How to Boil Chicken—to Put Toward So Many Good Meals

January 14, 2021

It’s hard to beat the convenience of boiled chicken. Sure, it can’t compete with the crackly crunch of fried, the golden schmaltz of roasted, the smoky char of grilled. But! Its swift preparation, snappy ingredient list, and meal prep prowess are second to none. So let’s boil some chicken today and pat ourselves on the back tomorrow.

Which Chicken Cut Works Best?

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The path of least resistance for white meat superfans—no bones to pick around or skin to remove. Put toward celery-studded chicken salad or extra-cheesy baked ziti.

Whole chicken. More work, less cost per pound. Save the bones for stock and get choosy about your cuts: Use white meat for one dish (hi, club sandwich), dark meat for another (hello, Cobb salad), or mix and match.

Let’s Talk Liquid

Water. While some may scoff at the lack of flavor, that won’t stop us. Unlike stock, water is always at the ready. And when seasoned properly with salt, this ingredient helps the chicken become its truest self.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“You will get much better chicken if you poach it gently and I suggest poaching in chicken broth. The meat is so tender and flavorful this way, it makes any dish fabulous.”
— Maria K.

Chicken stock. Meta, right? Indeed, chicken stock yields an even chicken-ier—dare I say the chicken-iest?—flavor. Homemade, boxed, or bouillon all work. If you only have low-sodium, add some salt for good measure.

Anything Else?

Chicken, water, and salt are all you need. If you’re a maximalist, though, take a look around your kitchen for:

Vegetable scraps. Onion butts, carrot peels, kale stems, ginger nubs, you name it. These castaways are full of earthy nuance.

Herbs. A couple sprigs of thyme or rosemary—even a fresh or dried bay leaf—go a long way. Avoid tender herbs like basil or dill.

Spices. Black peppercorns for kick? Star anise for warmth? Fennel seeds for brightness? You tell me.

How to Boil Chicken

Serves 4

  • 1 (5 1/2–pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Water or chicken stock
  • Vegetable scraps, herbs, and/or spices (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  1. Add the chicken to a stockpot, followed by enough water or chicken stock to cover by a couple inches. If you’re using any bonuses like vegetable scraps, toss them in (and add more liquid if needed). Set over high heat to come to a boil.
  2. When the liquid is boiling, season generously with salt. For water, eyeball 1 tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt per quart of liquid. For stock, throw in a few big pinches. Immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
  3. Simmer the chicken until cooked through. For bone-in pieces, figure 20 to 25 minutes, checking and pulling the smaller pieces first. For boneless, skinless breasts, about 10 minutes.
  4. Use tongs to transfer the cooked chicken to a plate. (If you started with a whole chicken, you can remove the skin and bones and throw those back into the pot. Add more water to dilute the saltiness and keep simmering for a few hours for stock.)
  5. When the meat is cool enough to handle, use two forks—or, even better, your hands—to shred the chicken into pieces. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Use immediately or keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.

A Million Ways to Use Boiled Chicken

Think of boiled, shredded chicken as a fridge hero—the sort of puzzle piece you can prepare on a Sunday, then put toward on-a-whim meals throughout the week.

Chicken salad. Mayo bolstered with vinegar, plus whatever mix-ins your heart longs for. Go for halved grapes, diced Gouda, and toasted walnuts. Or pickled celery, slivered scallion, and poppy seeds.

Leafy salad. Name a better desk lunch. I’ll wait! Try arugula with feta, warm croutons, and a lot of oil and vinegar. Or romaine with blue cheese, cucumbers, and a buttermilk-mayo dressing.

Open-faced toast. Smashed avocado and a ginormous squeeze of lemon. Whole-milk yogurt and chile oil. Burrata and kale pesto. Barbecue sauce and cabbage slaw. Chive cream cheese and pickled onion. I could be here all day.

All the pasta. From no-cook sauces like butter and grated Parmesan to slow-simmered, hot-tempered puttanesca. Any noodle dish would welcome a handful of shredded chicken with open arms.

What would you do with a batch of boiled, shredded chicken? Share ideas in the comments!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Maria Kramer
    Maria Kramer
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  • judy
  • abbas_muna
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Maria K. January 28, 2021
I usually agree with food52, but not on this one. You will get much better chicken if you poach it gently and I suggest poaching in chicken broth. The meat is so tender and flavorful this way, it makes any dish fabulous.
meme S. January 24, 2021
Like Judy, I, too, have been using for years your Great Suggestions, so quick, easy, very flavorful and healthy to boil a whole chicken for various uses such as salads, sandwiches or light meals, and especially to make my home-made stock and freeze for other uses never again to use store bought or bouillon cubes loaded with salt. Thank you Emma for sharing your know-how articles.
judy January 14, 2021
Good general suggestions that I use all the time to make chicken, and then I keep the stock in the freezer for the next time, Never having to make it again. I find the today's chicken, because water is used to force pluck and clean the chicken in processing, is very liquid, and produces a lot of liquid on it's own. My solution, is to simply put the chicken and herbs, etc that one desires in the pot. Put in just enough water (or broth/stock if you prefer) and cover, put on a low heat to simmer. This allows the chicken to cook slowly, in 10-20 minutes. One has very tinder chicken, and a lot of the processing water is released. This is very flavorful, and not diluted by a lot of additional water added. After this is done, one can add extra water/broth as needed for volume, adjusting salt and herbs. A word about the chicken choice. Certainly I would prefer a whole chicken if my goal is a nice soup. But if making chicken for other purposes, I prefer thigh meat to chicken breast. BONE IN. I remove the skin prior to cooking and trim off the fat layers and pockets. it has been shown this has only marginally more fat than boneless. BUT FAR MORE FLAVOR. Simmer the same way as above, but a few minutes longer because of the bone, and to get the flavor of the bone. When I le the chicken cool, and remove the bone, I save it. Freeze them. the next time I am wanting to make my own stock, I add these bones, and now they flavor the base liquid even more. I then throw those bones away. But I now have a very flavorful base for things like Indian and Thai curries, simmering the next batch of chicken, and on and on. So go for the thighs....unless you really prefer the taste of breasts. Thighs work just as well in chicken salad, casserole, Alfredo, or enchiladas. Enjoy!
abbas_muna July 1, 2021