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.
Instant Pot Friendly?
We don’t recommend adapting this recipe for an Instant Pot. The high amount of sugar and ketchup will likely trigger a burn warning in many Instant Pot models.
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.