Unlike our Test Kitchen experts, my personal cooking style is quite haphazard—especially when it comes to following a recipe to a T. I’ll breeze past steps, add in my own favorite spices (hello, Old Bay!) and disregard Grandma’s sage advice by skimming over the ingredient list. Most of the time, it’s fine to ignore a few steps here and there. But more than once, I’ve run into trouble when the recipe calls for precooked shredded chicken.
Ruh roh! Dinner is in an hour and I need this chicken soon.
Here’s How to Make Shredded Chicken—Quick!
Step 1: Cook (or buy) the chicken.
How you choose to cook the chicken is entirely up to you. You can slap it on the grill, send it to the pressure cooker, roast it in the oven—or even snag a rotisserie chicken from the store. When I’m pressed for time, I reach for my trusty cast-iron skillet, add oil at medium heat, season a few cutlets and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.
If you’re reading this with hours to go before dinner, you can try this advice from Test Kitchen wiz Sue Stetzel, who turns to her slow cooker whenever possible. “It cooks while I’m doing other things,” she says. For tender make-ahead chicken, line seasoned breasts on the bottom of a 5-qt. slow cooker, add a splash of liquid (try homemade chicken stock) and cook on low for 6-8 hours (or until chicken is tender). Start it in the morning and you’ll not waste a minute come dinnertime.
Pro tip: Prefer to grill? Here’s how to avoid serving dull, dry chicken.
Step 2: Let it cool slightly.
Once the chicken has totally cooked, let it sit for a minute or two to cool before shredding.
Pro tip: …but don’t wait too long. For easy shredding, it’s best to pull the chicken apart while it’s still warm.
Step 3: Get ready to get shreddy.
Sue reached out to our team of Volunteer Field Editors (VFEs) for their genius tips for ultra speedy shredded chicken. Here are the three quickest ways to tear apart a chicken. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
1. The Fork Method
“Two big forks are my go-to tools for pulling chicken into shreds,” says VFE Debbie Johnson. Pin down the chicken and firmly pull the utensils in opposite directions. Continue until the chicken is completely shredded.
2. The Stand Mixer Method
Volunteer Field Editor Elisabeth Larsen brought us this clever tip. “I cut cooked, deboned chicken or pork into big chunks and put it into the bowl of my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. A few seconds on medium-low speed is just enough to shred it all.” I’ll give a handclap to that hands-off method.
3. The Bare-Hands Method
No tools? No problem. VFE Becky Carver suggests a technique that couldn’t get any easier: “After the chicken has cooled a little, I like to pull it into shreds with just my hands. That way I can control how big or small the pieces will be.” This is also an easy way for kids (with clean hands) to get involved in the kitchen. (Shredding chicken is so much fun, though, that your tiny sous-chef might find it hard to stop. Make sure important documents—say, last year’s tax returns?—are well out of reach.)
To save it for later, Sue’s advice is to place extra shredded chicken into resealable plastic bags or airtight containers and pop them into the freezer. The shredded meat will be waiting and ready to use in your favorite recipe. You can store it up to 4 months.
When you’re ready to cook, make mealtime easy by using shredded chicken in soups, wraps, tacos, sandwiches, pizza, salads or casseroles. Need inspiration? Here’s a trio of can’t-beat recipe ideas for shredded chicken.
- Make saucy sandwiches. One of my favorite things to do with shredded chicken is to smother it with BBQ sauce (homemade, if it’s handy) and pile it on a toasted potato roll. Mmm!
- Add a layer to nachos. Cheese-smothered shredded chicken on a chip is a crowd-pleaser in our book. Try it with this recipe for Baked Chicken Nachos.
- Serve it cold. Transform shreds into a tasty chicken salad sandwich. Thumbs-up if you add in halved grapes, as home cook Jaclyn Bell does.
Hungry for more? Say yes to our top-rated chicken dinner ideas.