With a little planning these slow cooker chicken tacos make for an easy weeknight dinner.
This recipe is one of the quickest and easiest I have in my line up. It takes about 5 minutes to throw in the slow cooker and another 15 to shred the chicken, mash the guacamole, dice up the pico de gallo, and grate the cheese. That’s a total of 20 minutes of prep if you are doing everything from scratch! If you are a fan of pre-shredded cheese, and store bought salsa and guacamole, you can probably cut that down to about 10 minutes of prep time. The only catch is that you have to know in advance that you want them. Not days in advance, but just far enough in advance that you can get the slow cooker started at least 3 hours and 15 minutes before you want to eat.
With these tacos we are talking seriously simple, but oh so delicious. Don’t get me wrong, just because they are easy doesn’t mean they are not impressive. I tend to make these tacos whenever we have out of town guests. Paired with a homemade key lime pie they make a delicious dinner after a day of running around when no one wants to cook and no one wants to face the crowds of going out. Yep, they are that good.
I typically start these tacos with 12 to 16 ounces of frozen boneless, skinless chicken, counting on about 4 ounces of chicken per person. That’s between 3/4 to 1 pound for 3 – 4 people. Why frozen? Because I am the person that buys the value pack of boneless, skinless chicken at the market. I use what I can while it’s still fresh and then toss the rest into freezer bags when it reaches the use by date. This means that I pretty much always have a few frozen chicken breasts or chicken thighs on hand in my freezer. I had three bags in the freezer when digging around for this post and this one fell right in the middle at just under 14 ounces. No thawing necessary, just pop open the bag and stick it in the slow cooker.
Once you have your ice block of chicken, or fresh chicken if that’s what you have, in the slow cooker we are going to make a creamy taco sauce. Starting with the taco seasoning, measure out the chili powder, granulated garlic, granulated onion, cumin, coriander , and salt into a storage container with a tight lid. You can use powdered garlic and onion, if that’s what you have on hand. Close the top and shake it to combine. Congratulations, you have made your very own taco seasoning blend! See how simple it is? Since making this discovery, I have been unable to go back to buying packets of taco seasoning. Too many ingredients I cannot pronounce and no reason to include them.
Now, back to the sauce. Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat. Once melted, add in the flour and quickly start whisking. As you whisk the mixture will begin to bubble and foam. Once the color starts to darken, slowly add half of the milk. Whisk thoroughly to remove any lumps and then add the rest of the milk. You can stop whisking while the milk is warming up. As the milk gets hot, small bubbles will form around the edges and the mixture will begin to thicken. Once this happens we are going to add two tablespoons of taco seasoning and 2 tablespoons of chicken stock. The taco seasoning blend will cause the whole sauce to turn an orange/red color. At this point you will want to carefully taste the sauce and add more salt if needed. I added an additional 1/4 tsp of salt, but my chicken stock is homemade and very lightly salted.
Pour the entire sauce mixture on top of the chicken. As you do this, move the chicken around so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. We aren’t too concerned about cooking the chicken in the sauce to absorb flavor, as the flavor will be picked up when the shredded chicken gets mixed in with the fully cooked sauce. Turn the slow cooker to high and set the timer for 3 hours. If you need this to go for longer, you can do it on low for 6 hours. My slow cooker will dry out the meat and sauce if left on warm for more than an hour and a half after it kicks off, but your may perform differently. I did check on mine after about 2 hours and separated the two chicken breast that were frozen together. It’s not at all necessary, but it explains why my two chicken breast below look nothing like the frozen chicken ice that I started with above.
After 3 hours the meat was cooked through and registering well over 165 degrees on the meat thermometer, but still juicy and tender. My preferred way to shred the chicken is using two forks. I have tried the trick of running it through the mixer with the paddle attachment. It definitely works, but with two chicken breasts that are still hot, the fork method takes less time and effort when compared to the clean up of the mixer. Next time I make this for a party of more than 8, I’ll use the mixer.
With the fork method, pull the chicken out of the sauce and place it on a plate. Use one fork to hold the chicken in place and use the other to shred. This stuff just falls apart. It took me probably 2 minutes to shred both of them. Once shredded, place all the chicken back into the pan and stir it into the sauce. Cover it and let it absorb the flavors for the 10 minutes or so it takes to throw together the toppings.
With this taco recipe, I prefer to keep things fairly simple. I shredded some cheddar cheese. Chopped up tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro with a squeeze of lime for pico de gallo. Mashed an avocado with some lime juice and a tablespoon of the pico de gallo for an easy guacamole. Then I opened a package of small flour tortillas and dinner was served.
You can make these tacos with any toppings you like, or none at all. It really is up to you and how you like to eat your tacos. The one in the middle got some sweet & spicy sriracha sauce that I had leftover from the weekend. I was going to eat it on just that one and then had to put it on the rest as well!
Thanks for reading!
How do you like to top your chicken tacos? Have you ever tried making tacos in the slow cooker before?
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- 2 TBSP chili powder
- 2 TBSP granulated garlic
- 2 TBSP granulated onion
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 TBSP butter
- 2 TBSP flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 TBSP chicken broth
- salt to taste
- 12 - 16 ounces frozen or fresh boneless skinless chicken (breast or thighs)
Taco Seasoning: In a reusable container with a tight fitting lid measure out the chili powder, granulated garlic, granulated onion, cumin, ground coriander, and salt. Cover the container securely and shake to combine.
Taco Sauce: In a small pot melt 2 tablespoons of butter.
Whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour.
As the mixture foams and starts to darken, add in 1/2 cup of milk.
Whisk thoroughly to combine then add in the second 1/2 cup of milk.
Allow the mixture to heat.
Once tiny bubbles start to form, add in the chicken broth and 2 tablespoons of the taco seasoning you from the directions above.
Mix thoroughly and salt to taste.
Place chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker and cover with the sauce, making sure the chicken is coated on all sides so that it doesn't stick.
Set the slow cooker to high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.
When the timer goes off, remove the chicken pieces from the sauce.
Carefully shred the hot chicken using two forks and return it to the sauce.
Stir to evenly coat the chicken.
Serve on flour or corn tortillas with your choice of taco toppings.