Shawarma Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker, Shawarma Style

By Natalia Gill, from An Appetite For Joy

“I wish you could photograph the smells” my mom said when I was taking these pictures. Just a few minutes later, my 7-yr old walked into the kitchen and called out “Mmm, it smells so good! What is that?”  That is what you get when you slow cook chicken with garlic, lemon and – for a Middle Eastern twist – shawarma style seasoning with cumin, chilies & thyme… intoxicating aromas and deeply infused flavors.

(These beautiful flavors can make a second appearance if you use the bones to make a homemade stock!)

True shawarma is prepared on a long vertical spit where lamb or chicken is layered with pieces of fat to keep the meat juicy and flavorful. Then it is sliced off and served on flat bread or stuffed into a pitta pocket and topped with tahini or yogurt sauce. It’s lightened up with a pile of onions, tomatoes and fresh herbs. (This description comes from The Food and Cooking of the Middle East, (Amazon affiliate link) a book my husband bought me for Christmas – I love it!)

Since 99.9% of us don’t have a spit, the next best thing is a slow cooker. I prep the chicken earlier in the day and set it on low for a few hours, giving it a quick broil at the end to get it nice and roast-y. Served with salad and rice with the savory chicken juices spooned over, it makes a simple and delicious weeknight meal that I can usually stretch another day or two with leftovers.

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker, Shawarma Style

I started daydreaming of how I might serve this to guests. And I realized that in recent weeks on The Nourishing Gourmet we have been putting together a feast of exotic yet widely-loved flavors.

Wouldn’t this be good?

Of course you can use this technique and make any style of chicken you want. If you want to mix and match flavors, I’ve written up 8 tips for making it a success every time.

Here are two of those tips:

1) Cut little slits in the skin, just big enough to place a garlic clove between the meat and skin. Doing this really infuses the meat with flavor!

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker, Shawarma Style

2) Place the bird breast-side down in the slow cooker so the fat can drip down onto the white meat keeping it moist. I use a 7-quart oval crock pot similar to this one  (amazon affiliate link), which is supposed to be “lead safe”.

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker, Shawarma Style

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker, Shawarma Style

What are your favorite ways to flavor a whole chicken? Have you ever tried it in the slow cooker?

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker (Shawarma Style)
Recipe type: Dinner, Main
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Serves: 6-8
This slow-cooked chicken is incredibly moist and richly flavored in a Middle Eastern style - with cumin, chilies, lemon & garlic.
  • 1 whole chicken, rinsed well inside and out and patted dry
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (I use Hungarian)
  • 1 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • dash nutmeg (preferably fresh grated)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red chili peppers (optional, for heat)
  • ½ teaspoon unrefined salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil (to mix with the spices to make a paste)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  1. Cut 4 small slits into the skin of the chicken and insert garlic between the skin and the meat - 2 in the breast and 2 in the thighs.
  2. Place the lemon into the cavity.
  3. Mix the spices together in a small bowl (coriander, paprika, thyme, cumin, chili powder, ginger, nutmeg, salt & pepper) and combine with the olive oil to make a paste. Rub the mixture all over the chicken, coating evenly.
  4. Scatter the chopped onion over the bottom of a 7-quart oval slow cooker. Place the chicken on top breast side down.
  5. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Mine is always done in 4.
  6. When done (check with a thermometer and make sure the juices run clear) place the chicken into a roasting pan and broil for 3-5 minutes. If you can adjust the temperature on your broiler, set it to 450. If your only option is 550, just watch it closely to make sure it gets nice and brown but doesn't burn.


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Hello! My name is Natalia and I live in the “City in a Forest” (Atlanta, GA) with my husband and two children. I’ve been drawn to nutrition and natural healing since I was a child, growing up in a Russian and Dutch home. I remember my dad theatrically convincing me to love head cheese (with horseradish and lemon!) and learning to make herbal tinctures with my mom. Formerly a project engineer in corporate, I've been working in health and wellness since 2001 as a Pilates and yoga teacher, content developer for a functional MD and nutritional consultant for "The 21-Day Belly Fix". You can follow me at


  1. Cath says

    Just prepped the marinade. It is sitting in the fridge next to the chicken ready for Sunday. All ready so we can now enjoy the Bank holiday weekend sun:-)

      • Cath says

        It was delicious thanks. Served with a red quinoa, butter bean, cucumber, pomegranate and mint salad. Also a side of green beans. Happy children too! Enough chicken left for soup tomorrow … Yay

  2. Sarah L says

    I made this over the weekend using a grassfed chicken. It is delicious. I cooked mine over onions and a beet. I save the juices and onions separately and they are waiting for a few days when they will make a stew base for the last of this chicken. I am single, so this is my meat for the week. I love the crockpot.

  3. says

    Cooked this dish today for dinner – it was amazing! The spices were so warm and calming (though I omitted the chilli powder to suit kids). I don’t have a slow cooker – don’t have the bench space – so put it all in a heavy cast iron pot (oval shaped, perfect chook size) at 100 degrees celsius for same timeframe – worked a treat. Loved the juices served over rice almost as much as the chicken itself. Gorgeous dish – will be cooking again. Thankyou!

    • says

      Paula, I’m so glad this dish worked so well for you and your family! And thanks for sharing your alternative cooking method (love that idea!)

      Oh and I, too, am crazy about the chicken juices. Mmm, wish I had some right now 🙂

    • says

      Thanks, Lynda! And sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I missed your comment somehow. I think the average chicken is around 3-4 pounds. If it’s on the smaller end you’ll want to check it at around 4 hours or maybe even sooner.

  4. Alison says

    Made this last night and it was great! Since nobody likes spicy in our house I subbed more paprika for the chili powder and left out the crushed red chili peppers. And I used half an orange in the cavity since I forgot to buy a lemon. Otherwise I followed the directions exactly. Dad – who doesn’t like any spice – even liked it (I told him to avoid the skin).

    Not hard to make at all (for slow me, that means it took me about 20-30 min to put together – I’m pretty sure that “normal” people would take less time.)

    Next time I’ll experiment with seeing if I can sub for the onions and garlic since my body doesn’t like them as much – but they seemed to handle it OK with this dish. (Maybe garlic infused olive oil with celery instead of onion underneath…)

    When we were done eating I scavenged all the bones and threw them back in the crockpot with whatever juices and onions were left, plus some veggie scraps, and it’s now simmering for bone broth for later.

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