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What's the Best Way to Cook and Shred Chicken?

What's the Best Way to Cook and Shred Chicken?

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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When you want moist, plump, shredded chicken—I'm thinking about casseroles, soups, chicken salads—try poaching your chicken. When you sauté, grill, or sear, you end up with a crust on the outside; it's delicious, no doubt, but sometimes you just want softer pieces. Shredding the meat is easy once you have nicely cooked chicken. Check out the video to see how it's done, and try our delicious—and freezable—Chicken Enchilada Casserole for an easy dinner tonight and one in the bag for later.


Chopped & Shredded Roasted Chicken - for use in other recipes

No question that the meat I use most often in recipes is chicken breasts in some shape or form. For chicken salad, soups, casseroles, tacos, enchiladas and more, the recipes more often than not call for cooked chopped or shredded chicken. I like to make up a bunch at one time and freeze it. That makes it so quick and easy to throw together numerous future meals. It saves money, too, since chicken is cheaper when purchased in larger quantities.

I'm sharing today what I have found to be the best way to prepare chopped and shredded chicken that retains moisture, tenderness and flavor. With other methods, the chicken often turns out dry, tough, and flavorless--especially after it's chopped and shredded.

First, the chicken needs to get cooked somehow. If I'm going to be serving whole boneless chicken breasts, I prep them using the technique described in my post Preparing Raw Chicken for Perfection. From there, I grill, saute, or bake it, depending on the recipe.

For chopped or shredded chicken, I've tried a number of ways of pre-cooking it. The easiest option is to buy a rotisserie chicken and chop or shred the meat. It is both flavorful and moist. Problem is, these chickens are often loaded with sodium and other flavor enhancers. We've cut way back on salt and mystery ingredients in our kitchen, so I've stopped buying rotisserie chickens for the most part. I've also tried poaching chicken in broth to cook it before shredding or chopping it. The chicken seems to be pretty flavorless that way. To me, anyway.

Then I saw Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network cooking chicken before chopping it for a chicken salad sandwich recipe. She is one of my favorite celebrity chefs, because she uses simple ingredients and techniques with consistently delicious results. Her recipes never fail. Ina Garten used a simple technique of roasting her chicken that I have since adopted. It results in the most flavorful, moist chopped or shredded chicken that I've ever tasted or cooked. And, it's easy, easy, easy. So, with a nod to Ina, here's what I do.

Start with bone-IN, skin-ON chicken breasts. Three reasons: (1) the chicken costs less than the skinless, boneless kind (2) the chicken absorbs a deeper flavor from the bone and skin as it cooks and (3) the chicken remains more moist as it cooks. There is a trace amount of fat from the skin that gets absorbed into the meat, but it is such a small amount and contributes enough flavor and moisture to make it worth it.

Step 1. These are all the ingredients you need: chicken breasts, good olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper.

Step 2. Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil.

Step 3. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use your hands to rub each chicken breast, top and bottom, to distribute the oil and seasonings.

Step 4. Bake at 350 degrees for approx. 35-45 minutes. This roasting process is part of what gives the chicken such good flavor.

Step 5. Use an instant read thermometer to test when they're done. The thickest part of the breast should reach 165 degrees. Don't overcook them!

Step 6. Let them rest for 30 minutes. As they cool, the juices settle into the meat and keep it moist.

Step 7. Remove and discard the skin and bones. This is when you will see for yourself how moist the chicken is. Better steal a taste to test the flavor, too. Yum.

Step 8. Chop or shred the chicken, according to how you'll need it for future recipes. I usually do a combination. I like chopped chicken (1/2" to 3/4" pieces) for chicken salad, and shredded chicken for most other recipes (soup, casseroles, tacos, enchiladas, pulled chicken sandwiches).

Wasn't that easy? And the best part is that this chicken is so moist and flavorful. Let's face it, chicken breasts can be pretty dry and bland. I'm still amazed when I make it this way just how much better it is than any method I've tried in the past.

HOW TO FREEZE THE CHICKEN:

If you won't be using all of the chicken right away, freeze it in Ziploc bags.

Label your bags. Include the quantity in each bag--this makes it easy to pull out what you need for a future recipe. I usually freeze mine in 1 or 2 cup quantities in pint or quart size ziplocs.

Fill the bags. I use one of these handy Baggy Racks to hold the bags open while I fill them.

Squeeze as much air as possible from bags, seal, and flatten the contents to make a thin, even layer of chicken throughout the bag. (This facilitates even thawing and reheating of chicken.) Freeze flat until frozen solid. Then the bags may be easily stacked or stored upright in freezer.

How much chopped or shredded chicken can you get from a chicken breast? It's hard to answer that, because the size of chicken breasts can vary so much. It's more accurate to use weight as a guideline. For the 5 pounds of bone-in chicken breasts that I cooked in these photos, I ended up with 8 cups of chopped and shredded chicken. So, that's a little more than 1-1/2 cups per pound of chicken.

If you use chopped and shredded chicken in recipes as much as I do, I hope you'll give this technique a try. It's so easy, and results in truly delicious chicken.


30 Easy Ideas for Turning Leftover Chicken into Dinner

Anytime you find yourself with leftover chicken, consider it a blessing. You can certainly go for a second round of last night’s dinner, but the wonderful thing about this mild-mannered meat is that it’s so easy to repurpose it into an entirely different meal. It doesn’t matter what cut you have handy: Boneless or bone-in breasts and thighs are all fair game, as is whatever you have leftover from a rotisserie chicken. It also doesn’t matter how you cooked it the first time around. All it takes is a little inspiration.

If you have a whole lot of leftovers, great. But even if all you’ve got is a scant cup of leftover chicken, you’ve still got a lot of options. We’ve got plenty of ideas that will help you stretch your leftover chicken into a brand new meal. Here are 30 leftover chicken recipes to try tonight.


10 Ways to Use Chicken Thighs for Meal Prep

Meal prep is a great way to give yourself the gift of time during the week.

Imagine walking in the door to a fridge full of homemade heat-and-eat meals or ready-to-cook ingredients instead of scrambling to figure out what&aposs for dinner. Preparing ingredients or meal components in advance cuts down on time spent cooking after the busy work day, reduces dinnertime panic, and can support a healthy lifestyle by making nutritious foods more convenient than less-healthy alternatives.

There are a variety of ways to meal prep. One method is to batch-cook a main ingredient in advance-like a whole grain or protein-to be used in multiple meals throughout the week. To help you get started, we&aposre featuring one of our favorite meal prep proteins: chicken thighs. We&aposll share chicken thigh meal prep ideas, easy chicken thigh recipes you can prepare on Sunday, and 10 different ways to use meal prep chicken thighs in dinners all week.

Why We Love Chicken Thighs for Meal Prep

Chicken thighs are a versatile protein option for quick meals. They&aposre perfect for meal prep because they are easy to prepare and stay moist and tender even after reheating. Chicken thighs can be eaten warm or cold, and pair well with a variety of flavors and seasonings. Cooked chicken thighs are delicious when prepared simply and served alongside a cooked whole grain and a vegetable, and there are endless ways to incorporate them into quick meals.

Chicken Thigh Meal Prep Recipes

Chicken thighs can be baked, pan-seared, grilled, and even cooked in the slow cooker. We suggest using one of the following meal-prep recipes to cook a batch (or double batch) of chicken thighs during Sunday meal prep. Then, use the cooked chicken thighs for quick meals throughout the week.

"Just as the title says crispy and tender!Love this recipe and I didn&apost change a thing!Only thing I did do was loosen the skin a little to sprinkle the seasoning right onto the meat.I will make this again and again!Thanks for the recipe." -- Jac75

"I made this for dinner tonight, and it was a huge hit! Even my picky 2-year-old destroyed every last bite :-), My husband could not stop raving about it, and kept telling me how delicious it was while he was eating." -- Marissa Aniel Johnson


BBQ Chicken Pizza

BBQ chicken pizza, just like the kind you get at California Pizza Kitchen, is delicious and easy to make. It comes together in 20 minutes, with pre-made pizza dough, shredded rotisserie chicken, jarred barbecue sauce, cheeses, and red onions. Use a pizza stone for that crispy crust you crave, and top with chopped fresh cilantro for a little freshness.


More Easy Chicken Recipes

  • Here’s another excellent way to cook chicken: Our Perfectly Poached Chicken is soft, tender, and flavorful.
  • These Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas are so flavorful and this shredded chicken is perfect for the filling. We toss chicken with salsa verde, sour cream, garlic and cheese.
  • If you are wondering whether or not you can make this in a slow cooker, you can! Hop over to our Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Recipe to see how easy it is.

Recipe updated, originally posted June 2015. Since posting this in 2015, we have add a recipe video and tweaked the recipe to be more clear. – Adam and Joanne


# 2 – Saute Chicken Cubes in a Skillet

This is another one of our favorite ways to cook chicken to use in a dinner recipe or for a healthy lunch. Place the boneless chicken breasts on a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut chicken into cubes. Heat about 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a skillet. Saute chicken for about 5-7 minutes or until cooked through. Lightly salt and pepper and squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime over the chicken a few times. Also to add flavor, sprinkle a little taco seasoning over chicken while cooking. Get creative and use a few of your favorite spices. This makes a juicy tender chicken that can be used in so many different recipes.


How to Cook and Freeze Chicken Breast


Rinse, trim and then lay chicken breasts in a single layer in large baking dish or roasting pan.

Cover tightly with foil and bake the chicken breast at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and let cool completely with foil still intact. This will ensure moister meat.

Once the chicken is completely cooked, transfer the breasts to another container, cover and place in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Cooling the chicken way down makes chopping it a much simpler task. If you try to chop it up when it’s still warm, your chicken will start to shred* and fall apart.

*Note: If you need shredded chicken for a recipe, this is the ideal time to do it. If you desire to freeze lots of shredded chicken for future meals, then follow these instructions, but in the SLOW COOKER and shred while still warm.

Next, pour the broth from the baking dish through a sieve (to remove particles) and into a glass container. I like to use a big glass measuring cup, but I’ve also poured it directly into mason jars before. Once this cools down, place it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

While in the refrigerator, the excess fat will rise to the top and solidify. Simply scrape the fat from the top and discard. Pour the broth into glass mason jars or the freezer container of your choice. Label and freeze for up to one year.

Be sure to freeze broth in different sizes so you have a variety available. It’s not safe to thaw and refreeze poultry broth, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right amount on hand to avoid waste. You might consider the following:

Ice Cube Trays – each cube = approximately 2 tablespoons

*Perfect size for making soups or boiling pasta

Last, remove the chicken breast from the refrigerator and chop into bite size pieces. Transfer to resealable freezer bags or containers and freeze for 3-4 months.

Now you you’re prepared for anytime a recipe calls for cooked chicken or chicken broth.


Poached chicken can be shredded and used in a variety of applications, including enchiladas, chicken salad, and soup. To poach boneless, skinless chicken breasts, place them in a large skillet and add 1 to 2 cups of water or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook for 9 to 14 minutes until chicken reaches 160 F. You can also poach in the oven by placing chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan. Add lemon slices, peppercorns, or any other spices or herbs for flavoring. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and immediately pour over chicken. Cover and bake at 400 F for 20 to 35 minutes.

Pound the chicken breasts thin or cut them up into bite-sized pieces. Season it with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the chicken to the pan, cooking for 4 to 5 minutes per side until cooked through.


Easy Mexican Shredded Chicken

I’ll mix this into some cooked quinoa and top it with some guacamole. Or I’ll fold it into some cheese and make chicken enchiladas. It would be equally as delicious tossed with some pasta and veggies. Or even thrown onto a pizza. Basically any way you mix it, it’s going to work. That’s what’s so wonderful about something like this. In less than 30 minutes you’re going to have a perfectly cooked protein that you can use for just about anything!

And feel free to use any variety of my salsas! You can mix and match them up and your chicken will just take on the flavor of whatever type of salsa you choose!