Flavorful, juicy, NOT DRY chicken tacos, can it be true?? Yes, and you can easily make them in 30 minutes on the stovetop, or in the crockpot in about 3 hours. These shredded chicken tacos are made with just a few ingredients but taste like they’re from a taqueria, no lie. And we are NOT throwing chicken in a crock pot with some salsa. Please.
My daughter Charlotte just turned 12, and Eric and I had all her presents wrapped and ready for the big day. When she found them in the morning, she said excitedly, “Mom, where did you get this gift bag? I’ve never seen it before in my life!” She was genuinely shocked.
I had bought a large new gift bag at Target (for a whopping 6 dollars), because it had an adorable picture of roller skates on it. It served as a fun clue: we got her a pair of roller skates as her big gift this year. (They are bright turquoise and so awesome)
But apparently in her 12 years of life she didn’t know that the store is where gift bags come from. In our family, when anyone needs to wrap a present, all you have to do is pull a bag from the designated gift-wrapping closet. The bags are just there, existing since before time began, apparently.
I learned from my mother that the ritual of gift-opening on birthdays and Christmases ends with The Mom quietly seated in the corner, carefully smoothing and folding gift bags and tissue paper to be reused for the next event.
I’m dusting off my shoulders and polishing my nails over here. My gift bag game must be seriously on point if I have a tween daughter who doesn’t even know you can get these things at the store. I didn’t know I had reached this level of Mom. Applause welcome.
Maybe someday I will reach Grandpa-level frugality. When Eric was growing up, his family owned the town hardware and furniture store. All his birthday cards from Grandpa had no message written on the card itself, but instead a post-it note stuck inside saying happy birthday. Then after the family party, Grandpa would take the card and the unsealed envelope back to his store and return it to the shelf to sell to someone else. HASHTAG GOALS.
I asked Charlotte what she wanted me to make her for dinner on her birthday, and she said “TACOS!” which is a testament to her love of all things tortilla-bound. We have just come off several weeks of chicken taco testing in our kitchen. We had chicken tacos so many nights in a row I just stopped counting. But I didn’t hear a single complaint, because tacos really are one of those meals you can eat every day, right? Just ask Mexico.
Table of Contents
- Why are we not eating tacos every day, all the time?
- The Best Chicken Tacos: here’s how
- Chicken tacos: your weeknight best friend
- Chicken Tacos ingredients
- How to make chicken tacos on the stovetop
- Why is my slow cooker chicken so tough?
- How to make slow cooker chicken tacos
- How to put Chicken tacos together
- What to do with leftover chicken taco meat
- What goes well with Chicken Tacos
- How to Store Chicken Tacos
- Chicken Tacos FAQs
- More Mexican and Tex Mex taco meat!
- Taqueria-Style Chicken Tacos Recipe
Why are we not eating tacos every day, all the time?
I live in California where it is super easy to find amazing Mexican food. In my hometown of Manteca (which, incidentally, means “lard” in Spanish, no I’m not making this up) has a pretty low population, but still boasts over 40 taquerias in the city limits.
I thought this was how everyone ate. When I moved to Utah for school (go BYU) and later to Indiana, I was shocked at what passed for “Mexican food.” Unmitigated garbage, wrapped in a tortilla. And a crappy tortilla, at that. I’ve never been more offended.
All this to say, I don’t mess around when it comes to tacos.
- They must have excellent, juicy, drippy, flavorful salty chicken.
- They must have a tortilla that you have spent some time on, since you probably aren’t making said tortilla from scratch.
- Fixin’s are a MUST: cilantro, onions, and sauce are the most vital.
The Best Chicken Tacos: here’s how
You can’t get a good taco without excellent meat inside. Here’s how to get chicken that is juicy and tender, not flat-tasting and bone dry!
- Use chicken thighs, not chicken breasts. Thighs have more internal fat. FAT=FLAVOR!
- Use my Homemade Taco Seasoning. I’m kind of embarrassed how long I worked on the recipe for this seasoning mix, haha. But it’s a game changer.
- If you must use a store-bought taco seasoning packet (I get it, I get it) add 1 and 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal to it. It is the magic ingredient that makes your meat saucy and corny all at once.
- Lime juice garnish is not optional.
Chicken tacos: your weeknight best friend
I have one recipe but two methods for you today. The first involves a (super) quick marinade followed by a hot sear on the stove. You can have tacos in your mouth in 30 minutes flat.
The second method is in the crock pot and takes about 3 hours. Sorry, this is not a make-it-before-work-and-come-home-to-dinner meal. If you cook chicken solo in the crock pot while you are away for 10 hours it’s going to taste like dry stringy garbage. I said what I said. Don’t do it. More details on the crock pot method below.
The recipe is the same, whichever way you decide to cook it. Let’s talk ingredients.
Chicken Tacos ingredients
This is a quick shopping list to help you gather your stuff. See the recipe card below for full ingredients and instructions!
For the chicken:
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs (1 and 1/2 pounds)
- Homemade taco seasoning (or buy a packet and add 1 tablespoon cornmeal)
- Lime juice
For assembling the tacos:
- Tortillas (flour or corn, you choose)
- Homemade Pico de Gallo, or at least chopped onion and cilantro
- salsa; I love taqueria style green salsa made with avocados and tomatillos, like this kind from Casa Sanchez.
- Queso Fresco or Cotija (crumbly white cheese)
- Mexican Crema, or sour cream if you can’t find it
- Jaunita’s tortilla chips and extra Restaurant style salsa, because every taco experience ought to begin and end with chips and salsa. (side note, Juanita’s is apparently now Juantonios, and I’m basically having an identity crisis about it over here. Anyone else freaking out over this?? WHERE ARE YOU JUANITA?? WHO THE HECK IS JUANTONIO?? Thankfully, the chips are clearly exactly the same, in all their greasy glory. Thank goodness.)
Okay. Let’s dig into the details. First I’m going to show you how to make these tacos in 30 minutes, then I will show you the slow cooker method.
How to make chicken tacos on the stovetop
Get yourself some boneless skinless chicken thighs and place on a plate or dish.
Make yourself some Homemade Taco Seasoning. You probably have most of the ingredients in your cupboard. If you can’t handle doing homemade, get a quality brand taco seasoning packet and add a tablespoon yellow cornmeal to it.
Rub the spices into the chicken, top bottom and sides. Let this marinate for at least 15 minutes, or up to 24 hours if you have the time.
Only have chicken breasts?
Cut them like this before adding the seasoning. They will cook more evenly. Use a sharp knife and avoid sawing motions. Chicken breasts are not my top choice (there is not as much fat), but they will do in a pinch.
Sear your seasoned chicken in screaming hot oil. Do not move it once it is in the pan! This is how you get a nice brown sear.
Can you see how it’s getting all blackened? Yum. When you flip the chicken, add a pat of butter to help the second side brown (and hello flavor.)
Remove the chicken to a cutting board and continue cooking the rest of the chicken until it’s done.
Let rest a few minutes. Cut against the grain. Squeeze with lime juice. And STUFF! Voila. Chicken tacos.
The other way to make these tacos is in the slow cooker. But I’ve got some rules. First things first:
Why is my slow cooker chicken so tough?
Because you’re cooking it too long, and boiling it at that. You know when you look up something and google gives you common questions other people ask about the topic? On a search for “slow cooker chicken tacos” the first question that pops up is “why is my chicken so tough?” It’s a real problem, y’all, you are not the only one.
Here’s the thing about crock pot chicken. Everyone wants to leave it in all day. Set-it and forget-it, right? WRONG. You can leave a pot roast in all day. You can go for 10 hours on that Pulled pork shoulder. But would you put salmon in the slow cooker for 10 hours? “Of course not!”
Well, chicken should not be put in the slow cooker for that long either. Chicken doesn’t need to see the inside of a slow cooker longer than 2 and 1/2 hours, 3 tops. I know this is a huge blow to your world view about slow cookers. Life is tough.
(By the way, I’m not saying there are zero chicken recipes that go all day in the slow cooker. Just try this Chicken Kale Soup or this Basil Chicken Curry. But if your goal is cooked chicken that’s stand alone, not part of a sauce or soup, you need it to be juicy and browned and flavorful. A short cook time and minimal added liquid is the best way to do it.)
- Don’t leave your chicken in the slow cooker longer than 3 hours tops
- Don’t add salsa or other liquid. We want to braise this bird, not boil it in tomatoes. Heaven’s sake. Salsa goes on your taco AFTER you cook the meat. Have you ever been to a Mexican restaurant where the chicken tasted like a jar of canned salsa? No!!
How to make slow cooker chicken tacos
Here’s how it’s done. This could not be easier. It’s my preferred way to make these tacos. Shh, don’t tell Stovetop Version up above.
Slap your chicken straight from the package into your crock pot. If you have skin-on thighs, you will have to trim them first. Bone-in is fine. If you have boneless-skinless, you can just toss it in.
(You can use chicken breasts, but thighs are better. They have more internal fat, giving them more flavor and tenderness.)
Sprinkle your Homemade Taco Seasoning over the chicken and rub it in. You can use a store bought taco packet; add 1 tablespoon cornmeal to it first.
Chop 2 tablespoons butter into small chunks. Sprinkle the butter evenly over the chicken.
Close the lid and let cook on LOW for 2 and 1/2 hours, or up to 3 hours max.
Remove the chicken, let it rest a few minutes, then shred. It should be totally falling apart.
Add chicken to a serving bowl and squeeze lime juice over the top. Serve with the crock pot drippings. That’s it!
How to put Chicken tacos together
Once you have your meat all ready to go, whether you made it on the stove or in the slow cooker, it’s time to put our tacos together.
I love to char my tortillas on the open flame of my gas stove. (California keeps threatening to outlaw gas stoves entirely, and if they do, I’m moving out of state. DON’T RUIN MY TACOS, CALIFORNIA sheesh.)
Set the burner to medium high heat. It only takes a few seconds for the tortilla to char on the edges. Flip it with metal tongs and do the other side.
Place them immediately in a ziplock bag and seal right away to steam them. Every few tortillas, I add a damp paper towel. The goal here is to steam the tortillas and make them nice and pliable. I prefer to use corn tortillas, but flour tortillas work in the process the same way.
Once you have your charred and steamed tortillas, build your taco:
- Layer two tortillas
- generous chicken (drizzle with drippings if you made it in the crock)
- Pico de gallo (or at least cilantro and onions)
- Mexican Crema
Eat one, and then another, and then another, and another…
What to do with leftover chicken taco meat
Chicken taco meat loves to party. All it wants is to hang out with other ingredients in all kinds of meals. Tacos? Of course. Enchiladas? It’s down. Burrito bowls? Yes please. Quesadillas? YOLO.
Here are a few suggestions for how to use the filling for this Chicken Taco recipe (other than tacos).
- Use it as enchilada filling. Honestly this would be perfect with green OR red enchilada sauce.
- Throw it on burrito bowls. Personally I’m a huge fan of cauliflower rice and this Spanish Cauliflower Rice would make a killer base. Add some black beans, pico de gallo, cheese, and guac and you’re outdoing Chipotle by like a million.
- Put it in quesadillas. Turn a tortilla-and-cheese toddler lunch into a full-on adult dinner by adding this chicken taco meat. Dip it in salsa and you’re golden.
- Upgrade your loaded nachos. Take this simple recipe for Easy Rotisserie Chicken Nachos and make it even better with more flavorful chicken.
- Make a plate with rice and beans. These Tex Mex Tejano Beans are the perfect complement to your chicken with a side of rice. Again, a little guac never hurts.
What goes well with Chicken Tacos
What to serve tacos with? If you’re having a party or you want to feed a crowd, here are some perfect toppings, sides, drinks, and desserts.
- 5 Minute Restaurant Style Salsa << you’re gonna need a lot of chips, Jaunita’s please. (or is it Juantonio??)
- How to Make Authentic Pico de Gallo << you can make this simple salsa last minute.
- Mexican Cucumber Salad with Cilantro and Lime << one of my most popular recipes!
- Slow Cooker Refried Beans << the perfect compliment if you’re making the chicken in the slow cooker.
- Spanish Cauliflower Rice << there is no better base for a low-carb burrito bowl.
- Vanilla Bean Horchata << maybe it’s just me but there is NEVER a bad time for horchata.
- Brazilian Limeade Recipe << if you’ve never had this tart and sweet combo you have got to try it!
- Best Tres Leches Cake << we are talking irresistible flavor and moistness.
- Simple Guacamole from Veronika’s Kitchen
- Mexican Rice from The Woks of Life
- Churros Recipe from Isabel Eats
How to Store Chicken Tacos
Leftover chicken can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days. You can also freeze it for 2-3 months, no problem. I just throw it in a ziplock (and label it if I’m feeling extremely kind toward my future self).
When you’re ready to reheat it from the fridge, the microwave works great. If it’s frozen, you can let it defrost overnight before warming. Or, if you regularly forget about making dinner (like yours truly), then you can place the sealed ziplock bag of frozen chicken in a bowl of warm water on your counter or in your sink, turning it over after 10 minutes or so, until it’s defrosted. Or heat in the microwave; use a lower power level to defrost.
The taco toppings should be stored in the fridge also. Freshly chopped veggies, pico de gallo, and avocado don’t freeze well, but you can freeze salsa or cheese if you want.
Can you freeze Chicken Tacos?
Yes. After you make the chicken tacos recipe (and let it cool), just put the meat in a ziplock or airtight container and leave it in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you want to use it, just defrost it in the fridge overnight and then use it for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, whatever you want. I have some in my freezer right now! I told you I was testing these for a while!
Chicken Tacos FAQs
Yes! It’s all about what you’re using for the filling and toppings. This chicken taco meat is high in protein, and if you add veggie toppings like salsa, onions, cilantro, etc. it’s basically a salad. If you’re going low-carb you can always switch out a flour or corn tortilla for a carb balance tortilla (with fewer calories) or a homemade or store-bought keto or paleo-friendly tortilla. You can also turn chicken tacos into chicken taco salad, or a chicken burrito bowl, or whatever low carb idea sounds good to you!
First of all, this chicken. What happens next is your call. I think you MUST have onions, cilantro, and salsa, but that’s me. Pico de Gallo is even better. You can add cheese: use queso fresco or cotija if you like a crumbly Mexican cheese, or shredded Monterey jack or pepper jack if you prefer. Avocado or guac are always a good call. You could do chopped tomatoes, sliced radishes, or shredded lettuce if you want more veggies. Mexican crema or a dollop of sour cream are always a win. It’s kind of hard to go wrong!
If you want moist, tender chicken tacos, you gotta go with the chicken thighs. I know that we’ve all been conditioned as Americans to go with white meat, but the fat inside chicken thighs makes the most juicy, drippy, amazing tacos of your dreams. You CAN use chicken breast, but your tacos will not be as moist and flavorful. (you will still have tacos at the end of the day, of course. Just add more sour cream 😉)
More Mexican and Tex Mex taco meat!
- Cafe Rio Shredded Sweet Pork for Burritos << another super versatile meat!
- Traditional Tejano Carne Guisada << perfect for tacos, burrito bowls, salad, you name it.
- Carne Asada Made with Juicy Skirt Steak << the mojo marinade for this is soooo good!
- Slow Cooker Pork Tacos with Mexican Coleslaw << so easy. No marinating, just throw it in the crockpot and forget about it until dinnertime.
- Healthy Chicken Enchiladas from Eating Bird Food
- Chicken Tostadas from Modern Honey
Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram
Taqueria-Style Chicken Tacos
For the tacos
- 1 & 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1/4 cup homemade taco seasoning, or a taco seasoning packet, SEE NOTES*
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, for the pan, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 12 corn tortillas, plus more
- 1 batch Pico de Gallo
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (if you don't make Pico de Gallo)
- 1 small white onion, chopped (if you don't make Pico de Gallo)
- Mexican Crema, or sour cream
- 1 cup Queso Fresco, crumbled (or cotija)
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- jalapeno, sliced
- radishes, sliced thin
- restaurant style salsa
- avocado tomatillo salsa
30 Minute Chicken Tacos on the Stove
- Place 1 and 1/2 pounds chicken thighs** on a plate or in a casserole dish. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Homemade Taco Seasoning* over the top and rub it all over the chicken with your hands. See notes to use a store bought taco packet. Let the chicken marinate at least 15 minutes (or up to 24 hours in the fridge).
- Heat a 12-inch saute pan over medium high heat for at least 3 minutes. When it is hot, add 1 tablespoon oil. Swirl to coat. The oil should shimmer right away.
- Carefully place each chicken thigh in the pan. Once it touches the pan you can’t move it, so arrange accordingly. Do not crowd the chicken. You will have to do this in at least 2 batches. Do not touch, poke, or move the chicken at all. It needs to stay put to get a nice sear.
- Once the chicken that will fit is in the pan, lower the heat to medium. Cook the chicken for 3-4 minutes. If you try to flip the chicken and it sticks to the pan, it’s not ready to turn.
- Use tongs to flip each piece of chicken, swirling the pan as necessary to coat with oil. Immediately add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and swirl the pan as it melts. (The butter helps the chicken to brown, and brings flavor.) Cook the chicken on the second side for about 2 minutes, until it is a deep golden brown and a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees F. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat this process with the second half of the seasoned chicken.
- Cut the chicken against the grain, then it should easily shred into smaller pieces. Transfer to a serving bowl. Squeeze the juice from one lime over the top of the chicken. If there are any pan juices left in your pan, you can add that to the chicken too.
Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
- *This will take 2 and 1/2 hours*Place 1 and 1/2 pounds chicken** into your crock pot. If you have skin-on thighs, you will have to trim them first. But if you bought boneless skinless, you can just toss them in.
- Sprinkle 1/4 cup Homemade Taco Seasoning over the chicken and use your hands to rub it in. (You can use a store bought taco packet; add 1 and 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal to it first, see notes)
- Chop 2 tablespoons butter into small chunks. Sprinkle the butter evenly over the chicken. Close the lid and let cook on LOW for 2 and 1/2 hours, or up to 3 hours max.
- Remove the chicken, let it rest a few minutes, then shred. It should be totally falling apart. Add chicken to a serving bowl and squeeze juice from 1 lime over the top. Serve with the crock pot drippings.
Serve your tacos
- Char your tortillas. Set a gas burner over medium high heat. Place a corn tortilla over the open flame. Let char for about 5-10 seconds (don't walk away) then flip with metal tongs and char the other side. Once it has blackened edges, place the tortilla in a ziplock bag and seal. Every few tortillas, I add a damp paper towel to the bag to help it steam. (If you don't have a gas stove, heat the tortillas in a pan until warm, then follow steaming step as described)
- Assemble your tacos: Layer 1 or 2 steamed corn tortillas. Top with a generous amount of chicken, plus drippings if there are any. Add garnishes as desired, you don't have to use all of them. (At least one kind of salsa, plus chopped onions and cilantro is the bare minimum in my opinion) Here's more:Pico de Gallo (or chopped onions and cilantro), Mexican Crema, Queso Fresco, more lime juice, chopped jalapeno, sliced radishes, and Restaurant Style Salsa and/or Avocado Tomatillo Salsa.
Made this past weekend, following the recipe exactly. It was AMAZING!!! And we never like/use dark meat chicken. I did the recipe for the rub and allowed it to sit in the fridge for 24 hours. I will say, the only issue was the cooking time. I followed the instructions for a set of LOW for 2-1/2 hours max. When I checked it at the 2 hours mark, it was all raw. So I bumped it to high heat and cooked it for 40 min. It was perfect. I am sure crock pot heats vary, mine typically cooks way too hot so I am surprised it was raw after 2 hours. Then again, I did have a very full crock pot. I also made your pico de gallo…and HOLY CRAP BATMAN… it was delicious. Everything was amazing! Thank you for yet again, another fantastic recipe!
Oh hooray I’m so glad it was a success Michelle! How many pounds of meat did you put in, just curious? I am surprised the meat was still raw. that’s good feedback though, for anyone else who might have an old slow cooker, or if you’re doubling or tripling the recipe, it might take a bit longer! SO glad you’re loving the pico too, Thanks for chiming in!
The slow-cooker version was SO easy and SO delicious. Even (gasp) with store-bought taco seasoning.
Hooray! It really is so good even with store bought! Thanks for reviewing Nathan 💕
I’ve tried many of your recipes and love them!! Sadly, I’ve yet to remember to leave a review and engage with you on here. Let me first say your stories are the absolute best and make me laugh every time I read your posts thank you!! I think you should do stand up comedy in between all your cooking. I’d bet you could command a room fairly easily you think?? :) This recipe was simply amazing!! I don’t have a gas stove so I couldn’t char my tortillas just not the same without you’re right! By the time I got the tortillas warm the chicken wasn’t hot. lol When the chicken was hot again my tortillas weren’t. lol I’m pretty sure I loaded up my taco with all the fixings and it fell apart after the first bite. All those little things aside I loved eating these tacos. Those photos stole the show any tricks to taking amazing photos?? Have a great rest of the week.
Why does chicken from slow cooker look charred. You didn’t brown them first. I would prefer to brown them first, but they do look delicious and definitely going to try.
Hi Kelli! This post shows both slow cooker and stove top methods! That’s why there are some pictures with blackened edges, that was done on the stovetop.
The chicken was delicious. I often do a dry rub and grill but this was much tastier. I used coconut oil because I am lactose intolerant and can’t have butter. (Yes, a great sadness) But the chicken was amazing! I loved the juicy sauce that I got. And the leftovers heated up beautifully and I just served them with rice and cheddar cheese and steamed broccoli and it was great. I’m wondering what other spice rubs I can use to season the chicken before cooking it like this. I cooked it in my electric skillet because I could fit 8 thighs in there at a time, but I will try my cast iron skillets next time. Thanks again!
I’m so happy you loved the chicken Michele!! And good to know that coconut oil is a handy substitute, that’s very useful. This method for chicken in the crock pot is a game changer right? The original idea comes from this Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff, which uses a packet of Italian dressing seasoning on chicken. (I also think a ranch packet would be amazing. Or an Onion soup packet.)
Another recipe I have using this method is this Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala. That recipe uses Indian spices to cook the chicken, then adds a sauce at the end. You could also try using the spice rub from my Pulled Pork recipe on chicken for a BBQ flavor, I think that would be amazing served up with bbq sauce on buns. Let me know what you try out! Thank you so much for coming back to rate and comment, you’re the best!
Your comment about California had me smiling. WE ARE MOVING; more than just the outlawing of my gas stove, but the ability to have on is a must to where we land! And now I want tacos! Thanks for the seasoning recipe and the trick to keep your tacos warm and flexible so we all can eat together! I normally cook and flip them to nearest person who has a plate in their hand =)
California is crazy but the do have the best taquerias, idk if I could ever leave for that alone haha! I hope you get to try out these tacos soon and maybe don’t give up entirely on your flipping strategy, it sounds like quite the dinner adventure 😉😂
You are hilarious and I love both your posts and your recipes! Your timing is also fabulous because I have been craving chicken tacos/nachos/enchiladas, etc. I haven’t made these yet, but I can’t wait! P.S. Chicken thighs have always beat out breast meat in my book!
Thank you so much for telling me that Elizabeth! You’re keeping me goin! 💕 Definitely make this chicken soon for any of the above, enchiladas or nachos is PERFECT.
This looks delcious! I’m always disappointed by the salsa crockpot chicken recipe. I’ll try this!
My grandmother used to give my grandfather the same Christmas card every year. They were married in 1944 and the card looked like it was from the 50s! She signed it though. ;)
After I laughed my guts out about your crazy mother-in-law (who does that???😂) and Char not realizing you can actually BUY NEW GIFT BAGS AT THE STORE, I went back to my mouth watering over your chicken taco photos! Yum! Can’t wait to make these. Chip and I are working on losing poundage so we can eat ourselves silly next month with you all. 😃