Learning how to shred chicken is like following a map, because like all meat, chicken forms a noticeable grain as it cooks. Separating chicken along that grain results in juicy, tender shreds that are both handy for reducing prep time and incredibly versatile. A container of shredded chicken is as at home in your favorite chicken salad recipe as it is in tacos, soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, and anything else that needs a boost of protein and flavor.
Using little more than your hands — or two forks — you can easily take down a pile of leftover chicken (or chicken you made specially for shredding) and stash it away in the refrigerator for a speedy weekday lunch or simple but hearty dinner.
What kind of chicken can you shred?
The good news? Any cut of chicken, cooked pretty much any way you want! (If it's cooked, it can be shred). If you are cooking specifically to shred: the ideal contender is poached, slow-cooked, or roasted, and shredded while still slightly warm. You'll have a little more trouble shredding fried chicken wings, grilled chicken breast, or cooked chicken straight out of the refrigerator as these tend to be stiffer and denser with less of their natural juices intact (a problem you won't run into using wet- or slow-heat cooking methods).
Shredding the leftover meat off the carcass of a roasted chicken is also a great way to make the most of a whole bird.
What's the best way to shred?
Your bare hands are the best possible tools for shredding chicken. Using your hands helps prevent too-fine shreds (more on that later), and will help you locate and discard bones, skin, and cartilage more easily, while also maximizing the amount of meat you're able to get off the bone. Hold the cooked, still-warm chicken with your non-dominant hand and firmly pinch on one side with your dominant hand to locate the grain. Pull off this first shred in the size you'd like, and the lines of the grain will show you where to pinch and pull next. Repeat until the whole piece of chicken has been shredded.
Or, use two forks—because not everyone fancies diving into a pile of chicken with their hands. Use one fork in your dominant hand to pull a shred of chicken the size you'd like (with the grain) away from the remainder, which you'll hold in place using the fork in your non-dominant hand. The chicken will "fracture" naturally along its grain, which you can follow to help locate your next pull.
- Avoid shredding the chicken too finely. The finer the shreds, the less succulent the chicken will be, and the more quickly it will dry out.
- Refrigerate shredded chicken in an airtight container with a half-cup of the poaching liquid (if available) to keep it moist and juicy for up to three days.
- Bring refrigerated cooked chicken to room temperature before shredding to help it separate more easily.
- Don't forget the skin! Separate it from chicken before cooking, season with salt and pepper, and crisp up separately on its own on a sheet pan for about 20 minutes at 375°F or until dark-golden brown and crunchy. Cool, crumble, and use as an umami-packed garnish for soups, salads, tacos—anything you like, really. Extra-crispy crispy chicken skin is truly a thing of beauty.
Put your shreds to good use: Pulled Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Salsa