Skip to content

How to make the BEST chicken salad

How to make the BEST chicken salad

First of all, we are SO OVERWHELMED in the most wonderful way possible with all of your wonderful responses to yesterday’s blog post! (So much that my site went down–haha! You’re amazing! I had no idea there would be so much interest in this baby!?)

We are feeling so, so loved, and LR is truly the LUCKIEST baby in the world to have so many amazing online aunts!

I spent most of the day chatting with many of you via DM and responding to your sweet messages, and I didn’t even make a DENT! I really want to respond to everyone, so if you haven’t received a response yet, it’s just because I haven’t gotten that far down in the queue! Truly, thank you. We just feel so fortunate to have you along for this ride.

Now, on to today’s blog post! When I was making chicken salad for lunch a couple of days ago, there was a huge request to put my “no-recipe recipe” into a blog post! (You know how I roll with no recipe recipes!) LR and I have been loving chicken salad lately, and it makes for the best make-ahead lunch or snack. You can make it in batches and eat it all week!

I don’t think there’s a chicken salad I don’t like, but I do have a couple variations I typically gravitate toward. The best part about it is that you can really use anything you can scrounge up on-hand. There is no wrong way to do it–you can customize it however you prefer! Today, I’ll teach you how to do JUST that!

So, let’s jump in!

How to make the best chicken salad:

First, the chicken: 

One of the great things about chicken salad is that you can make a little, or a lot! Sometimes I just have enough chicken leftover for a snack, and that works, and sometimes I’ll make a whole rotisserie chicken worth of chicken salad. Don’t worry about exact measurements here–just wing it! 

Rotisserie chicken: My #1 choice for making chicken salad! Tip: if you pull the chicken apart while it’s still warm from the store, it will be MUCH easier. I don’t know why, it just is.

Cooked chicken breasts, shredded: You can bake or poach chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and your favorite seasonings, let them cool, then pull them apart. Even if you have leftover grilled chicken, you use that too!

Canned white meat chicken: I grew up on chicken salad made from canned white meat chicken. Some people think this is gross, and I don’t blame you, although to me it’s really no different than tuna. I always keep a few cans in the cupboard to whip up in a pinch. (Which has come in VERY handy in the pandemic, let me tell you!) Go for the organic all-white meat kind.

Want a vegetarian substitute? Make chickpea salad! Use canned chickpeas and give them a rough mash–then add the below fixings!

Then, the creaminess: 

I use a combination of mayo and greek yogurt (I prefer 2%) to make it lighter and healthier! I like to use a half and half ratio. Maybe a little more mayo than greek yogurt when I’m feeling indulgent, or vice versa when I’m trying to keep things on the healthier side.

You can absolutely just use greek yogurt and no mayo, but I find that for best results you do need SOME mayo to balance out the consistency and tang of the yogurt! (The fat of the mayo helps with that!)

You can also just JUST mayo too, which is how it’s traditionally made and what I’ll do if I don’t have greek yogurt on hand.

You can also use avocado for some creaminess too, but remember it turns brown pretty quickly so I would only use this if you are going to eat the full amount right away! (This is a great way to use up overripe avocado though!)

How much mayo/greek yogurt? This is up to you! I feel like this is a very personal preference as some people like a lot more creaminess than others! It also depends on how much you’re making. I find myself usually making chicken salad with leftover chicken, so the amount I start with always varies, so therefore I feel it’s best to just eyeball!

BUT, if you want a frame of reference, I would say if you have between 2-3 cups of chicken, I would do 1/2 cup of whatever you’re using for creaminess. (In my case here, I would use 1/4 mayo, 1/4 cup greek yogurt.) But you will do some experimenting and find what suits YOUR tastes the best!

My advice is to start with a little, and keep adding. It’s easy to add more, but not easy to take it away if you add too much!

Your main add ins:

I think anytime you make chicken salad, a great combo to strive for is a trifecta of creaminess, a bit of sweetness, and a bit of crunch! Here are some thought starters!

For crunch: diced celery and/or chopped or sliced nuts (my favorite are almonds!) I typically use both if I have both! If you don’t have pre-sliced or chopped, just run a knife over and them and give ’em a rough chop!

For sweetness: diced apple or sliced grapes (or both! I often use both!) or diced sweet pickles. (I know, this last one is kind of strange, again, it’s old-school and the kind I grew up on, haha!) You can also use dried fruit, like craisins or chopped up sliced apricots!

For more zing: minced red onion (or any onion you have on hand), a dash of red wine or white wine vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a squeeze of dijon mustard or a bit of ground mustard powder. These are all optional, but great add-in’s when you’re thinking, “hmmm..this could use a little something!”

My go-to seasoning combinations: 

Now you just have to season! First, start with salt and pepper, of course. Always! Then try adding in one of the following combos, depending on your tastes! I honestly don’t know if there are many BAD seasoning combos for chicken salad. If you have an interesting seasoning that you’re not sure will go, just google “___ingredient chicken salad” and if it’s a good combo, I bet you’ll find a recipe to confirm your hypothesis.

  • Everything but the bagel seasoning and dijon mustard
  • Dill and garlic powder
  • Italian herbs and garlic powder
  • Fresh herbs, like chopped parsley, tarragon, dill, with fresh garlic are always deliciously fresh!
  • Curry powder
  • Mrs Dash seasoning

What to eat it with: 

On bread as a sandwich, or in a wrap!

Open-faced and toasted with melted cheese (tuna melt style, but chicken salad!)

With sliced tomatoes and avocado, drizzled with balsamic glaze and olive oil (my favorite, pictured here!)

On top of mixed greens drizzled with your favorite vinaigrette

With crackers of your choice!

How to make the BEST chicken salad

Bring it all together now!

Here are some ways I like to use all these combos together. Again, just add as much as you’d like to suit your tastes. Add a little, taste as you go, and adjust to your liking.

Jess’ Everything but the Bagel chicken salad: 

Pictured here is chicken salad I made with rotisserie chicken, mayo, greek yogurt, grapes, apples, a little chopped red onion, finely chopped celery, chopped almonds, salt, pepper, garlic powder, everything but the bagel seasoning and a little bit of ground mustard powder, to taste (this is optional and can be a squeeze of dijon too!)

I love it served over sliced tomatoes and avocado, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil!

Curry chicken salad: 

I love a good curry chicken salad! Just use the same as above (mayo, greek yogurt, celery, apple and/or grapes, red onion, salt, pepper, chopped nuts) and instead of the seasonings above, use curry powder, to taste! I love this in a sandwich, wrap, or with crackers!

Lynn’s old-school pantry staple chicken salad: 

For when you’ve got nothin’ in the fridge or freezer! This to me tastes like childhood and really brings me back because it’s how my mom makes it (and presumably, how my Granny made it). Use a can of chicken, mayo, salt, pepper, and finely diced sweet pickles, to taste. (Use more sweet pickles than you think you need!) You can even drizzle in a little bit of sweet pickle juice to make it a bit sweeter if you want. If you want to make it fancier, sometimes I will add garlic powder, celery and minced onion if I have it, but you don’t need to! My favorite way to eat this is with crackers (wheat thins specifically, as we did when I was growing up) standing at the kitchen counter. 😂 (It’s tradition!)

easy chicken salad recipe

And that’s it! I hope this post inspires you to customize your own chicken salad that makes you smile and brings you joy with every bite! Hope you have a WONDERFUL weekend!