The Instant Pot may be all the rage these days, but I remain loyal to my slow cooker. I know, I know, don’t tell me—you guys love the Instant Pot. But you know what I love? Tossing boneless skinless chicken thighs into my slow cooker, covering them with tomato sauce, and turning it on low for eight hours before I leave for work in the morning. When I come home, that chicken is so tender it shreds into the sauce when I stir it with a spoon. And the flavor of that sauce has become concentrated and rich, while the chicken has been infused with the delicious sauce. I serve it spooned over bowls of polenta, and everyone is happy.
Tomato sauce is just one way to flavor slow cooker chicken: you can use any kind of sauce you like (store-bought or homemade). And you don’t need a recipe to do it, just memorize the simple ratio of 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs to 1 cup of sauce, and follow this simple technique.
1. Set up your Slow Cooker and Season Your Chicken
Before you do anything, pull out your slow cooker and make sure it works. Trust me, I once left a slow cooker full of chicken plugged in for eight hours and came home from work to find it had never turned on—a very sad realization indeed. Don’t have a slow cooker? Check out our guide to find the best one.
Next, season your boneless skinless chicken thighs on all sides with salt—about 1/2 tsp. per pound—and pepper, if you like. You can cook as much or as little chicken as you want—just make sure it’s enough to cover the bottom of your slow cooker in an even layer for best results. How much that is will depend on your slow cooker, but at least one pound of chicken is a good place to start. But since it’s so easy to throw in more chicken, why not make extra? Two pounds of thighs makes enough saucy pulled chicken for 4 to 6 servings.
2. Just Add Sauce
For every pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs, pour one cup of sauce into your slow cooker. This can be any kind of store-bought or homemade sauce you love that won’t be destroyed by slow cooking. Think tomato sauce, or jarred salsa (I love using salsa verde), BBQ sauce, mole sauce, or one of those jarred Indian simmer sauces.
If you feel like your sauce needs an extra flavor boost, you can add aromatics like herb sprigs, bay leaves, garlic cloves, or dried chiles to the slow cooker too, but if you start with a good sauce you really shouldn’t have to. We’re trying to keep things as simple as possible here, right?
3. Set it and Forget It
Turn your slow cooker on and cook the chicken on low until the meat shreds easily when you stir it with a spoon, about eight hours. Or if you want to speed things up a little you can cook on high for about six hours.
4. Stir and Season
Once your chicken falls apart into shreds easily when prodded with a spoon, it’s done. Stir it around until it’s nicely shredded (but not too stringy) and well-incorporated into the sauce, and then give it a taste. Add more salt if needed, or maybe a little hit of acid, like a splash of red wine vinegar or a squeeze of lime juice.
5. Serve it up!
Spoon the chicken over bowls of polenta or rice or pasta, or turn it into tacos or enchiladas. Or make sandwiches with it. And don’t forget that it makes great leftovers—so be sure to save extra to pack up for another meal later in the week.