This Barbacoa Chicken recipe is super simple to make with the help of a pressure cooker, like an Instant Pot. With an extra boost of flavor from smoky chipotle peppers, you’re left with the most tender and delicious Mexican shredded chicken to use in burrito bowls, tacos, or on top of salads.

Barbacoa Chicken in a white bowl sprinkled with fresh cilantro.

If you’ve been reading Smells Like Home for long enough, you’ll know that cooking Mexican food has been a huge part of our kitchen adventures over the years.

On average, I’m making some type of Mexican or Tex-Mex recipe 4 times per month. Many are from my Mexican recipes archives on the site and many are new recipes I come across or ones that I make up as I go along.

This Barbacoa Chicken recipe is an adaptation of the most incredible Barbacoa Beef recipe I’ve made yet. It’s a new recipe that will feed crowds at my house for years to come, just like the beef barbacoa recipe has done over the past couple of years.

A spoon has pulled out some of the cooked Barbacoa Chicken from the Instant Pot.

What is Barbacoa Chicken?

Barbacoa Chicken is shredded chicken that has been slow cooked (like in a slow cooker or a Dutch oven) or pressure cooked in a sauce made with onions, smoky chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and chicken broth.

You can adjust the spiciness level of the chicken by adding more chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. I used just 1/2 of a chipotle pepper to keep the chicken on the mild side.

The chicken emerges from its cooking pot in its most tender form and is ready to be served in burritos, tacos, burrito bowls, or on top of salads.

Ingredients for Barbacoa Chicken are laid out in bowls on a white marble counter.

Ingredients

Here’s the basic grocery list for this Barbacoa Chicken recipe. Be sure to keep scrolling down to the recipe for the full Ingredients list and full printable recipe card!

  • Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Better than Bouillon Roasted Chicken flavor
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Fresh garlic cloves
  • Ground cumin
  • Dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Low sodium chicken broth or chicken stock
  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • Canola oil
  • Onion
  • Tomato paste
  • Fresh lime juice
Overhead photo looking down into an Instant Pot with cooked Barbacoa Chicken inside.

How to Make Chicken Barbacoa in the Instant Pot

Here are the basic steps to make this Mexican shredded chicken recipe. Be sure to keep scrolling down to the recipe for the full Ingredients list and full printable recipe card!

STEP 1: Make the sauce by blending all of the sauce ingredients together in a small food processor or blender.

Ingredients for Barbacoa Chicken, including the sauce, are laid out in bowls on a white marble counter.

STEP 2: Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Turn on the Sauté setting on the Instant Pot and once hot, add the oil. Lightly brown the chicken on both sides and transfer the chicken pieces to a plate.

STEP 3: Cook the onions in the remaining oil and then stir in the tomato paste until it coats the onions. Pour in the chicken broth or chicken stock and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the chicken to the pan and pour the sauce over the chicken.

STEP 4: Set the Instant Pot to the Pressure HIGH setting and set the timer. Once finished, allow the pressure cooker to natural release for a few minutes and then quick release the valve.

Barbacoa Chicken in a white bowl ready to be shredded.

STEP 5: After all of the pressure has escaped the pot, gently pull the barbacoa chicken pieces from the pot with a pair of tongs. Place them in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Shred the chicken with two forks in the bowl or turn on the stand mixer to medium and shred the chicken with the paddle attachment for about 10 seconds.

STEP 6: Pour some of the juices from the Instant Pot over the chicken and stir in the juice of half of a lime into the chicken before serving.

Shredded Barbacoa Chicken in a white bowl with two forks in the chicken. A small white pitcher is pouring some of the leftover barbacoa sauce onto this chicken.

The Best Ways to Serve Barbacoa Chicken

Just like my taco shredded chicken recipe, this barbacoa chicken recipe can be served in a variety of ways! 

The way I choose how to use this chicken is to pick the kind of Mexican food we’re craving and go in that direction! The recipe yields enough for 3 to 4 meals for my daughter and me so we always have a blast choosing our meals when chicken barbacoa is on the menu.

Barbacoa Chicken is being served in a burrito bowl with white rice, pinto bean, salsa verde, pickled red onions, sour cream, and guacamole.

Burrito bowls are always a big YES in my house! With cilantro lime rice, black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, shredded cheese, and an extra squeeze of lime, this shredded chicken barbacoa nestles right into our homemade burrito bowls.

Chicken barbacoa tacos are never a bad idea either! In fact, we love setting up a little taco bar with mini flour tortilla, all of our favorite taco toppings, and some refried beans and rice on the side. It’s basically my kid’s dream meal!

A fork is holding some of the Barbacoa Chicken over a white serving bowl.

And I’ve even stuffed the last few tablespoons of this chicken into quesadillas with shredded Mexican cheese for a quick weekend lunch. They’re so darn easy!!

Love Easy Mexican Food Like We Do? You’ll Love These Recipes!

A fork is holding some of the Barbacoa Chicken over a white serving bowl.
A fork is holding some of the Barbacoa Chicken over a white serving bowl.

Barbacoa Chicken Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Barbacoa Chicken is Mexican shredded chicken that is mildly spicy and huge on flavor. This is an easy Instant Pot chicken recipe that you'll make over and over for burrito bowls, tacos, quesadilla, and salads.

Ingredients

For the sauce:

  • ½ chipotle pepper in adobo
  • 1 tsp adobo sauce (from the can)
  • Scant ½ tsp Better than Bouillon Roasted Chicken
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Scant ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • A few cranks of freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chicken broth or chicken stock

For the chicken:

  • 1 ½ to 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 5 tsp (a scant 2 tbsp) tomato paste
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

Instructions

  1. To make the sauce: Blend all of the sauce ingredients together until smooth in a small food processor or blender. Set aside.
  2. To make the chicken: Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with a heavy sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  3. Turn the Instant Pot on to the Sauté setting. Once hot, add the oil to the pot and then place the chicken in the pot. Brown lightly on both sides, flipping after about 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent loosely with foil.
  4. Cook the onions in the remaining oil until softened and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for about 1 minute, until the onions are fully coated with the paste.
  5. Add the chicken broth to the pot to deglaze the pot and scrape up any of the bits stuck to the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
  6. Add the chicken and all its juices from the plate to the pot. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Turn the Instant Pot to the Pressure setting. Set to High and set the timer to 18 minutes. Natural release for 5 minutes, then quick release to release all the remaining pressure.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken from the pot to a large bowl. Shred the chicken with two forks. Pour about ¼ cup of the remaining sauce from the pot over the chicken. Squeeze a 1/2 of a lime over the chicken and then stir lightly to combine. Reserve the remaining sauce in an airtight container or jar to flavor future meals with the chicken barbacoa.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 478Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 289mgSodium: 747mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 60g

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