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.
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.”
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…
- garlic powder
- dried thyme
- boneless skinless chicken thighs
- boneless skinless chicken breasts
- white onion or sweet yellow onion
- 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
- brown sugar
- yellow mustard
- apple cider vinegar
- tomato paste
- Worcestershire sauce
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Southern-Style BBQ Pulled Chicken Instant Pot Recipe
- 1 large mixing bowl
- 1 6 or 8 Quart Instant Pot or pressure cooker of choice
- 1 medium saucepan
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 medium white onion or sweet yellow onion
- 1 cup water
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.
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