The smell of classic chicken soup, fragrant with herbs and vegetables, is one of the most comforting smells that a kitchen can produce. The key to a good soup that's intensely chicken-y is a long, slow simmer. Naturally the slow cooker is chicken soup's best friend, as it can cook all day without any supervision from you.
Starting with a whole chicken guarantees a soup that has plenty of flavor and lots of meat to shred to keep things nice and hearty, plus you'll produce quarts of soup to pack for lunch, take to friends, or stash away in the freezer for an easy, healthy dinner.
We've pared the ingredient list here to just the seven essentials (excluding water, oil, salt, and pepper): a whole chicken, onion, celery, carrot, dried thyme, bay leaf, and fresh parsley. While you can certainly throw everything straight into the slow cooker (skip the olive oil), we recommend taking an extra step of sautéing the onions first. This starts the process of softening and mellowing them, making for a deeper, more flavorful soup. If you plan to start cooking the soup in the morning for dinner, you can even do that step the night before and just refrigerate until ready to use.
This soup doesn't contain any noodles or rice, but don't let that stop you from adding some if you'd like. Just make sure you cook the noodles or rice separately and add it into the soup toward the end — uncooked noodles or rice will soak up too much broth and can turn unpleasantly mushy.
Slow Cooker Whole Chicken Chicken Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 medium carrots
3 medium celery stalks
8 cups (2 quarts) water
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, neck and giblets removed from the cavity
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 cups cooked rice or noodles (optional)
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and cut the carrots into large dice, then cut the celery into large dice. Transfer both to a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Add the water, thyme, and bay leaf. When the onion is ready, transfer to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
Place the chicken on a work surface or cutting board and pat dry with paper towels. Season inside and out with the salt and pepper. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and falling off the bones, about 6 hours on the HIGH setting or 8 hours on the LOW setting.
Transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet (it's okay if it falls apart into large pieces). When cool enough to handle but still warm, use your hands to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces (discard the skin, cartilage, and bones). Return the shredded chicken to the slow cooker and add the parsley and a few large pinches of salt.
Add the rice or noodles, if using, and stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Make ahead: The onion can be sautéed and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months.