Food 101: How To Shred Chicken (Or Pulled Pork, Or Other Meats)
I find that a lot of people have been really into slow-cooking lately. Some people like it because it’s easy enough to leave meat in a pot for 6 hours and not care the entire day, but then some people are also under the impression that meat needs to be slow-cooked before it can be turned into the holy grail of barbecue-style foods, pulled chicken/pork. On one hand, when you slow-cook a meat, it tends to make it crazy tender, and thus easy to shred by hand. However on the other hand, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility to pull chicken cutlets or pork chops. It’s just not as effortless.
But come on, pulled chicken, man. Everybody loves it. Because really who the hell wants to have to chew their food all the way?
Almost all meat can be shredded after it’s cooked. Is there a difference between pulled and shredded? To be frank, there really isn’t… one could argue that shredding is a little more forceful whereas pulling is generally done pretty easily on super-tender meats, but honestly the two actions are mostly the same. Depending on the type of meat you’re using, it can be easier or harder, but no matter what you’ll end up with something delicious, ready to be coated in a sauce of some type.
Shredding Chicken Breast or Pork Chops
The first method you can employ here is shredding your standard white meat. It’s also probably the most labor-intensive since these will also usually be the least-tender. That’s not to sad it’s hard, it just won’t be as effortless as other meats.
One thing you may have noticed while eating meats is that the meat tends to have a sort of… pattern to it. It kinda flows in a direction, with layers that all run parallel to each other. Or at least I hope you have, since generally when meat doesn’t have it, it means it was processed/slurry meat like chicken nuggets and other crap meats.
See here? The meat naturally peels apart in these layers. That’s what you need to be aware of for shredding it. This pattern is called the “grain”. And most of the time, chefs tell you to cut against it, so you’re perpendicular to it, but for shredding purposes, you’ll be pulling this all apart. Hence ‘pulled chicken’.
Shredding is pretty simple. You essentially use a fork and a knife, and just sort of scrape the layers of chicken apart. They’ll come off in little bundles. And it’s totally normal for them to all be different sizes. If you’ve ever had pulled chicken or pulled pork before, you’re well aware that every piece is different.
The best part about using chicken breast is that there’s really no waste whatsoever. No bones, no fat, just continue shredding with the knife and fork until you have a mound of pulled chicken.
Pork will be the same process, though unlike chicken you should make sure to remove all the grizzle and bones first, since it’ll make it a little easier.
Pulling Tenderloins or Slow-Cooked Meats
This style is the easier method, which most people have come to associate with pulled meats lately. It begins by slow-cooking your meat using a barbecue, the oven, or kettle-cooker. Slow-cooking meats is handy for this because it pretty much just destroys the meat down into wonderful tender goodness. When people say something is “fall off the bone” good, well, that’s usually from slow cooking. A good set of ribs or chicken legs will literally have their meat fall off the bone when you try to eat or shred it. There’s a variety of ways to employ this method:
- Barbecued or baked chicken legs/thighs
- Pork loin in a slow-cooker
- Rotisserie chicken
- Baked pork tenderloin
- Pork ribs
- Grilled chicken tenderloins*
The best part about these type of meats is that due to it being tender already, the meat will just shred pretty much instantly. There’s very little force involved. Because of this, you can perform this using two forks instead of a knife and fork.
As you can see here, this being a rotisserie chicken, (we’ll cover those more in another post), it’s incredibly tender. Compare to the above pic of the chicken cutlet which, though still shredded, is a little more stringy and fibrous. This chicken basically just looks like it exploded. And that’s good because you can easily just pull it apart with the forks.
Basically, use one fork as your gripper, and the other as the shredder. Hold your meat in place, and just attack it with the second fork. It’ll come apart effortlessly. This will work for all your slow-cooked meats or super-tender cuts.
*Regarding chicken tenderloin, these can actually be pulled pretty easily even when just grilled BUT it requires you to manually tenderize them first. I.e. take your tenderloins and mash them with a meat mallet a few times. So essentially, you’re tenderizing a tenderloin. Even after being grilled, they’ll be pretty soft and easy to pull apart using just the forks method.
The benefits of pulled chicken and pulled pork? Um, it’s frigging delicious? The extra effort involved to break it apart, makes it very versatile for sandwiches because it’s easier to pile on than having to worry about playing bread-Tetris with some cumbersome fillets of meat that keep falling out. Additionally, due to the plentiful smaller pieces, that makes for more surface area, which means sauces and condiments adhere really easily to it. All you have to do is throw your pulled meat into a pot, with some barbecue sauce or other sauce, and heat up. The result? Delightful glaze-y goodness which melts in your mouth.