Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

~ With a quick, five-ingredient sauce you mix directly in your slow cooker, these North Carolina-style barbecue chicken sandwiches are super easy and insanely delicious! ~

Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}

Barbecue is one of those foods that sparks fiery debate and causes otherwise-rational people to draw some pretty strict regional lines of allegiance. Probably brings a lot of men to blows faster than a pretty woman. No, really.

It’s kinda like chili. (Beans in Texas? Oh no you don’t, cowboy!)

Or like pizza. (Chowing down on a deep-dish pie? Well Chicagoan … just be glad those New Yorkers are too busy folding their super-thin crusts in half to fight about it!)

Barbecue’s the same way. Even the spelling is up for debate … barbecue … barbeque … bar-b-q … BBQ???

The true mecca for barbecue in America is heavily concentrated in the southeastern states (y’all). But the variation is incredible, and the staunch supporters of each barbecue style will tell you their way is the best and only way. Competition at barbecue cook-offs is mighty intense as a result. Bragging rights, you know.

There are wet rubs and dry rubs. There’s the sweet, thick, tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce or the more vinegary, peppery sauces of the Carolinas. And don’t even get a die-hard barbecue fanatic started on the subject of which meat can be used in a proper ‘cue … the wrong choice is practically high treason in some states!

Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}

So I realize that I’m treading on hallowed ground in offering up a BBQ recipe today. But I’m game if you are.

Let me be clear, though. I love barbecue. Of any kind.

I’m not picking favorites or choosing sides.

And since I live in Ohio, I’m blissfully removed from having to choose at all (yay – score one for Ohio!). I can embrace the “cowboy style” of West Texas one day and cook up some delicious Memphis-style bar-b-q (topped with pickles, of course!) the next.

So with all due respect, I’m going Carolina-style with this recipe. Eastern North Carolina, to be exact.

The specialty there is a thin but boldly flavored sauce made of vinegar with a bit of cayenne-inspired spiciness. It’s fabulous. My mouth waters just thinking about it (not kidding).

And yes, yes, my dear NC readers … I know you really don’t call it barbecue unless I’ve cooked myself up a hog. I know, I know. But this is my BBQ … m’kay? And I’m going with chicken. Lean and healthy and the perfect backdrop for such a delicious sauce. Trust me. It works.

Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}

And here’s why we’re going NC-style today, friends. It’s because I miss North Carolina (sniff, sniff). My family’s favorite unplug and reconnect vacation is, hands-down, the Carolina coast. Corolla, NC and South Carolina’s Hilton Head are our faves, but we’ve stayed all along the Outer Banks and Carolina coastline. From Duck to Avon to Emerald Isle.

It’s all good. It’s all beach (which is … good)!

I just got back from a fantastically raucous vacay in Corolla with 22 of my nearest and dearest. It was hilarious and spontaneous and delicious. My family’s just kind of like that. A whole lot of glass-is-half-full people who make terrible puns but fabulous food. A good kind of family to have, no doubt (except, maybe, for some of those puns).

Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}

Yup … in NC, even the tiny quickie marts serve up BBQ! (For you OBX lovers: I spotted this sign outside of Wee Winks Market in Duck!)

I miss lots and lots of stuff about the beach, but BBQ is one thing I can recreate back here in Ohio. (Tossing sand all over my floor and permanently moving all 22 of those bad-pun-making aunts and uncles and cousins into my home weren’t great options … so I stuck to what I knew would work – food!)

This recipe is insanely easy. Prep time is about five minutes max (and that’s if you’re on sloooooow beach bum time). No, it’s not the same as spending hours mopping my brow while I slow roast a whole hog over an open pit, but when I’m in a hurry, some chicken breasts and my slow cooker are the perfect substitute. Absolutely captures the barbecue flavor I love, and I’m still out the door in no time!

It’s crazy-good, and those spice lovers in your house can kick it right up with a little extra hot sauce. Oh – and this pulled chicken sandwich is the whole reason I created the recipe for Greek Yogurt Coleslaw. They’re perfect for each other. Perfect. Highly recommended!

Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}

So, pile that coleslaw on nice and high, and you’re good to go. Really, really good. Lip smackin’, finger lickin’, chillaxin’ by the ocean good.

I promise, no matter where you live and what kind of barbecue you swear by, you’re gonna love this quick and easy version. And hey – if you need to, just call it something besides barbecue. Call it your new favorite chicken sandwich. Or go with I-Can’t-Believe-How-Delicious-This-Is Pulled Chicken. Whatever works. No matter the name, you’ll definitely be gobbling this up!

THK By Shelley

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Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

Preparation 7 min. 2017-08-20T00:07:00+00:00 Cook Time 4-8 hours 2017-08-20T00:00:00+00:00
Serves About 4 cups     adjust servings


  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Whole wheat buns and coleslaw for serving, if desired (we use our Greek Yogurt Coleslaw)
  • additional hot sauce for passing at the table, if desired


  1. Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, hot sauce, and black pepper in your slow cooker. Add chicken.
  2. Cook in a 3-4 quart slow cooker, on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. If using a larger 5-6 quart crock-pot, cook on low for about 6 hours. (See note.)
  3. Just before serving, shred chicken (with two forks) and stir into sauce to incorporate.
  4. Serve on buns with coleslaw on top or as an accompaniment on the side, and pass hot sauce as needed.


Recipe Notes

Cook time: Through all of our testing, we found that this recipe works best in a 3-4 quart slow cooker, on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. If you're using a larger 5-6 quart crock-pot, we recommend cooking on low for only about 6 hours. We do not recommend cooking this recipe on high in a 5-6 quart crock-pot because the chicken tends to overcook and become dry. At the end of cook time, the chicken should be cooked through and should shred easily but also still be really moist and dripping with a bit of vinegary sauce once shredded.

Slow cooker variations: The exact heat and speed of cooking can vary between different slow cookers. Some slow cookers, especially newer models, may cook hotter and faster than others. Our research has also led us to believe that some models allow for imperceptible evaporation of liquid (although you'd expect that no liquid would be lost when using a slow cooker), which can leave your recipes less saucy and moist. Because this particular recipe uses very little liquid, it's particularly sensitive to these variations. No need to worry – it's delicious even when cooked until it's a bit drier. However, that's why we recommend shorter cooking times and/or lower heat for this recipe so that it will still be very moist and a bit saucy once fully cooked and shredded. Adding more liquid will lead to an unpleasantly sharp-tasting sauce (we've tried it) ... the key is simply to control the cook time and temperature to yield the most juicy, fall-apart-tender result.

We'd love to see your photos of this recipe! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and tag @TwoHealthyKitchens!


Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}
Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches Recipe {}



Crock-Pot North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches — 66 Comments

  1. I grew up in the BBQ triangle of Eastern NC. ( Goldsboro, Wilson and Kinston), now living in SC. The wife and l cook this recipe today with a slight variation, we added Brown sugar, black pepper and salt to 3/4 cup of Scott’s BBQ sauce which is a legendary sauce in Eastern NC. It turned out awesome.cooked perfect and fell apart easily when shredded with a fork. We use Lexington Red Slaw instead of the Greek slaw. (Lexington style slaw is from Western NC ) l am very picky when it comes to BBQ chicken and this was delicious. Great recipe.

    • Oh, Jon – I truly appreciate your comment! Of course, I’m just thrilled that you (an NC native! 🙂 ) loved the recipe idea, but I’m also so happy that you took a moment to share your variations. That gives other readers a great jumping-off point for personalizing their very own versions! Thank you so much – and have a terrific week! ~Shelley

  2. I stumbled across the recipe while Googling, and I made this dish tonight, as it looked promising. I must say, it was sooo GOOD! I’m an eastern NC native, and I have high standards when it comes to BBQ, and this recipe was beyond great. I made some minor adjustments to suit my taste: I used 1/4 cup of white vinegar + 1/4 cup of ACV instead, and I added some red crushed pepper flakes with a few drops of liquid smoke to give it a tad of hickory smoked flavor. I’m on a health journey and trying to change my eating habits, so finding tasty healthy recipes like this excites me; I get bored easily with the typical salad, steamed veggies and grilled chicken which sometimes leads me to unhealthy food options to satisfy my taste buds. I’m looking forward to trying out your other recipes. Thank you so much!

    • Wow, Toya – this is truly high praise coming from an eastern NC native! Thank you so very much! (And yes … I’m super duper jealous that you’ve lived in eastern NC … one of our very most favorite places! 😉 ) Anyway – I’m just delighted that you enjoyed this BBQ recipe so much, and I really appreciate hearing the little tweaks and customizations you used. I always think that it’s so helpful for other readers to hear how people have tried different twists and flavor variations – really helps others to feel more confident in trying their own little twists, and it’s so much fun to swap suggestions! So thank you, not only for the lovely compliment, but also the great suggestions! And I hope that you’ll find more recipes here on our site that will inspire you … I absolutely believe that eating nutritiously for a long-term healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be boring, but actually can be tremendously delicious and satisfying! Good luck – and please let me know if you have recipe question along the way, and what other recipes you try and enjoy! ~Shelley

  3. Hello…I stumbled across this recipe and love the way it sounds! I wanted to make it for my daughters graduation party but my question is … have you ever made it in advance and froze it? I’m cooking for a huge crowd and that would be a time saver but don’t want to take away from the flavor.
    Thank you for your response!

    • Hi Kim! I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner, and I hope I’m still in time to help. I’ve been trying to do a bit of research for you. I haven’t ever frozen this after cooking, and normally I would have no reservations about you doing that … except for the fact that this particular recipe includes a vinegar-based BBQ sauce.

      Vinegar and other acidic ingredients like lemon juice react upon uncooked meats – sometimes “cooking” them (as in ceviche). Or, as with marinades, these acids can actually make meat a bit mushy if the RAW meat is left too long in the acidic environment, which is why you often see recipes for those types of marinades strictly advising a short marinade time. I’ve read that this process is not halted by freezing, and that the “mushy” outcome can still happen if you freeze uncooked meat directly in an acidic marinade.

      Now, I understand that you’re asking about freezing this AFTER cooking, not as a marinade BEFORE cooking. But I haven’t been able to find a resource that makes me 100% certain that you might not run into textural problems even AFTER cooking. So … that’s my reservation/concern here … and also the question that I haven’t been able to find a good answer to: If you freeze this, in a cooked state, will the acidic, vinegar BBQ sauce in any way compromise the texture of the COOKED meat? I’m just not positive about the answer, and I would feel absolutely terrible if your daughter’s graduation party was in any way less than fabulous.

      On one hand, my gut tells me that freezing this for just a few days to help yourself get ahead would probably be ok … but I just can’t recommend it for sure. It’s not the flavor that I’m worried about, but the texture.

      I’m sorry that I can’t be more definitive, but I’d rather not see you take a chance with such an important event! Good luck – and I hope her party is wonderful! (My kiddos will be graduating in just three years now, and I can already begin to feel the mix of emotions, excitement, anxiety … 😉 ) All the best … Shelley

  4. So I just made this today, and WOW! So Good!!! I doubled the sauce recipe ( I’m a sauce girl, and I am always afraid there will not be enough), and used Sriracha because it was the only hot sauce I had in the house. I didn’t use the full amount of hot sauce, just squirted some in the crock pot with the rest of the ingredients. Whisked it all together and put the chicken in. I also have a freezer full of Hatch Chiles, so I seeded 2 of them and laid them across the top of the chicken. I will absolutely, 100% make this again!!! Thank you so much for such a wonderful recipe.

    • Oh, Carrie! You sure know how to make someone’s day! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a wonderful comment – I’m thrilled you enjoyed this recipe! And, I really appreciate you letting other readers know about the subs and adaptations you made – that’s so helpful! (Lucky you to have a freezer full of Hatch Chiles!!) Truly – thanks bunches! 😀 ~Shelley

  5. This is what I’ve been looking for! I’m also going to try it with turkey. We don’t eat pork, so this is just what the doctor ordered!!!

  6. This was outstanding! I’ve grown up eating NCBBQ and this is a delicious, healthier alternative. I paired it with your yogurt slaw, and I couldn’t be happier.

    Thanks for the recipe.

    • Wow, Rusty! I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your feedback – especially coming from someone who grew up eating NC Barbecue, your compliment really means a lot! So glad you liked the coleslaw, too! That’s actually become one of our most popular recipes ever, which is so funny because at first I didn’t even really think of it as its own recipe – I really just created it to go with the BBQ Sandwiches! Anyway – thanks a million for taking a moment to pop back and let us know how much you liked these! That means the world to me, really! I hope you’ll try more of our recipes and let me know what you think! 😀 ~Shelley

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  8. I LOVE North Carolina BBQ and am so excited to try this recipe! I have a 6 quart crock pot and need to leave it for 8-9 hours while I’m at work. My crock pot will switch to warm once it is done but I’m wondering if it might burn leaving it in that long. Do you think I should add some extra liquid? Thanks in advance!!!

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  10. Just (happily) stumbled across your website and this post…
    Was excited for an NC BBQ recipe…was even more excited to see your favorite vacation spots. I’ve lived in the OBX my whole life. 🙂 Small world.

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  12. Question…think I can use bone-in chicken for this recipe? I love Carolina bbq…so much that the sweeter bbq sauces always disappoint! Can’t wait to try this!

    • Hi, Courtney! Thanks so much for your great question! I do think that bone-in chicken would work for this recipe. Just be aware that bone-in chicken may take a bit longer to cook (although it can be less prone to overcooking – a bonus there). So be sure to check that your chicken is done and be careful to remove all the bones as you shred the meat. Otherwise, though, it should work beautifully. We generally specify boneless just because it’s a bit simpler with no need for the step of removing or working around bones (since THK focuses on quick and easy recipes). I’d love to hear how the recipe works for you – I sure hope you adore it as much as we all do! Thanks again for stopping by and for the terrific question! 😀 ~Shelley

      • Thanks for the quick reply! I ended up just buying boneless chicken since I was going to the grocery store anyway. But if I like the recipe as much as I anticipate I will, I might just try it with the bone-in chicken I have already on hand. 😉 Already have it in the crock-pot…

  13. Oh like you, I love, love, love a good Carolina bbq. We enjoy the Carolina’s for vacation every year now for the past 20 years!! Have you checked out Old Carolina BBQ here in the CLE area? Very good!! But for those times when I want BBQ at home, I’m going to try out this recipe!! YUM!

  14. The first weekend every June, some of the top pitmasters from across the country descend upon NYC for the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. It’s our chance to feast on some amazing, authentic ‘cue from around the country. Loving this recipe… and loving that you highlighted North Carolina! Yum!

    • Ohhhh … that sounds super fun!! We may need to pencil that onto our calendars for next June! A BBQ block party = awesome!!! Mmmmm … just thinking of all those delicious flavors … can you hear our bellies grumbling??? We’re loving the flavors of this NC BBQ – and with only 5 ingredients, it’s SUPER easy! 🙂 ~G&S

  15. Just returned from OBX, and had an opportunity to savor North Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork!

    We very much enjoyed this version with chicken and with the addition of the Greek Yogurt Coleslaw, we have added this yummy combination to our list of favorites!

    Not just for OBX any more!!

    • Hurray for the OBX (and having some really great barbecue while you’re there)! I’m thrilled that this passed the taste-test for other NC-barbecue-lovers! It’s high praise that you added it to your list of favorites – what a compliment! And I’m delighted that you tried our Greek Yogurt Coleslaw alongside – aren’t they just perfect partners?!? Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know that you enjoyed our recipe that much! So glad to give you a little bit of the OBX to savor year-round at home! 😀 ~Shelley

    • Hi, Annie! So glad you stopped by! Hmmmm … and the one thing that I’m thinking is better than BBQ in the summertime is eating BBQ in the summertime while actually sitting on a beach! But when you cant do that (*sigh*), this recipe will get you pretty darn close! Plus, it’s so ridiculously easy that you can enjoy it any time you want! Yay! Can’t wait for you to try it! 😀 ~Shelley

  16. I would never think to bust out the crockpot during summer, but why not!? More time to enjoy the outside weather and no stove to heat up! Yippee! Great idea for a big gathering 🙂

    • Oh, Allison – using your crock-pot in the summer is truly an epiphany! Just don’t think of the typical crock-pot recipes like stews and chilis … instead envision sandwiches (like this one!). The crock-pot is seriously the perfect thing for summer cooking – easy, hands-off recipes that free you up to enjoy the sunshine, and you don’t have to heat up the kitchen to get a fantastic meal on the table! You’ll love it for sure! 😀 ~G&S

  17. I love any chance to use my crock pot and I’m always looking for new recipes. Plus, this so much easier method of having BBQ, versus cooking up a whole hog. 😀
    I love the hot sauce in here. Just sounds so delicious! Can’t wait to try 😀 Pinning!

    • Hi, Cindy! Really – this is so insanely easy, but it yields big, big flavor for such a tiny amount of effort! And the hot sauce is just perfect – it lends a hint of flavorful cayenne without being spicy (although your guys can always pass ’round the Frank’s at the table and kick that heat right on up!). It’s really delicious – you’re gonna love it! Thanks so much for the pin, too! 😀 ~G&S

  18. I love making Crock-Pot pulled meats for company and parties. Everyone loves them, and it’s easy on the host! Rockin! I also love that you added your coleslaw to the sammie. Thanks for the recipe. I’ll be pinning it for when I need some party inspiration.

    • You’re so right – this is exactly the best sort of recipe for parties. Totally easy and low-stress for the host or hostess, yet such a smash hit with all the guests! Can’t wait for you to try it! Oh – and the Greek Yogurt Coleslaw is a must! It’s just as quick and easy as this BBQ recipe, and is the perfect flavor partner for the delicious pulled chicken! Yuuuuummmmm! 😀 ~G&S

    • Lol! Christine, you’re hilarious! And we totally agree – this is such a quick and easy recipe that you have loads of extra time to enjoy the summer sunshine, plus it doesn’t heat up the house on those hot summer afternoons – so perfect! 😀 ~G&S

    • Hi, Jeanette! I hope your boys love it as much as we do! 😀 Frank’s is the perfect way to get that little cayenne kick you want in a good North Carolina barbecue. Even better, it’s so easy to control the heat by letting each person add more at the table if they’d like. North Carolina BBQ isn’t spicy – just really flavorful, but I know lots of people who love adding just a little more kick to finish it off. This way, everyone can customize their own! ~Shelley

  19. Ooh, there is such a thing as burgers with chicken? Who knew? Why didn’t I hear of this before? This is SO going to be on this weeks menu. As soon as possible. Plus, apparently it’s perfect for me anyway: I’m chillaxin’ by the Greek ocean here 99% of the time.. Are you jealous? (Can’t be as jealous as I am – Id pick food over burning in the sun any time :P)

    • Oh, yeah … we can work chicken all sorts of ways here in the U.S.! You’ve gotta try it – so outrageously good! Now … about me being jealous over you chillaxin’ by the Greek ocean??? Heck yeah – I’m jealous! 😀 But why do we have to pick beachy chillaxin’ OR food? I vote for both … simultaneously if possible! A good oceanside chillaxin’ just gets better when it’s accompanied by great food! ~Shelley

  20. What a fun post, Shelley – I loved reading about barbecues in the US! You guys’d probably die if you saw what they look like here in Spain (no slaw, no buns, no actual burgers, etc… or at least that’s the way we roll at home!)
    Anyway these sandwiches look absolutely delicious to me! You’d never ever see them in a Spanish barbecue, but I definitely love the sound of them! xx

    • So, I think we need to do a little research … you just hop the next plane so you and I can do a whirlwind tour of American barbecue styles … and then I’ll join you in a glorious nosh-fest of Spanish-style barbecue! Don’t you think this sort of in-depth analysis just NEEDS to be done!?!?!? 😀 ~Shelley

    • Thanks, Julie! This really is such a healthy alternative to typical barbecue, yet with all the huge flavors! Lean chicken plus a whole-grain bun are total no-brainer substitutions, and once you pile on the veggie-packed coleslaw (especially our recipe made with Greek yogurt! 😀 ), you’ve got a super-easy, super-nutritious BBQ meal that you won’t feel one bit guilty about gobbling down! Yay! ~G&S

    • Oh, Maureen – how very American of you, lol! 😀 BBQ-stuffed potatoes are fabulous! And this sauce is a little different from what you would have loved in Tennessee BBQ – but really just as delicious! When it comes to barbecue, I don’t care what state it’s from – I’m an equal opportunity eater for sure! I’ll be curious how you like NC-style spicy vinegar barbecue compared to Tennessee’s sauce! ~Shelley

  21. Oh, Shelley. Yes, good times at the OBX! My daughter is there now for beach week for her high school! And, this barbecue recipe looks yum and love, love the fast part! WIll try it soon and close my eyes and be back in NC! (By the way, that is a loooong drive from Ohio!)

    • Wow! An OBX trip in high school – ok, that’s beyond-fun!!! You’ll really love this if you’re already hooked on NC BBQ – it totally captures all the flavor but is so quick and easy with the slow cooker! Pop open a Corona and pretend you can feel sand on your toes … you’re there! (And it’s really only about 10-12 hours to the OBX from where we live – honestly, we’re so used to it that it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore at all! Toooootally worth it!) 😀 ~Shelley

  22. Your vacay sounds just like my husband’s family’s vacations and I. am. jealous. But, these sandwiches! Yum! They look and sound *amazing*. I absolutely love barbecue…BBQ…bar-b-que? whatever, I love it all. I’m not picky in the least and I’m definitely going to try this one out! Plus, all your tips on slow cookers is awesome! You answered my questions before I even could think of them. 🙂

    • My family (this particular group is from my dad’s side) seriously knows how to have fun … and how to eat!!! We split up dinner duty throughout our beach week, and my aunt usually does a huge North Carolina BBQ spread for her night (cole slaw and all the fixin’s!). It’s soooooo good! I love having my own (chicken) version to make at home! And seriously – the slow cooker makes it ridiculously easy! Can’t wait for you to try it! 😀 ~Shelley

  23. HAHA all your thoughts about BBQ (my spelling choice) and pizza are SO true. It’s funny how there are so many variations to foods, and everyone thinks they know the ONLY way to eat them.
    I also don’t pick sides for BBQ – give me it all! ESPECIALLY these sandwiches. YUM-O-RAMA! Pinned!

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