January 14th, 2014
06:00 PM ET
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It’s hard enough to cook chicken properly on the stovetop or in the oven, where you have complete control of the temperature, but in a slow cooker (see which models we recommend in our equipment testing) it’s even trickier to ensure moist, flavorful chicken at the end of a long cooking time. We’ve seen soups and stews full of dry shredded chicken and braised breasts and thighs that were bland and unappealing. Here is what we’ve learned about getting juicy, flavorful chicken from a slow cooker.

Cooking Times for Chicken
We found that the only way to cook chicken in a slow cooker is on the low setting, which takes longer to get to the maximum heat level and allows the chicken time to gradually cook through without overcooking. Different cuts also require different cooking times to keep from overcooking.

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts: 2 to 3 hours on Low
Bone-in Chicken Breasts: 3 to 4 hours on Low
Chicken Thighs: 4 to 5 hours on Low
Drumsticks and Wings: 3 to 4 hours on Low
Ground Chicken: 2 to 3 hours on Low

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Convenient and easy to prep, this lean cut is great for quick weeknight meals, but it’s also the most likely to overcook and turn dry. To keep our breasts juicy and tender, we found that keeping the heat level low and minding our time range were essential. We also cook them in a flavorful liquid to keep the heat gentle and even and to infuse the meat with flavor.

Bone-In Chicken Breasts
Bone-in breasts work well in the slow cooker because the bone helps to insulate the lean meat, preventing it from drying out during the longer cooking time. We cook the breasts with the skin on so that its fat can help keep the meat juicy and infuse it with flavor, but the moist environment of the slow cooker leaves it flabby and pale, so we remove it before serving. A paper towel is useful to help grip the skin more easily.

Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs work well in the slow cooker; even after hours of simmering, they stay tender thanks to their fat and connective tissue. For stews and curries, we like boneless thighs; once cooked, they can easily be shredded into bite-size pieces. For hearty dishes where we want whole pieces of chicken, we like bone-in thighs. To keep the fatty skin from making the dish too greasy, we remove it before cooking, using a paper towel to provide extra grip.

Drumsticks and Wings
We found that the low, steady heat of the slow cooker is ideal for breaking down collagen for exceptionally tender drumsticks and wings. For crisp, browned skin, we simply pass them under the broiler for a few minutes, basting them with a thick, flavorful glaze partway through.

Ground Chicken
We found that ground chicken turns grainy in the slow cooker. To solve this problem, we microwave it for a few minutes, until it is just firm enough to break into coarse crumbles. It was also important to use ground chicken, not ground chicken breast, which was too lean and consistently overcooked.

Slow-Cooker Asian Glazed Wings
Serves 4 to 6
From Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2: The Easy-Prep Edition
Cooking Time: 3 to 4 hours on Low
Equipment: 5 1/2 to 7-quart slow cooker

Why This Recipe Works: We love making wings in the slow cooker where the low, slow heat renders their fat and leaves them meltingly tender. First we built flavor with a dry rub of brown sugar and ground ginger, then we cooked the wings in the slow cooker until tender. Finally we broiled the wings, glazing them partway through, until browned and caramelized. For a tasty Asian‐inspired glaze, we used thick, sweet hoisin sauce, balancing its sweetness with some rice vinegar and a tablespoon of spicy Sriracha.

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
Salt and pepper
4 pounds split chicken wings*
1 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Sriracha (or other hot) sauce

*We prefer to buy split chicken wings, but you can purchase 4 1/4 pounds of whole wings and split them yourself.

1. Mix sugar, ginger, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in bowl, then rub mixture evenly over chicken; transfer to slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 3 to 4 hours on low.

2. Adjust oven rack 10 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place wire rack inside aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and spray with vegetable oil spray. Transfer chicken to prepared sheet; discard cooking liquid. Broil until lightly charred and crisp, about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking.

3. Meanwhile, combine hoisin, vinegar, and Sriracha in bowl. Brush wings with one‐third of sauce and continue to broil until wings are browned and sticky, about 10 minutes, flipping and brushing wings with one‐third more sauce halfway through cooking. Brush wings with remaining sauce and serve.

More from America's Test Kitchen:
200 All-New, Ground-Breaking Slow-Cooker Recipes
What Can You Learn About Making Chicken Soup? A Lot.
Pizza Monkey Bread: It Exists!


soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Thinking things through

    Slow cooker wings recipe: messing up too many pots and pans, and way too much sugar.

    January 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm |
  2. Carn E. Vore

    "It’s hard enough to cook chicken properly on the stovetop or in the oven, where you have complete control of the temperature..."

    Uh, no it's not.

    January 19, 2014 at 7:59 am |
  3. AndyM

    Ok, maybe I am wrong, however, the idea between slow cooker recipes, is throwing everything into one pot, cooking it all day, and coming home to a complete meal. While the Asian Wing recipe looks good and all, it is entirely too much work for a slow cooker recipe. I don't want to have to take my wings out of the slow cooker, slather them with something, then broil them. I want to come home to a fully cooked and ready meal.

    January 16, 2014 at 12:10 am |
    • AleeD®

      Agreed. However, when you have the time for the broiling and brushing steps, I highly recommend them. It caramelizes all those flavors together in a way that merely slow cooking can't.

      January 16, 2014 at 7:01 am |
    • shirely u. jest

      Hey Andy, everybody wants to come home to a nice fully cooked meal. But unless you have a fantastic life partner or can afford your own chef maybe you should stick to Mickey D's. I hear they've been hoarding millions of pounds of wings for their McWing relaunch.

      January 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
      • Troll Alert

        The real S Y J isn't that snarky and does not spell their handle like that. Troll Alert.

        January 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm |
        • AleeD® @ Troll Alert

          Au contraire, mon frere. The original was exactly like this. That's why his I.P. address was permanently blocked by our dear Editors. The current one sounds like he needs to have a little heart-to-heart with his S.O. this weekend. ~_~

          January 17, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
  4. cristen flanagan

    Master Slow Cooker Wings

    January 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
  5. TNT

    Go figure, I just started some chicken in a slow cooker then I read this. :( Next time.

    January 15, 2014 at 11:09 am |
  6. RC

    Definitely going to try the Asian wing recipe.

    January 15, 2014 at 10:28 am |
  7. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Guess I know why my next venture will be. Yay for slow cookers!

    January 15, 2014 at 9:34 am |
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