After having worked jobs where I had to pull meat from 5-10 rotisserie chickens per day, I have issues with chicken. I don’t like working with it much. I always wish I could wave a magic wand and just have some precooked chicken ready to toss into a recipe. It would make life so much easier and it’s just such a fast, easy way to add lean protein to anything. Problem is, precooked chicken is hella expensive.
Boneless, skinless breasts are much more manageable to me than whole chickens, but those can be pretty pricy, too. But, I think I’ve found my happy medium—split chicken breasts. These puppies still have the bone, rib meat, and skin attached and are usually one of the least expensive chicken options (whether you’re talking organic, free range, or plain old chicken). Because the skin is attached, I can literally just throw them in the oven with no prep and they’ll stay moist and juicy as they cook. Then when they’re cooked through and cool enough to handle, I can pull the meat off and freeze it for later. And let me tell you, pulling the meat from a single chicken breast is so much easier an so much less gross than pulling it from a whole rotisserie chicken (but maybe that’s my past talking).
The whole process only requires about 15 minutes of hands on time and then I have several recipes worth of plain cooked chicken ready and waiting in my freezer. What can you use this precooked chicken in? You can toss it onto a vegetable salad, pasta salad, a pizza, stuff it into a wrap sandwich, or add it to soup. I’ll be making some recipes with it over the next week or so, but in the mean time, here are some other recipes that could easily be adapted to use precooked chicken:
- Chicken Green Chile Enchiladas
- Creamy Pesto Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli
- Cajun Chicken Pasta
- Chicken Yakisoba
- Thai Chicken Pizza
- Chicken and Apple Salad
- Curry Chicken Salad
- Honey Mustard Chicken Salad
- Chicken & Pumpkin Soup
- Chipotle Chicken Chile
- Chicken & Lime Soup
So, without further ado, here is my preferred method for making easy shredded chicken…
Step by Step Photos:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. If you have a roasting pan, you can use that. If not, you can construct your own by lining a baking sheet with foil and then laying wire cooling racks over top. This allows the chicken to stay up and out of the drippings as it cooks. You CAN just set the chicken on the foil if you don’t have cooling racks, but it’s less messy when it’s lifted up out of the juices like this.
I was lucky enough to get the chicken breasts on sale for $0.98/lb. I got a pack of three large breasts, each about 1.25 lbs. (with skin and bone). As I said before, whether you prefer to buy organic, local, or free-range chicken, split chicken breasts with the bone and skin are likely to be one of the least expensive cuts.
All you have to do is lay those chicken breasts on your (homemade) roasting pan. You don’t need to season it because you won’t be keeping the skin. Plus, you don’t want any particular flavor to be infused, so that you can use the cooked chicken in any dish without fear of flavors clashing.
Roast the chicken until the internal temperature of the thickest piece is at least 160 degrees. Now, the time needed for this will depend on the size of the chicken and your oven’s particular characteristics. These huge chicken breasts took about 40 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Purchasing a little instant read thermometer like this takes the guess work out and they are pretty inexpensive.
I do want to point out one thing: make sure to take your chicken completely out of the oven before testing the temperature. As you can see the thermometer in the picture is reading over 170. Well, that’s because the chicken is still half in the oven (I just had the door open and rack slid out). The heat flowing out of the oven was causing a false read. When I took it out and tested again, it was only 120. Tricky.
Once the chicken has cooked through, let it sit for ten minutes, or until they’re cool enough to handle. Letting them sit for a bit also helps keep the meat juicy.
Then just peel off the skin and pull the meat off the bone. It’s a super fast and easy process (when the rest of the chicken isn’t attached, anyway). Then I just put the chicken in a bowl and used two forks to shred it up some.
Finally, I divided the chicken up into individual portions – about two cups each. These bags went into a large freezer bag that I then labeled and dated. Now I can put out one at a time to thaw or toss into a recipe! Easy! I got about four two cup portions out of those three chicken breasts and with the way I use meat in recipes (not as the main ingredient), that’s four recipes worth for $3.70. Yes!
Hey! What about those leftover chicken bones?
If you’re feeling crafty, make some homemade chicken broth! You don’t have to do it the same day, though. Cool the bones in the fridge, then wrap them up and transfer them to the freezer for safe keeping until your next rainy day.