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Why is my chicken tough after pressure cooking?

Pressure cooking is generally considered a fast and easy way to cook meat so that it comes out tender and moist. However, sometimes chicken can still turn out tough and chewy even after being pressure cooked. There are a few potential reasons why your chicken did not become tender with pressure cooking.


One of the most common reasons for tough chicken after pressure cooking is overcooking. While pressure cooking does significantly speed up cook times, it can be easy to go overboard. Chicken breast and boneless chicken thighs only need about 5-8 minutes of high pressure cooking time to be cooked through and tender. Leaving the chicken in longer than necessary continues to tighten the proteins, leading to a rubbery texture.

If your chicken was in larger pieces like a whole chicken or chicken quarters, the time needs to be increased but not too much. Chicken quarters may need 10-12 minutes under pressure. For a whole chicken, 15-20 minutes is usually sufficient. Going longer means the meat ends up overcooked while the connective tissue has not fully broken down.

Pay close attention to recommended cook times based on the amount and cut of chicken you are cooking. Use a food-safe meat thermometer to check your chicken. Once the internal temperature reaches 165°F, your chicken is fully cooked. There’s no benefit to leaving it in the pressure cooker longer.

Not Enough Liquid

Pressure cookers require liquid in order to build pressure and heat the contents to a high enough temperature. Not using enough liquid can lead to poor pressure production and uneven cooking. This may result in meat that is tough in some spots but dangerously undercooked in other areas.

For most pressure cooker recipes, at least 1 cup of broth, water, wine, or other cooking liquid is needed. The liquid helps transfer heat effectively so the chicken cooks evenly throughout. Make sure your pressure cooker is always filled to the minimum fill line for the amount of food you are cooking.

Packed Too Tightly

To ensure food cooks evenly, there needs to be adequate room for steam circulation in the pressure cooker. Packing in the chicken too densely prevents proper movement of steam which leads to uneven cooking.

Arrange your chicken pieces so they are not tightly pressed together or piled on top of each other. Leave space between each piece. You can place vegetables and aromatics around the chicken to fill up space, but do not cram in too much food.

Not Enough Natural Fat

Chicken can easily dry out during cooking. Having adequate moisture and fat is key to keeping the meat juicy and tender. Lean cuts of chicken like breasts and some boneless thighs lack intramuscular fat that bastes the meat as it cooks.

To prevent dry, tough chicken, choose bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks which contain more natural fat. You can also coat or marinate lean chicken cuts in oil before pressure cooking. Adding fat through the cooking liquid also helps. Use chicken broth or stock instead of water and stir in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, butter or cream.

Bones Were Not Removed

Cooking chicken pieces with the bones still attached often results in dry, tough meat. The bones shield sections of meat from absorbing moisture and steam during pressure cooking.

For even cooking, it’s best to remove the skin and bones from chicken thighs, drumsticks, and breasts before pressure cooking. If you do cook bone-in chicken, be sure to increase the cooking liquid and cook time to help break down the connective tissue in the joints.

Natural Variation in Chicken

The source and quality of the chicken itself also impact tenderness after cooking. Younger chickens tend to be more tender while older egg-laying hens can be tough due to increased connective tissues. Enhanced chicken that has been injected with broth solution tends to cook up moister compared to air-chilled chicken.

Pasture-raised and free-range chicken may have more developed muscles and connective tissue due to greater mobility. Conventional chicken raised in crowded conditions often has more tender meat. It helps to know the source of your chicken and adjust cook times accordingly.

Improper Release Method

To prevent overcooking, it’s important to release the pressure from the cooker properly after the cook time is done. Quick releasing by moving the valve to venting will cause the meat to seize up and toughen due to the rapid drop in pressure.

Always allow the pressure to come down naturally for at least 5 minutes before quick releasing the remaining pressure. Letting it depressurize gradually gives the chicken time to relax and retain moisture. Follow recipe directions for depressurizing to avoid tough, dried out meat.

Not Enough Steam Circulation

In order for food to cook evenly in a pressure cooker, steam needs to properly circulate and make contact with all areas. Anything preventing free movement of steam can create spots that are undercooked while other areas are overdone.

Make sure the pressure regulator valve is clean and nothing is blocking it. Do not fill the cooker over the max fill line. Allow space above and around food items. Stir thicker dishes like stews and chilis before locking lid to prevent foaming and clogs.

Unsuitable Cuts of Chicken

While pressure cooking does soften and tenderize meats remarkably fast, some cuts may still turn out tougher than others if cooked improperly. Chicken breasts are notoriously prone to drying out and becoming tough.

For best results, choose chicken thighs, drumsticks, or bone-in split breasts which are harder to overcook. Avoid cooking chicken wings, tenders, or other small pieces as they are easy to overcook. Cook larger cuts and shred or dice the meat after.


It can be frustrating when chicken emerges from the pressure cooker dry and chewy instead of succulent and tender. However, with some simple adjustments to your ingredients, cook times, and methods, you can ensure perfectly cooked chicken every time. Pay attention to recommended cook times, properly layer and space out chicken in the cooker, use the right cooking liquid, and allow for proper steam circulation and release.

What cuts of chicken you select also impact the end result. Opt for thicker, bone-in cuts like thighs and drumsticks over lean breasts or small pieces. With the right techniques, your pressure cooked chicken will turn out moist and tender from the very first bite.

Reason Solution
Overcooking Follow recommended cook times for the specific cut of chicken; use a meat thermometer
Not enough liquid Use at least 1 cup cooking liquid
Packed too tightly Leave space between pieces; do not overfill
Not enough natural fat Choose chicken with skin/bone; add oil to liquid
Bones not removed Remove bones from chicken pieces before cooking
Improper release method Naturally release pressure 5 mins before quick releasing
Not enough steam circulation Do not overfill; keep valve clean
Unsuitable cuts Avoid breasts, wings, tenders; choose thighs, drumsticks

Tips for Cooking Tender Chicken in a Pressure Cooker

  • Use chicken thighs, drumsticks, or bone-in breasts over lean breast meat
  • Remove skin and bones from chicken pieces for even cooking
  • Choose enhanced chicken or marinate in oil for added moisture
  • Do not overfill pressure cooker or pack chicken too tightly
  • Use enough broth, stock, or water to generate steam (1+ cup)
  • Keep pressure regulator valve clean and free of obstructions
  • Cook for recommended time based on amount and cut of chicken
  • Allow pressure to naturally release for 5+ minutes before quick releasing
  • Use a meat thermometer to check doneness (165°F)

Best Cuts of Chicken for Pressure Cooking

To ensure your chicken turns out juicy and tender in the pressure cooker, choose cuts that are naturally higher in connective tissue and fat:

  • Chicken thighs – With more dark meat, thighs retain moisture and become fall-off-the-bone tender. Bone-in or boneless both work well.
  • Chicken drumsticks – Drumsticks pressure cook beautifully. The skin helps keep meat moist. Remove bones after cooking.
  • Bone-in chicken breasts – The bones help retain moisture in the meat. Cook 10-12 minutes for perfect doneness.
  • Chicken wings – Use drumettes or whole wings for appetizers. Cook only 5-8 minutes max.
  • Chicken legs or quarters – Large, meaty cuts ideal for pressure cooking. Cook 12-15 minutes.

Cuts to avoid:

  • Chicken tenders – Prone to overcooking
  • Ground chicken – Can easily dry out
  • Chicken kebabs – Small pieces cook unevenly
  • Boneless breasts – Lean, prone to drying out

Tenderizing Tough Chicken After Pressure Cooking

If your pressure cooked chicken still turned out chewy, you can try to salvage it with these methods:

  • Shred or dice chicken and stir into a sauce, soup, or gravy
  • Marinate cooked chicken in an acidic sauce or dressing for an hour which will help break down fibers
  • Slow cook shredded chicken in barbecue sauce, salsa, or other flavorful liquid
  • Sear, broil, or grill boiled chicken pieces to add crispiness and flavor
  • Use pulled chicken in casseroles, sandwiches, wraps, or tacos where texture won’t be as noticeable