Easy and tasty, great for tacos, burritos, and enchiladas
Yearning for some spicy Mexican, but don’t want to heat up the kitchen during those long summer months? Just plug in the slow cooker – it’s a cool way to make hot Mexican dishes.
This recipe for shredded chicken is easy, tasty, and versatile. You might call it Mexcellent.
Recipe: Slow-Cooker Mexican Shredded Chicken
You can make Mexican shredded chicken on the stovetop or in the oven if you wish (we describe how in the Notes). But we think the slow-cooker method is easier and more flavorful. And during hot summer months, it’s the only method we want to use.
This recipe is simple, but it requires some lead time. The day before we want to cook the chicken, we start by preparing a Mexican-style spice rub. We coat the chicken pieces with that, then let them rest in the fridge overnight.
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes. Cooking time is 5 to 6 hours, almost totally unattended.
Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container. Or you can freeze them for a month or longer.
You can scarf down this dish as-is, of course. But we generally use Mexican shredded chicken to prepare tacos, enchiladas, burritos, or other Mexican-style dishes.
For the spice rub:
- 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder (can substitute a spicier chile powder if you wish; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- ~2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts (see Notes)
- ~½ the batch of spice rub (or to taste)
- 1 medium onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers (to taste; optional)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chipotle chile purée (to taste, and optional; we suggest using a 7-ounce can of chipotles to make the purée, then storing the leftover purée for later use; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- Make the spice rub: Combine the ancho chile powder, cumin, coriander, and oregano in a small mixing bowl. (You will probably end up with more spice rub than you need for this recipe; reserve the rest for another use.)
- Coat each piece of chicken thoroughly with the spice rub. Place the chicken pieces in a sealed freezer bag, then refrigerate them overnight.
- When you’re ready to cook the chicken: Place a slow cooker on the kitchen counter (it will need to operate for several hours, so place it in a position that’s out of the way).
- Peel the onion and cut it into dice of about ½ inch. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and mince it finely or slice thinly. Set aside.
- Wash and stem the jalapeño pepper(s), if using. Cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise, then use a spoon to remove the seeds and white membrane. Dice the jalapeño finely. Set aside. Then wash your hands to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
- If using the chipotle chile purée: Pour a 7-ounce can of chipotle chilies (including their accompanying sauce) into a mini food processor. Pulse the chipotles until they’re puréed. Set aside 2 to 3 tablespoons of the purée (then refrigerate the remainder in an airtight container for later use).
- Set a frying pan over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the cooking oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer; about 15 seconds), add the chopped onion, garlic, and jalapeño, plus the 2 to 3 tablespoons of chipotle purée. Season to taste with salt (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us). Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion is starting to become translucent. Add the diced tomatoes, then cook for another 5 minutes.
- Scrape the contents of the frying pan into the slow cooker. Remove the chicken pieces from the refrigerator and add them to the slow cooker. Turn the cooker to the low setting, then cook for 5 to 6 hours (until the chicken is tender enough for your taste).
- Remove the chicken pieces from the slow cooker and place them on a sheet pan or a large plate. Let the chicken cool for about 10 minutes, then shred it with 2 forks.
- Use the liquid that’s left in the slow cooker: Skim off as much fat as you can from the liquid, then use as much as you wish to moisten the chicken (making sure to mix in some of the diced onions and tomatoes). We recommend using at least a cup of liquid, but use more if you prefer a saucy chicken.
- Use the cooked, shredded chicken in tacos, enchiladas, or other Mexican dishes of your choice.
- We like to use chicken thighs for this dish – they have more flavor. But chicken breasts work too.
- We sometimes prepare this shredded chicken ahead of time. In that case, we place the shredded chicken in a food-storage bowl, cover it with cooking liquid (from Step 11), then seal the bowl and refrigerate it until ready to use.
- If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to let the rubbed chicken pieces sit in the refrigerator overnight, you could add about 3 tablespoons of spice rub to the onion mixture as you’re cooking (Step 8). The chicken won’t be as flavorful, but it’ll still be pretty good.
- We like to use ancho chile powder in the rub because it has good flavor and color, and isn’t overly hot. But you can substitute a spicier chile powder if you wish. Chipotle chile powder has much more heat and lots of flavor.
- Don’t want to bother with preparing the spice rub? You could substitute prepared chili powder. (Just a reminder: Chili – with an i – powder is made from powdered chilies mixed with other spices like cumin, coriander, oregano, and salt. Lots of salt.) If you go this route, we suggest using about 3 tablespoons of chili powder.
- Speaking of salt, we use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always salt to your taste, not ours.
- BTW we suggest using about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in Step 8. That’s about twice the amount we usually recommend for sautéing onions. Why use more in this dish? Because we didn’t add salt to the spice rub, so you’ll need a bit more since you’ll be seasoning both the onions and the chicken pieces.
- In the US, canned chipotle chilies tend to be sold in 7-ounce containers (most grocery stores carry them in their Mexican food sections). The canned chilies are packed in adobo sauce, which has a tasty vinegar base.
- Don’t want to use a slow cooker? You can make this dish on the stovetop, or start it on the stovetop and finish it in the oven. If going this route: Sauté the onion mixture (Step 8) in a Dutch oven that’s large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the chicken pieces and 1 to 2 cups of water, then simmer on top of a stove (or in a 300 degree F oven) for 1½ to 2 hours, until the chicken is tender (you’ll need to check from time to time to make sure the liquid in the cooking pot doesn’t fully evaporate).
- We like to use this Mexican shredded chicken for tacos (and that’s what we used this batch for – see pictures). We prefer to make Soft Tacos, but you could make Hard-Shell Tacos if you prefer. We like to add both jalapeño and chopped sweet bell peppers to our tacos, as well as cilantro and chopped tomatoes. Grated cheese would be nice, too, and maybe some chopped onions.
- This shredded chicken also works well in any kind of Mexican dish where you’d use beef or pork, such as Enchiladas or Taco Salad. It would be great in burritos, nachos, or tortilla soup too (we owe you recipes for those last three.)
Taco Walk on the Wild Side
“Yum, glad you didn’t chicken out on the spices,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Love me some Mexican heat.”
“Watch me exercise my biceps,” I said, hoisting a taco.
“Whoa, macho man,” said Mrs K R. “I can see you’re really into fitness.”
“Yeah, I’m fitness whole taco into my mouth,” I said.
“Careful, that chicken may come home to roost on your midsection,” said Mrs K R. “You could run afowl of the bathroom scale.”
True. But I don’t want to taco ‘bout it.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Homemade Corn Tortillas
Mexican Charro Beans
Salsa and Picante Sauce
Mexican-Style Pork Carnitas
Carnitas in Adobo Sauce
Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Or check out the index for more
Hahaha! I'm totally going to start using "Mexcellent." Mexican food is my favorite so this looks delish!
Hi Kelsie, we love Mexican food too! It really is Mexcellent. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This sounds delicious, John! I'm betting that this recipe would work well in an Instant Pot too, reducing the cooking time.
Hi Terry, we don't have an Instant Pot, but this would be a perfect recipe for one! Great idea. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I am bookmarking this recipe and am going to use the term Mexcellent also
Yum! Looks and sounds wonderful.
Hi Anne, Mexcellent recipes kinda deserve bookmarking, don't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, it's a great dish -- terrific flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I LOVE my slow cooker. This looks so GOOD, John.
Hi Angie, we don't use our slow cooker nearly often enough! It's a lifesaver starting around this time of the year. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This recipe could be a lesson to anyone who says they find slow-cooker food too bland. The key is not only the spice, but also the pre-cooking step where you fry the onions. I think the critics are people who just throw everything in and then over cook it. Also, you didn’t mention it, but bones add an amazing amount of flavor to a dish like this. I don’t need to follow your recipe to know how delicious it must be (but I wish I had followed it for dinner tonight!)
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, good point about needing to do some actual "cooking" to develop flavor when using a slow cooker. You don't need to do a lot, but it can pay off in much better flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Adding chicken tacos and enchiladas to our upcoming menus! Your shredded chicken will be the perfect filling!!!
Hi Liz, chicken is wonderful in tacos and enchiladas. Those are some of our favorite dishes. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Every night is a good night for taco Tuesday! Seriously when like is crazy busy our slow cooker is a true friend that never disappoints. Hope you are doing well. Take care
Hi Bobbi, yup taco Tuesday should be every single day. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Mexcellent indeed! What a Lovely and stress free way to create a wholesome and tasty Mexican shredded chicken. This is a great ode, thanks John 🙂
Hi Merryn, easy and tasty, what not to like? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Always appreciate a Mexican-style recipe as chillies, especially some you use, are not so common in recipes here. Have a smallish kitchen and live mostly alone - so have never bothered with a slow0-cooker: when one works from home, about 5-6 metres from the kitchen door, the tantalizing day-long aromas emanating from thereabouts make waiting for dinner very enticing . . .
Hi Eha, we don't actually use our slow cooker all that often, but I really like it for dishes like this -- particularly during warm weather (not something you're facing at the moment!). But you can get the same flavor using the stove-top or oven, and in less time. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I really like this John, I am going to put chicken thighs on my Costco list. Mexellent!
Hi Gerlinde, this dish really has quite nice flavor. And there's so much you can do with it! Thanks for the comment.
Mexcellent ... love it :D Love this recipe too - so versatile!
Hi Laura, :-) This really is a super dish! Thanks for the comment.
mm yum mexican ... does your blog look different or am i imagining it? :-) cheers sherry
Oh yum, I love meals like this one,tge chicken looks so good☺☺
I do tend to use my slow cooker in the hotter months of the summer. The rest of the year it tends to collect dust. Great recipe!
Hi Sherry, blog should look the same -- we haven't made any changes to it (although come to think about it a few weeks ago we removed embedded comments and went to the "pop-up" commenting -- we were losing comments and read that this comment format plays nicer with more operating systems than the embedded form). Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalia, this makes a LOT so you'll probably have some leftovers. A good thing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dahn, it's really rare for us to use the slow cooker any time of the year from about now to maybe Labor Day. :-) But when it's hot, it's nice not to have to heat up the kitchen. Thanks for the comment.
What a great way to enjoy chicken! Any leftovers would make a great addition to a tossed green salad.
Hi Deb, we like to use the leftovers in a salad, too! Really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I can think of so many uses for this chicken! Great for summer!
THIS recipe looks like it would make for some PHENOMENAL chicken!! I must try all these seasonings with chicken the next time I make some :D
Hi Ashley, lotta uses! All of them good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi GiGi, you'll like! Those spices have SO much flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love anything spicy- this included.I suppose you could also substitute pork shoulder to make some pulled pork!
Hi Fran, we actually have a recipe for slow cooker BBQ pulled pork (chicken, too). It's excellent! :-) And of course you could make Mexican shredded pork in the slow cooker, too. Thanks for the comment.
This chicken looks so super flavorful and really delicious!!
Hi Amy, it has wonderful flavor. Wonderful. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Perfect for Memorial Day!
Woah! The chicken rub and cooking ingredients are making my mouth water. I can think of many ways to eat the chicken -- including just in a bowl with a fork. Love the tacos, with all of the added fresh produce. I'm in!
Hi Denise, yup! Particularly if it rains and we can't grill. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Valentina, trust me, there was a lot of "tasting" done by the cook after this was made, and before we made it into tacos. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, this chicken looks fabulous and would be perfect for all my favorite Mexican dishes. I love how tender and full of flavor the chicken gets in the slow cooker.
Hi Kelly, this is SO tender -- falling apart. And delish! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Love this slow cooker version. I have always done something overnight in the oven but I like this better! Now I just need the slow cooker! Perfect stuff to always have in the fridge!
Hi Abbe, I wouldn't rush out a buy a slow cooker, but if you have one, this actually might produce better chicken than the oven method (my usual, too). Thanks for the comment.
Mexcellent is right! Thanks for the recipe.
Hi Mimi, we like Mexcellent. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a great recipe John and one my family will love. I especially like this slow cooker method insuring the chicken is super tender and flavorful.
Hi Vicki, we like recipe we can kinda forget about while the slow cooker does its stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I think I could easily eat half a dozen of these tacos! Especially if accompanied by a frosty margarita. ;)
Hi Carolyn, tacos always call out for margaritas, don't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.
I am a huge fan of Mexican shredded chicken. Can’t wait to try it. Your recipe looks exactly look the way I have had.
Hi Balvinder, Mexican-anything is pretty good in our book! We love it! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I was looking for a good Mexican chicken dish and this might be the one. Do you think I can use chipotle in adobo sauce instead of chipotle puree? My Mexican food loving husband will love this.
Hi Holly, chipotle in adobo sauce will be fine. In fact that's what we used to make our puree! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I feel a taco coming on, John! Speaking of tacos, I just got back from Santiago de Chile, and discovered that the term “tacos“ there is slang for a traffic jam!
Hi David, love that taco is slang for traffic jam! Fun fact. We've not been to Santiago de Chile -- would love to go sometime. Trust you had a wonderful time! Thanks for the ocmment.
I need to move away from just doing shredded pork. You chicken looks fabulous and much easier. I can see it stuffed in a taco with a variety of toppings.
Hi MJ, shredded pork is pretty hard to resist! But this is a worthy substitute. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now I'm hungry.
Hi R, make this and you won't be. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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