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We've been told over and over again that this is the BEST chicken tortilla soup ever. With a couple of easy tricks, you can maximize the flavor while keeping the prep time low. Make it in your crockpot or on your stovetop, either way it's a healthy and delicious Mexican recipe that's a true crowd pleaser.
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When your Latino bestie says that this is the best chicken tortilla soup he's ever eaten, you know that the recipe truly deserves to be called The Best.
We've always been huge fans of chicken tortilla soup around here. But it took some serious recipe testing before we nailed the recipe so that it is absolutely the best.
We have three simple and easy tricks to transform this chicken tortilla soup from good to freaking awesome. Want to know what they are?
If you love chicken soup, also try our chicken taco soup!
- Dried Mexican peppers – we use a combination of guajillo, pasilla, and ancho peppers as we love the flavor and they're not overly spicy. If you'd like a fiery soup, add a spicy chili such as a chili de arbol.
- Cooking oil – something neutral-flavored like avocado oil or canola works great.
- Onion + garlic + salt – flavor!
- Ground cumin – just a little for a flavor boost
- Skinless bone-in chicken thighs – bone-in is important as the bones will add so much flavor to the soup!
- Chicken stock – we always use our homemade chicken stock. If you don't have any, try to use store-bought bone broth.
- Diced tomatoes – we use a can for convenience.
- Black beans – we use canned here, too. Just make sure to drain and rinse them before adding them to the pot. You could go with a different kind of bean if you have something else on hand.
- Frozen corn – you could use drained canned corn instead if you wish. Or get a little fancy and cut the cobs off an ear of corn.
How to make chicken tortilla soup
Making chicken tortilla soup that tastes incredible is simple to do in a few steps.
- Start by soaking the dried peppers in hot tap water. This will soften them so they'll blend easily into the soup.
- Next, you'll cook the onions and garlic until they're golden and smell amazing.
- Now, pull the hard pepper stems off the peppers and throw them into your compost. Put the peppers and the water they soaked in into your blender. Add the onions and garlic and blend until it's smooth then pour it into your crockpot or large pot.
- Add the chicken thighs, chicken stock, tomatoes, and salt and give everything a good stir. If you're making this in a crockpot, set it to low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. If you're cooking this in a pot, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for at least an hour.
- Once the chicken is unbelievably tender, take it out of the pot. Remove the bones then shred the meat using two forks. Add the shredded chicken, beans, and corn to the pot and let it reheat.
- Serve the soup with some sour cream and crispy tortilla strips and dig in!
The full recipe is in the recipe card below.
Tips for making the best chicken tortilla soup
1. Use bone-in chicken. ← This is a trick.
The thing that makes most soup recipes fail is store-bought broth. Sure, it's convenient, but it's a pretty sad replacement for deliciously rich homemade chicken stock.
To keep the convenience factor high and the workload low, we're boosting thin and watery store-bought stock with chicken bones. In other words, we're making our own chicken stock.
The difference this simple trick makes cannot be understated. By slowly simmering the bones for hours, the soup takes on an almost creamy feel and is absolutely bursting with flavor.
Keep this trick in your back pocket when making other soups, too!
2. Blend the onions and garlic. ← What a sneaky little trick.
That's right, friends, we're blending our two favorite flavor enhancers right into the soup.
First, saute them until the onions are golden and caramelized. Then, put them in the blender with the dried peppers that were soaked and a little water and blend them until they become a delicious liquid gold.
This means that every single sip of you take will have all sorts of flavor. It works like magic.
3. Use Dried peppers. ← This is also worthy of being classified a trick.
Most chicken tortilla soup recipes call for chili powder. The problem with that is most chili powder is not awesomely flavorful. If you want to add The Best title to this soup, pick up some dried peppers.
You can find a variety of dried, Mexican peppers in many supermarkets. Bonus points that they're also super inexpensive and will last (nearly) a lifetime in your pantry.
Three peppers seem to be the magic number in this soup, but it's not super important which types of peppers you use.
NOTE: Use the links above as a reference, but check your local store before buying them online. For us, the peppers are cheaper in-store.
WARNING: don't use three spicy chili peppers. These are all heat with very little flavor. If you'd like a spicier soup, add one chili pepper (chili de arbol) to your mix of peppers.
Take a peek at the picture below to see the peppers we like to use in chicken tortilla soup:
How long does chicken tortilla soup last?
This soup will keep for 3-4 days in your fridge. Store the crispy tortillas in a sealed container in your pantry for up to a week.
Does chicken tortilla soup freeze well?
Yes! chicken tortilla soup freezes very well. We like to use these large reusable Stasher freezer bags for freezing soup.
What to serve with chicken tortilla soup
Chicken tortilla soup is easily a complete meal in itself. But if you'd like to serve it as a part of a bigger meal, here are a few of our favorite Mexican sides:
- Lightened Up Mexican Corn Dip with Avocado and Jalapeño
- Bacon Guacamole with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes
- Spicy Mexican Rice
And don't forget about enjoying a fizzy lime margarita!
Can I use chicken breasts?
If you and your family prefer chicken breast, opt for bone-in chicken breast, which is often called split chicken breast. This will give you the extra flavor from cooking the bone in the soup and you'll be able to enjoy your favorite cut of chicken.
Can I use leftover chicken?
Technically, yes you can. But you'll need to manage your expectations, especially if you don't use homemade chicken broth. The bones in the chicken add a ton of flavor to the soup and if you use leftover chicken you'll miss this wonderful flavor enhancer. If you have leftover chicken that you want to use, go for it. The soup will still be good, but do try to make it at least once with bone-in chicken.
What toppings are good on chicken tortilla soup?
Definitely don't skip the crispy tortilla strips! Other than that you may want a dollop of sour cream and some cheese like queso (or even a little cheddar which is totally not traditional but very tasty.) Chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice really finish off your bowl of soup!
Popular chicken soup recipes
- Chicken Vegetable Soup
- Lemon Chicken Soup (Instant Pot)
- Curried Chicken Cauliflower Rice Soup
- Chicken Taco Soup
- Chicken Orzo Soup
- 3 dried Mexican peppers – guajillo, pasilla, and ancho ( (see notes))
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil (we like avocado oil)
- 1 medium onion (chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 8 skinless bone-in chicken thighs (see notes)
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 15 ounce can black beans (drained and rinsed)
- 2 cups frozen corn
- Optional toppings: sour cream, queso, limes, cilantro
The Crispy Tortillas
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil
- 4 large tortillas cut into thin strips (use gluten-free, if needed)
- Place the dried peppers in a bowl and cover them with about a cup of hot tap water.3 dried Mexican peppers – guajillo, pasilla, and ancho
- Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it is well browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and cook for 1 minute more.1 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 medium onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Pull the stems off of the peppers. Add the peppers and the soaking water into your blender. Add the cooked onion and blend until smooth. If it is too thick to blend properly, add some of the stock. Pour this liquid into your crockpot or a large soup pot.
- Add the chicken thighs, chicken stock, sea salt, and tomatoes. Set the crockpot to high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. If cooking in a pot, you want the pot to simmer very gently.8 skinless bone-in chicken thighs, 8 cups chicken stock, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- Remove the chicken from the crockpot or pot. Separate the meat from the bones and discard the bones and shred the meat. Return the meat to the pot and add the black beans and corn and let them heat through.15 ounce can black beans, 2 cups frozen corn
- Serve the chicken tortilla soup with the tortillas on top and any or all of the optional toppings.Optional toppings: sour cream, queso, limes, cilantro
The crispy tortillas
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Put the tortilla strips on a baking sheet and toss them with the oil. Spread them out on the baking sheet then put them in your oven. Let them toast for about 10-15 minutes, gently mixing them up twice until they are lightly browned. Remove them from the oven. Note: they will continue to crisp as they cool.1 teaspoon cooking oil, 4 large tortillas cut into thin strips
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.
For more inspiration, check out all of our soup recipes!