Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken

All the delicious flavor of Cafe Rio’s famous shredded chicken, made at home, with simple ingredients, in your crock pot or Instant Pot. And even better, you can prep this meal ahead of time and freeze for easy meals on busy days!

Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken on a bed of salad greens with toppings.

Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken Recipe

Today I bring you a popular take on Cafe Rio Chicken. This is a simple shredded chicken recipe that you can prepare ahead of time and freeze, then cook when needed in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.

This delicious chicken recipe is one of my personal favorites, and it is always a hit with the whole family!

Plus, this easy chicken recipe is super versatile. You can make so many different and delicious meals with this one simple recipe. (See why it’s a favorite?)

Are you convinced yet that you need this Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken recipe in you dinner rotation? Yes? Good! Let’s get started.

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Ingredients to make Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken sitting on a butcher block counter.

Ingredients for Cafe Rio Chicken

For this recipe, you’ll only need 6 ingredients:

  • boneless skinless chicken breasts (you can substitute chicken thighs if you prefer)
  • a bottle of Italian or Zesty Italian dressing (I recommend the Zesty if you can find it)
  • dry ranch dressing mix
  • minced garlic
  • ground cumin
  • chili powder

That’s it for the basics. I told you this copycat Cafe Rio chicken recipe was easy…

Ingredients for Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken in a ziptop freezer bag.

Preparing & Freezing Your Cafe Rio Chicken

If the list of ingredients was not simple enough, hold on to your hats because actually preparing this chicken freezer meal is even simpler!

Just place all of your ingredients into a gallon-sized zip-top freezer bag.

Remove as much air as possible and seal. Carefully knead the bag to mix the ingredients.

That’s all there is to it, folks! See why this is a favorite recipe in our dinner rotation?

Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken prepared to go into the freezer.

Be sure to label and date your freezer bag.

Freezing Tip

Lay your bag flat (a baking sheet or tray works well here) for several hours or overnight until frozen. You can move the bag once it is a frozen and stack it upright in the freezer to save space. You can also stack it upright in freezer bins for better organization!

Cooking Instructions

When it comes time to enjoy this tasty chicken dish, pull the frozen bag out of the freezer the night before and place it in the refrigerator to thaw overnight.

Thawing Tip

Place your freezer meal bag in the refrigerator in a container or on a tray. This will catch any liquid that might leak out as the meal thaws, and will save you extra refrigerator cleanup.

Copycat Cafe Rio cooking in a slow cooker.

For the Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

Place the thawed contents of the bag into your slow cooker or crock pot, and set it to cook on LOW for 4-6 hours, or on HIGH for 3-4 hours (or less depending on how hot your crock pot runs).

When you are ready to eat, remove the chicken breasts from the slow cooker and place them on a cutting board.

Then, use two forks to gently shred the chicken, then return the shredded chicken to the slow cooker and stir gently to mix it with the cooking liquid.

For the Instant Pot

To prepare this recipe in the Instant Pot, pour the thawed contents of your freezer bag into your Instant Pot (or other digital pressure cooker), close the lid, and set it to cook on HIGH pressure for 8 minutes.

Once the cook time is up, let the pressure release naturally (don’t do anything to it) for 5 minutes, then quick release any remaining pressure.

After venting all pressure, you can carefully shred the chicken right there in the pot, or remove it to a cutting board and shred it there and then return it to the pot.

Depending on how you will be using this chicken, you can reserve all of the cooking liquid, or you may want to drain some of it off. It’s totally up to you and your preferences.

Close up of  Cafe Rio Chicken on a salad.

Serving Suggestions

As I mentioned before, this chicken is not only super easy but it is super versatile! Here are a few suggestions to get you started, but feel free to come up with your own as well:

  • Burrito Bowls – Serve your Cafe Rio chicken over a bed of cilantro lime rice, black beans, and your favorite toppings like shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and shredded cheese. Add a kick of flavor with a light lime vinaigrette.
  • Chicken Tacos – Warm up soft flour tortillas (or go with traditional hard corn taco shells) and fill them with the shredded chicken. Add a squeeze of lime juice, chopped onions, fresh cilantro, and a bit of crumbled queso fresco.
  • Cafe Rio Salad – Start by sprinkling shredded cheese on a large tortilla and warm in a skillet or in the microwave until the cheese has melted. Next, place the warmed tortilla in a large bowl and top with mixed greens or romaine lettuce. Then, add corn, black beans, diced avocado, cherry tomatoes, pico de gallo, and don’t forget to top it all off with a zesty chipotle ranch or cilantro ranch dressing.

Versatile Meal Options

You can also change this meal up to use in a lot of different meals! Might I suggest:

  • Quesadillas – Layer your Cafe Rio chicken with shredded cheese between two flour tortillas. Cook on the griddle or in a skillet until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are crispy. Serve with salsa, guacamole, or sour cream for dipping.
  • Nachos – Arrange tortilla chips in a single layer on a baking sheet and top them with your shredded chicken, shredded cheese, black beans, and any other favorite nacho toppings. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and serve with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
  • Enchiladas – Roll the Cafe Rio chicken in warmed corn tortillas and place them in a single layer in a baking dish. Next, pour enchilada sauce over the top and then sprinkle with a generous amount of shredded cheese. Then, bake until golden and bubbly. Finally, garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with Mexican rice and refried or black beans.

The possibilities really are endless! Feel free to get creative and customize your favorite dishes based on your preferences.

Hopefully this will become one of your favorite Cafe Rio copycat recipes!

Cafe Rio chicken in a salad.

Copycat Cafe Rio Chicken

Servings: 6 servings
Course: Dinner
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 5 minutes
This copycat Cafe Rio Chicken recipe is an easy freezer meal to add to your rotation!  It tastes delicious, can be eaten multiple ways, and requires no pre-cooking or prep!!  Best of all, it cooks in your slow cooker or Instant Pot!
4.8 from 4 votes
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  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 bottle Zesty Italian dressing
  • 3 tablespoons dry ranch dressing mix (or 1 store-bought packet)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 cup water


  • Label freezer bag.  Place chicken breasts in bag.
  • Pour remaining ingredients in on top of chicken breasts.
  • Squeeze out air and tightly seal bag.
  • Knead gently with hands to mix contents of bag.
  • Lay flat to freeze in freezer.

To cook:

  • Remove bag from freezer and allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Place contents of bag into slow cooker or Instant Pot.
  • Cook on low for 4-6 hours in slow cooker, or on HIGH pressure for 8 minutes in Instant Pot with a 5-minute natural pressure release and then a full quick release following.
  • Remove chicken breasts, shred, and return to slow cooker or Instant Pot, mixing it in with the sauce. (Or shred right in the crock or pot.)  Drain off some of the cooking liquid if there is more than you want.
  • Serve as desired.


Serving: 1/6 of recipe | Calories: 244kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 32g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 938mg | Potassium: 604mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 258IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 21mg | Iron: 1mg
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  1. This looks delicious! Do you have to start with fresh chicken breast? Or can I put it together with frozen ones?

    1. Not yet – I’m working on them though! I think I’m going to have to make some slight modifications to this one to make it Lean & Green compliant.

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