of uses). Let the meat cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then shred it with 2 forks. 
  7. Serve the pulled chicken with or without barbecue sauce (see Notes).
Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Notes
  • We like to serve this dish with traditional “cookout” side dishes. Some of our favorites include potato salad, coleslaw, cornbread, and baked beans.
  • You could also pile the pulled chicken onto a bun for a BBQ sandwich. Add some onions or pickles for garnish.
  • There are several brands of slow cookers available. The Crock-Pot brand is probably the best known, but they all work pretty much the same. Just use one big enough to hold all the meat (a 5- or 6-quart size should be sufficient).
  • This recipe calls for liquid smoke to help flavor the meat during the cooking process. Good liquid smoke is a natural product, containing nothing but water and natural smoke concentrate. So don’t be afraid to use it. Do read the label, though—some brands of liquid smoke contain other ingredients, and you may want to avoid those.
  • The rub in this recipe contains both pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) and dried chipotle chile powder (made from smoked and dried jalapeño peppers). The naturally smoky flavor of these ingredients helps flavor the chicken.
  • BTW, the quantities specified for the rub ingredients are flexible. Feel free to add more or less of any ingredient, or omit an ingredient entirely if you wish.
  • Hickory-smoked salt has terrific flavor. But it's often hard to find in grocery stores. If you’d like to try some, you’ll find good information via Google (and in the reviews at Amazon). We bought a pound of hickory-smoked salt, and store it in the freezer to help preserve its aroma. A pound of this stuff will last a long time, BTW. 
  • The recipe for the rub makes more than you’ll use for this dish. You can store the rest in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks. It will keep even longer if you refrigerate or freeze it.
  • When the chicken is finished cooking, we often remove the fat from the cooking liquid and keep the liquid for storing leftover chicken (we just pour the liquid into the same container that we use for the leftover meat—this helps keep it moist). 
  • If you cook and shred the chicken ahead of time, you could also use the cooking liquid for storing it until you’re ready to serve. Just refrigerate the cooked and shredded chicken (covered with the cooking liquid). Then, when you’re ready to serve, empty the contents of the storage container into a large frying pan or Dutch oven, and heat over low stovetop heat. Much of the liquid will evaporate, but it will give the meat even more flavor.
  • You may also want to use some of the cooking liquid for moistening the chicken before serving. The cooking liquid can be quite flavorful—though if you used a great deal of liquid smoke in cooking, you may find the smoke flavor too strong. So taste it first. You may find the liquid flavorful enough that you don’t need barbecue sauce.
  • Having said that, we’ll admit that we can never resist using Q sauce. We recommend our Tangy Barbecue Sauce, but your favorite store-bought sauce will work just fine. 
  • A Carolina-style mustard barbecue sauce would also be ideal with this dish.
Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken

Summer Barbecue Recipe Roundup

“Yumm-ee,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she attacked her pulled chicken. “One of the best dishes you’ve made this year.”

“I didn’t think it was possible to beat our Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork,” I said. “Or our Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork. But this dish may be even more flavorful. Who’d have thought that about chicken?”

“I still think our Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs might be our best Q of all,” said Mrs K R.

“Or if you want really deep beef flavor,” I said, “our Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef Brisket is wonderful. And you can use the leftovers to make BBQ Beef Brisket Chili.”

“Of course, since we’re in St. Louis, we can’t overlook our great local specialty,” said Mrs K R. “Barbecued Pork Steaks."

“Those are classic!” I said. “Particularly when smothered in our Tangy KC-Style Barbecue Sauce.”

“Good thing summer lasts a few months,” said Mrs K R. “We’ll need all that time to test those recipes again.”

“Our research never ceases,” I said. “No summer slacking for us.”

Happy Memorial Day!

You may also enjoy reading about:
Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Pulled Pork
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef Brisket
BBQ Beef Brisket Chili
Barbecued Pork Steaks
Tangy KC-Style Barbecue Sauce
Or check out the index for more recipes

80 comments:

  1. wow this is probably the BEST pulled chicken I have ever seen. Now I am really craving a pulled chicken sandwich!

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    1. Hi Angie, the flavor of this is excellent. And it's SO easy! Winner! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  2. An everyday delicious sandwich that it is also great for Memorial Day.

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    1. Hi Denise, we're having this again for Memorial Day! It's SO good. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I'm more of a meat and vegetables girl like you show, but I have to admit, that sandwich has my mouth watering.

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    1. Hi Laura, we like to use the meat both in sandwiches and just plated with veggies! Thanks for the comment.

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  4. YUM! I have a hankering for one of these beauties now. The pulled chicken looks and sounds tasty.

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    1. Hi Pam, it really is tasty -- outstanding flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Drooling on our keyboard over here!!! John you have outdone your self with a rocking delicious dish for the grilling season.

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    1. Hi Bobbi, this really is drool-worthy. Good stuff! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  6. This is perfect for Memorial Day! Especially if you're expecting rain. Here in Phoenix, it will be in the 100s all weekend, so I'm definitely not going to stand over a BBQ :). Hope you have a great long weekend!

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    1. Hi Kelsie, I wouldn't want to BBQ in that heat either! Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Your flavor selection looks like a winner! And using de-boned chicken makes more room in the slow-cooker, if that's important.

    best...mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Mae, that's a really good rub! And really gives the chicken good flavor. Good point about boneless chicken fitting in the slow cooker better. Thanks for the comment.

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  8. What great flavors John. I am always looking for new recipes for my slow cooker. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

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    1. Hi Gerlinde, this is the perfect recipe for the slow cooker! And the result is better, IMO, than long-cooked chicken using an outdoor smoker (that dries out too much). Thanks for the comment.

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  9. Perfect way to start the grilling season-even if it's not on a grill. Our weather has been a bit flaky, so this would be perfect!

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    1. Hi Abbe, with the wild weather you've been having, this will be just the thing for your Memorial Day. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Sandwiches like this are great this time of year, and I love it when Liquid Smoke is added, and Spanish paprika too with the chicken. I don't know where you live but we're in the Chicago area and the weather is pretty yucky, rainy, dreary, chilly. What happened to sunshine??? Have a great Memorial weekend!

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    1. Hi Pam, we're in St. Louis, and the weather is similar! So we'll be making this on Monday. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. We don't have rain on the agenda, but damp, cold fog also puts a stop to outdoor grilling.
    A slow cooker recipe is the way to go, then there is time to enjoy everyone's company too! A winning recipe.

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    1. Hi Deb, this really is perfect party fare! Easy, and takes so little of your time. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. This is so great, and I imagine the leftovers are wonderful, if there are any! I'm not a huge fan of liquid smoke, maybe because I don't like the smell?

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    1. Hi Mimi, liquid smoke is really strong, so a little goes a long way. Plus if you've ever had the kind with the chemicals in it (the good stuff is nothing but water and concentrated smoke), it has a weird off-flavor and odor to it. Thanks for the comment.

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  13. Can't greet the summer season without the BBQ pulled meat sandwich. Chicken sounds perfect for this. Love to have a bite.

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    1. Hi Holly, you'd enjoy this! Thanks for the comment.

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  14. The weatehr has time to change before your long weekend! It will get nice :-) Funny we just had a long weekend in Canada. I love the idea of pulled chicken instead of pork. A slow cooker is a great way to make it as well.

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    1. Hi Evelyne, really strange weather this year! Love pulled pork, but I think this might be even better. Really surprised me -- but that rub does add amazing flavor. Thanks for the comment.

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  15. An awesome idea for those uncooperative rainy days! Mmm, I especially like the hickory smoked salt and chipotle in there too ~ well done, John!

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    1. Hi Judy, that hickory salt has incredible flavor! Really good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. Ohhh yummy! We're having tons of rain right now but I hope it's gone by Monday. We need a good BBQ but am happy to have this recipe for the bad weather days. Thanks John - great photos!

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    1. Hi Tricia, you'll love this -- its flavor really rivals outdoor Q. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  17. MEMORIAL DAY FOR THE WIN! I do love this holiday - but probably NOT for the right reasons - IE: because of the food, not because I actually really "remember" the past. Er um, but perhaps I should focus on that a bit more this year! After I eat this BBQ pulled chicken ;)

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    1. Hi GiGi, I think most of us think of Memorial Day as the intro to summer (and to outdoor eating!). And this Q is a great way to celebrate that! Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Hi John, greetings from Alston in Cumbria (England's highest and most picturesque village). Loving this recipe... such a gorgeous combination of flavours! x

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    1. Hi Liz, sounds like you're having a wonderful trip! This is wonderful, too. :D Thanks for the comment.

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  19. This looks delicious and I love the sound of your rub, I'll need to give that a try!

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    1. Hi Caroline, that's a really good rub! Took us some time to develop it, but now we use it all the time. Thanks for the comment.

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  20. Slow cooker pulled pork or chicken is one of my favourites, so easy to pull off too (see what I did there?). Your recipe looks wonderful, perfectly cooked. I hope you had a fine Memorial Day even though the weather was unpleasant.

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    1. Hi Eva, yup, saw what you did, and it was good. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  21. Wow John, this pulled chicken looks so tasty and I love the idea of mixing breast and thighs. Great recipe!
    Have a wonderful week ahead :)

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    1. Hi Juliana, isn't this nice? SO good! Thanks for the comment.

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  22. Yum! This is one of my favorites! Absolutely perfect for Memorial day!

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    1. Hi Mary, this really is a good dish for this time of the year, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  23. I saw this recipe yesterday and bought chicken thighs and breast when we drove to town. Can't wait to put it all together in the slow cooker. Thanks for a great meal idea. Happy Memoria day!

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    1. Hi Cheri, bet you'll like this. Enjoy! :-) Thanks for the comment, and Happy Memorial Day!

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  24. If the Mrs. says it's one of your best dishes ever, then I know it is for sure! Gotta try it this holiday weekend. It's a nice change from the usual pork, too.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, this is an outstanding dish! Actually better than a lot of pulled pork we've had. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  25. Rain in the forecast here too. We'll be BBQing inside so this'll come in handy!

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    1. Hi Frank, we end up doing indoor BBQ more often than not because of the weather. But we don't miss outdoor Q with this recipe! Thanks for the comment.

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  26. John, you have me positively drooling with this one! I'd run out and buy some chicken this very minute if I didn't have a headache. (The headache isn't bad enough to keep me from cooking, just driving!)

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    1. Hi Jean, too bad about your headache! Those can be miserable -- hope you're feeling better soon. So you can make this! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  27. I live in an urban loft with no balcony, so I'm always on the lookout for indoor "outdoor" recipes. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Jeff, this recipe is for you! And you'll love it. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  28. John, I love this dish! I've got a slow cooker pork recipe I've planned to post this summer and our recipes are definitely different. But, I will definitely be trying this chicken with your recipe!! Sounds wonderful with all those perfect spices!

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    1. Hi Marcelle, there are several different ways to use a slow cooker to BBQ pork or chicken, but I've really come to like this method. Looking forward to seeing yours! Thanks for the comment.

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  29. This looks amazing, love the idea of being able to just throw it all together in the slow cooker. Our weather has been back and forth. This would be just perfect to ensure not getting rained out!

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    1. Hi Chris, our weather has been very strange this spring, including loads of rain on weekends. So this recipe is a lifesaver! Thanks for the comment.

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  30. This is a very convenient dish. We've had snow last week can you believe that?!! It is really crazy here. I love slow cooker recipes, makes life always easy. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Amira, I heard you had some snow! This is the perfect snow BBQ dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  31. Hope you're having a wonderful Memorial Day! If you are eating this sandwich, I'm sure you're eating well. :) Great seasoning. Bet is bring life to chicken which is something I hardly ever use for a pulled meat sandwich. Great idea!

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    1. Hi MJ, the rub really gives the chicken a ton of flavor! And yes, we did have this today. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  32. I am loving the looks of your bbq pulled chicken! This is perfect now that I am trying to avoid red meat.

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    1. Hi Peachy, you won't miss red meat with this wonderful chicken! It really has a lot of flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  33. Yum! This looks perfect for the memorial day. A delicious Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken. Love it :)

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    1. Hi Ritu, this is really good stuff! Full of flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment .

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  34. Hope you had a good memorial weekend. The bbq pulled chicken looks absolutely mouth-watering and I can't believe it's all done in a slow cooker. I still haven't owned a slow cooker yet but I think I might have to soon. Thanks for the recipe.

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    1. Hi Yi, hard to believe this was done in a slow cooker, isn't it? But the flavor of this is terrific! Thanks for the comment.

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  35. Hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Did it rain as expected? Your dry rub recipe looks really good and want to save it for our next slow cooking. It's so cold today like 55-60F here. We still enjoy cooking indoor. :D

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    1. Hi Nami, we had a brief, really intense thunderstorm, but otherwise a nice day! Made this anyway. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  36. Oh my, doesn't this look good enough to eat?
    Amalia
    xo

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    1. Hi Amalia, definitely good enough to eat. :D Thanks for the comment.

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  37. Mom asked me what I wanted for dinner, I told her Kitchen Riffs slow cooker BBQ pulled chicken. Awh yeah... SO GOOD! Thanks heaps. :) Best bit is there is left overs for lunch tomorrow too.

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    1. Hi Anna, this does make some leftovers! Double fun that way. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  38. This is my kind of sandwich! It looks so so flavorful and delicious!

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    1. Hi Amy, this is such good stuff! We're having it again this weekend. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  39. It looks super delicious. I wish I could take a bite straight through the page. Love it :)

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    1. Hi Ritu, this is just excellent -- we've made it several times recently, and can't get enough of it! Thanks for the comment.

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  40. Simply delicious! I could eat this every day!

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    1. HI Agness, me too! :-) Thanks for the comment.

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