Slow Cooker Barbacoa Chicken

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Delicious Slow Cooker Barbacoa Chicken that's cooked with chipotle peppers for an easy and flavored filled filling for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and more.


Throw this Chicken Barbacoa recipe together in just a few minutes - the smoky chipotle peppers make this slow cooker recipe fantastic!

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, there just don't seem to be enough minutes in the day. Have you ever had a week like this? I definitely did.

So, when my plan to make one of my favorite dishes, slow cooker beef barbacoa, fell apart, I needed a quick substitute that I could make with things I had on hand and throw together in just a couple of minutes.

Seeing some frozen chicken breasts and a can of chipotle peppers in adobo, I decided to try out a quick version of barbacoa with chicken. I relied on the smoky chipotles to add the depth of flavor you usually get from the dried chilies, along with some simple spices.

The result was an incredibly simple and delicious dish.  Looking for more tasty Mexican chicken recipes? Don't miss this Pollo Pibil, Pollo Asado, Chicken Tinga, and Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas.

Chicken barbacao tacos with cilantro and avocado served in a basket with shredded chicken on the side.

Key Ingredients For Chicken Barbacoa

Traditionally, barbacoa in Mexico is made from goat meat. My recipe uses lots of the same spices to give the chicken an authentic barbacoa flavor.

  • Chicken Breast: You can use any kind of chicken - thigh or breast - just make sure it is boneless and skinless.
  • Tomato Paste: This creates a thick sauce for the chicken.
  • Chipotle Peppers In Adobo: Make sure you get the peppers in adobo for an authentic flavor. In case chipotle peppers are new to you, they are smoked chipotle peppers that come in a smoky adobo sauce. They are generally spicy and smoky and make the perfect complement to this dish. 
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: The vinegar helps make the chicken really tender and adds some acidity and brightness to the dish. You can use white vinegar as a replacement if you don't have ACV.
  • Garlic Cloves: I always recommend using fresh ingredients whenever you can, but you can use a tablespoon of garlic powder instead of fresh garlic cloves in this recipe in a pinch.
  • Onion: Any variety will taste amazing in this recipe.
  • Spices: The only spices you need are cumin, oregano, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper.
  • Chicken Broth: Use low-sodium chicken broth or chicken stock. For a beefy flavor, more similar to traditional barbacoa, swap in beef broth

Note: For a full list of ingredients and detailed instructions on how to make this barbacoa chicken, take a look at the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post!

Side Dish Ideas

The best way to serve barbacoa chicken is to shred it and use in your favorite tacos or burritos. You can also pile it on top of mixed greens for a scrumptious taco salad.

Like other Mexican foods, serve this with your favorite sides like refried beans, Mexican street corn salad, or creamy Mexican coleslaw.

We also love turning this into tasty chicken taco bowls with rice, avocado, and all the toppings. Or make slow cooker chicken burrito bowls.

Recipe Tips

Follow these tips to make sure that your barbacoa chicken turns out spicy and juicy every single time!

  • Don't overcook the chicken. It will be ready on low after just 3-4 hours. If you allow it to cook for longer than that, the chicken can get tough and hard to shred.
  • Make clean-up easier by using a slow cooker liner.
  • Shredding cooked chicken is a breeze when you use an electric mixer. Just mix on low for a few seconds and it shreds like magic.
  • Use leftover shredded chicken to make these delicious baked crispy chicken tacos.
  • Looking for something less spicy? Try this Mexican shredded chicken recipe.

Shredded chicken barbacoa in a white bowl with barbacoa sauce and cilantro on the side.

Frequently Asked Questions About Slow Cooker Chicken Barbacoa

Here are some questions I frequently get asked about by some readers…

What other types of meat can I use instead of chicken?

The fantastic thing about this recipe is that you can use any meat in it. Try a beef roast or pork loin. As long as the meat is the kind that you can shred, it will taste delicious with these spices.

What are barbacoa tacos made of?

Barbacoas are a traditional Mexican recipe made with beef or goat (and sometimes even lamb). It's typically seasoned with dried chilies and slow-cooked until nice and tender.

Barbacoa tacos are usually topped with cilantro, onion, and sometimes sour cream.

Can you use this chicken as part of meal prep?

Yes, barbacoa chicken is the perfect addition to a meal prep routine. Add it to your food containers and refrigerate it for up to 5 days. Then, you can use it on a salad or make some tacos. In fact, I think the chicken tastes even better the next day after all the spices and juices chill in the fridge and really soak into the meat.

Is this recipe low-carb?

Yes, the chicken is naturally low in carbs, so this recipe fits in with a keto diet. To stay keto-friendly, serve it on top of lettuce for a Mexican salad, or with some cauliflower rice on the side.

Some people eat tacos on the keto diet by either making some shells out of cheese or buying low-carb taco shells.

Barbcoa tacos made with chicken breast and served as tacos with cilantro, avocado, and radishes.

More Delicious Slow Cooker Mexican Recipes You'll Love:

The Recipe
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Slow Cooker Barbacoa Chicken

COOK TIME: 4 Hours
TOTAL TIME: 4 Hours, 10 Min
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  • 2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2 canned chipotles peppers in adobo sauce, minced (or to taste)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper

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Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place in the crockpot along with the onion, garlic clove, and bay leaf.

Chicken breast being seasoned with salt and pepper.

Stir together the chipotles in adobo sauce, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, cumin, oregano, and chicken broth. Add to the crockpot and stir together.

Chicken broth and chipotle peppers being added to chicken in a slow cooker.

Cook on low for 4 hours. When ready, remove the onions and bay leaf. Shred using two forks and return the chicken to the slow cooker for 10-15 minutes so it can soak up the flavor in the sauce. Serve as tacos, burrito bowls, quesadillas, and more.

Barbacoa chicken breast being shredded with a fork.

Serve as tacos, burrito bowls, quesadillas, and more.

Chicken barbacoa tacos with avocado, radishes, and cilantro.
Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 6 oz.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 193
Calories from Fat 16
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2g
Saturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 74mg
Sodium 178mg
Total Carbohydrate 5g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 2g
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 author Meet 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
On Slow Cooker Barbacoa Chicken
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February 4, 2023 - 23:29
Should the chipotle peppers be processed in a food processor or thrown into crockpot whole?
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March 4, 2022 - 21:07
Add a Rating:
Amazing recipe!
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June 23, 2021 - 10:48
Our local grocery store makes a whole grain soft tortilla bowl. It's kind of like the Old El Paso Tortilla Bowls but with whole grain tortillas.
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Laura Alvies
June 21, 2021 - 15:47
what kind of shells are those on this picture and video
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