Whether you're looking to make chicken enchiladas, chicken quesadillas, or some homemade chicken soup, shredded chicken is one of the most versatile proteins out there. And there's no easier way to get the shredded stuff than to boil or poach your chicken first. Here's the easy cooking method our Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen pros swear by, along with a few of our favorite boiled chicken breast recipes and information on how to shred chicken fast.

By BH&G Food Editors
June 21, 2018

Shredded or cubed chicken can be the backbone of so many great dishes, but you want to make sure that the chicken is cooked is  away that makes it tender and juicy. There's nothing worse than dried out chicken! That's where boiling or poaching comes in. Using hot liquid is the ideal quick method for cooking chicken breasts, which can dry out when roasted or grilled. Bone-in breasts with the skin on are a good choice if you want the cooking liquid to become a tasty broth. For a shorter cooking time, opt for skinless, boneless chicken breast halves. For the quickest cooking time, use cut-up or cubed chicken breast. After you boil chicken breast, you can use it in a variety of recipes!

Related: How to Make Chicken Salad with Boiled Chicken

Now you may be asking yourself, just how difficult is it to boil some liquid and put chicken in it? And the answer is: It's not hard at all! But there are a few tips that will make sure that you get the best possible results. Read on for our secrets to tender, juicy boiled chicken.

Step 1: Pick a Boiling Liquid

The liquid you use to cook your chicken can be as simple as water, which works well if you want a basic meat to use in chicken breast recipes or want to freeze the chicken for use later. You can also use other liquids such as chicken broth, apple cider, dry white wine, or a combination to infuse your chicken breasts with additional flavor. Other ways to flavor the cooking liquid and the chicken include adding onion wedges, carrot pieces, celery pieces, garlic cloves, bouillon granules, herbs, salt, and lemon juice or peel.

Step 2: Boil Chicken

OK, you've got your liquid and other flavoring additions. Now it's time to get cooking. Here's how to boil chicken breasts: Place the chicken in a saucepan large enough to hold the chicken pieces comfortably. Add enough cooking liquid to cover the chicken. If desired, add any other ingredients for flavoring the liquid and chicken. Bring the liquid to boiling on medium-high heat; reduce the heat. Cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is no longer pink (170°F).

So, how long do you boil chicken for optimal tenderness? The cook time depends on the size of the breasts and whether they have bones or not. If you're wondering how long to boil frozen chicken, we'd advise you to thaw the chicken first. Either leave chicken breasts in the fridge for at least 9 hours to slowly thaw or speed up the process using the defrost setting on your microwave.

How to boil bone-in chicken breasts:

  • Bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts: cook about 30 minutes

How to boil boneless chicken breasts:

  • Skinless, boneless chicken breast halves: cook 15 to 20 minutes
  • Skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into 2-inch pieces: cook about 10 minutes

Related: 4 Ways to Cook Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

Step 3: Drain Off Liquid & Shred or Chop

If you're not saving the liquid from the boiled chicken, you can simply remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, fork, or tongs, letting excess liquid drain off. Then discard the liquid.

If you're keeping the poached chicken liquid, drain chicken through a sieve into a bowl. If you're keeping the cooking liquid for broth or stock, consider lining the sieve with two layers of 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth to make the broth more translucent. Remove the chicken from the sieve and discard any vegetables and seasonings. Serve as desired in your favorite chicken breast recipes.

BH&G Test Kitchen Tip: For torn or pulled chicken pieces, let the chicken breast cool until easy to handle. If the chicken has skin, pull it off with your fingers and discard. Using your fingers, tear off pieces of chicken. Use torn or pulled chicken pieces as you would chopped chicken. Try it in one of our favorite shredded chicken recipes.

Our editors have also made quick work of shredding a large quantity of boiled chicken breasts by dropping them in a stand mixer and hitting them briefly with the mixer paddle. This technique makes quick work of shredding cooked chicken and you never need to get your hands messy. Just don't leave the paddle on for too long; you don't want to liquefy your chicken!

Related: How to Shred Any Meat

How to Store Poached Chicken

You can save boiled chicken for use in recipes for days or months to come by making ahead and storing in the fridge or freezer. Here's how:

  • Cool the chicken completely and transfer to a storage container. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to two months. 
  • To store the broth, place in a sturdy storage container. Cover and chill for up to two days or freeze for up to two months. You can also freeze the broth in ice cube trays to use as flavor boosters.

Related: How to Make Homemade Chicken Broth

Ideas for Using Boiled Chicken

So we started off talking about some of the ways you can use boiled chicken, but there are so many we thought we'd share some more favorites! Try one of these ideas to enjoy boiled chicken breasts tonight!:

  • Serve whole pieces with barbecue sauce or plum sauce
  • Brush whole pieces with herb butter and place atop cooked rice
  • Slice boneless breasts and add to stir-fry or fajitas (like these Fajita-Style Quesadillas)
  • Top salad greens with sliced chicken, grated apples, dried cranberries, and vinaigrette
  • Add chopped or cubed pieces to casseroles, stews, and soups, like Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Toss pulled or torn chicken with salsa for tacos (try our

    Chicken Tacos)

  • Make a Chicken Panini stuffed with sliced chicken, roasted peppers, and basil

More Poached Chicken Recipes

Remember: Any recipe that calls for poached chicken can be made with boiled chicken; the terms are interchangeable.

Marinara-Poached Chicken

Poached Chicken Salad

Poached Chicken Breasts with Apples


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