This BBQ pulled chicken Instant Pot recipe is a hands-off, easy meal made with real-food ingredients. The chicken is tender and juicy and the simple, homemade bbq sauce is sweet, salty, and tangy! Use the bbq pulled chicken to make the best sandwiches, quesadillas, wraps, tacos, protein bowls, or salads.

BBQ pulled chicken on a serving patter with coleslaw and buns on the side.
BBQ pulled chicken is perfect for a cookout, party, or easy weeknight meal.

What Makes This Recipe Insanely Good BBQ

Instant Pot bbq pulled chicken is exactly the kind of meal that’s served at a good ol’ southern barbecue stand, just minus all the work!

This recipe is a true winner with the whole family and one that’s easy to make at home for an easy weeknight dinner, summer cookout, party, or meal prep lunch.

Here’s what makes it such a winner…

From-scratch BBQ sauce: No store-bought barbecue sauce here. Most store-bought sauce contains highly-processed ingredients and a TON of sugar. With this recipe, you’ll learn how to make your own southern-style barbecue sauce (there are 6 different varieties of bbq) using simple pantry ingredients: tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and honey, and spices. No fancy ingredients like liquid smoke needed to make an insanely good sauce.

Tender and Juicy Chicken: For this easy recipe, use both cuts of chicken: thighs and chicken breasts. Chicken breasts alone result in dry chicken. The combo of breasts and thighs (which have a higher fat content), cooked in water, using the Instant Pot= perfectly cooked chicken! Juicy, shredded meat that’s tossed in the best homemade bbq sauce.

Minimal Effort: The Instant Pot is truly a blessing for the modern family who wants to make healthy, homemade food with minimal effort. Barbecue takes hours to prepare and cook. With the Instant Pot, it takes just 20 minutes of cook time. Put the raw chicken in the Instant Pot with water, seal the lid, and cook! Perfect for busy weeknights or a cookout (and don’t want to spend hours cooking).

So Much Flavor: This recipe doesn’t hold back on the bbq flavor! From the homemade southern-style sauce to the chicken thighs (that have more flavor than breasts alone), this is the perfect recipe for enjoying at-home, barbecue-joint flavor!

What Readers Say:

“Holy smokes! This is delicious. I made this as part of a BBQ chicken salad. The perfect blend of sweet, salty, and tang! Thanks so much.”

Tricia G

Ingredients

To make this dish, you’ll need an electric pressure cooker (I use a 6 quart Instant Pot), medium-size sauce pan, large mixing bowls, and a few simple ingredients…

  • salt
  • pepper
  • paprika
  • garlic powder
  • dried thyme
  • boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • white onion or sweet yellow onion
  • water
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • brown sugar
  • honey
  • yellow mustard
  • apple cider vinegar
  • tomato paste
  • Worcestershire sauce
BBQ pulled chicken in a brioche bun topped with coleslaw with watermelon on the side.
To make this recipe, you’ll need a few simple pantry ingredients.

How to Make, Step By Step

Here’s how to make this simple recipe, step by step. You’ll also find a printable recipe card with ingredients and instructions at the bottom of this article.

Step 1: Make a Dry Rub

Make a dry rub for the chicken, in a large bowl, by whisking together a few spices:

  • 1 TB paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
Chicken on a kitchen counter coated in dry rub with the Instant Pot next to it.
Step 2: Mix the raw chicken breasts and thighs with the dry rub.

Step 2: Add Chicken to the Dry Rub

Trim any large pieces of fat off of the chicken thighs. Cut chicken breasts in half so they are similar in size to the thighs.

Add all the chicken (1 pound breasts and 1 pound thighs) to the large bowl with the dry rub. Rub/mix to evenly coat the chicken pieces with the spices. 

Placing chicken breasts and thighs with a dry rub in the Instant Pot to cook.
Step 3: Add water, chicken, and onion to the Instant Pot and pressure cook for 20 minutes.

Step 3: Cook Chicken in Instant Pot

Pour 1 cup of water into the Instant Pot liner. Layer chicken in the water. Cut the onion into ½-inch half rounds and layer over chicken.

Secure the lid and set the steam valve on top of the lid to Sealing. Set the Instant Pot to Manual, High Pressure for 20 minutes of cook time.

Making homemade bbq sauce in white dutch oven on the stove-top.
Step 4: Make the homemade BBQ sauce on the stove-top.

Step 4: Make BBQ Sauce

While the chicken cooks in the Instant Pot, add all the bbq sauce ingredients to a medium-size saucepan:

  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce no salt added
  • 2 TB light brown sugar dark brown sugar would also work
  • 2 TB honey
  • 1 TB yellow mustard
  • 1 TB apple cider vinegar
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 1 ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder

Whisk to combine the ingredients and let simmer over low heat while the chicken is pressure cooking in the Instant Pot.

Time-Saving Tip: Make the bbq sauce up to 5 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Or, freeze the sauce for up to 3 months. Making the sauce in advance saves a significant amount of prep time. If you’re short on time, use your favorite store-bought bbq sauce (you’ll need 2 cups). Warm it up in a saucepan before adding to the chicken (in the next steps).

Step 5: Natural Pressure Release for 10 Minutes

Once the cooking cycle for the chicken is completed, let the pressure release naturally from the pot for 10 minutes before releasing remaining pressure with a quick release of the steam valve on top of the lid (use a towel or hot pad holder).

Adding bbq sauce to shredded chicken in a large glass bowl.
Step 6: Shred the chicken with two forks and toss with the homemade BBQ sauce.

Step 6: Shred Chicken & Toss With BBQ Sauce

Remove the cooked chicken and onions to a clean bowl and discard the cooking liquid in the Instant Pot.

Shred the chicken with two forks and stir in the barbecue sauce. Some folks use a hand mixer to easily shred the chicken, then add the bbq sauce. But I find that two forks work great–the meat is super tender and easy to shred.

Pro Cooking Tips

For success with this easy Instant Pot recipe, here are a few tips to keep in mind…

Instant Pot Burn Notice: It’s important to add the 1 cup of water to the Instant Pot liner with the chicken and onion. By doing this, you’ll avoid the infamous burn notice, which will end the pressure cooking session prematurely. This is why I don’t recommend cooking the barbecue sauce in the Instant Pot with the chicken. BBQ sauce is too thick to successfully cook in the Instant Pot without the possibility of a burn notice happening.

Use Chicken Breasts and Thighs: This combo results in juicy, tender, flavorful pulled chicken. Use skinless, boneless chicken breasts and thighs to make this Instant Pot bbq chicken recipe.

If you’re new to the Instant Pot, check out 16 Instant Pot Tips and Tricks and the Best Foods to Make in the Instant Pot to learn about using this appliance.

BBQ pulled chicken on a serving patter with coleslaw and buns on the side.
Serve the pulled meat on its own with sides, topped on brioche buns, in a salad, etc.

How to Store

Store the Instant Pot Pulled BBQ chicken in an airtight container in the fridge for up 5 days.

Or, store the meat, once fully cool, in the freezer for up to 3 months. I don’t love the texture of frozen, cooked chicken but it is possible to freeze, defrost in the fridge, and use for future meals.

How to Reheat

Reheat leftover chicken in a skillet on the stove-top, using the saute mode in the Instant Pot, or the microwave. Only reheat as much as needed and keep extra leftovers in the refrigerator.

BBQ Pulled chicken sandwich: chicken on a brioche bun with a side of grapes.

How to Serve


Instant Pot barbecue chicken is such an easy meal to make and serve in a variety of different ways. Here are a few of my favorite ways to serve the shredded meat.

With Sides: There’s nothing like pulled bbq with comfort food sides. Make Instant Pot mashed potatoes and cook corn on the cob to serve alongside the meat! Or, make Instant Pot macaroni and cheese and einkorn cornbread for a side. And don’t forget about homemade popsicles for dessert.

Chicken Sandwiches: Toast brioche buns in the oven (using the broiler) or on the grill. Top the buns with shredded chicken and homemade Greek yogurt coleslaw.

BBQ Chicken Sliders: Use mini buns to make small sliders. Top each slider with a pickle or add Greek yogurt coleslaw.

Quesadillas: Add the meat and shredded cheddar cheese to a tortilla. Brown the tortilla in oil on the stove-top, on both sides. See this recipe for the technique of how to make quesadillas.

Southern-Style Tacos: Make bbq tacos by adding the meat to homemade corn tortillas or einkorn tortillas (or your favorite store-bought tortillas), cheese, and a taco slaw.

Protein Bowl: Add cooked rice (the Instant Pot is the easiest way to make rice), a vegetable (frozen roasted vegetables are an easy option) and bbq chicken to a bowl. An easy, healthy dinner meal!

Chicken Wrap: Add chicken to a tortilla, along with Greek yogurt coleslaw and a small amount of raw spinach. Roll up the tortilla around the filling for a delicious wrap!

Salad: Add the meat as a protein to your favorite green salad. Top with homemade ranch dressing.

BBQ Southern-Style Nachos: Add the chicken to a layer of tortilla chips on a sheet pan. Top with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350F until cheese is melted and meat is warm. Top with sour cream, green onions, sliced radishes, chopped cilantro, etc.

BBQ pulled chicken on a serving patter with coleslaw and buns on the side.
5 from 4 votes

Southern-Style BBQ Pulled Chicken Instant Pot Recipe

The recipe takes advantage of the hands-off nature of the Instant Pot to perfectly cook the chicken. This means you don't have to turn on the oven or even light the grill. The chicken is then tossed in a homemade southern-style BBQ sauce that's perfectly balanced: tangy, sweet, and salty.
Kristin Marr
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 servings (6-8 servings)
Calories 233 kcal
Cost: $15

Equipment

  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • 1 6 or 8 Quart Instant Pot or pressure cooker of choice
  • 1 medium saucepan

Ingredients

Chicken Dry Rub:

Pulled Chicken:

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium white onion or sweet yellow onion
  • 1 cup water

Souther-Style BBQ Sauce:

  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce no salt added
  • 2 TB light brown sugar dark brown sugar also works
  • 2 TB honey
  • 1 TB yellow mustard
  • 1 TB apple cider vinegar
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 1 ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder

Instructions

Make the Dry Rub & Mix With Chicken:

  • Mix all the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl.
  • Trim any large pieces of fat off the thighs. Cut chicken breasts in half so they are similar in size to the thighs.
  • Add the chicken pieces to the large bowl with the dry rub. Rub/mix to evenly coat the chicken with the spices. 

Cook the Chicken:

  • Pour 1 cup of water into the Instant Pot liner. Layer the chicken in the water.
  • Cut the onion into ½-inch half rounds and layer over the chicken.
  • Secure the lid and set the valve on top of the lid to Sealing. Set the Instant Pot to cook for 20 minutes at high pressure.

Make the Southern BBQ Sauce:

  • Meanwhile, add all the bbq sauce ingredients to a medium-size saucepan, whisk to combine, and let simmer over low heat while the chicken cooks.

Release Pressure from Instant Pot:

  • Once the cooking cycle for the chicken is completed, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. Then release the remaining pressure by turning the valve on top of the lid from sealing to venting (use a towel or hot pad holder).

Shred Chicken & Coat with BBQ Sauce:

  • Remove the cooked chicken and onions to a clean bowl and discard the cooking liquid in the Instant Pot.
  • Shred the chicken with two forks and stir in the barbecue sauce. Serve warm. I love to add the chicken to brioche buns and top with Greek yogurt coleslaw. See suggestions above (in the article) for different ways to serve.

Notes

*Slice the onion in half (root to tip) and then cut ½-inch half circles.
Time-Saving BBQ Sauce Tip: Make the bbq sauce up to 5 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Or, freeze the sauce for up to 3 months. Making the sauce in advance saves a significant amount of prep time. If you’re short on time, use your favorite store-bought bbq sauce (you’ll need 2 cups). Warm it up in a saucepan before adding to the chicken.

Nutrition

Calories: 233kcalCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 31gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 120mgSodium: 1000mgPotassium: 562mgFiber: 1gSugar: 11gVitamin A: 640IUVitamin C: 3.1mgCalcium: 24mgIron: 1.6mg
Tried this recipe?Let me know how it was!
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FAQs

You can use frozen chicken breasts and thighs to make this BBQ pulled chicken Instant Pot recipe. The Instant Pot will take much longer to come to pressure and begin cooking, so factor this into your meal prep time. Cook the chicken for the same amount of time, placing the chicken in a single layer in the Instant Pot vs. a giant frozen chunk.

Yes! This is the beauty of the Instant pot! You can cook raw chicken in the Instant Pot. And you can even cook the raw chicken with other ingredients, like this Instant Pot chicken fried rice, chicken and yellow rice, and chicken pot pie soup.

11 Comments

    1. Hey Nancy, I haven’t tested this recipe in the slow cooker, but my thought is that you probably don’t need the additional water. Let me know if you try it.

  1. 5 stars
    Holy smokes! This is delicious. I made this as part of a BBQ chicken salad. The perfect blend of sweet, salty, and tang! Thanks so much.

  2. 5 stars
    I love Kristin’s recipes most of all because they’re delicious,but also because it’s so convenient to click the ‘Jump To Recipe’ icon. I mean, why doesn’t everyone do this!?
    No offense,but sometimes I don’t have time to read the story behind the food and I just want to check ingredients and print! LOL. My husband and I are eating Keto so I replaced the brown sugar with stevia and this turned out great! Will definitely be a regular in our house. We use keto Mug Bread in place of buns. Thank you Kristin!

  3. I’m excited to try this! If you were to substitute the brown sugar for maple syrup, honey or something less processed, what would you substitute it with? Thanks!

  4. Four years ago I taught my nephew how to cook pulled chicken in his crock pot. I gave him the shopping list, the recipe and told him how long to cook the chicken. He called me about six hours later and said something “went wrong.” He said “…the chicken thighs were still whole in the pot and not apart in shreds…” I realized I forgot to tell him he actually had to pull the meat apart himself. Thanks for sharing this recipe. Happy Wednesday, Kristin.

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