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Clean Eating BBQ Pulled Chicken made in the Slow Cooker

Throw out your sugary store bought BBQ sauce because this Healthy BBQ Pulled Chicken is going to blow your mind. An easy homemade sauce replaces that sugary store bought bbq sauce, mixed with chicken thighs and an onion it is cooked to perfection in the crockpot for a great BBQ pulled chicken!

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shredded bbq chicken in the crockpot with forks

Healthy Barbecue Chicken Recipe

I love me a good barbecue, it is such a comforting food. Often associated with a beautiful summer evening with friends and family hanging out on the deck laughing, smelling the fragrant grill doing all of the hard work, but unfortunately that feeling doesn’t happen every night for dinner right?

That is where this delicious and easy slow cooker BBQ chicken comes into play. Whether you are just looking for a great weeknight meal or you are looking to ditch all of that sugar that comes in those store bought barbecue sauces this recipe is for you.

The first thing I wanted to do with this recipe is ditch the store bought sauce and the ungodly amounts of high fructose corn syrup they contain. Not that I am above a balanced lifestyle (hello, I cannot say no to ice cream) but when you are looking for a solid weeknight meal I don’t want it dripping in sugar.

So to avoid the store bought sauce I figured I would have to replicate a good clean bbq sauce myself to put with the chicken. So I started off by thinking about just making a good blend of spices close to what a ‘rib rub’ or barbecue rub would be. From there I thought about what style of sauce would be the least sugary, and a good vinegar based sauce much like a Carolina style was certainly my answer.

So from there I tested multiple variations of spices, vinegars, sauces, fruits, and pastes until I had a version I was happy with!

PLEASE NOTE: If you are expecting this to taste like store bought bbq sauce you might be let down. This is a refined-sugar free recipe and most bbq sauces are dependant on A LOT of sugar. This recipe is an alternative to those sugary sauces so the flavor might differ from what you are used to.

Healthy BBQ Pulled Chicken On a sandwich with coleslaw on a bun

So What Ingredients are in Healthy BBQ Pulled Chicken?

Great question. To start I chose to use chicken thighs, as far as texture and flavor goes that is what you are going to want to use if you want the best pulled chicken in general. A simple family pack of boneless skinless thighs does the trick perfectly.

Next I opted to include a diced onion in the chicken for flavor and texture. Just a simple white, yellow, or sweet onion diced up will do the trick perfectly.

Now for the sauce. For the base I opted to go with tomato paste. I tried tomato sauce and the chicken was way to watery and could have used a bit of a bolder flavor, so tomato paste won.

For the sweetener I stayed away from high fructose corn syrup and went with a can of crushed pineapple in 100% juice. I went with this for one of two reasons. Pineapple juice is apparently ‘the secret ingredient’ for the Sweet Baby Rays barbecue sauce and because I know crushed pineapple does wonders with shredded meats because I also used crushed pineapple in my Slow Cooker Chipotle Pineapple Carnitas.

For the vinegar I went with Apple Cider Vinegar, not to tangy but just enough to give this sauce the tang it needs.

And for the spices I went with a collection of paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, onion powder, and a dash of cayenne. Lastly I added a little liquid smoke extract, if you don’t have liquid smoke you can do without but I definitely think this plays big into the smokiness level of the final product. Liquid Smoke usually comes in either a hickory or mesquite flavor (I have hickory) and can usually be found near the pre-packed seasoning packets at our grocery store.

ingredients on a wooden tray

How to Make Barbecue Pulled Chicken in the Slow Cooker

To start you will need to make the quick sauce, in a mixing bowl add the tomato paste, pineapple, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Mix to combine the ingredients to create a sauce.

Add the chicken thighs, diced onion, and sauce to the slow cooker. Stir to combine to make sure all of the chicken thighs are covered in the sauce. 

Set on high 3-4 hours or low 6-7 until chicken starts to fall apart. I think this recipe actually does best on high for about 3 hours but low and slow works just as good!

Before eating shread chicken with two forks. I think it tastes best if you let it rest in the sauce for a few minutes. Best served with coleslaw and served over buns, in wraps, in grain bowls, on a sweet potato, or on its own.

3 photos; raw chicken with sauce in crock, cooked chicken in crock, and pulled chicken in crock

And that really is it. I do have a coleslaw recipe I have been working on that will go great with this recipe but it isn’t quite ready yet, when it is I will for sure share it here so you can pair them together!

What to serve with BBQ Pulled Chicken?

A good Baked Potato or Sweet Potato is a great option. So are Oven Roasted Baby Potatoes! Or if you want to ditch the potatoes try my Garlic Parmesan Mashed Cauliflower.

Salads are perfect to serve along side this meal too. Healthier Bacon Ranch Potato Salad, Greek Quinoa Chickpea SaladMarinated Chickpea Chopped Salad, and Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Strawberries are all great options.

close up of pulled bbq chicken in the slow cooker

pulled chicken sandwich on a plate with a sweet potato

close up of a barbecue chicken sandwich

close up of pulled bbq chicken in the slow cooker

Healthy BBQ Pulled Chicken

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 5 minutes

an easy homemade sauce replaces that sugary store bought bbq sauce perfect for BBQ pulled chicken in the slow cooker

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs ('family pack')
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 (6oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 (8oz) can crushed pineapple
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke*
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • dash cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. In a mixing bowl add tomato paste, pineapple, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Mix to combine to create a sauce.
  2. Add chicken thighs, onion, and sauce to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
  3. Set on high 3-4 hours or low 6-7 until chicken starts to fall apart.
  4. Before eating shread chicken with two forks, best if left to rest in the sauce for a few minutes. Best served with coleslaw, serve over buns, in wraps, in grain bowls, or on its own.

Notes

PLEASE NOTE: If you are expecting this to taste like store bought bbq sauce you might be let down. This is a refined-sugar free recipe and most bbq sauces are dependant on A LOT of sugar. This recipe is an alternative to those sugary sauces so the flavor might differ from what you are used to.

*optional but encouraged, liquid smoke is an extract that usually comes in hickory or mesquite, often found near the pre-packaged spice packets in the grocery store

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 328Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 208mgSodium: 463mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 43g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment below on the blog or share a photo with me tag @the_schmidty_wife! Can't wait to see what you made!

If you enjoyed this recipe or any of my others let me know by using #theschmidtywife on social media!

And make sure you are following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook for all the latest recipes!

Peace & Love

Lauren, The Schmidty Wife

P.S. Looking for more crockpot recipes? Check out my Slow Cooker Chicken Shawarma or my Easy Vegetarian Crockpot Refried Beans.

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Destiny

Wednesday 5th of August 2020

Would this work with bone in thighs? And would I put the chicken in there raw, or boil first?

Lauren Schmidt

Wednesday 5th of August 2020

Bone-in thighs could work, only downside is that it might get messy if you are trying to shred the chicken off the bones. And you would put the chicken in raw.

KN

Wednesday 29th of July 2020

I'm very confused. Your recipe states that this is sugar free, yet there is crushed pineapple in it which contains 15g sugar per half cup serving, so apparently it isn't sugar free. Are you prepared with sugar free alternatives to the pineapple to make it a genuinely sugar free recipe?

Lauren Schmidt

Wednesday 29th of July 2020

This is a refined sugar free recipe, the pineapple will contain naturally occurring sugars, you could try the recipe without the pineapple but tomato paste also contains quite a bit of naturally occurring sugar. Sorry about the confusion.

Caitlyn

Tuesday 21st of July 2020

LOVE this recipe-- have made it for my picky husband 3 times now and we both really enjoy it. The only consistent issue that I have had is that the sauce itself is very runny and liquidy, and will often make the bun soggy very quickly. And suggestions on how to thicken it up a bit?

Lauren Schmidt

Wednesday 22nd of July 2020

Great question, because soggy buns aren't fun. My first instinct is to do what I do in my Crockpot Carnitas recipe, which is transfer the shredded chicken with about 1/4 cup of the sauce to a sheet pan and place it in the middle rack of the oven under the broil for about 5 minutes. Now I haven't tried this so I cannot say how it will turn out because you might make your chicken too crispy doing it that way but I know with my carnitas is definitely solves the too much liquid problem. If you try this I would absolutely love to hear how it works. OR you could also try to thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry, mix together about 2 tablespoons of both water & cornstarch and then add it to the mixture at the end of cooking, this won't give you less liquid but it will maybe thicken it so it isn't as runny. Hope this helps and I am glad you enjoy the recipe!

J

Tuesday 16th of June 2020

What is the measurement of one serving?

Lauren Schmidt

Friday 19th of June 2020

roughly 1/8 of the dish, sorry I just realized I don't have the true measurement, I will get that out soon

Jehadi

Friday 29th of May 2020

Cooking it right now, and it smells delicious. Had a quick taste and dang I’m so ready to devour it!

Lauren Schmidt

Sunday 31st of May 2020

Yay! So glad you like it Jehadi!