Tasty BBQ Pulled Chicken (Instant Pot)

A soft white bun containing BBQ Pulled Chicken and coleslaw surrounded by a glass dish of BBQ Pulled Chicken, coleslaw, and buns.

This flavourful BBQ Pulled Chicken is a quick and easy Instant Pot dinner ready in under 30 minutes. It’s perfectly seasoned, fork tender, and super saucy!

I hope you love an Instant Pot win as much as I do! My aim is to always create simple Instant Pot recipes for busy people (like you and me). A few of our favourite quick chicken meals include Thai Red Curry Chicken Soup and this addictive Peanut Butter Chicken Curry.

A soft white bun containing BBQ Pulled Chicken and coleslaw surrounded by a glass dish of BBQ Pulled Chicken, coleslaw, and buns.

BBQ Pulled Chicken in an Instant Pot?!

Yes, it’s true. Although the ‘BBQ’ in this recipe title refers to a sauce rather than an appliance. This BBQ Pulled Chicken is ready in a fraction of the time and effort it takes to make on a barbecue.

Think you’ll be sacrificing flavour for convenience? Think again! Incredible amounts of flavour are practically forced into the chicken during high pressure cooking.

So, this shredded BBQ Chicken is extra zesty, extra zippy, and extra saucy. It ain’t not dry ass chicken on a bun that’s for sure. PS you can totally eat the chicken on a bun, just make sure you have lots of napkins nearby.

A glass baking dish containing BBQ Pulled Chicken a bowl of coleslaw and a white bun.
This chicken is ready to be sauced!!

Ingredients You’ll Need to Make BBQ Pulled Chicken

  • Chicken Thighs
  • Brown Sugar
  • Chili Powder
  • Cumin Powder
  • Salt
  • Lime juice
  • Cayenne Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Black Pepper
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Tomato Paste
  • White Vinegar
  • Smoky Paprika
  • Worcestershire Sauce

Phew! That seems like a long list but like I said, this chicken has LOADS of flavour. You’ll be layering on the flavour using a few of these ingredients in multiple steps, so keep them handy.

Ingredients used in making BBQ Pulled Chicken.

I always (with very few exceptions) prefer to cook with chicken thighs. They have a bit more flavour than chicken breasts and a touch more fat so it’s more difficult to dry them out.

Lately I’ve been noticing the boneless skinless chicken thighs aren’t trimmed as perfectly as they should be. Trim them of excess fat and run your fingers over the meat to check for any remaining bone fragments.

A word about spices…if you haven’t replaced them within the last 6-12 months, do it. Regularly replenishing culinary spices will keep your flavours fresh and bright.

A glass dish filled with BBQ Pulled Chicken with no sauce.

There’s no need to run out and buy white vinegar for this recipe. Use what you have…red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or even seasoned rice wine vinegar. Any acidity will do.

Tired of throwing away those partially used little tomato paste cans? Switch to tube tomato paste and there’s almost ZERO waste. I buy mine at the nearest Italian market but they can also be found at any European or Mediterranean market.

Finally, let’s all say it together…Woooshtasheer Sauce. Or, whatever. It’s a pain to say but it really brings those flavours together and binds them with a mouthwatering umami no other sauce can bring.

Pouring BBQ Sauce over shredded chicken.

How to Make BBQ Pulled Chicken in an Instant Pot

The Rub

The rub is the first layer of seasoning in this recipe and it’s much more than salt and pepper. It is applied directly to the raw chicken.

Add the salt and freshly ground pepper, plus cayenne pepper, garlic powder, ground cumin, brown sugar, and chili powder to a small bowl. Mix them well and pour over the raw chicken thighs.

Next, get in there and massage that chicken. Don’t be a wuss and use a spoon, that chicken should be loved and loved well.

A glass baking dish containing BBQ Pulled Chicken beside buns.

The Sauce

Yes, there are a lot of ingredients in the sauce and some of them are also present in the rub. Just think of it as doubling up on flavour, or layering. NOTE: Substitute 2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce instead of making it from scratch.

What you won’t find in this homemade barbecue sauce is ketchup. Ketchup is for dipping, not for cooking with. I feel very strongly about this.

That said, it’s easy to replicate the flavours of everyone’s favourite sauce. The BBQ Sauce is zesty, sweet and packs a bit of a punch.

Mix up all of the ingredients (brown sugar, tomato sauce and paste, chili powder, vinegar, lime juice, salt, pepper, smoky paprika, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, and Worcestershire Sauce) together in a small saucepan.

Allow the sauce to come to a simmer so the flavours have a bit of time to infuse before adding to the chicken.

To make the BBQ Pulled Chicken

Once the chicken is fully seasoned and covered in sauce, place the lid on the Instant Pot and switch the valve to ‘sealed’. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes, allow to depressurize for 5 minutes then quick release any pressure that remains.

Remove chicken from the Instant Pot and simmer the sauce on sauté mode until it thickens. Place chicken in an oven proof baking dish and shred it using two forks. OPTIONAL: Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and broil until tasty bits appear (2-3 minutes).

Pour the thickened sauce over the shredded chicken to serve.

A pair of tongs, grabbing some BBQ Pulled Chicken.

Will BBQ Sauce Burn the Instant Pot?

Yes. Barbecue sauce has a bit of sugar in it so when it comes into contact with the high heat of the bottom burner, it burns.

To prevent burning the Instant Pot, add the raw dry rubbed chicken to the pot first. Pour the barbecue sauce in and give it a little bit of a stir (not too much or there will be too much sauce in contact with the base).

Can I Use Raw Chicken in this Instant Pot Recipe?

Yes! The raw chicken is added directly to the Instant Pot, dry rubbed, then cooked in BBQ sauce. There is absolutely no need to brown the chicken first, unless you would like to.

The whole dish cooks in less than 10 minutes (not including the time it takes to come to pressure) and during the 5 minutes of natural pressure release.

A soft white bun containing BBQ Pulled Chicken and coleslaw surrounded by a glass dish of BBQ Pulled Chicken, coleslaw, and buns.

Can I Use Frozen Chicken in this Recipe?

No. Okay maybe. The main reason you can’t start this recipe using frozen chicken thighs is because it would be impossible to apply the dry rub.

Alternatively if you use frozen chicken directly in an Instant Pot recipe, you run the risk of having the chicken cook unevenly.

That said, everyone forgets to take the chicken out of the freezer. Been there, done that! Fortunately, the Instant Pot is also great for quick thawing chicken.

To do this: Place the trivet on the base of the IP insert. Add 1 cup of water or chicken stock. Separate the frozen chicken thighs and place them on the trivet.

Cook the thighs at high pressure (pressure valve in ‘sealed’ position) for 8 minutes then allow to naturally release pressure for 5 minutes. Continue using BBQ Pulled Chicken recipe.

A soft white bun containing BBQ Pulled Chicken and coleslaw.

How to Serve BBQ Pulled Chicken

Since I made this BBQ Pulled Chicken on Super Sunday, I used it in our two favourite game day dishes.

The chicken was perfect in soft white kaiser buns topped with a little coleslaw and a few candied jalapenos. It wasn’t too wet so as to destroy the integrity of the buns (or our shirts!) but it wasn’t dry, either.

We ate the leftovers on nachos at half time. Watch for that mouthwatering post coming up soon!

There are so many great ways to eat this Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Chicken. I suggest you double the batch and count it as ‘meal prep’ for the following dishes:

  • on a pizza
  • on tacos
  • mixed into mac ‘n’ cheese
  • in a breakfast hash
  • in a taco soup

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How to Store BBQ Pulled Chicken Leftovers

Once the chicken has fully cooled to room temperature, place it in airtight containers. It will keep for one week in the fridge or up to 4 months in the freezer when stored properly.

To reheat from frozen, thaw in the fridge overnight then place in a saucepan. Cover, and heat on low (stirring occasionally and adding a few tablespoons of water if needed) until the chicken reaches 165F.

Pinterest image of BBQ Pulled Pork in a glass dish and served in a bun with coleslaw.
Yield: 6 servings

Tasty BBQ Pulled Chicken (Instant Pot)

A glass baking dish containing BBQ Pulled Chicken beside buns.

This flavourful BBQ Pulled Chicken is a quick and easy Instant Pot dinner ready in under 30 minutes. It's perfectly seasoned, fork tender, and super saucy!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 5 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

FOR THE RUB

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (passata)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp smoky paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Instructions

  1. Inspect and trim chicken thighs then place them in the Instant Pot insert.
  2. Mix the rub ingredients together in a small bowl, then massage them into the chicken.
  3. Place BBQ Sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.
  4. Pour sauce over chicken and mix well.
  5. Fix lid on the Instant Pot and close the valve. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes, then allow to depressurize for 5 minutes then manually release any pressure that remains.
  6. Remove chicken from sauce and simmer the sauce on saute mode until it thickens.
  7. Meanwhile, place chicken in an oven proof baking dish and shred it using two forks. Broil until tasty bits appear (2-3 minutes) OPTIONAL
  8. Pour sauce over shredded chicken and serve with coleslaw on buns.

Notes

Make it EASIER

*Substitute 2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce instead of making it from scratch.

Make MORE

*This recipe doubles easily and freezes well.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 326Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 182mgSodium: 1769mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 3gSugar: 15gProtein: 38g

Nutritional calculation was provided by Nutritionix and is an estimation only. For special diets or medical issues please use your preferred calculator.

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26 comments

  1. Gloria

    I love the sound of this recipe. What a great way to enjoy chicken. This can be used in so many delicious ways to use this tasty instant pot recipe.

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      For sure! It’s quite versatile and tasty.

      Reply

  2. Marisa

    Bernice, this barbecue pulled chicken is calling my name! Makes me wish I had an instant pot but maybe I can dust off my slow cooker and still try this! It’s mouthwatering!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      It would work just as well in a slow cooker, plus you can enjoy the aroma all afternoon.

      Reply

  3. Deborah Brooks

    ooh this is easy and I know my husband is going to love it. Can’t wait to make it for him

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      He WILL love it. Mine sure did!

      Reply

  4. Natalie

    This looks absolutely amazing. I love the flavors, sauce, and rub. Gosh, just looking at the photos made me hungry. Can’t wait to make this for my family.

    Reply

  5. Farrukh Aziz

    I was just craving some chicken, and this seems just like what I need! There’s a bunch of ways to use this chicken, which is amazing!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Yep, it’s such a versatile recipe. Make a double batch ‘just in case’.

      Reply

  6. Amy Liu Dong

    Hand’s up to this recipe, and I will be making this for everyone this weekend. Thank you!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Fantastic! I hope you love it as much as we do Amy.

      Reply

  7. Veronika

    I love making pulled chicken in my instant pot! I think it’s the easier way to prep it and it always comes out tender. I think I’ll make this recipe this weekend!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      It really is quite tender and so quick too. This is going to be a ‘go to’ recipe for a long time to come.

      Reply

  8. FOODHEAL

    This looks simple and easy to make. My son will definitely love this, can’t wait to see him making it!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Yes! It’s super easy to make and a hit with sons (already tested!)

      Reply

  9. Kristen

    This recipe comes in so handy for busy days. It’s simple and sooooo tasty! It’s a hit here even with the 3 year old!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Good to know! My sister was wondering if it was too spicy for my niece.

      Reply

  10. Kate

    This BBQ pulled chicken was very flavorful and my whole family enjoyedit.. Your instructions were also very easy to follow. Definitely making this again.

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Awesome. Glad you all enjoyed it Kate.

      Reply

  11. Loreto and Nicoletta

    Wow Bernice, I am so craving this pulled chicken sandwich. There is nothing like biting into this and getting that moist tender chicken all sauced up melting in your mouse. The freshness of the slaw is perfect to keep the tastebuds awake and interested. Lovely sandwich! Well done!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Thank you so much Loreto and Nicoletta!

      Reply

  12. Addison

    This chicken is incredibly tender and flavorful! Perfect for meal prep on a Sunday!

    Reply

  13. Jo

    I love to use instant pot every where possible. Especially when cooking meat. Pulled pork is best cooked in instant pot and I love your BBQ version of it. Looks delicious!

    Reply

  14. Terri

    I don’t have an instant pot, but would love to make it in my slow cooker- do you know what the cooking time would be?
    Thanks!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      I haven’t made them but I would guess on high for 3-4 hours. Thighs are small so they won’t take as long as a pork shoulder, etc.

      Reply

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