Chicken Tinga (Slow Cooker, Instant Pot, or Stovetop)

Chicken tinga is super easy to make and can be used for everything from tacos to quesadillas to burritos and bowls. You'll love this easy shredded chicken dish.

189 CALORIES5g CARBS2g FAT33g PROTEIN
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This easy chicken tinga is the best way to make shredded chicken for Mexican dishes. The chicken is cooked in a smoky, slightly spicy tomato sauce and comes out perfectly tender every time. Serve it with some Shortcut Refried Beans or a Mexican Corn Salad for the perfect meal.

Mexican chicken tinga is one of those dishes you get used to seeing all over the place when you live in Southern California. It's a staple on most Mexican menus and used to fill all kinds of classic dishes like tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and more. In fact, many times chicken tinga is the default filling, even if the menu doesn't specifically mention it. It's a true staple in Mexican cooking. 

The thing I love most about making tinga is that it couldn't be easier to make and it is super versatile. Normally we use it for chicken tinga tacos the first night that I make it. Then a couple of days later, I will use it to make another dish - think tostadas, burrito bowls, or as a stuffing for peppers.

It also works great for lunch prep. I love it as a topping for a taco salad or used in quesadillas or lettuce wraps. I even throw it in store bought black bean or vegetable soup. This stuff tastes good with everything. 

Mexican chicken tinga in a bowl with tomato chipotle sauce with avocado and cheese on the side.

What is chicken tinga?

Basically, chicken tinga is a Mexican shredded chicken dish from Puebla that's made with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and chipotle peppers in adobo. It is found stuffed inside all types of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and numerous other delicious Mexican dishes. Tinga gives the dishes a little extra kick and is a great substitute for plain shredded chicken.

What You'll Need and Easy Swaps

  • Chicken: Any type of chicken can be used to make tinga. Use chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or chicken legs. Although boneless chicken is easier, bone-in chicken can also be used. Just remove the bones and skin when shredding the chicken.  Adjust the cooking times as needed if using bone-in chicken since it can take longer to cook. 
  • Diced tomatoes: Any type of canned tomatoes can be used in this recipe. Fire roasted will add a smoky flavor. Diced tomatoes with green chilies have some extra heat. Plain tomatoes will be milder. Fresh tomatoes could also be used since they will cook down as the chicken cooks. Roma tomatoes are the most traditional.
  • Chipotle peppers in adobo: Chicken tinga should have some heat and a slightly smoky flavor. Chipotle peppers bring both of those elements. For something very mild, just use a few spoonfuls of the sauce. For more spice, add 1 or more diced chipotle peppers. 
  • Onion and garlic: Aromatics build flavor and fresh provides the most flavor. Use garlic powder and/or onion powder if needed. 

How to Make Chicken Tinga

There are three easy ways to make tinga using the slow cooker, Instant pot, or cooking it on the stove. Here's how to make each option. 

  • Slow Cooker: This is the easiest method. Simply add the chicken, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, salt, and pepper to the slow cooker. Give it a good stir and cook on low for 3-4 hours. For bone-in chicken, cook for 7-8 hours. 
  • Instant Pot: Add everything to the Instant Pot, stirring well. If you are using fresh chicken, cook it for 10 minutes and let it naturally release. For frozen chicken, cook it for 13 minutes. If using only chicken breasts, cut down the cooking time to 6 minutes so the chicken doesn't overcook. 
  • Stovetop: Start by poaching the chicken until is is just cooked through. Set aside and shred. Make the tinga sauce by blending the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers. Add that to a large pot and cook for 5-7 minutes until it turns a dark red. Then add the shredded chicken to the sauce and cook fro 5 minutes. 

Ways to serve chicken tinga

There are so many different ways to make use of your chicken tinga. I almost always double or triple the recipe since the leftovers work for so many dishes. Plus it freezes great so you can always store it for a quick future meal.

  1. Tacos: This is the most classic option for chicken tinga. I like to use warm corn tortillas, diced onion, cilantro, avocado, and queso fresco. We also always have extra chipotle peppers on the side for anyone who likes more heat.
  2. Burrito and burrito bowls: I am never one to turn down a burrito bowl from Chipotle but lately I have been making them at home. I start with some Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice, add sauteed peppers and onions, canned black beans, some corn, cilantro, and tons of this yummy chicken. Topped with some cheese and cilantro and it's the most delicious and filling meal. I wrap up the same thing for the husband for a more classic burrito.
  3. Enchiladas: One of the keys to making really great enchiladas is to use a filling that won't dry out. This tinga is just that and makes this perfect filling for enchiladas. It would also work in this yummy Chicken Enchilada Casserole.
  4. Tostadas: Tostadas are crispy tortillas topped with beans, protein, veggies, and cheese. We love making these Chicken Tostadas with tinga to pack in even more flavor.
  5. Stuffed peppers: Toss the shredded chicken with some black beans, cooked rice, and corn. Stuff it into bell peppers and top with cheese to make some tasty stuffed peppers. It also is delicious with these Stuffed Poblano Peppers.

Can I freeze chicken tinga?

Absolutely! Chicken tinga freezes great. Just make sure to pack it in an airtight container. I find it comes out best if you let it defrost in the fridge overnight since a microwave will reheat it unevenly and sometimes the chicken gets dry.  Another tip for keeping the chicken nice and tender after freezing is to use boneless skinless chicken thighs. 

Recipe Ideas for Chicken Tinga

There are lots of ways you can customize this recipe to make it suit your exact tastes and needs. Here are some tips and ideas for the recipe.

  • If you are worried about your chicken drying out, replace the chicken breasts with boneless skinless chicken thighs. 
  • For less heat, cut back on the chipotle peppers and add some cumin to ensure they still have a smoky kick. 
  • For a thicker sauce, blend together the onions, garlic, tomatoes, chipotle peppers, and salt. This will give you a smooth, thick sauce for the chicken.
  • If you like things really spicy, add more chipotle peppers and make sure to use the adobo sauce as well. It has tons of flavor.
  • If you prefer to use fresh tomatoes, start by roasting them until they are browned and charred on the outside. You can do this in a heavy skillet or in the oven.
  • Add a few tomatillos to the salsa as well. This adds another delicious layer of flavor.
  • To make a shortcut chicken tinga, start by blending the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and salt. Add this salsa to a pot and cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat until the sauce darkens. Then just add some previously cooked or rotisserie chicken to the sauce and dinner is ready.

Chicken tinga tacos with avocado and cheese on corn tortillas.

Best Way to Make Chicken Tinga Tacos

If you are going to make chicken tinga, you have to try it in tacos. Here is my favorite way to make a delicious tinga taco.

  1. Get all your toppings chopped and ready to go. You will need cilantro, onion, and avocado.
  2. Crumble some queso fresco so it is ready to serve.
  3. Grab your leftover chipotles in adobo and throw them in a blender. Blend them to make a spicy and smoky salsa to serve on the side for anyone who wants more heat. If needed, you can add some tomatoes or chicken broth to thin out the salsa.
  4. Heat up your corn tortillas. My favorite way to do this is right on the flame on my stove so that the tortillas get some charred spots. Just place them right on the flame and let them cook for 15-30 seconds until they begin to bubble and brown. Flip carefully with tongs and repeat. Place the tortillas in foil to keep them warm.
  5. Now it's time to assemble! Grab a warm corn tortilla, add your chicken, and top with onions, cilantro, avocado, queso fresco, and a drizzle of chipotle salsa.
The Recipe
Chicken tinga in corn tortillas with onions, cilantro, avocado, and queo fresco.

Chicken Tinga (Slow Cooker, Instant Pot, or Stovetop)

PREP TIME: 10 Min
COOK TIME: 4 Hours
TOTAL TIME: 4 Hours, 10 Min
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Ingredients

USMETRICS
  • 2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast (or thighs)
  • 1 cup onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 cups diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 3 tbsp. chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

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Instructions

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1

Slow Cooker: Combine everything in the slow cooker. Stir together. Cook on low for 4 hours. Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and shred. Stir in some of the tomatoes and some juice from cooking after you shred it for added flavor.

2

Instant Pot: Add everything to the Instant Pot. Close the lid and seal. For fresh chicken breasts, cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. For frozen chicken, cook on high pressure for 13 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release. Carefully open the pot and shred the chicken using two forks. Please note, the cooking time may vary slightly depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Smaller breasts cook more quickly and very large breasts may take a bit longer.

3

Stovetop: When cooking on the stovetop, I like to take a different approach to ensure the chicken comes out perfectly seasoned every time. Start by poaching the chicken. Add the chicken breast in a single layer in the bottom of a large pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the chicken with broth or water until there is about a half an inch of liquid above the chicken. Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the chicken continue to cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and chop or shred once cooled. While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce. Add the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chipotle peppers, and salt to a blender. Blend until smooth. Add this salsa to a pot and cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until the sauce darkens in color. Once the chicken is cooked, simply add it to the sauce and cook for 3-5 minutes for the flavors to combine.

Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 6 oz.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 189
Calories from Fat 14
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2g
2%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 74mg
24%
Sodium 539mg
23%
Total Carbohydrate 5g
2%
Dietary Fiber 1g
3%
Sugars 1g
Protein 33g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the authorMeet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
1 Comment
On Chicken Tinga (Slow Cooker, Instant Pot, or Stovetop)
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Ashley
May 5, 2020 - 05:34
Do you recommend chopping the chipotle peppers or leave them whole for the instant pot recipe?
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