Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup With All the Fixings Recipe

Rich, spicy chicken tortilla soup gets showered with quintessential toppings: avocado, onion, sour cream, cilantro, cheese, limes, and hot sauce.

A bowl of slow-cooker chicken tortilla soup, topped with cilantro, avocado, sour cream, red onion, and lime.

Serious Eats / Jennifer Olvera

Why This Recipe Works

  • Browning the chicken and sautéing the vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker helps build flavor.
  • Canned chipotles en adobo, ancho chile powder, cumin, and a touch of unsweetened cocoa powder create layers of flavor.
  • Apple cider vinegar added at the beginning of cooking ensures the soup stays bright and flavorful.
  • A slew of toppings allows for customization.

Soup season is upon us, and there's no better time to let your slow cooker work magic. Thankfully, crowd-pleasing chicken tortilla soup lends itself especially well to a long, leisurely simmer. You just need to build the base so it has lots of flavor.

It's tempting to just dump everything into the slow cooker, turn it on, and go, but you'll never get the best flavor out of your food that way. Instead, you should start with browning your meat. Chicken thighs work best for two reasons: they're especially flavorful, and their high content of connective tissue means they don't dry out the way chicken breasts do. In fact, they do the exact opposite—that connective tissue slowly converts into rich, moist gelatin making the meat more tender and adding body to the broth.

Once you've got nicely browned chicken, building a broth with depth isn't difficult, though there are a few tricks.

First, It's essential to sauté your vegetables—in this case onion, jalapeño, and garlic—before tossing them in the pot. This will get rid of any raw, sulphurous aromas and add a touch of sweetness to them. Powerful spices like ancho chile powder and cumin help the flavor-factor, along with bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Secret ingredient time: a touch of unsweetened cocoa, which helps to create a rich, brooding base that accentuates the chiles. Meanwhile, the soup gets smokiness from a canned chipotle pepper and fire-roasted tomatoes.

One of the big problems slow cooker recipes face is that after all that time spent slow simmering, you lose a lot of brighter, fresher flavors. The soup I was making was coming out rich and complex, but a little dull. To counteract this, I tried adding apple cider vinegar to the mix. In the end, you can't really pick it out as an extra flavor, but you can't deny the difference it makes in the finished product. I also like to season my broth at the beginning of cooking so that the seasoning penetrates all the other ingredients. (Just make sure not to season too heavily—you can always add more salt at the end but you can't take it away.)

After a day spent in its hot bath, the chicken comes out spoon-tender, and ready to be shredded into bite-sized pieces. I serve the soup ladled into deep bowls, accompanied with the classic toppings: avocado, red onion, sour cream, cilantro, cheese, lime wedge, and crunchy tortilla chips.

October 2014

Recipe Details

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup With All the Fixings Recipe

Active 20 mins
Total 4 hrs 30 mins
Serves 6 servings

Rich, spicy chicken tortilla soup gets showered with quintessential toppings: avocado, onion, sour cream, cilantro, cheese, limes, and hot sauce.


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 large yellow or white onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 1 large jalapeño, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1 cup lager-style beer

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme

  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

  • 6 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

To Serve:

  • 1 avocado, diced

  • 1 medium red onion, diced

  • Sour cream

  • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves and fine stems

  • Shredded cheddar cheese

  • Crushed tortilla chips or fried fresh corn tortillas cut into strips

  • 2 limes, cut into wedges

  • Hot sauce


  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. When oil is shimmering, brown chicken on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer chicken to the bowl of a slow cooker.

  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onion and jalapeño to the same pan and cook, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan until they start to soften, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add chile powder, cumin, and cocoa powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add beer, raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

  3. Transfer to the slow cooker along with the bay leaves, thyme, chipotle pepper, tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, green chiles, and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on low setting or until chicken is cooked through and fall-apart tender, at least 4 hours.

  4. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Shred chicken using two forks. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

  5. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with avocado, onion, cilantro, cheddar and a sprinkle of tortilla chips. Pass limes and hot sauce at the table.

Special Equipment

Dutch oven, slow cooker

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
305 Calories
17g Fat
28g Carbs
11g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 305
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 22%
Saturated Fat 5g 26%
Cholesterol 26mg 9%
Sodium 1251mg 54%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 10%
Dietary Fiber 6g 21%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 11g
Vitamin C 84mg 422%
Calcium 197mg 15%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 874mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)