How Long Should I Cook Chicken in the Slow Cooker?

How long should you be cooking chicken in the slow cooker? You’ll be surprised at the answer!
Chicken Parmesan Sliders on a Turquoise Cutting Board

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 slow cooker?

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 or 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 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!

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.

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.

Cilantro Lime Chicken

Recipe Images are from: From Freezer to Table

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  1. 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?

  2. Madeleine Schrodi says

    I need to cook six pounds of chicken…how long should that take? I don’t want it to be dry…

    • Rachel says

      What kind of chicken? Boneless, skinless chicken breasts?

  3. 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…

    • 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    • Rachel says

      Actually, it’s unsafe to cook a frozen meal in a slow cooker. You have to thaw it completely in the refrigerator, microwave, or using the cold water method first, so I’m sorry to say that won’t work. 🙁

      • Jen says

        Is it safe to put just the chicken in frozen?

        • Rachel says

          Unfortunately, the USDA says it is not safe to put frozen food in a slow cooker.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 : )

    • Polly says

      Good question- I updated the post to clarify but for the best results, cook chicken on low.