Easy BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
Sweet, tangy, and easy to make, these BBQ Chicken Sandwiches are a brilliant weeknight dinner or casual party meal. With tender slow-cooked chicken, flavorful BBQ sauce, and crisp cabbage slaw piled on toasted buns, this is a meal we enjoy again and again.
Easy Breezy BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
BBQ chicken sandwiches are one of my favorite easy meals. It’s all just so tasty — and so simple. One big batch of crockpot BBQ chicken plus one bowl of healthy homemade coleslaw and dinner is done. This is a terrific family dinner, usually crowd-pleasing and easy to make ahead for a weeknight meal. It’s also one of the dishes I immediately think of for hosting a casual crowd.
These chicken sandwiches taste amazing on brioche-style buns, which are enriched with a bit of butter and sweetness. Serve with homemade brioche hamburger buns for a special treat.
Of course, anyone who prefers to opt out of the bread can enjoy the chicken and slaw as a delicious bowl-style meal, with extra toppings to suit.
Ingredients, Variations & Substitutions
Here are a few notes and shopping tips about the ingredients you’ll need to make this, as well as possible substitutions. Full amounts are noted in the print-friendly recipe card below.
- Chicken. I like to use boneless skinless chicken breasts. Boneless skinless chicken thighs are also a good option but may take a bit longer to cook.
- BBQ sauce. Our favorite lately is Trader Joe’s Kansas City-style sauce. We also like Sweet Baby Ray’s. Use any you like!
- Apple cider vinegar. Thins out the sauce a bit for cooking, and adds a bit of extra tang.
- Brown sugar. A little extra sweetness goes a long way, and the molasses in brown sugar adds that “little something” that keeps everyone coming back for more.
- Sea salt and garlic powder. Sea salt or kosher salt is my favorite; table salt is obviously a great substitute, but cut the amount in half. You can also use fresh minced or grated garlic, though I find garlic powder to taste the same here and be more convenient.
For the Coleslaw:
- Coleslaw mix. You can often buy this pre-shredded and packaged to save time, but it’s essentially a mix of shredded white cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots, so you can also buy those items separately and combine them according to your own preference.
- Green onions. For a little color and added vegetable action.
- Dressing: mayonnaise, honey, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, celery seed, more kosher salt and black pepper.
- Buns of your choice and optional toppings. We love pickles and extra sauce! Onions, cheese, peppers, or avocado are also popular choices. More ideas below.
How To Make Sandwiches with Pulled BBQ Chicken
Although making this chicken recipe from scratch in the slow cooker takes several hours, it’s totally worth it for the hands-off convenience and juicy results. There’s also an Instant Pot option.
Here are the basic steps and a quick overview. You will find full instructions with exact ingredients in the print-friendly recipe card below.
- Cook chicken in sauce in slow cooker. This will take 4-6 hours on low or 2-3 hours on high.
- Shred chicken then return it to the sauce.
- Make and chill coleslaw.
- Toast buns, if desired, and assemble.
Topping Ideas for BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
I love these sandwiches with plenty of sauce, a little coleslaw, and a couple classic dill pickle slices. The rest of my family either likes the chicken plain or just with coleslaw! But if you want to spice things up a little more, here are some popular topping ideas:
- Dill or bread and butter pickles
- Raw, pickled, or caramelized onions
- Crispy bacon
- Sliced avocado
- Thinly-sliced jalapeno peppers
- Pineapple rings
- Sliced or shredded cheese–try cheddar for a classic choice
Side Dish Ideas
Make It Ahead
These sandwiches are a great option when you want to do most of the work ahead of time. After you shred the meat, it will stay tender and juicy on the slow cooker’s “keep warm” function for at least 2-3 hours. The coleslaw can also be made up to 4 hours ahead of time and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Then, set up a casual buffet of buns, coleslaw, and any other fixings and serve the chicken straight out of the slow cooker.
If you want to make the chicken even further ahead, make it fully, let cool and store in the fridge, then reheat over low in the slow cooker, in a saucepan, or even in your Instant Pot.
Instant Pot BBQ Chicken
Want to enlist your pressure cooker to make the chicken instead? The Instant Pot works great for this!
In the bottom of your insert, combine barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, water, brown sugar, sea salt, and garlic powder. Stir well to combine. Nestle the chicken breasts into the sauce, turning to be sure they are fully coated. Turn lid to the sealing position and cook on the Instant Pot’s poultry setting for 12 minutes, then do a quick release of the pressure.
Shred chicken, return to the pot, and mix well. Leave on the keep warm setting for up to 1 hour and serve as desired on sandwiches, in wraps, bowls, etc.
Storage, Freezing & Reheating
- Storage: Leftover BBQ chicken keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-6 days. The coleslaw can be kept separately for 3-4 days in the fridge, just keep it in mind that the cabbage and carrots will become more limp the longer it sits.
- Freezing & Reheating: Pulled BBQ chicken can be frozen, tightly-sealed in any freezer-safe container, for 3-4 months. When ready to use, defrost chicken in the fridge overnight, then warm in the microwave or on the stove over medium-low heat. It will be just as juicy and delicious as when first made.
If you try this recipe for BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, don’t forget to rate it and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
Easy BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
For the Chicken:
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt see note
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 and 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
For the Coleslaw:
- 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- pinch of sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups shredded coleslaw mix
- 1/4 cup sliced green onion
- brioche buns
- pickles or other toppings as desired
- To make the chicken: In the bottom of a slow cooker, combine barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, water, brown sugar, sea salt, and garlic powder. Stir well to combine.
- Nestle the chicken breasts into the sauce, turning to be sure they are fully coated. Cook on high for 2-3 hours or low for 4-6 hours, until the chicken is very tender and easy to pull apart with two forks.
- Shred chicken. You can do this either inside the crockpot, or by removing the chicken to a cutting board. Return shredded chicken to the crockpot and stir well to coat in the sauce; serve right away, or leave on the slow cooker’s keep warm setting for up to 2-3 hours.
- To make the coleslaw: In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, honey, celery seed, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine.
- Add shredded coleslaw mix and green onion to the bowl. Toss well to coat with the dressing. Sample and add more salt as desired. Enjoy right away, or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
- To assemble: If desired, toast the buns by turning the oven to 250 degrees F and laying the flat interior sides of each bun face down directly on a middle oven rack for 4-5 minutes.
- Fill each bun with a generous pile of BBQ chicken, extra BBQ sauce if desired, and a layer of coleslaw. Enjoy!
- Salt: If you’re using regular table salt in the chicken, only use 1/2 teaspoon.
- Instant Pot Instructions: In the bottom of your insert, combine barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, water, brown sugar, sea salt, and garlic powder. Stir well to combine. Nestle the chicken breasts into the sauce, turning to be sure they are fully coated. Cook on the Instant Pot’s poultry setting for 12 minutes, then do a quick release of the pressure. Shred chicken, return to the pot, and mix well. Leave on the keep warm setting for up to 1 hour.