This sweet and spicy Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken is so good! The tender chicken thighs simmer in a homemade barbecue sauce with sweetness from maple syrup and onion and it has a bit of mild smoky heat from chipotle peppers. I promise this recipe will soon be your favorite weeknight dinner recipe. It is so easy to make in advance in the crockpot!

a side view of a very full sandwich dripping with barbecue sauce

I originally shared this recipe on Decemeber 17, 2015. I have updated some of the content, but the recipe remains unchanged.

Why This Recipe Works

Did you catch that? I’ll say that again. For effect. This slow cooker pulled chicken is so good! As I said, the maple chipotle sauce is amazing.

This recipe is perfect for a make-ahead dinner for busy evenings when you need dinner ready to go. It is so easy to set up in the morning before school or work and then it is ready when you come home for dinner.

It can even be prepped the night before if that is easier! Then just keep the slow cooker insert in the fridge overnight.

Serve the pulled chicken on soft buns with a side of coleslaw for a delicious family-friendly dinner.

Ingredients For This Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken Recipe

gray surface with the ingredients on it

Coconut oil

I love the way coconut tastes with maple so I used coconut oil for the pan searing step, but if you do not keep coconut oil in your kitchen you can substitute a neutral cooking oil like avocado oil or organic canola oil

Boneless skinless chicken thighs

Chicken thighs are perfect for making pulled chicken in the slow cooker because as they slowly simmer for a long period of time they grow more and more tender. They do not dry out the way chicken breast does. 

Onion

To give the sauce savory sweetness I used a chopped onion. You can use any color onion you want. For additional sweetness, choose a sweet yellow onion variety. For instructions on how to chop the onion check out this post on how to dice onion.

Water

To deglaze the pan after the chicken is cooked, I added a bit of water to the skillet to unstick any of the browned chicken bits. This will help the onion soften too and release the fond off the skillet.

Canned crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

The base of the barbecue simmering sauce is made from crushed canned tomatoes. If you can find them I like the fire roasted kind for additional smoky flavor. 

Pure maple syrup, dark or amber

To add sweetness to this barbecue sauce, I used pure maple syrup. I am all about cooking with maple syrup here on Healthy Seasonal Recipes! I make and sell maple syrup with my family on our Vermont property and I also authored a cookbook on the subject. Of course you could sub in another sweetener like brown sugar or honey. I love the rich carmel notes of maple with this recipe though. 

Cider vinegar

The acidity of the cider vinegar cuts the sweetness of the maple and onion and balances the sauce. Feel free to use another vinegar like rice vinegar, red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar. White vinegar is a little too harsh for this recipe though. Read more about the difference between vinegars here.

Coarse ground mustard

I almost always add a bit of mustard to my homemade barbecue sauces. I love the subtle spice it adds as well as tangy taste. If you can find a coarse ground variety, the texture is great in this sauce. 

Seasonings: Smoked paprika, Salt, Ground chipotle chili

For smoky heat I used smoked paprika and ground chipotle chili powder. Both can be found in well stocked grocery stores from large national brands. I also added in salt. Make sure to use regular table salt. If you use kosher salt, read this about subbing kosher salt for regular table salt

How To Make This Barbecued Pulled Chicken Recipe

searing the chicken

Step 1: Sear The Chicken

Taking the time to sear the chicken in the coconut oil before adding it to the crockpot makes a huge difference in the meaty flavor of the chicken. It helps to develop fond (tasty crusty browned bits) in the skillet, which contributes depth of flavor to the sauce too. 

  • Heat the oil in the skillet.
  • Make sure the chicken is dry and add half of it to the hot oil. It is important not to overcrowd the skillet, or it will not brown as well.
  • Let it sear on one side before flipping it over and letting the other side brown.
  • Next transfer it to the slow cooker and turn the skillet down a bit. 
  • Repeat cooking the second half of the chicken in the skillet and add it to the slow cooker. 
making the sauce

Step 2: Make Maple Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

The skillet tends to get very hot while the chicken is cooking, and there will be some dark spots on the skillet. This is normal. Adding in the onion and water will cool it down, and the water will help release the fond off the bottom of the skillet. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up the fond. Let the onions cook for a couple of minutes to soften. 

Add the sauce ingredients to the onions and stir it to make it into a homogenous sauce. Once it comes to a simmer, add it to the slow cooker with the chicken. 

the chicken and sauce in the slow cooker

Step 3: Slow Cook the Chicken 

Cover the slow cooker and set it for four hours on low heat.

shredding the chicken with two forks

Step 4: Shred Chicken

When the timer goes off, shred the chicken with two forks. It will resemble pulled pork. Use a spoon, slotted spoon or tongs to serve it depending on how saucy you want your sandwiches to be!

Expert Tips For This Recipe

Serving Suggestions

Once the chicken is tender and shredded, pile the pulled chicken onto soft buns and then layer in some easy coleslaw. The coleslaw, is a nice and zippy addition to balance the sweet maple chipotle sauce. You can also make a batch of these Pickled Onions to add to your sandwiches. 

You can also serve the shredded pulled chicken and slaw on top of cauliflower rice for a grain-free and paleo-friendly bowl.

Some side dishes that would pair well with this Barbecued Chicken Sandwich are:

Make Ahead Tips

If you want to get a jump on this recipe the night before follow these modified instructions:

  1. Whisk the ingredients from the tomatoes through the chipotle (the sauce ingredients) in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Sear the chicken and onions as directed and add them to the slow cooker. Stir to coat the chicken with the sauce. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. In the morning, set timer on low for 6 hours
side view of two sandwiches and a bottle of syrup

More Recipes To Try 

shredding the chicken with forks

Thanks so much for reading. If you are new here, you may want to sign up for my free weekly email newsletter where I share weeknight meal plans delivered right to your inbox. Or follow me on Instagram. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It is very appreciated. Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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a bun with pulled chicken with sauce spilling out

Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken


  • Author: Katie Webster
  • Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x

Description

This easy Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken with homemade Maple Chipotle barbecue sauce is mildly spicy and sweet and absolutely delicious!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 ½ pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup, dark or amber
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chili

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Swirl to coat pan. When oil is shimmering but not smoking, add half of the chicken and sear on one side until browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the insert of a large crockpot. Reduce heat to medium-high and sear the remaining half of chicken until browned on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker.
  2. Add onion and water to the skillet, and cook, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, until starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, maple syrup, vinegar, mustard, paprika, salt and chipotle. Remove from heat and scrape the onion mixture into the crockpot.
  3. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low, undisturbed for 4 hours.
  4. Shred chicken with two forks before serving. Serve with the braising sauce.

Notes

Make Ahead Instructions For Setting Up The Night Before

  1. Whisk the ingredients from the tomatoes through the chipotle (the sauce ingredients) in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Sear the chicken and onions as directed and add them to the slow cooker. Stir to coat the chicken with the sauce. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. In the morning, set timer on low for 6 hours.

Leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of water. Heat until steaming hot.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Slow Cooker
  • Cuisine: American

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 245
  • Sugar: 23
  • Fat: 6
  • Saturated Fat: 2
  • Carbohydrates: 23
  • Fiber: 1
  • Protein: 25

Keywords: slow cooker pulled chicken,pulled chicken,BBQ pulled chicken,Crockpot pulled chicken