Smoky, sweet and savory, my pulled chicken sandwich recipe is packed with lots of rich, bold flavor from a zesty sauce kissed with pineapple juice. Bone-in and skin-on chicken breasts are gently simmered in the sauce until succulent and tender, then pulled from the bone and piled high onto soft Hawaiian buns along with sliced, grilled pineapple and caramelized Maui onions!
Piled High with Sweet and Smokey Flavor
For me, there's just something about a big, juicy, saucy sandwich that is utterly irresistible—the messier, the better!
I love 'em all, from pulled pork, to BBQ meatloaf, to smoked brisket, to tri-tip, and can't bring myself to pass them up when they're offered on a menu in some little hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
Because some of these slow-cooking, long-smoking meats are not all that conducive to preparing at home (unless you're a BBQ “pit master” with a proper smoker and/or open flame to cook over), I like to stick to easier, quick-cooking versions of these types of tasty sandwiches to whip up and enjoy at home when that craving comes.
And, oh, does that craving come...
My pulled chicken sandwich with grilled pineapple and caramelized Maui onions is inspired by those sweet-n-smoky and mildly spicy notes that I love in some of my favorite “sloppy-good” sandwiches.
My Pulled Chicken Sandwich Recipe with Maui Onions and Grilled Pineapple
In order to keep the chicken juicy and succulent for this pulled chicken sandwich, I'm using bone-in and skin-on split chicken breasts, and taking care not to overcook them.
The bone and the skin adds lots of flavor during the cooking process, and helps keep the breast meat nice and moist, as opposed to skinless and boneless chicken breasts which would tend to dry out too quickly.
And the addition of the grilled pineapple and onions offers a touch sweet savoriness to this smoky sandwich.
The Hawaiian buns, with their super soft texture, offer up some rich, buttery flavor in every bite.
Here's a peek at my recipe for a pulled chicken sandwich: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To get started, I like to sear the split chicken breasts off in my Dutch oven to create some added flavor.
- Next, I remove the chicken breasts from the pan, and create my rich, zesty sauce.
- Then, I add the chicken back to my pan to very gently simmer on the skin-side down for most of the cooking, flipping it over towards the end.
- Once the meat is cooked through, the chicken skin is discarded and the meat is shredded or pulled from the bone, then folded back into the zesty sauce.
- To finish things up, I grill the pineapple slices on my grill pan for a few minutes until sweet, juicy, soft and golden, then my Maui onions,
- To serve, I pile all of that deliciousness onto soft, mildly sweet Hawaiian buns slathered with a kiss of mayo.
Pulled Chicken Sandwich
by Ingrid Beer
This pulled chicken sandwich with a zesty-smoky sauce is piled up with grilled pineapple and Maui onions, all on a soft Hawaiian bun!
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Nutrition Info: 675 calories (per sandwich)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- 2 split chicken breasts (about 1 ½ -2 lbs total), bone-in and skin on
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 2 Maui (or other sweet) onions, 1 finely diced, and 1 thinly sliced, divided use
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup all-natural, 100% pineapple juice
- 1 teaspoon chicken base (I use “Better Than Bouillon” reduced sodium)
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 1 cup smoky BBQ sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 4 slices of fresh pineapple (about ¼” – ½” thick), center core removed
- 4 Hawaiian sandwich buns, toasted
- Mayo, to taste
- Begin by gathering and prepping all of your ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- Season the split chicken breasts with a little drizzle of olive oil, a couple of pinches of salt and black pepper, and the onion powder.
- Place a large, heavy bottom (preferably non-stick) pan, Dutch oven, or shallow braising pot over medium-high heat, and add a couple of drizzles of olive to it; once the oil is hot, place the chicken breasts skin-side down into the pot, and allow them to sear for about 3 minutes until golden. Flip the chicken over onto the bone side, and allow them to sear for another 3 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from pan, and set aside on plate for a moment.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add another small drizzle of oil into the pan, if needed. Add in the finely diced onion, and stir to soften and caramelize in the oil for about 1-2 minutes. Next, add in the garlic, stir, and once that becomes aromatic, add in the tomato paste, and stir to combine.
- After a moment or two of cooking the tomato paste, add in the pineapple juice and stir to scrape up any of the brown bits from the bottom, and allow the mixture to gently simmer for a moment or two, just until combined and slightly thickened. Next, add in the chicken base, the ketchup, and the BBQ sauce, stir, and add the two chicken breasts back into the pot, skin-side down.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow the chicken to very gently simmer in the sauce for about 20-22 minutes. After that time, turn the chicken over onto the bone-side, and allow it to simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, and remove the chicken from the pan, and place it onto a plate to cool slightly, just enough for it to be handled.
- Once slightly cooled, remove and discard the skin and the bones, and pull the chicken meat apart into chunky shreds (you can also use a fork). Add the shredded meat back into the sauce in the pan, along with the tablespoon of honey (if adding), and stir to coat and combine. Cover to keep warm, and set aside.
- To grill your pineapple and onions, place a grill pan over medium-heat, and add in a drizzle or two of oil. Once the pan is hot, add the slices of pineapple and grill each side for about 2 minutes, or until golden and lightly caramelized. Remove the pineapple and set aside.
- Next, add another drizzle of olive oil to the grill pan, and add in the sliced onion along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and allow it to grill/caramelize for about 8-10 minutes, or until softened and golden-brown. Remove and set aside next to the pineapple. Cover to keep warm, if necessary.
- To assemble the pulled chicken sandwiches, spread some of the mayo onto each half of the toasted Hawaiian sandwich bun. To the bottom bun, add a slice of the grilled pineapple, then top that with a layer of the caramelized onion, and finish with a helping of the pulled chicken with sauce, covering with the top bun. Enjoy with Maui onion-flavored and kettle-cooked potato chips, coleslaw, salad, or fresh fruit on the side.
Tips & Tidbits for my Pulled Chicken Sandwich recipe:
- Bone-in and skin-on split chicken breasts for juicy results: Split chicken breasts work very well using this cooking method, as they stay flavorful and moist while gently being simmered in the sauce for roughly half an hour. I would not recommend using skinless and boneless chicken breasts here, as they will dry out and become “mealy” after prolonged cooking. The skin and the bones of the split breasts add flavor, but are discarded once the chicken is cooked through and pulled from the bones.
- Pure pineapple juice for sweetness: When purchasing pineapple juice, make sure you are choosing 100% pure pineapple juice, with no added sweeteners. The pineapple juice has enzymes which help tenderize the chicken as it simmers, and it also adds some sweetness that compliments the smoky notes in the sauce for sweet and savory flavor.
- Maui onions, or other sweet onion varieties: If you can find Maui onions in your market, opt for those in this recipe. If not, other good sweet onion options are Vidalia or Walla Walla onions, or even red onion in a pinch.
- Soft Hawaiian buns for tenderness: Hawaiian buns (similar to Hawaiian rolls, only larger) are terrific for this pulled chicken sandwich. This is a rich and sweeter bun, and compliments the flavors in the sandwich really deliciously! If you can't find Hawaiian buns, opt for brioche buns, or honey-wheat buns, instead.
Hungry for more delicious sandwiches? Check out this Meatloaf Sandwich, this Braised BBQ Short Rib Sandwich, this Korean BBQ Burger, or this Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Pesto!
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2013, and has been updated with even more love!
The Cozy Apron
Hi Gail, Please enjoy this recipe!
I made this recipe - delicious! The taste is magical; unexpected sweetness, indeed!
I must confess this was my first foray with split chicken breasts, and I will be using them again. (Did I miss the part about adding the honey? Entirely possible!)
The Cozy Apron
Hi Gail! How wonderful that you made this recipe - aren't split chicken breasts delicious? The bones add a lot in terms of flavor during the cooking process, which is always a good thing. And by the way, thanks for bringing my attention to the "honey" in the recipe - I forgot to mention to add it into the sauce when the cooked chicken is taken out to be "pulled"; thank you, I'll correct that! So happy you enjoyed this, Gail! Thanks for coming back to share...
Beautiful blog, delicious-looking recipe 🙂
The Cozy Apron
Much appreciated, Sarah!
This looks unbelievably delicious and I must try it ASAP! How would you alter this recipe for the crockpot? Does this freeze well? And can I double or triple this recipe?
The Cozy Apron
Hi Melissa, you could certainly double this recipe fairly easily. As far as freezing, I think it would be fine; I haven't tried that myself, but I don't see why it wouldn't work when cooked through and allowed to completely cool beforehand. As far as the crockpot, just allow it to cook gently; it doesn't take long on the stove (roughly 30 minutes), so take care not to overcook so the chicken doesn't become dry.
I am sure that the bones do add flavor to this recipe. I am wondering if you have ever done this with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and how it would compare.
The Cozy Apron
Hi Kellie, I have not; I prefer the meatier quality to the bone-in breasts, and the fact that they can be easily shredded. And you really can't beat the flavor, as it cooks a little longer and infuses the sauce!
Oh, Ingrid. This was so good. I'm using leftovers tonight in some quesadillas with havarti cheese and a bit of cilantro. I'm slowly making my way through your whole site. Thanks again for the love.
The Cozy Apron
Hi Melissa, how wonderful! Both that you enjoyed the recipe (and even have some creative and exquisite sounding leftovers from it), and that you say you're cooking your way through the whole site—awesome! I hope you're finding some inspiration, and some comfort in the recipes. It makes me so happy to read that you are enjoying what we offer in our blog, and I thank you so much for sharing that with us!
I made a vegetarian/vegan version of this with spaghetti squash. Delish! My husband loved his leftover chicken versin, too! Thank you for the inspiration.
The Cozy Apron
Coco, how creative! So glad you both enjoyed your own versions. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me!
I'm hosting a Moana themed first birthday party this weekend. As you know, the little ones can't have honey. I'm wondering if it's ok to skip on it. Will this mess with the consistency?
The Cozy Apron
Hi Karly, how fun! So excited you plan on preparing this recipe. No worries about the honey—you can totally omit it. Use a touch of brown sugar instead, or agave, and you won't notice the difference. Frankly, you can skip the sweetener all together if you prefer. Hope you have a blast! Good luck, and happy birthday to your little one!
Has anyone ever tried this with a slow cooker? Wondering how it would work. My family has loved this recipe just as you have written it here. Fantastic sandwiches!
The Cozy Apron
Hi Kate, so glad you and the family enjoyed these! Unfortunately, I'm no slow cooker expert (I don't own one), so I can't advise super confidently on this; but if there's a way to cook these chicken breasts low and slow as to not dry them out, that would be best. I don't see why all the ingredients couldn't be added to the cooker and slowly simmered together. If you try, please let me know!
Kate, have you tried this in a slow cooker or instapot? I’ve made this several times, and it’s amazing! But I’m looking for the machine that does the work this time around 🙂