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How do you keep chicken tender in chicken soup?

Chicken soup is a classic comfort food that is beloved by many. The key to a great chicken soup is tender, flavorful chicken pieces. However, it can be tricky to keep the chicken from becoming tough and dry when simmering it in the broth. Here are some tips for keeping your chicken tender in chicken soup.

Use the Right Cut of Chicken

The cut of chicken you choose can make a big difference in tenderness. Chicken breasts are very lean and can easily become stringy and dry, especially when simmered for a long time. Thighs and legs have more fat and collagen, which keeps them moist and tender. Opt for bone-in, skin-on thighs or drumsticks when making chicken soup. You can remove the skin before serving if desired.

Tips for Preparing Chicken Pieces

  • Trim off any excess fat or skin, but leave some for flavor and moisture.
  • Cut chicken into smaller, uniform pieces so they cook evenly.
  • Season well with salt and pepper before cooking.

Use a Gentle Simmer

One of the biggest mistakes when making chicken soup is boiling it too vigorously. A hard boil can make the chicken tough and stringy. Keep the heat at a gentle simmer – just enough to generate some bubbles. The temperature should stay around 180°F to 190°F. Be sure to partially cover the pot so steam can escape.

Tips for Simmering Chicken

  • Bring soup to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer.
  • Skim off any foam or impurities that rise to the top.
  • Gently stir the soup occasionally to prevent sticking.
  • Add vegetables and pasta in the last 30 minutes so they don’t overcook.

Watch the Cooking Time

Overcooking is one of the main culprits when it comes to dry, stringy chicken in soup. Carefully monitor the cooking time based on the size and cut of your chicken. Whole chicken pieces take longer than cubed or shredded chicken. Aim for the minimum cooking time to ensure tender, juicy meat.

Recommended Cooking Times

Chicken Cut Cook Time in Soup
Whole bone-in thighs 25-35 minutes
Boneless, skinless thighs cut in 1″ pieces 15-20 minutes
Cubed breast meat 8-12 minutes
Shredded or ground chicken 5-10 minutes

Use Acidic Ingredients

Adding a splash of acidity can help tenderize chicken and balance flavors. Try adding a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of wine, vinegar, or tomato juice or paste in the last 30 minutes of cooking. The acid helps break down collagen and connective tissue so the chicken turns out tender.

Acidic Ingredients to Use

  • Lemon juice
  • Wine or wine vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Tomato juice or tomato paste
  • Buttermilk or yogurt

Finish with Fat

Stirring in a bit of fat at the end is a great way to keep chicken moist and tender. The fat coats the chicken pieces and prevents them from drying out. Try swirling in a teaspoon or two of butter, olive oil, or cream when the soup is done. This also enhances the mouthfeel and carries more flavor.

Fat Options to Finish Soup

  • Butter
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Heavy cream
  • Sour cream
  • Crème fraiche

Avoid Overcooking Noodles or Rice

Chicken soup often contains noodles, rice or other grains. Be careful not to overcook them, as they can make the soup starchy and gloppy. Follow the package directions for optimal cooking times. For egg noodles, aim for just al dente. Grains like rice and barley will continue absorbing liquid and softening once added to the soup.

Tips for Cooking Noodles and Grains

  • Cook pasta separately, then add to soup bowls.
  • Add rice and grains 20 minutes before soup is done.
  • Rinse rice to remove excess starch before adding to soup.
  • Add tender grains like barley in the last 10 minutes.

Let It Sit

After simmering the soup, let it rest off the heat for 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows time for the chicken to reabsorb some of the liquid and become incredibly moist and tender. The flavors also have time to meld together. Gently stir the soup occasionally as it sits.

Add Vegetables Strategically

Chicken soup often contains an array of vegetables like carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. Adding veggies at the right time prevents them from overcooking and also infuses maximum flavor. Hard, sturdy veggies can go in at the beginning to simmer with the chicken stock. More delicate veggies are best added in the last 30 minutes.

Vegetable Cooking Guide

Vegetable When to Add
Onions, carrots, celery Start of simmering
Potatoes, sweet potatoes 30 minutes before done
Broccoli, cauliflower, squash Last 10-15 minutes
Spinach, kale, chard Last 5 minutes
Fresh herbs End of cooking

Have a Rest Day

The flavor of chicken soup develops over time as the ingredients mingle. Make soup a day ahead if possible, then gently reheat before serving. This allows time for the chicken to absorb moisture and the soup to develop complexity. Just don’t let it boil, which can toughen chicken.

Tips for Reheating Soup

  • Reheat gently over medium-low heat while stirring.
  • Consider transferring to a crockpot on warm setting.
  • Mix in additional chicken stock or water if soup is too thick.
  • Whisk in cream or butter right before serving for richness.


With the right techniques, you can enjoy perfectly tender chicken in chicken noodle and other soups. Choose the right cuts, simmer gently, watch cooking times, and add a little acid and fat. Allowing the flavors to meld overnight helps too. Follow these tips for fork-tender chicken that elevates any comforting bowl of soup.