~ These insanely delicious, ridiculously EASY Carolina-Style Instant Pot Shredded BBQ Chicken Sandwiches are an adaptation of our crazy-popular slow cooker recipe. It’s inspired by our epic family beach vacations along the Eastern Carolina shore. You can use either fresh or frozen chicken, and it takes just minutes to prep for your pressure cooker (so you can spend more time at the beach)! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less •
“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.” ~Rusty
“I’ve lived in Eastern NC (Jacksonville) my entire life, so I was excited to come across this recipe on my search for healthy recipes. … Let me just say that this pulled chicken “Eastern NC style” is EXCELLENT! I made the greek yogurt slaw to go with it too. SO SO good. The texture of the chicken and the flavor (even the appearance) were spot on.” ~Melissa
“I stumbled across the recipe while Googling, and … 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.” ~ Toya
Yep! Those are just a few of the raves we’ve heard about our “original” North Carolina BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches recipe – the recipe we created nearly five years ago, for cooking shredded BBQ chicken in a crock-pot.
And – no doubt – you’re already thinking: Oh yeah, North Carolina BBQ! Get in my belly! (Especially after reading those rave reviews, right?!?)
But you might also be wondering how this new recipe is different from the original slow cooker version from five years ago. And will it still be just as good???
Don’t worry – it tastes just the same (I totally pinky swear). It’s every bit as delicious as the original!
It’s still got:
- all that vinegar-y, pepper-y flavor you want in Eastern North Carolina BBQ
- with a boldly flavored sauce that’s all drippy and yummy, and mingling with shreds of perfectly tender, pulled chicken
- piled high on a pillowy, soft bun
- mmmm … and maybe with a few extra dashes of hot sauce (for fire lovers) or some cooling, sweet-tart coleslaw artfully cascading from on high
Just looking at these photos (as I sit here in chilly-gray Ohio), I can imagine myself digging into a homestyle barbecue dinner after a blissful day jumping in the surf and lounging in the sand at my favorite North Carolina beach (which would be in Corolla … maybe Duck).
Oh – and ya know what else this new Instant Pot version’s got, just like the original slow cooker version? It’s got the super-duper-easy prep you want when you’d rather spend your day at the beach (and not in the kitchen)! We’re talkin’ …
- a 5-ingredient sauce you mix directly in the pot (so easy!)
- 5-minute prep time (tops!)
Ok, ok … so how is this version different from the original?
Really, there’s just one tiny twist: the way we’re cooking it.
Instead of letting your crock-pot sloooooooowly cook your shredded chicken, now you can harness all the same great flavors in a fraction of the time by using your handy-dandy Instant Pot!
BBQ Chicken in Your Instant Pot!
Yep yep yep! For all you Instant Pot lovers out there, we’ve adapted the original slow cooker recipe so it still works perfectly in an electric pressure cooker.
Mainly, that means we had to adjust the “sauce” amount, since the standard rule of thumb for Instant Pots is that you need about 1 cup of cooking liquid for proper cooking. Our original, crock-pot recipe only has about 1/2 cup of vinegary BBQ sauce for the cooking liquid.
But through our testing, we found that simply doubling the sauce for the Instant Pot (so you start with about 1 cup of cooking liquid), and then stirring just some of that cooking sauce back into the shredded chicken, works perfectly. You get the same moist and juicy, super-flavorful pulled chicken as you do when you make the slow cooker version.
Plus, you get a couple of side benefits. Yay – bonus!
1) After the chicken’s cooked and shredded, the recipe directs you to stir about 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid into the 1.5 pounds of chicken this recipe calls for (discarding the additional, unused liquid). But, you can always reserve some of the extra sauce to offer on the side, in case some people like their BBQ chicken sandwiches extra drippy and saucy. Drizzle in more to taste after you shred the chicken, or pass the reserved sauce at the table.
2) Alternately, you can actually use slightly more than twice as much chicken as my recipe card calls for (up to about 3.5 pounds), without increasing the amount of sauce you need to make. So, this recipe is terrific for feeding larger groups, too. You’ll just stir in extra BBQ sauce if you use more chicken, discarding less sauce after cooking.
Now, if you google around, you’ll probably see claims that you need anywhere from 1/2 cup to 2 cups of cooking liquid in an Instant Pot. But, there’s some flexibility in exactly what constitutes liquid (think of things that are only kind of liquid-y, like salsa) … and starting with 1 cup of liquid seems to be a pretty consistent middle ground. It’s always worked well in all my testing.
Speaking of which, you might be wondering exactly what Instant Pot model I used in testing …
Which IP Model for Making Instant Pot BBQ Chicken?
The 6-quart size is by far the most popular size, and is basically considered the “standard.” So most recipes you’ll see in cookbooks or on the Internet are designed for that, although a 3-quart or 8-quart should work for this shredded BBQ chicken recipe, too.
In fact, when I bought an Instant Pot for my mom (after she saw how much I loved mine), she and I picked out the Instant Pot Duo Plus Mini 3-quart for her … so mom, feel free to go ahead and whip this up in your little 3-quart, too! 😉
Hmmmmm … but there’s still another pressing question we need to answer today, isn’t there? Can Carolina BBQ be made without a hog?
Yup! (At least, mine can.)
Carolina BBQ Chicken (Without the Hog)
As I mentioned with our original, slow cooker version of this recipe, I do understand that, for a lot of Carolinians, it just ain’t ‘que without the hog. I get it.
But this is my version. With chicken instead of fattier pork. Lean and healthy and the perfect backdrop for the delicious sauce. Trust me. It works.
As our lovely reader, Melissa, commented in her RAVING review about how this recipe is JUST LIKE the authentic NC BBQ she loves, “The only thing we noticed that was missing was the ‘fat’ flavoring from the pulled pork. But who needs that when eating healthy, right?” I couldn’t agree more, Melissa!
So … chicken. Try it! You won’t be sorry.
Ok. You’ve got your Instant Pot, and you’ve got your ingredients, all ready to go, right? Here’s all ya have to do …
How to Make Shredded BBQ Chicken in an Instant Pot
Ok, guys, this is so, so simple. Blink and you might miss it. Ya ready???
Step 1. You start by mixing the BBQ sauce ingredients, directly in your Instant Pot insert. (Yippee – no extra bowls or pans to wash!)
Step 2. Then, add your chicken breasts and secure the lid. Select the Manual, High Pressure program for 8 minutes, and let your Instant Pot work its magic. (While you go do something much more fun, like soaking up a few more rays of North Carolina sunshine while the kiddos cannonball into the pool.)
NOTE: If you’re starting with frozen chicken breasts, you don’t need to thaw them before cooking this recipe. Simply place the individual, frozen chicken breasts in the pressure cooker and increase the cook time to 13 minutes (instead of the 8 minutes you use for fresh chicken). Easy!
Step 3. After a 10-minute natural pressure release, you scoop the cooked chicken out of the Instant Pot and shred it up.
I know some people have other methods for shredding chicken, but for just three chicken breasts, I think a couple of forks is all you need. I do the same when making my shredded Instant Pot Chicken Tacos.
Step 4. Drizzle some of the BBQ sauce (your cooking liquid) over the shredded chicken, stirring so it’s all drippy and moist and glistening with BBQ-y goodness. For 1.5 pounds of chicken, I recommend using about 3/4 cup of the sauce, but feel free to adjust that to taste.
Step 5. See … I told you it was EASY! Now all that’s left to do is serve it up! (Hint: you’re probably gonna want some extra napkins, too.)
And then … head back down to the beach to watch the sunset and catch ghost crabs! (Or, head to that PTO meeting or dash off for the soccer practice carpool … whatever the evening holds …)
But wait. How about some servings ideas? Sure thing!
How to Serve Up Your Yummy Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
• One Word: Coleslaw! – As I’ve mentioned before, I adore coleslaw on (and next to) BBQ. Especially on. Absolutely, though, whether you spoon it on top of your ‘que or cozy it alongside, I 100% recommend that you try our No-Mayo Greek Yogurt Coleslaw with these chicken sandwiches.
I specifically created that coleslaw recipe to go with our original, crock-pot BBQ Chicken … and that slaw has become one of our all-time most popular recipes. It’s way lower in fat than normal slaw recipes, with just a handful of simple ingredients. Plus, it’s every bit as easy-peasy as the BBQ chicken it’s meant to be served with (actually, probably even EASIER)!
• Whole Grain Buns – Since this is THK, you know we’re always working the nutrition angles, trying to figure out things like how to eat more whole grains. Here’s a chance to do just that! I’ll admit, some of the whole grain buns out there are a bit disappointing. But I feel like most grocery stores stock one or two gems, whether on the “regular” bread aisle or in the bakery.
Don’t give up – try to find one that you and your family enjoy! And be sure to read the ingredient labels carefully, since some brands use less desirable ingredients, like high-fructose corn syrup, in their buns.
• Hot Sauce – My guys love to pass extra Frank’s Red Hot at the table to spice up their barbecue. Super yummy, if your fam loves that extra little kick!
• Side Dishes – Besides the coleslaw (because you really just have to!), my top suggestions would be to serve these sandwiches with something like:
For dessert, some sweet watermelon wedges, chilled grapes, or our super-refreshing Grape Popsicles would be perfect and so very simple.
No matter how you serve them (and how close you live to the Carolina coast), these super-fast, super-easy, super-DELICIOUS Barbecue Instant Pot Shredded Chicken Sandwiches are an absolute must-try! I hope you’ll love them just as much as my family does, and just as much as so many of our other readers do. And I hope they’ll bring a little taste of Carolina sunshine into your home, even on the busiest, middle-of-the-work-week evenings.
Oh! And, for an entirely different (but equally scrumptious!) barbecue chicken experience, be sure to check out our Easy, Cheesy BBQ Chicken Wraps. They’re ready in under 10 minutes!
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (fresh or frozen – no need to thaw if frozen) (see note about making larger batches using more chicken)
- 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
- Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, hot sauce, and black pepper in your Instant Pot's insert, stirring or whisking to combine. Add chicken breasts.
- Close Instant Pot lid (making sure the "venting" steam release knob is set to sealing, not venting). Select Manual, High Pressure, 8 minutes if using fresh or already-thawed chicken or 13 minutes if using frozen chicken breasts that are NOT thawed. (It takes my 6-quart Instant Pot Duo60 about 7-8 minutes to build enough pressure to seal and begin the 8-minute cook time, and an extra 4-6 minutes to build pressure if I'm starting with frozen chicken.)
- When cook time is completed, allow Instant Pot to sit (natural release) for 10 minutes, and then manually vent to relieve any residual pressure, and open the Instant Pot.
- Remove chicken from Instant Pot and shred. Stir about 3/4 cup cooking liquid into chicken. Discard the additional cooking liquid, or reserve it to pass at the table for those people who like saucier BBQ. (See note about using the additional liquid if making a larger batch.)
- Serve on buns with coleslaw on top or as an accompaniment on the side, and pass hot sauce if desired.
Amount of chicken: Although this recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds of chicken (which is a good amount for about 6 sandwiches), you can use up to about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds of chicken, if you'd like to make a larger batch. There should be about 1 3/4 cups of cooking liquid in the bottom of the Instant Pot after the chicken has cooked (even though you started with only about 1 cup) – and that's enough cooking liquid to stir into up to 3 1/2 pounds of chicken, without adjusting any other ingredient amounts. So, for the 1 1/2 pounds of chicken this recipe calls for, plan to use about 3/4 cup of the liquid – and adjust upwards from there, if using more chicken.
Cooking Frozen Chicken: Your chicken breasts should be individually frozen, and not frozen together in one big block. If they aren't individual, they will probably need even more additional cook time and may not cook evenly. I don't recommend that. Instead, thaw them safely in the refrigerator or microwave before adding them to the Instant Pot and beginning this recipe.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 servings Serving Size: 2/3 cup chicken
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 225Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2g
Nutrition information is provided for cooked, shredded chicken only, as nutrition can vary for the buns and coleslaw depending on what you choose to use. Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may additionally vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.