Original publish date July 10, 2015. Updated 2023 with expanded information.
It’s true: with Instant Pot, chicken breasts can magically transform into the world’s most effortless healthy dinner! This is the ultimate guide to pressure cooking chicken breasts. I have cooked many, many chicken breasts in the 8 years that I’ve been using my electric pressure cooker – frozen and fresh, from extra-large to tiny tenderloins, and everything in between.
Let your Instant Pot make it easier than ever to turn chicken into a healthy meal prep staple. Fuel up with lean protein that the whole family will enjoy – paleo, keto and gluten-free eaters included.
- Why to Use Instant Pot for Chicken Breast
- Step By Step: How to Cook
- How Long to Pressure Cook?
- Quick vs. Natural Pressure Release
- 10 Simple Sauce Options
- Meal Prep Ideas for Instant Pot Chicken Breast
- Double Decker Dinner with Insta-Chicken!
- Nutrition Insights
- More Instant Pot Chicken Recipes
Why to Use Instant Pot for Chicken Breast
Most of the time, I love to cook. But some nights, I wish dinner would just cook itself.
Instant Pot to the rescue! With the magical tool that is an electric pressure cooker, chicken can miraculously braise itself into tender, juicy perfection with the help of whatever flavorful liquid your heart desires. Even when the chicken is straight out of the freezer!
On weeknights, cooking frozen chicken is a game-changer. On a busy night, I throw the chicken and sauce into the cooker and let my loyal kitchen companion do all the work while I figure out something easy to serve with it.
Or on weekends, I can take a couple of minutes while I’m at home to cook up some healthy protein that I can bank on later in the week. Instant Pot can make meal prep so much easier!
This recipe is SIMPLE. All you need:
Your choice of cooking liquid
This is my golden rule: 1/2 cup of something tasty, plus 1/2 cup of water to dilute.
1 cup is the minimum amount of liquid needed to bring a standard 6-quart Instant Pot up to pressure. Some sauces, particularly if they are thick or sugary, can cause Instant Pot to trigger a Burn/Overheat error when coming to pressure. By diluting sauces by half with water, you can confidently pressure cook without risk of burning.
For plain chicken, use 1 cup chicken broth or water. Or jump to Sauce Options for lots of quick flavor ideas.
Chicken Breasts or Tenderloins
The only other ingredient… chicken! It doesn’t matter if you use individually frozen cutlets, or stuck-together icy slabs, or fresh chicken if that’s what you have handy. Instant Pot can handle them all, but you will have to choose your cook time wisely.
Fresh chicken tenderloins can cook in as little as 1 minute, while extra large whole frozen breasts can take as long as 30 minutes. I’ve cooked chicken breasts of ALL shapes and sizes – jump to How Long to Pressure Cook? and I’ll walk you through exactly how to make that call!
Step By Step: How to Cook
Dump Chicken into Instant Pot
Start with chicken breasts. It’s difficult to tell, but this photo actually shows a single very large frozen breast that weighs a full pound.
Then decide what you’d like your chicken to taste like. Use 1/2 cup of something tasty, and 1/2 cup of water. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and I’m sharing some of my favorite flavor ideas below. But for this example I’m keeping it simple: storebought salsa!
After you mix in the water to make a full cup of liquid, pour it over the chicken in your pressure cooker. Close the lid and set the cooking time based on the size of your poultry portions (see table in How Long to Pressure Cook?)
Shred, Slice, or Serve
After the cook time is up, let the pot rest for 10 minutes to naturally release pressure before opening the lid and and removing the chicken.
If by chance you find that your chicken is undercooked, never fear – you can split the chicken into a couple of smaller pieces to speed things along, and return it to the pot with Slow Cooker or Saute mode turned on until it’s cooked through.
After cooking, the chicken can either be pulled into shreds using two forks, or chopped into slices, or served whole. It really is that easy!
How Long to Pressure Cook?
In the 8 years I’ve been cooking with my Instant Pot, I have made a LOT of chicken. Practice makes perfect, and I am here to share my original research on how long to pressure cook chicken breasts.
In my experience, the most important factor for determining the cook time is the size/thickness of the chicken pieces. It does not matter much if you are cooking one pound, two pounds, three pounds, or even a single breast… What matters is HOW BIG is each one of the pieces.
It also matters whether the chicken is frozen or fresh. I’ve heard some cooks say that it works to use the same cook times for fresh/frozen items, and it just takes longer for the cooker to heat up and reach pressure for frozen food. In my experience, this hasn’t worked for me. Instant Pot is able to heat up enough to pressurize, while the inside of the chicken is still frozen solid. I’ve found that frozen chicken needs a significantly longer pressure cook time to avoid cutting into a piece with the inside still raw.
Chicken breasts can be a tricky cut of meat; they can cook quickly, and when overcooked they can become dry and tough. When perfectly cooked, they are tender and juicy. Locking down in a pressure cooker makes it more difficult to get it just right, but I have been through enough trial and error to expect reliable results following the cook times in this table:
Instant Pot Pressure Cook Times (High Pressure)
- For fresh chicken, if you first brown the chicken with Instant Pot’s Saute mode, you can subtract 2-3 minutes from the pressure cook time. For example, a medium 8 ounce chicken breast can be fully cooked in just 2 minutes if sauteed on both sides first.
- These cook times are the average pressure cook times that I aim for – but you can get away with a couple of minutes of wiggle room higher or lower, which can be useful when cooking chicken together with another food like rice, pasta or veggies.
Quick vs. Natural Pressure Release
In quick pressure release, the valve is instantly opened to vent steam after the cooking time is complete. In natural pressure release, the cooker is left to cool down on its own (partially or fully) before the lid is opened.
Natural release is recommended when pressure cooking braised meats. Quick pressure release can cause chicken to shrink and become tough.
When you run your pressure cooker, the temperature inside gets very high – up to 244 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 32 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water. When you open the lid, rapid evaporation of liquid can leave your food dried out and shriveled.
I know it can be tempting to rush dinner to the table sometimes, but quick release is best to be avoided if at all possible. Let the pressure cooker naturally cool down for at least ten minutes before opening the valve to release any remaining pressure. It’s worth the wait!
Instant Pot Tips
Some older models of Instant Pot have a Poultry button, which is simply a preset cook time. It defaults to 15 minutes on high pressure, which is an appropriate cook time for frozen small chicken breasts.
The given cook times are appropriate for both 6-quart and 8-quart electric pressure cookers. The larger 8-quart models will take slightly longer to pressurize, but not enough to matter. For 8-quart cookers, it is recommended to use a minimum of 1.5 cups of liquid, so scale up your sauce accordingly.
3-quart Instant Pot Mini models are not the best option for fitting a decent amount of chicken; but for small pieces, you should still be able to follow the same time table.
This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, using either a 6-quart or 8-quart Instant Pot. I suggest not scaling three liquid up at the same rate as the protein… for 2 pounds of chicken, I still use 1 cup of liquid; and for 3 pounds of chicken, 2 cups of liquid is sufficient. This is because a 1 pound batch swims in a bit of an excess of cooking liquid, since the cooker requires a minimum of 1 cup to pressurize.
Troubleshooting & Variations
Without watching over your shoulder in your kitchen, the most likely reason is overcooking. Pressure cookers are powerful, and it can be a fine line between perfectly done vs. too much. Longer cook times squeeze more moisture out of the tissue, leaving it drier and tougher.
Also note that sometimes, chicken breasts can have a defect known as “woodiness” that gives them a dreadful chewy texture, no matter how gently you cook them. Sometimes we’re just unlucky!
Bone-in chicken is thicker, heavier, and slower-cooking than boneless cuts. It is also more resistant to the perils of overcooking. You can still refer to the time table in How Long to Pressure Cook, but add about 3 minutes to the time given for a boneless breast of the same size.
Compared to breasts, chicken thighs have more fat and different types of muscle fibers which make them less prone to overcooking. Since you don’t have to worry about drying them out, longer cook times can make them more tender. For average sized thighs (about 6-10 ounces), cook frozen pieces for about 20-25 minutes.
Can I Cook it Together with…?
The ideal pressure cook time for brown rice is 20-25 minutes, which makes it a great match for cooking together with medium or large frozen chicken breasts. Use 2 cups of brown rice + 1.5 cups cooking liquid + 1 pound chicken for an easy one-pot meal.
White rice pressure cooks in about 3-5 minutes, so it is a better match for small or medium thawed/fresh chicken breasts. The same ratio will work here too: 2 cups of white rice + 1.5 cups cooking liquid + 1 pound chicken.
In the time it takes to cook frozen chicken breast, pasta will become quite overcooked. If you want both for dinner, it is better to cook your insta-chicken alone first, then take it out and cook the pasta. Make sure the pasta is submerged under the cooking liquid (add another slash of water if it isn’t), and set Instant Pot to cook on high pressure for half the number of minutes given on the pasta package. Slice or shred your chicken while the pasta cooks, then toss them together.
Thawed/fresh chicken pieces can be a better match for cooking together with pasta. My Instant Pot Chicken Spaghetti recipe is a good example of how to cook them together deliciously!
Most vegetables pressure cook very quickly, so they are tough to pair with frozen chicken. Your best bet is to use larger, denser vegetables like halved butternut squash or sweet potatoes.
Using thawed/fresh chicken expands your options: medium breasts can share the pot with chunks of carrots, squash, mushrooms, kale or collards, onions or leeks.
The only way to cook chicken with very tender vegetables like broccoli, green beans, or zucchini without turning then into mush is to pair them with thawed chicken breast tenders.
Storage & Make-Ahead Tips
Following USDA food safety rules, leftover chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Refreezing previously frozen chicken can result in a less tender texture, but it is safe and it can help you prevent food waste if you aren’t able to eat your leftovers within 4 days. Cooked chicken can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 6 months for best results.
Instant Pot’s Slow Cook function is a gentle way to reheat frozen cooked chicken and avoid overcooking. Place frozen shredded chicken directly into the cooker and cover it with the glass lid. At 5 minute intervals, open the lid and toss/stir the chicken to facilitate thawing. Leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
10 Simple Sauce Options
The real beauty of this technique: endless flavor possibilities. Variety is the spice of life, of course! Just remember the golden rule (1/2 cup of something tasty+ 1/2 cup water to feel confident you won’t get a burn error) and you can feel free to cook creatively.
Starting with the easy salsa chicken we walked through in the photos, here are 10 of my favorite flavor combinations that I’ve tried so far:
Simple Salsa: 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
BBQ: 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce + a splash of apple cider vinegar for extra tang
Teriyaki: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup orange juice + 1 Tbsp. brown sugar + a squirt of sriracha
Cuban Mojo: 1/2 cup water + 1/3 cup orange juice + juice from 1/2 lime + 1-2 cloves of minced garlic + 1/2 tsp. cumin + salt/pepper
Spicy Korean: 1/2 cup water + 2 Tbsp. gochujang + 2 Tbsp. honey + 2 Tbsp. soy sauce + 1 Tbsp. sesame oil + 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
Honey Dijon: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup whole grain mustard + 1/4 cup honey + hot sauce (if desired)
Lemon Garlic Herb: 1/2 cup water + juice from 1/2 lemon + 2 cloves minced garlic + 1/2 tsp. dried basil + salt/pepper
Jamaican Jerk: 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup molasses + 2 Tbsp. lime juice + 2 Tbsp. orange juice + generous sprinkles of dried thyme/allspice/salt to taste + a handful of fresh sliced garlic and ginger (and hot peppers if desired). **2022 Edit: Years later, I’ve gone DEEP on Instant Pot Jerk Chicken! Pressure cooking is awesome for prepping juicy, flavorful bone-in chicken before throwing it on the grill or under the broiler.
Chile Verde: one 10-oz. can green enchilada sauce (no need to dilute with water)
Thai Curry: 1 cup canned coconut milk + 1-2 Tbsp. Thai curry paste of your choice (no need to dilute with water)
I’m going to continue to update this post with more simple sauces whenever I try one that strikes my fancy. Fellow experimenters, I’d LOVE to hear about your successes in the comments.
Meal Prep Ideas for Instant Pot Chicken Breast
When your Instant Pot cooks you a batch of chicken breast, meal prep gets really easy, really fast! If you’re hungry for inspiration, here are a few quick ideas:
- Salads: Raid your crisper and chop up a mountain of fresh veggies to put under your chicken. I have a particular weakness for restaurant-style ‘Chinese chicken salad’, with orange segments and toasted sliced almonds.
- Tacos & Burritos: Stuff your chicken into a tortilla with your favorite toppings – or into a pan of cheesy enchiladas.
- Sandwiches: Toast a piece of whole grain bread, and pile it high with chicken and fixings. Try pulled barbecue chicken with crunchy cabbage slaw, or jerk chicken with baby kale and caramelized onions.
- OR, simply load your plate with some easy cooked veggies like Insta Greens, Insta Beets, or Instant Pot Potatoes & Carrots.
Double Decker Dinner with Insta-Chicken!
Double Decker Dinner is a personal favorite Instant Pot recipe theme, all about finding the right combination of foods that pair together as a balanced meal and that can be stacked and cooked at the same time in the same pressure cooker. It’s one-pot wonderful!
Insta Chicken + Double Decker Dinner: a match made in lazy cooking heaven! If you know your way around a stackable pan, you can get your Instant Pot to cook a whole hands-off balanced meal for you.
For frozen chicken breasts, choose longer cooking items like PIP brown rice (20 to 30 minutes), whole medium or large potatoes (15 to 30 minutes), or halved butternut squash (10 to up to 30 minutes if served mashed)
For fresh/thawed chicken, choose shorter cooking items like PIP white rice (5 to 7 minutes), PIP quinoa (5 to 7 minutes), or chunks of potato for mashing (3 to 10 minutes).
Food for thought, from your friendly neighborhood Registered Dietitian Nutritionist + food science buff!
Chicken breast is a very lean protein. It provides your body with building blocks to build and maintain your muscles and tissues.
One pound of chicken breast yields four 200 calorie servings, each providing 35 grams of protein.
For a balanced meal, pair chicken breast with lots of colorful vegetables and a source of healthy fat to enhance absorption of their vitamins and phytochemicals.
More Instant Pot Chicken Recipes
Instant Pot Chicken Spaghetti is my weeknight-friendly pressure cooker version of the familiar favorite southern casserole dish. It’s creamy and cheesy just like the original, and made from scratch with whole-food ingredients.
If you’re up for just a little bit more prep time than good old Insta-Chicken, try my Instant Pot Chicken Tinga. It’s browned and braised with onions, garlic, tomatoes and smoky chipotle peppers… and it makes the BEST tacos and tamales.
If you’re looking for more food to cook up in your Instant Pot, check out my other healthy + delicious recipes here!
[Instant Pot] Insta-Chicken! Pressure Cooker Chicken Breasts
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts frozen
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup flavorful liquid of your choice ***see suggestions in post
- In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the water and flavorful liquid of your choice. Place the chicken in the Instant Pot liner, and pour the liquid over the chicken.
- Close the lid, with the valve set to sealing position. Use Manual mode to cook on high pressure, and adjust the time based on the guidelines in the recipe headnote (10-30 minutes for frozen chicken or 1-10 minutes for fresh chicken, based on size).
- When the cooking time is complete, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then carefully open the valve to manually release any remaining pressure.
- Transfer the chicken breasts to a plate and chop into thin slices or shred into bite-sized pieces using two forks. While you slice/shred the chicken, you can optionally turn on Instant Pot’s ‘Saute’ mode to reduce the sauce if it is too thin for your taste. Return the shredded chicken to the sauce and toss to coat.