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Why is my pressure cooker chicken tough?

If you’ve ever ended up with tough, rubbery chicken after cooking it in a pressure cooker, you’re not alone. Pressure cooking is a fast, convenient cooking method, but getting tender, juicy chicken can be hit or miss. Here’s a look at some of the common reasons behind tough pressure cooker chicken and tips to help you get perfect chicken every time.

Not Enough Liquid

One of the most common mistakes is not using enough liquid in the pressure cooker. Chicken needs ample moisture to become fall-off-the-bone tender. Without enough liquid, the chicken can end up overcooked and dry.

For most pressure cooker chicken recipes, you’ll want to include at least one cup of liquid. The liquid can be water, broth, wine, etc. Just make sure the liquid covers the bottom of the pot and comes about 1 to 2 inches up the sides of the chicken pieces.

Overcrowding the Pot

It’s tempting to pack the pressure cooker full to cook a large batch of chicken. But overcrowding the pot is a recipe for disaster. When there is too much chicken, the steam and heat can’t circulate effectively. This leads to uneven cooking.

Only cook as much chicken as will fit in a single layer on the bottom of the pot. Resist stacking pieces on top of each other. Give the chicken room to cook properly.

Not Enough Cooking Time

Another common mistake is not cooking the chicken long enough. Due to the high pressure environment, food cooks very quickly in a pressure cooker. However, chicken needs sufficient time for the heat to penetrate and tenderize the meat.

Most whole chickens need 12-15 minutes of cooking time once pressure is reached. Chicken breasts and pieces typically require 8-12 minutes under pressure. Make sure to use the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific model.

Releasing Pressure Too Quickly

While pressure cookers save time cooking the chicken, you still need to allow the pressure to come down slowly. Quick pressure release can cause the chicken to seize up and toughen.

After the cooking time is complete, allow the pressure to come down naturally for 10-15 minutes before doing a quick release to remove the lid. This more gradual release gives the chicken time to relax and finish cooking gently.

Old or Tough Chicken

The age and quality of the raw chicken has a big impact on the tenderness of the finished dish. Older chickens or ones with little fat tend to get tough when cooked.

Look for plump, fresh chicken that still has some flexibility when raw. Avoid any meat that feels overly stiff. Young broiler chickens (6-8 weeks old) are best for achieving tender pressure cooked chicken.

Incorrect Size Pieces

Cutting the chicken into improperly sized pieces can lead to uneven cooking. Smaller cuts like nuggets or wings will cook faster than larger pieces.

Try to cut the chicken into uniformly sized pieces to ensure even doneness. Aim for approximately 2 inch pieces for boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Whole chickens should be under 4 pounds.

Not Enough Fat

Chicken is naturally lean, but needs some fat for flavor and moisture. Cooking chicken in water alone can cause it to turn out dry and stringy.

Brown the chicken first or cook it on a trivet above a small amount of fat like oil or butter at the bottom of the pot. Basting and marinating the chicken in oil also helps keep it tender.

Improper Release Method

How you release the pressure at the end of cooking can make a difference in the chicken’s texture. As mentioned, quick releasing the pressure can shock the chicken and toughen it.

But letting the pressure release completely naturally can also cause overcooking. Use a combination of 10-15 minutes natural release followed by quick releasing the remaining pressure.

Cooking from Frozen

It’s best to thaw chicken in the refrigerator before pressure cooking. Putting frozen chicken in the cooker can lead to uneven cooking.

Plus, frozen chicken takes longer to come to pressure, throwing off cook times. Defrost chicken completely for the most tender, perfectly cooked meat.


Pressure cookers can make incredibly quick, delicious chicken dishes. But small mistakes in your method can easily produce tough, rubbery results. Follow these tips for tender, fail-proof pressure cooker chicken every time:

  • Use ample liquid – at least 1 cup
  • Don’t overcrowd – cook chicken in a single layer
  • Cook for recommended time once pressure is reached
  • Allow natural pressure release for 10-15 minutes before quick release
  • Use fresh, high quality chicken
  • Cut chicken into uniform 2 inch pieces
  • Brown or marinate chicken in fat before cooking
  • Use a combination release method
  • Always cook chicken from thawed, not frozen

With these simple tips, you’ll be able to enjoy incredibly moist, fall-off-the-bone pressure cooker chicken for meals any night of the week.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my whole chicken tough after pressure cooking?

For whole chickens, the most likely culprits are undercooking, quick pressure release, or using a chicken over 4 pounds. Whole chickens need at least 12-15 minutes under pressure, followed by 10 minutes natural release. And large chickens may not cook evenly. Stick to chickens under 4 pounds for best results.

What cut of chicken works best in the pressure cooker?

Boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs work wonderfully in the pressure cooker. Cook them just until done with a quick natural release method. The tender meat soaks up flavors easily. Bone-in parts can also turn out very moist and tender when cooked properly.

How can I tell if chicken is done in the pressure cooker?

The best way is to use a meat thermometer. Chicken is safely cooked through once it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, pierce the thickest part of the chicken. If the juices run clear, it is fully cooked.

Should I marinate chicken before pressure cooking?

Absolutely! Marinating is a great way to infuse chicken with lots of flavor. The pressure cooker will actually drive the marinade deeper into the meat as well. Just be sure to count the marinating time as part of the pre-cooking process when determining total cook time.

Can I cook frozen chicken in my pressure cooker?

It’s not recommended. Frozen chicken takes longer to come up to pressure. This throws off cook times and can result in unsafe undercooked chicken. Always thaw chicken first in the refrigerator before pressure cooking for the best results.

Tips for Achieving Tender Juicy Chicken

Here are some additional tips and tricks to help you get perfect pressure cooked chicken every time:

Use the Right Model Size

Make sure to use a pressure cooker with a capacity that matches the amount of chicken you are cooking. Overfilling can prevent proper pressurization.

Maximize Flavor

Add herbs, spices, garlic, onions, broth, or sauce for intense flavor infusion. Acidic ingredients like tomatoes or wine also tenderize the meat.

Prevent Overcooking

Once chicken is cooked, remove the pot from heat. Don’t leave chicken sitting in a hot cooker as it will continue to cook.

Adjust Cooking Time for Size

Smaller chicken pieces may require just 0-2 minutes under pressure. Check larger pieces early and reset cooker for more time if needed.

Let Chicken Rest

As with all meats, allowing chicken to rest 5-10 minutes after cooking allows juices to redistribute evenly.

Use a Trivet or Rack

Raising chicken above water level helps ensure even exposure to steam for uniform doneness.

Cook Thighs and Legs Longer

These darker meats contain more connective tissue and take longer to become tender – increase time 5-10 minutes.

Common Chicken Pressure Cooker Recipes

Here are some delicious pressure cooker chicken recipe ideas to try:

Whole Chicken

Season a 3-4 pound whole chicken and place on a trivet over 1-2 cups liquid. Cook 15 minutes then natural release 10 minutes. The result is ultra moist meat and flavorful broth.

Chicken and Rice

Combine bite-sized chicken pieces, rice, broth, and seasonings in the pressure cooker pot. Cook for 8 minutes then 10 minute natural release for an easy one-pot meal.

Chicken Soup

Pressure cook chicken pieces, carrots, onions, and seasonings in broth for 8-10 minutes for homemade soup in under an hour.

BBQ Pulled Chicken

Cook chicken thighs in barbecue sauce, broth, and spices for 12 minutes for fork-tender shredded chicken perfect for sandwiches.

Chicken and Potatoes

Layer seasoned chicken thighs and potato chunks in the pot, add broth, garlic, and herbs. Cook 10 minutes then quick release – delicious over rice.

Time Chart for Pressure Cooked Chicken

To ensure perfect doneness, follow these pressure cook times for various cuts of chicken:

Chicken Type Cook Time
Whole Chicken (3-4 lbs) 15 minutes
Chicken Breasts (boneless) 8-10 minutes
Chicken Thighs (boneless) 10-12 minutes
Chicken Wings 8 minutes
Chicken Legs 12-15 minutes

Remember to allow 10-15 minutes natural pressure release after cook time is complete for the most tender results.

Troubleshooting Tough Chicken

If you are still struggling with tough pressure cooker chicken, try these troubleshooting tips:

  • Double check enough cooking liquid is present
  • Don’t pack chicken tightly in pot – leave space between pieces
  • Verify pressure cooker reaches full pressure during cooking
  • Make sure vent/valve is in sealed position, not venting
  • Increase cook time in 2 minute increments
  • Use younger, higher quality chicken
  • Cut chicken in uniform bite-sized pieces
  • Allow full natural release time after cooking

With a few simple adjustments and care around proper pressure cooker method, you’ll be rewarded with incredibly moist, delicious chicken every time. Just be patient, get to know your appliance, and don’t take shortcuts. Now get cooking up some tender pressure cooker chicken masterpieces!