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Why is chicken tough after cooking in instant pot?

Using an instant pot is a quick and convenient way to cook chicken, but sometimes the results can be less than ideal. If your chicken comes out rubbery and tough after cooking in the instant pot, there are a few potential causes.

Not Enough Liquid

One of the most common reasons chicken can end up tough in the instant pot is that there wasn’t enough liquid in the pot. The instant pot relies on steam to cook food quickly, so there needs to be enough water or stock to create steam. Without sufficient liquid, the chicken won’t cook through properly and will be tough and dry.

As a general rule, you should use at least 1 cup of liquid for every 3-4 pounds of chicken in the instant pot. Make sure the liquid covers at least half to two-thirds of the chicken pieces. Broth, wine, juice, or water all work well. You can also place chicken directly on top of vegetables like onions that release moisture as they cook.

Tips for Adding Liquid

  • Use chicken broth, stock, or water for extra moisture.
  • Cook chicken with saucy ingredients like tomatoes, wine, etc.
  • Place chicken over veggies like onions, celery, etc.
  • Use a cooking rack to elevate chicken above liquids.
  • Let chicken marinate in juices before cooking.
  • Add extra liquid if cooking a large batch of chicken.

Overcrowding the Pot

It’s tempting to pack the instant pot full when cooking chicken, but overcrowding can lead to improperly cooked meat. When you place too much chicken in the pot, it prevents steam from circulating evenly. Some pieces may end up partially cooked while others are completely raw and tough in the center.

Ideally, no more than half of the pot should be filled with chicken. This leaves room for steam to surround all the pieces. Chicken should never be crammed tight in the pot. Allow space between pieces for best results.

Tips to Avoid Overcrowding

  • Cook chicken in batches for large recipes.
  • Use a single layer of chicken, not stacked.
  • Allow at least 1 inch of space between pieces.
  • Don’t fill pot more than halfway when cooking chicken.
  • Place chicken pieces on a rack if needed.
  • Cut chicken into smaller pieces if needed.

Not Enough Cook Time

Cooking chicken in the instant pot is much faster than oven cooking, but it still requires adequate time for the meat to become fully tender. If the chicken doesn’t cook long enough, it will be underdone in the center.

Whole chickens typically need around 20-25 minutes at high pressure in an instant pot. Boneless chicken breasts and boneless thighs only require about 10 minutes. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and cook chicken an extra 5 minutes if unsure.

Keep in mind that the timer doesn’t start until full pressure is reached. Allow 15-20 minutes for the pot to come to pressure before the cook time begins.

Tips for Ensuring Thorough Cook Time

  • Allow extra time for larger chicken pieces.
  • Add at least 5 extra minutes to recipes if unsure.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check doneness.
  • Let the instant pot come to full pressure before starting timer.
  • Use the manual setting for control over cook time.
  • Don’t release pressure immediately after cook time is up.

Releasing Pressure Too Quickly

While it’s tempting to open the lid and dig into chicken right after cooking, this can cause meat to be tough and dry. After cook time is up, chicken needs time to rest in the residual heat and moisture of the closed instant pot.

Quick releasing pressure lets all the steam rush out at once instead of slowly absorbing back into the chicken. For tender and juicy meat, make sure to let pressure release naturally for at least 10-15 minutes before doing a quick release.

Tips for Releasing Pressure

  • Let pressure release naturally for at least 15 minutes.
  • After natural release, do a quick release to remove lid.
  • Don’t attempt to open lid until float valve drops.
  • Vent steam away from you when quick releasing.
  • Remove chicken and let rest 5-10 minutes after cooking.

Using Old or Tough Cuts of Chicken

Even the most perfectly cooked chicken will be tough and rubbery if the meat itself wasn’t high quality. Choosing lean, fresh chicken ensures tender results.

Old or previously frozen chicken tends to have more connective tissue than fresh. This can make the meat difficult to tenderize even with instant pot cooking. Chicken that is still semi-frozen or has been frozen for months will also tough.

Opt for boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs when possible. Bone-in cuts and wings have more collagen that needs to break down. Using a multi-function instant pot with a slow cook or sous vide setting can help tenderize tougher cuts.

Tips for Selecting Chicken

  • Choose fresh, never frozen when possible.
  • Avoid previously frozen chicken.
  • Select lean and tender boneless cuts.
  • Trim off excess fat and skin.
  • Cut chicken to smaller, uniform pieces.
  • Marinate tough cuts before cooking.

Cooking Too Many Times

One advantage of the instant pot is being able to dump everything in at once and letting it cook hands-free. However, this doesn’t work well for chicken. Too much cooking can quickly make chicken tough and dry.

Chicken is typically added at the end of the cooking time for most one-pot meals. This prevents it from being overcooked. Only keep chicken in for the minimum amount of cook time required to reach safe internal temperature.

For layered dishes, cook vegetables and starches on the bottom first, then add raw chicken on top for just the last 5-10 minutes under pressure. Avoid cooking chicken more than once.

Tips for Preventing Overcooking

  • Add chicken near the end of cook time.
  • Use the “Keep Warm” setting instead of additional cook times.
  • Cook chicken separately from other ingredients.
  • Use a thermometer to check doneness.
  • Remove chicken right after minimum cook time.

Improper Release Method for Recipe

The release method makes a big difference in the moisture content of chicken. Quick releasing is ideal for dishes with sauces. Natural release works better for drier recipes.

If a recipe calls for natural release, but you quick release instead, the chicken will likely end up dry instead of juicy and tender. Be sure to fully read recipe instructions and follow the release method recommended.

As a general rule, quick release saucy dishes with liquids like soup or stew. Allow natural release for drier ingredients like rice or veggies that absorb moisture from the chicken.

Guidelines for Release Methods

Quick Release Natural Release
Wet, saucy dishes Dry dishes with rice, grains, pasta
Soups, stews, chilis Roasts, whole chickens
Tender vegetables Tough vegetables like beets, potatoes

Cooking at Too High Temperature

The instant pot can reach extremely hot temperatures under pressure, which is how it’s able to cook foods so quickly. However, these high heat levels can also toughen and dry out delicate meats like chicken.

Make sure not to use the high pressure setting when cooking chicken. The lower setting creates less intense heat that won’t overcook the chicken as quickly. Also, limit cook times to the minimum needed for food safety and use natural release.

If your model has custom settings, you may be able to program a lower temperature than the default “Low”. Refer to your pot’s manual for details on temperature control. Start low and adjust as needed for ideal doneness.

Tips for Preventing Overheating

  • Use the low pressure setting only.
  • Cook at lower temp if possible on custom models.
  • Reduce cook time by a few minutes.
  • Check chicken early and release pressure once done.
  • Place chicken above liquids with a rack.
  • Allow natural release to prevent moisture loss.


With the right precautions, it’s totally possible to make incredibly tender and juicy chicken in the instant pot every time. Be mindful of overcrowding, cook time, releasing pressure properly, and using the right cook settings. Choosing fresh, high-quality chicken cuts also ensures the best results.

By following recipe guidelines carefully and avoiding common mistakes like quick releasing too quickly or cooking at very high pressure, you can get perfect chicken using the convenient instant pot.