I've learned a ton about slow cooking since first challenging myself nearly a decade ago to make a Weight Watchers friendly crockpot recipe every day for a year. I've made hundreds of crockpot recipes since then including tons of slow cooker recipes for chicken.
Can you overcook chicken in the slow cooker?
While cooking in a crock pot is much more forgiving than cooking in the oven, on the stovetop or on the grill, it is far from foolproof. Slow cookers are specially designed to cook food low and slow for longer periods of time, but it is absolutely possible to overcook food in a slow cooker, especially boneless skinless chicken breasts.
This article will attempt to answer all your questions about cooking chicken in the crockpot including:
- How long to cook raw chicken in the slow cooker?
- How long to cook chicken pieces in the slow cooker?
- How long to cook chicken breasts in the slow cooker on low? on high?
- What happens if you overcook chicken in the slow cooker?
- How long can you leave chicken in the slow cooker?
- Can you leave chicken in the slow cooker too long?
- Can you cook chicken on low for 8 hours?
In addition to my own experience I also researched what the cooking experts had to say on the topic of slow cooking chicken, including the folks at America's Test Kitchen, one of my favorite resources.
How Long to Cook Raw Chicken in the Slow Cooker?
Unlike many cuts of beef, slow cooker chicken doesn’t require a full day to cook. Slow cooker chicken dinners are a good idea when you want to eat a perfectly cooked chicken dinner within a few hours of turning your crockpot on. If you'll be away from the house for 8 hours or more it's best to choose longer cooking slow-cooked meats like beef or pork shoulder, or a bean soup.
Suggested Cooking Times for Slow Cooker Chicken from America's Test Kitchen:
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts: 1-2 hours on Low
- Bone-in Split Chicken Breasts: 2-3 hours on Low
- Chicken Thighs: 3-4 hours on Low
- Whole Chicken: 4-6 hours on Low
- Turkey Breast: 5-6 hours on Low
It's important to remember that cooking times can vary. Some of the variables that can affect these suggested cooking times include size of your chicken or chicken pieces, how hot your slow cooker cooks and how full your slow cooker is. If your slow cooker is more than ⅔ full cooking times may be longer.
What is the Best Way to Cook a Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker?
When cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker, placing the chicken breast side down results in more juicy chicken because while the chicken cooks the juices from the dark meat move down into the breast, keeping it from becoming overcooked as the proper internal temperature of the chicken dark meat is reached. Though often just as flavorful as roast chicken from the oven it won't result in crispy skin. I always discard the skin before serving which saves on calories and Weight Watchers points too.
Rub your favorite seasoning blend all over the outside of the bird and inside the cavity before placing it upside down (breast down in the slow cooker.)
Seasoning Blend for Slow Cooked Whole Chicken:
- 2 ½ teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or seasoning salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the slow cooker and let it rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes. Letting it rest will ensure all the juices stay in the meat rather than running out instantly when you carve your bird.
Can You Leave Chicken in the Slow Cooker Too Long? What Happens if You Overcook Chicken in the Slow Cooker?
Yes, you can cook chicken in the slow cooker too long. If you do it may become dry and stringy or mealy. It's not the end of the world. My best suggestion would be to cut the meat into small chunks before using in the recipe, or take it out and shred it completely and then stir back into the sauce. Perfect slow cooker chicken breast is ready in just a few hours.
More Tips for Success When Slow Cooking Chicken
1) Don't put frozen chicken in the crock pot. The food safety experts suggest that you always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will stay in the temperature danger zone too long which could result in a food borne illness.
2) The best way to cook chicken (and turkey) in a slow cooker is on the LOW setting and for a relatively short amount of time. This is unlike tough meats which can cook for a long time in the moist heat of a crockpot.
3) For best results you should avoid cooking chicken (and turkey) on the high setting if you want juicy results. Low heat is the way to go with slow cooker chicken recipes.
4) It's best to begin checking the temperature of chicken breasts (boneless and bone-in chicken breasts), whole chicken, and turkey breasts at the shorter time of a recipe's recommended times to avoid overcooked dry chicken. Because boneless chicken breast has such little fat and little connective tissue it can overcook very quickly.
5) Chicken thighs are more forgiving, making them better suited to the slow cooker because their dark meat becomes meltingly fork tender during the long cooking time. They can cook longer than bone-in or boneless breasts. Many of my favorite recipes for slow cooker chicken are made with boneless chicken thighs, making it one of the best cuts of meat for the crockpot.
6) Remove the skin. One (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breast with skin has almost 23 grams more fat than its skinless equivalent, which has only 9 grams of fat. Also the skin becomes flabby, rubbery and unappealing during slow cooking. If crispy skin is important to you are better off oven roasting your chicken instead of slow cooking it. Chicken skin is often slippery, so using a paper towel provides extra grip when removing it. It usually easier to remove and discard the chicken from a whole chicken after cooking.
7) A longer cook time is also needed for soups or casseroles where the meat is insulated by other ingredients.
8) Another important consideration is crockpot size. Crockpots are designed to be ½ - ¾ full for best results. Many people use a crockpot that is far too big for the recipe they are making. This can result in tough, rubbery, dry, overdone chicken. Compare this to baking brownies, if the recipes calls for an 8x8 inch baking pan but you only have a 9x13 inch baking pan, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time as the extra surface space will cause the brownies to cook much more quickly than instructed.
9) This is the same with slow cookers. If the recipe calls for a 3-quart slow cooker (affiliate link) but is cooked in a 6-quart slow cooker (affiliate link), you’ll need to adjust for the extra surface space or the meal may become overcooked. If you only have a large slow cooker, another alternative is to place the ingredients in an oven safe baking dish inside the slow cooker. I often do this when making slow cooker dips and desserts.
Ten of My Favorite CrockPot Chicken Recipes with Weight Watchers Points
- Greek Chicken with Feta & Tomatoes
- Easy Slow Cooker Chicken & Gravy
- 2-Ingredient Salsa Slow Cooker Chicken
- CrockPot Balsamic Chicken Thighs
- 4-Ingredient CrockPot Goddess Chicken
- Skinny Slow Cooker Southwest Chicken Soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken Vegetable Soup
- Slow Cooker Rosemary Roast Chicken
- Slow Cooker Chicken Marbella
- Slow Cooker Caribbean Jerk Chicken
References & Resources
America's Test Kitchen - Top Tips for Slow Cooker Chicken & Turkey
The Kitchn - The Easy Way to Make Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken using boneless skinless chicken breasts and chicken broth and/or water.
This post contains affiliate links to products I like. When you buy something through one of my Amazon links or other (affiliate links), I receive a small commission that helps support this site. Thank you for your purchase!
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