The longest experiment of all times: Instant Pot Chicken. How long to pressure cook a whole chicken, chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken drumsticks, chicken wings AND chicken breasts. I’ve got chicken coming out of my ears now!
First the bad news. Um, I’m never eating chicken again in my life I think. Ew! I’m also never eating rice again after my Instant Pot Rice post. Only veggies for me the rest of the month please!
The good news: you don’t have to get to that point because I got you all the numbers with my experiments ;)
Here is your Instant Pot Chicken Encyclopedia!
Before I start. This is all for thawed (NOT FROZEN) chicken and chicken parts. AND it’s all cooked on the trivet with water at the bottom, not touching the chicken. You can add whatever seasoning or sauce you want. Or you can cook it on top of rice or beans or whatever else cooks in the same amount of time. This is simply the minimum times you need to have the chicken or chicken parts IN there.
I actually just created a cheat sheet for just that. Which things can be cooked in the Instant Pot at the same time, i.e. what can cook equally long? Chicken thighs with brown rice? What’s all I can cook in 3 minutes high pressure? This and much more….
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Now let’s get to the details. Shall we?
Warning: this is a VERY long post talking about my experiments and results. If you’re in a rush, you can just Jump to Recipe and there I list just the results.
Whole Chicken in the Instant Pot
So the interweb research said 25 minutes pretty much for any size chicken. Some tested a 3lbs chicken, some tested a 4 lbs chicken, nobody tested both or more at several different times.
I wanted to find the magic formula for consistent results because not all my chickens are always the same size, right?
SOOOO, I cooked 3lbs (1300 g) chickens at 18 minutes, 23 minutes and 25 minutes. In all three experiments the internal temperature made it to 165F so a small chicken basically CAN “in theory” be cooked for 18 minutes only. HOWEVER, the thighs and drumsticks were not nice and tender and rather weird in texture. Plus, there were just a little bit not so clear juices but lightly pinkish (temp was fine though, inserted into both thighs and breasts, so safe).
23 minutes was perfect and 25 minutes was great. No major difference to be honest so I’d say 23 minutes is the magic number for a small chicken 3 lbs and under.
The big chickens 4lbs 7oz (2000g) I tested at 22 and 25 minutes. 22 minutes just barely got to 165F (4 minutes into resting period) but same as for the small chicken after 18 minutes, the texture wasn’t really that perfect. The one cooked for 25 minutes was absolute perfection.
Conclusion and magic formula for Instant Pot Whole Chicken:
20 minutes + 1 minute per lbs on High Pressure + Natural Pressure Release
Instant Pot Chicken Breast
Holy cow – or maybe I should say holy chicken – this was the one that gave me the biggest headache. So first I tested three 10-oz (280g) breasts at 4 minutes, 5 minutes and 6 minutes. After 4 and 5 minutes it didn’t make it to 165F in the resting period but the 6 minutes one was at 155F after opening and within 4 minutes resting time made it to 165F internal temperature.
My conclusion then was approx. 2 minutes per 3.5 oz (100g), right? WRONG! If you cook a 3.5 oz (100g) tiny chicken breast for 2 minutes it’s totally overcooked (like 200F kinda overcooked). Also, I’ve cooked two same weight but different thickness breasts at the same time but they had different internal temperatures after cooking.
Naturally, the next experiment was thickness. A 1.2-inch thick (3 cm) breast cooked to 165F in 4 minutes.
My conclusion then was 50 seconds for every 1/4 inch OR 1 minute for every 3/4cm, right? WRONG! Because a 1/2-inch chicken escalope was completely overcooked after 2 minutes (like 200F kinda overcooked).
By now I’m about to give up, right? Only, I’ve already tested 1/2-inch chicken escalopes and tiny chicken breasts, medium sized 1-inch thick 7-oz (2.5cm/200g) chicken breasts and large 1.5-inch thick 10 oz (4cm/280g) breasts and I know at what times they properly cook through without completely overcooking.
It doesn’t make much sense to me (I feel like I need a math PhD to understand it) BUT I’ve got a table for you and we can all just not care about the formula, I would probably have to include surface and distance to heat source and all kinds of complicated things nobody would want to calculate each time they made a breast anyway, so here is a handy bullet list instead:
Conclusion and table for Instant Pot Chicken Breast:
- Breasts or escalope or cubed chicken UNDER 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) = 0 minutes High Pressure + 5 minutes Natural Pressure Release (about 3.5oz / 100g breasts)
- Breasts OVER 1/2 inch (1.3cm) but UNDER 1.2 inches (3cm) = 4 minutes High Pressure + 5 minutes Natural Pressure Release (about 7oz / 200g breasts)
- Breasts OVER 1.2 inches (3cm) but UNDER 1.5 inches (4 cm) = 6 minutes High Pressure + 5 minutes Natural Pressure Release (about 10oz / 280g breasts)
Now, before we jump to the next category, I’ve got to confess one thing. I didn’t like the texture of any of the pressure cooked chicken breasts. My favorite method to cook chicken breasts is and will always be pan-fried. It gives the juiciest and softest breasts of all.
HOWEVER, for mixed things like Instant Pot Chicken and Rice it’s awesome!! To choose which rice you want to cook with which piece of chicken check out this Instant Pot Rice guide. OR cook it in a ton of delicious sauce such as in this Instant Pot BBQ Chicken recipe and it’ll taste absolutely amazing!
Instant Pot Chicken Leg
The whole leg or just thighs and drumsticks are a lot easier to cook. AND, they taste amazing pressure cooked. Not like the breasts. They become super tender and delicious!
There is a much higher margin for success. Where breasts shouldn’t be overcooked or they become mega dry, all the bone-in parts are way more forgiving and actually benefit from overcooking because the longer they cook the softer they get and the easier they are to pull apart from the bone. Of course, there is an upper time-limit but it’s REALLY high.
So the least amount of time whole legs seem to need (independent of size) to get to the safe 165F is 18 minutes but it’s hard to remove the meat from the bone after such a short time. The longer you cook it the more tender it becomes and more fall-off-the bone. I’ve cooked it at 22 and even 30 minutes and at around the 22-minute mark it becomes really tender and still at 30 minutes they were great. So I’d say 22 minutes is great if you’re cooking them alone but you can go all the way to 30 minutes if you’re cooking them with whole sweet potatoes that need that long or wild rice for example.
Conclusion for Instant Pot Chicken Leg:
22-30 minutes High Pressure + 5 or more minutes Natural Pressure Release
Instant Pot Chicken Thighs & Instant Pot Chicken Drumsticks
I haven’t tested cooking them to 30 minutes but “in theory” they should be just fine because if the whole leg is fine up to that time the individual parts should be, too.
My goal testing was finding the minimum time, clearly. Chicken thighs at 10 minutes high pressure + 5 minutes natural pressure release got me the 165 F but with slightly pink fluid and very hard to remove rom the bone. Extremely weird texture.
At 15 minutes high pressure they become extremely tender and fall-off the bone. I myself have cooked them for up to 22 minutes and full natural pressure release and they were still divine. Super soft and juicy.
For drumsticks I noticed that 15 minutes seems to be the absolute minimum for starting to soften down. Anything under may make it to safe temp but not fall-off the bone. I myself have cooked to up to 22 minutes and just like the thighs they were divine. Super soft and juicy.
Conclusion for Instant Pot Chicken Thighs and Instant Pot Chicken Drumsticks:
15-30 minutes High Pressure + 5 or more minutes Natural Pressure Release
Instant Pot Chicken Wings
Almost all recipes I found online all suggested 5 minutes HP + different times natural pressure release. The 5 minutes did get them to the safe 165F after the resting period BUT they were far from fall-off the bone.
Just like for the whole legs or just thighs and drumsticks longer cooking equals more tender and fall-off the bone meat.
Chicken breasts and bone-in dark chicken really cook completely different.
Anyhow, after a 10-minute high pressure cooking time + 5 minutes or more natural pressure release I noticed they become nice and tender. The wings of the big whole chicken that cooked for 25 minutes had perfect wings, too. So I guess 25 minutes is still fine.
Conclusion for Instant Pot Chicken Wings:
10-25 minutes High Pressure + 5 or more minutes Natural Pressure Release
Leave Skin On Or Remove When Making Instant Pot Chicken?
I’m a big advocate of always leaving the skin on, at least if you’re cooking only the chicken. If you’re cooking it on top of rice for example, the dripping fat WILL mix into the rice. You’ll have to decide if you’re ok with that depending on how fatty your other meals were during the day.
When you’re cooking only chicken on the rack with water in the bottom, the fat will drip into the water but the skin will keep the meat moist.
Now, be aware that the skin will NOT crisp up when cooked in the instant pot. It will be rubbery and yucky. You have two options after your chicken is cooked through. Either remove the skin and discard OR put under the broiler for a couple minutes for it to crips up.
Quick Pressure Release vs Partly or Full Natural Pressure Release for Instant Pot Chicken
Always let the pressure release naturally for at least a couple of minutes or you risk of all the steam evaporating really quickly and drying out the chicken.
Safe Chicken Temperature and Resting Period
The internal temperature for safe consumption of chicken (yes, all parts of it) is 165F.
This does not mean that the chicken has to be at 165F right after opening the lid of the pressure cooker. For chicken breasts always aim for rather 155F. Within 4-5 minutes the temperature will rise to 165F. If you aim for 165F right after opening the lid, you’r chicken will overcook during resting time.
ALWAYS, let chicken rest at least 10 minutes after cooking before cutting into it. If you cut into it right away all its juices run out and you’re left with extremely dry meat.
Chicken parts with bones in them are safe to eat at 165F but not tender. Always aim for rather 185F or more for those parts to get to fall-off-the-bone consistency.
Instant Pot Chicken
The longest experiment of all times: Instant Pot Chicken. How long to pressure cook a whole chicken, chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken drumsticks, chicken wings AND chicken breasts. I've got chicken coming out of my ears now!
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 chicken leg
- 1 chicken thigh
- 1 chicken drumstick
- 1 chicken breast
- 1 chicken wing
Add trivet into instant pot, add 1 cup water, add whole chicken or 1-2 chicken legs (in one layer), 2-4 chicken thighs (in one layer), 2-6 chicken drumsticks (in one layer), 1-4 chicken breasts (in one layer), 2-12 chicken wings in one layer.
Here are minimum and maximum times for juicy, tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken parts, for more information read through the blog post:
WHOLE CHICKEN: 20 MINUTES + 1 MINUTE PER LBS HIGH PRESSURE + FULL NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE.
CHICKEN LEGS: 22-30 MINUTES HIGH PRESSURE + 5 MINUTES OR MORE NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE
CHICKEN THIGHS: 15-30 MINUTES HIGH PRESSURE + 5 MINUTES OR MORE NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE
CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS: 15-30 MINUTES HIGH PRESSURE + 5 MINUTES OR MORE NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE
UNDER 1/2 inch THICK = 0 minutes High Pressure + 5 minutes NPR
OVER 1/2 inch but UNDER 1.2 inches THICK = 4 minutes High Pressure + 5 minutes NPR
OVER 1.2 inches but UNDER 1.5 inches THICK = 6 minutes High Pressure + 5 minutes NPR
CHICKEN WINGS: 10-25 MINUTES + 5 MINUTES OR MORE NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE