This All-Purpose Shredded BBQ Chicken is an Instant Summer Classic!
Living in cold & snowy Minnesota, I ALWAYS appreciate the arrival of summer. There’s nothing better than that first feeling of warm sunshine, sliding on my trusty ol’ Birkenstocks, &, of course, shifting gears to summer cooking.
BBQ chicken is one of my all-time favorite summer staple recipes. Juicy, smoky, & totally delicious, it’s one of those classic & super simple crowd-pleasers. While we’ve already shared our Best-Ever Grilled BBQ Chicken recipe here on PWWB, this shredded BBQ chicken is another one of my absolute go-tos. All that to say, I’m so excited to share it with you just in time to enjoy all summer long!
This quick BBQ chicken dusts boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs – your pick! – with an easy dry spice rub before quickly searing & gently baking in a tangy BBQ sauce. The resulting BBQ chicken is super juicy, tender, & SO flavorful. Plus, it couldn’t be easier to make! Just shred it up & serve it an infinite number of ways from tacos to sandwiches to bowls. This is a recipe you’ll come back to over & over for everything from easy weeknight meals to summer gatherings, cabin weekends, game day eats, & more.
Shredded BBQ Chicken Recipe Highlights
This BBQ chicken recipe will be your new go-to because it is…
- EASY TO MAKE. This quick & easy BBQ chicken recipe cooks in one pot in 30 minutes or less – & most of the prep time is totally hands-off! The perfect simple recipe for lazy summer days.
- ALWAYS A HIT. It’s hard to resist juicy, smoky, & seriously flavorful BBQ chicken. Always a crowd-pleaser & great for all occasions – cabin weekends, summer cookouts, weeknight meal prep, game day, & more!
- INFINITELY VERSATILE. Enjoy pulled BBQ chicken on sliders, tacos, pizza, or nachos at festive summer gatherings or chill weeknights at home. You’ll never run out of ways to use this recipe!
A total summer staple! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make this Quick & Easy Shredded BBQ Chicken, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Key Ingredients for Simple BBQ Chicken
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
This shredded BBQ chicken recipe has 3 key components:
- Chicken – I have a strong preference for chicken thighs because they’re the tastiest, most flavorful & juicy, but you can also use chicken breasts if you prefer. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance!
- The PWWB BBQ Dry Rub – A blend of staple spices like chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, mustard powder, onion powder, & smoked paprika combined with a little bit of brown sugar creates the easiest & most delicious BBQ chicken dry rub. We use it ALL the time!
- BBQ Sauce – While you can make your own BBQ sauce from scratch, store-bought is just fine here. There are so many amazing BBQ sauces available these days, & you can’t beat the convenience. Use your fave (these are my go-to!) & take it up a tangy-smoky notch with some apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, & liquid smoke.
The PWWB BBQ Dry Rub
This BBQ chicken dry rub is one of my favorite spice blends to make at home. I use for just about everything. (You may recognize it from our Must-Have BBQ Pork or our Best-Ever Grilled BBQ Chicken!) It’s made entirely with pantry staple ingredients, it comes together quickly, & it has the perfect balance of spice, smoke, & sweetness. An all-purpose dry rub you’ll turn to time & time again!
Making the BBQ chicken spice rub is as simple as mixing everything together in a bowl: spices like chili powder, smoked paprika, & cumin create rich smokiness, while garlic powder, onion powder, & mustard powder provide nice aromatic flavor & the littlest bit of brown sugar adds the perfect final kiss of sweetness.
BBQ Dry Rub Tip! ⇢ Be sure to prep a double or triple batch of this BBQ dry rub. It’s great on grilled or shredded BBQ chicken, of course, but it’s also awesome on steaks, ribs, pork, & burgers. Having this spice blend on hand makes it super easy to season lots of different BBQ-style meats (or veggies!).
How to Prepare Shredded BBQ Chicken (+ A Life-Changing Shredded Chicken Trick!)
This shredded BBQ chicken recipe is SO easy to prepare. There are 4 key steps involved: season it, brown it, roast it, & shred it. It all takes 30 minutes, tops!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Season the chicken. Take the homemade BBQ dry rub & liberally season the chicken thighs or breasts. Do not be shy with seasoning here – this is the base of flavor in the BBQ shredded chicken! Seasoning Tip! ⇢ Sprinkle plenty of spice rub on one side of the chicken, then use your hands to work it into all the nooks & crannies of the meat. Flip & repeat with the other side.
Brown the chicken. Heat some oil in an oven-safe skillet on the stovetop. Add the seasoned BBQ chicken to the pan, cooking for just a few minutes until the chicken begins to brown. Why? ⇢ Searing chicken gives it a browned, crusty exterior that builds deep flavor thanks to a process called the Maillard reaction. It’s a simple step that makes a BIG difference!
Bake the chicken. Zhuzh up your favorite store-bought BBQ sauce with a little apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, & liquid smoke. Pour the mixture over the browned chicken, coating it in sauce. This creates a smoky, tangy base for the chicken to simmer in. Transfer everything to the oven & bake until it’s cooked through. Why? ⇢ The oven provides gentle, consistent heat, ensuring the chicken cooks through perfectly without drying out.
Shred the chicken. Shredding the BBQ chicken creates tons of versatility with very little extra effort. To make the shredded BBQ chicken, wait until the chicken is cool enough to handle & then use two forks or tongs to shred it into pieces.
*Quick & Easy Shredded Chicken Shortcut!
One of my all-time favorite kitchen hacks is using a trusty stand mixer to shred chicken. I swear this works! Place the BBQ chicken in the mixer with a paddle attachment & watch as the mixer does all the work, creating perfectly shredded chicken.
Alternate Cooking Methods for This Easy BBQ Chicken Recipe
This one-pot seared-then-baked BBQ chicken is my favorite since it’s simple, fast, & doesn’t require any forethought. If you’re looking for more of a “prep it & forget it” approach, you’re in luck! This particular recipe is easy to prepare in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Based on the amount of time you have, you can easily adapt this recipe with any of these commonly loved appliances.
Slow Cooker Shredded BBQ Chicken Recipe
Add the browned chicken & BBQ sauce mixture to a slow cooker or Crockpot & cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours. If your slow cooker has a searing feature, brown the chicken right in the slow cooker – no need for an extra pan! Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full slow cooker & Crockpot shredded BBQ chicken instructions.
Instant Pot Shredded BBQ Chicken Recipe
Using an electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot cuts cooking time down to about 20 minutes! Be sure to add a ½ cup of water, chicken stock, or beer for some extra moisture to ensure the Instant Pot seals properly. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full Instant Pot shredded BBQ chicken instructions.
What to Eat With Shredded BBQ Chicken – The Options Are Endless!
While this shredded BBQ chicken is one of my favorite quick & easy weeknight meals, it’s also a staple recipe that I love to make for friends & family. It’s always a hit! You can make this shredded BBQ chicken recipe for festive summer gatherings, weekends at the lake, potluck dinner with the fam, casual backyard picnics, or pretty much whenever! A hungry summer crowd ALWAYS loves BBQ shredded chicken!
A few ways to create the perfect meal using shredded BBQ chicken:
- Shredded BBQ chicken sandwich or sliders – Pile the BBQ shredded chicken on a big potato bun or some mini slider buns for a classic summer picnic vibe. Be sure to add a pile of homemade slaw to the sandwich for a bit of crunchy freshness!
- Easy BBQ chicken pizza – Homemade pizza night is one of our favorites! Add shredded BBQ chicken to grilled pizza with mozzarella, smoked gouda, or Monterey Jack cheese, & don’t forget an extra drizzle of BBQ sauce!
- Shredded BBQ chicken tacos – If it fits in a taco shell, I will make it a taco! 😎 Top your BBQ chicken tacos with some black beans & grilled corn salsa to mix up Taco Tuesday.
- BBQ chicken mac ‘n cheese – Two of my favorites in one! Mix the shredded BBQ chicken into your favorite store-bought or homemade mac ‘n cheese to add a bit of extra protein. Make it feel extra-fancy by adding breadcrumbs for a deliciously crispy texture.
- Epic BBQ chicken nachos or quesadillas – Top a loaded platter of nachos with shredded BBQ chicken to take things over the top (& don’t forget the guac!). Or! Nestle the BBQ shredded chicken into an ooey-gooey quesadilla with an extra touch of sauce. 😋
BBQ Chicken Leftovers
This shredded BBQ chicken is super freezer-friendly! Since there’s an infinite number of ways to use it, I always like to freeze any leftovers for later. Having a supply of BBQ shredded chicken in the freezer is a handy thing to have on busy weeknights when you need to whip up something quick. Simply defrost & make any of the above meals in an instant! Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full freezer instructions.
I can’t wait for you to try this Quick & Easy Shredded BBQ Chicken! It’s so easy to make, so versatile, & always so satisfying – you’re going to be obsessed! 🙌🏼 If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!Print
There’s no summer meal more iconic than good ol’ BBQ chicken, & this particular recipe is one you’ll come back to time & time again. It’s quick & easy to make & results in seriously juicy & flavorful shredded BBQ chicken that you can use to make just about anything!
It starts with my go-to homemade BBQ dry rub, one I’ve tweaked & tinkered with over the years until it has juuuust the right balance of spice, sweetness, & smokiness. (Go ahead & double or triple the dry rub – you’ll want to use it on everything!)
From there, simply dust boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs with the rub, give it a good sear on the stovetop, then let it simmer in the oven in a smoky & tangy BBQ sauce. This stovetop-to-oven method is my favorite since it’s really quick & doesn’t require much planning or forethought, but if you’re interested in making BBQ chicken in your slow cooker/Crockpot or Instant Pot, check the Recipe Notes, below, for full instructions.
The awesome thing about this shredded BBQ chicken is you can use it to make just about anything – loaded sandwiches & sliders, BBQ chicken pizza, tacos, a light salad or grain bowl, & more! – & everyone raves about it. Be sure to check out the blog post, above, for lots of serving inspiration & the recipe notes, below, for some make-ahead tips. ♡ Happy cooking!
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts (see Recipe Notes)
- PWWB BBQ Dry Rub, below
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup BBQ sauce of choice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
for the PWWB BBQ Dry Rub:
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- optional: pinch – 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired
- Prep: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Gather & prep all ingredients according to Ingredients List, above.
- Mix the BBQ dry rub & season the chicken: Add all listed BBQ dry rub ingredients to a small bowl or jar. Whisk or shake to combine. Set aside for immediate use or store in an airtight container on your spice rack for up to 1 month. Season the chicken liberally with the BBQ dry rub, using your hands to really work the mixture into all the nooks & crannies of the chicken.
- Brown the chicken: Add the oil to a medium oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot & shimmers in the pan, carefully add the bbq dry rubbed chicken to the skillet. Work in batches, as needed, to avoid overcrowding the pan (which prevents browning). Cook 2-3 minutes per side, until browned. The chicken will not yet be fully cooked – this is expected & totally fine.
- Mix the BBQ sauce: Meanwhile, as the chicken browns, whisk together the bbq sauce mixture. Add the BBQ sauce, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, & liquid smoke to a small bowl or jar. Whisk or shake to combine. Set aside.
- Roast the chicken: Once browned, remove the skillet from the heat. Pour the BBQ sauce mixture over the browned chicken, turning to coat in the sauce. Transfer to the oven & roast for 15-20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the chicken registers an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Shred the BBQ chicken: Once cool enough to handle, carefully shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces – you can do so using 2 forks, or my favorite trick: pop the BBQ chicken directly into in a stand mixer & let the paddle attachment do the work for you (I swear this works!). Transfer the pulled BBQ chicken back into the skillet, tossing to combine it with any cooking liquid left in the skillet.
- Serve immediately as desired. Nestle in a bun with coleslaw for an epic BBQ chicken sandwich, pile on top of a pizza, place in tortillas or make a burrito bowl with rice & beans – sky’s the limit with this versatile shredded BBQ chicken! Enjoy!
- Chicken thighs vs chicken breasts: I prefer using boneless, skinless chicken thighs in this pulled BBQ chicken recipe since they’re flavorful & stay really nice & juicy through roasting, but you can swap them out with breasts if you prefer. Either pound the breasts out flat or slice them in half lengthwise (butterflied) to ensure they cook up evenly.
- Storage & Freezing:
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover pulled bbq chicken will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through.
- Freezer instructions: This pulled BBQ chicken is also a wonderful freezer staple since you can quickly thaw it out and use it on sandwiches, BBQ chicken pizza, tacos, nachos, salads, burrito bowls, etc. for an easy dinner down the road. To freeze, transfer cooled pulled BBQ chicken to a freezer bag or container, or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers! Freeze up to 3 months. Defrost by placing in the refrigerator overnight to thaw, or by submerging the freezer bag/container in room temp water for 20-25 minutes. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through.
- Alternate Cooking Methods:
- Slow Cooker or Crockpot Pulled BBQ Chicken: If your slow cooker has a browning/searing feature, sear the chicken in the slow cooker according to Step 3 of Recipe Directions, above. If not, simply add the seasoned chicken, BBQ sauce, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, & liquid smoke to your slow cooker. Slow cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours. Shred & serve according to Steps 6-7 of Recipe Directions, above.
- Electric Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot Pulled BBQ Chicken: Use the Instant Pot’s browning/searing feature to sear the chicken in the Instant Pot according to Step 3 of Recipe Directions, above. Prep the BBQ sauce mixture, diluting it with 1/2 cup water, chicken stock, or beer to ensure the Instant Pot seals properly, & pour over the chicken. Secure the lid on the Instant Pot, ensuring the sure valve is in its sealed position! Cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. Allow the pressure to naturally release for 5 minutes, then carefully quick release any remaining pressure in the pot by flicking the valve to its venting position. Remove the lid. Shred & serve according to Steps 6-7 of Recipe Directions, above.
- Note: This recipe has been updated since its original publish in October 2017. If you are looking for the original recipe, which included bell peppers & a slow cooker preparation, click here to download a printable version!
Keywords: shredded bbq chicken recipe, bbq shredded chicken, baked in oven, on the stove, sandwich, sliders, tacos, pizza, best, quick, easy, back pocket
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by KJ & Company, Kate Poskochil