How to Boil Chicken for Tender Meat That’s Easy to Shred

  • You can make boiled chicken with whole chicken or boneless pieces like breasts and thighs. 
  • Lock in moisture by cooking the chicken at a full boil for a short time, then let it slowly simmer.
  • Boiled chicken is typically shredded, making it an easy ingredient to add to recipes.
  • Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.

A ready supply of cooked chicken to add to salads, soups, sandwiches, and any number of other dishes is a useful item to have in your kitchen arsenal. One of the easiest ways to make tender and flavorful chicken that fits seamlessly into countless recipes involves boiling pieces of chicken (or a whole bird) and shredding the meat once it’s cooked. 

To find out how to boil your chicken to perfection without drying out the meat, follow the advice of Jessica Randhawa, the writer and recipe developer behind The Forked Spoon.  

Is there a difference between boiling and poaching chicken?

Because both cooking methods require you to cook the chicken in liquid, it’s easy to confuse boiled chicken for poached chicken.

The central difference between these styles lies in the temperature of the cooking liquid — poaching is a gentle process in which a food item cooks in liquid that’s between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas boiling liquid needs to be at a much higher boiling temperature (212 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Poaching works well for delicate foods like eggs, fruit, and fish, but it can also be used for chicken if you want to easily shred and slice the meat. Some chefs believe that the end result is moister and more flavorful than boiled chicken.

Which part of the chicken is best for boiling?

Boiled chicken fillet on a wooden board.

Boil a whole chicken if you have a pot that’s big enough, or pieces of chicken if pressed for time.

popovich_vl/Shutterstock


If you have a large stockpot, then boiling an entire chicken is “possible and straightforward,” according to Randhawa. However, if you’re pressed for time, she mentions that “smaller, bone-in pieces” like breasts and thighs cook quicker. If speed is truly of the essence, she recommends boiling “boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs.” 

While the texture of the boiled chicken will stay fairly consistent whether you use pieces or a whole bird, bone-in pieces and whole chickens will yield more flavorful meat, and will also result in chicken broth, which can be saved and used for many recipes in the future.  

How long should you boil your chicken?

When boiling chicken, Randhawa emphasizes that it’s crucial to “cook [the chicken] until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.” The amount of time that it takes to achieve that temperature will vary depending on the size of the chicken (or chicken pieces). The cook times that Randhawa recommends for different sizes and types of chicken can be found below:

Boiling pieces of chicken

When boiling bone-in or boneless chicken breasts or thighs rather than a whole bird, many of the same processes can be used as if you’re boiling a full chicken. However, you don’t need to stuff chicken pieces, and the boil time will vary. That said, you’ll still want to use a large pot, cover the chicken with water, and cook over high heat followed by low heat.

What can be made from boiled chicken?

Homemade steamed rip chicken spicy salad with shallot, celery, chili, and Scallion.

Shred boiled chicken and store it, or use it immediately in meals.

Regreto/Shutterstock


  • Strain the broth. After boiling and simmering the whole chicken, vegetables, and herbs in water for well over an hour, you’ll end up with more than just meat for shredding. You’ll also have a rich and flavorful chicken broth, which can serve as a foundation for soups, sauces, and much more. Pour the broth through a strainer to catch the bits of veggies and herbs, then store it in an airtight container for up to four days in the fridge or six months in the freezer.
  • Use the boiled chicken right away. Once the boiled chicken is shredded, use it in countless dishes, such as enchiladas, nachos, noodles, tacos, salads, chili, and soups.
  • Save some for later. There’s no need to use all of your boiled chicken right away. Randhawa says that you can also “store the chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about five days.”

Insider’s takeaway

Boiled chicken is an easy food item to prepare, and its versatility makes it a useful ingredient in a vast array of recipes. The trick to keeping boiled chicken from drying out is to keep it at a full rolling boil very briefly, then lowering the temperature and letting it simmer to lock in the moisture and flavor.

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