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Healthy Slow Cooker

Chapter 6

Top Tips for Slow-Cooker Chicken & Turkey

Given that it is one of the leanest proteins you’ll find, chicken is a valuable option for those watching calories, fat, and cholesterol. But like most lean proteins, chicken can be a challenge to keep moist and flavorful—especially in the slow cooker, where you have less control over temperature. it’s not uncommon to see simple recipes result in chicken that is dry, bland, and unappealing. Here is what we’ve learned about getting juicy, flavorful chicken from the slow cooker.

One-Hour Ranges Are Key

We found that the only way to cook chicken (and turkey) in a slow cooker is on the low setting and for a relatively short amount of time. We recommend that until you have experience cooking chicken in your slow cooker, start checking the temperature of chicken breasts (boneless and bone-in), whole chicken, and turkey breasts at the low end of the temperature range to ward off dry, overcooked poultry. Chicken thighs, on the other hand, are more forgiving, making them especially well suited to the slow cooker because their dark meat becomes meltingly tender during the long cooking time; for this reason, we cook them longer than bone-in or boneless breasts, and we don’t check their temperature. Longer cooking times are also needed in soups or casseroles where the meat is insulated by other ingredients.

Type of Poultry Cooking Time

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

1 to 2 hours on Low

Bone-in Split Chicken Breasts

2 to 3 hours on Low

Chicken Thighs

3 to 4 hours on Low

Whole Chicken

4 to 5 hours on Low

Turkey Breast

5 to 6 hours on Low

Positioning a Whole Chicken

When cooking a whole chicken in the slow cooker, our testers discovered that placing the chicken breast side down yields a moister bird because the juices from the dark meat render down into the breast, keeping it from becoming overcooked as the dark meat reaches the proper temperature.

Recipe testing: Whole Roast Chili-Rubbed Chicken

Remove the Skin

Chicken can be a healthy option as long as you remove the skin and trim away any unwanted fat. One (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breast with skin has almost 23 grams more fat than its skinless equivalent, which has only 9 grams of fat—that’s a difference worth dealing with. Chicken skin is often slippery, so using a paper towel provides extra grip. For whole chickens with skin that is more difficult to remove, we wait until they are fully cooked and carved before removing the skin.

Remove chicken skin with paper towel

Dress It Up with a Sauce or Side

While in some recipes chicken is smothered in heavy sauces, we found that savory sides and bright vinaigrettes bring dishes to life without excessive fat and calories. Heartier vegetables like carrots and bell peppers can cook right alongside the chicken. They help to season the chicken as it cooks and keep the final meal packed with flavor. For a big-flavor finish, we like to drizzle chicken with simple vinaigrettes created with sunny citrus juice and fresh herbs like mint and cilantro.

Everyone's New Favorite

Recipe Slow-Cooker Penne with Chicken and Broccolini

With its enticing combination of moist chicken, fresh broccolini, and sweet red bell pepper, this rich sauce pairs perfectly with whole-wheat penne.