How Long Should I Cook Chicken in the Crockpot?

By Polly Conner

How long should you be cooking chicken in the crockpot? You’ll be surprised at the answer!

chicken breast in the slow cooker

Hi. My name is Polly. All my life I have had a problem with drying out my chicken in the slow cooker. I followed the recipes I found and was SO frustrated because the chicken was ALWAYS dry. ALWAYS!

What I’m learning now is that this is probably because 90% of the recipes online have us cooking chicken in the slow cooker WAY too long.

How long does chicken need to cook in the crockpot?

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Prepare yourself. What I am about to tell you is either going to crush your slow cooker dreams OR bring much enlightenment to your soul.

With the exception of larger recipes (like 8+ servings), It only takes 2.5-3.5 hours on LOW for boneless, skinless chicken breast to be fully cooked in the slow cooker.

I kid you not. While writing our cookbook, From Freezer to Cooker, we have been methodically testing chicken breast recipes by taking the internal temperature with our trusted meat thermometer (pic below) at different points during the cooking time.

Over and over AND OVER again, we have found that chicken breast registers at 165° F (the FDA recommended safe temp) right around 3 hours on LOW. Sometimes less, sometimes more depending on the size of the breast or other ingredients in the slow cooker.

If you are cooking a larger recipe with chicken in it, we have found that it can take 4-6 hours. But that’s it!

Should I cook chicken on high in the crockpot?

Here’s another surprising thing. Don’t shoot the messenger.

But, do not cook chicken on HIGH unless you like overcooked, dried out, tough meat. Always cook on LOW.

Honey Dijon Chicken Sandwich

I know. It’s sad. It’s hard. But it’s true.

Like you, I love the idea of putting a meal in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a dinner ready to eat. While that DOES work for certain cuts of beef, it simply doesn’t not work with chicken. If you cook chicken all day (or on HIGH), it will be dry-dry-dry.

I know, I’m broken hearted, too. But I love you too much to not share the truth and the thermometer doesn’t lie.

Free Cooking Times Chart

In an effort to save you from overcooking or undercooking future slow cooker meals, we wanted to equip you with this free Slow Cooker Cooking Times Chart. Download it, print it, snuggle it, and thank us later.

One Alternative: Use Chicken Thighs or Bone-In Chicken Breasts

If you do want a longer cooking time for chicken, use chicken thighs or bone-in split chicken breasts.

These cuts can handle longer cooking times and retain their moisture a bit better. Our tests show they reach their internal safe temperature anywhere from 3-4 on LOW. However, America’s Test Kitchen (a source we really trust!), says they can withstand cooking times of up to 4-6 hours on LOW. It’s still not that all day recipe but might be a great meal to throw in the slow cooker around lunch time.

Slow Cooker Chicken Recipes

Want some ideas on chicken recipes to make in your slow cooker?

Slow Cooker Chicken Parmesan Sliders: One of our easiest freezer meals: Chicken Parmesan Sliders. Just put a few ingredients into the crockpot and you’ll have one of your favorite meals for a busy night. Great meal idea for large groups too!

Slow Cooker Chicken and Cheese Taquitos: Slow cooker chicken and cheese taquitos is a delicious meal that the whole family will love! Be sure to make a double batch for the freezer. Then, you can pull out however many you want and throw them directly in the oven for a quick weeknight dinner.

Slow Cooker Chicken Fiesta Soup: This delicious, slow cooker chicken soup is not only gluten free and dairy free (if you don’t add cheese at the end), but it freezes beautifully either before cooking or after. Packed with fresh flavor, the veggies give it that fiesta vibe that everyone will love. This easy and healthy freezer meal is great for feeding a large group of people.

You can also check out our roundup of 25 Slow Cooker Recipes for a Crowd for more delicious ideas!


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26 replies
  1. B says:

    this is interesting. do you have a newer slow cooker? i heard they run hotter. I cook chicken on high for 4 hours all the time and it’s great.

    Reply
    • Rachel Tiemeyer says:

      We tested this in two different slow cookers. One runs hotter and only too 2 1/2 hours for the chicken on Low. The other runs less hot and took 3 to 3 1/2 hours on low to reach the 165°F internal temp. Both are newer models.

      Reply
  2. Jane L Person says:

    Excited to see the feature article in the MIZZOU spring 2020 issue. I’m a native Missourian and a fellow MIZZOU grad. BS Ed 1967, MEd 1972. I’m a retired teacher and textbook author. We have a small farm and a large garden. We had a farm to freezer market for capons, hogs, and beef but now what we grow is for us and freebies for friends. Looking forward to learning more recipes and tips for freezer meals.

    Reply
  3. Sue says:

    Oh yay!! 🙂 Thank you for this post!!!!! I wasn’t sure if I could get my slow chicken soup done in 4 hrs to be ready by dinnertime – not bedtime! – and now I know I can! Seriously, a big THANK YOU! Sue

    Reply
  4. Nicole says:

    I need to cook 5 pounds of boneless chicken breasts (not frozen) in a crockpot tonight to shred and use in making several freezer meals. I just plan to add water and some seasoning. How much water should I add, and how long should I cook in the slowcooker?

    Reply
  5. Steffi says:

    I don’t know, but can’t you put it in the slow cooker and leave it there and use the delayed timer so it will only cook three to four hours until your home? Wouldn’t do this in the summer time either, but when it’s not to hot outside would this be safe? And what about if you put it in a soup? Will it also be dry? First time trying it with a soup, that’s why I’m asking (well, i don’t expect a response before it’s ready, but so I just know it when I’ll do a soup again) only did chicken breast with bones before and had it on low for six hours and Izvestia perfect! But it was a reciepe with rice so not really a lot of moisture around except the chicken stock, but that was used up by the rice…

    Reply
    • Polly says:

      If you set your food in the slow cooker with a delayed timer, the food will sit at room temperature too long and be unsafe. You can’t do a delayed timer with any kind of meat. We have found that chicken in large soup recipes is done around 4-6 hours. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Jerusha says:

    Yes! I knew I couldn’t be the only one who thought this. 🙂 So nice to know that it is safe and I can have delicious chicken meals in the slow cooker. And I actually like that some of my meals can be thrown in at 2 pm or before I do the school run and be ready for early tea at around 5.
    Thanks for letting us know!

    Reply
  7. Jeff says:

    I would assume that one of the frozen “dump dinners” where chicken is dumped in frozen would work for a 8 hour cook time.

    Reply
  8. Sarah says:

    This has been my experience, too. Definitely kills the ability to have a meal cook all day while you’re out of the house, but much more than 3 hours on low and chicken just gets sad, ha.

    Reply
  9. Deb says:

    Yes, I figured this out a while back, but I always figured it’s because I use a smaller slow cooker (4 qt) and usually am doing a half recipe of whatever I’m cooking. On the up side, for those of us who procrastinate and forget to get meals out of the freezer, you can grab it in the morning, defrost it, and get it in the slow cooker after lunch in time for dinner.

    Reply
  10. Anna of Stuffedveggies says:

    I appreciate this – I only made chicken in the slow cooker once, and it turned to mush! (I’m vegetarian myself, so haven’t been too motivated to experiment after that). But, I’m confused – do you cook the chicken on low or on high for about 3 hours? Thanks : )

    Reply