Mayo Chicken Salad Always Be Great
Are you on Team Celery? Team Shredded or Cubed Chicken? Learn how to make homemade chicken salad and customize it to your liking. Follow this how-to guide with tips, tricks, and recipes.
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Chicken salad can be easy to overlook. It’s not as strongly flavored as tuna, and it’s more humble and workaday than its fancy cousin, shrimp salad. But when made well, chicken salad can be bright, fun, and satisfying, with a jumble of interesting textures and a wide range of tasty ingredients to mix in. Want to add some fruit? Grapes are delicious in it, as are dried cranberries. Love some crunch? A variety of nuts like walnuts, pecans, or even cashews adds dimension, protein, and a pop of salt if you choose. Don’t like mayo? You can bind it with a dressing that combines your choice of bases: plain yogurt, sour cream, crema, tahini, ranch, or even spoonfuls of tzatziki or raita.
Dress it up with lots of fresh herbs, spices, and chiles, or pare it down to basics as suits your mood; chicken salad can be great no matter how you adorn it. And the result can take you anywhere: to a superb chicken salad sandwich for a power lunch or quietly satisfying dinner salad with character and panache. The choice is yours; we’ll show you how in the guide below.
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Chicken salad questions, answered
Can I use dark meat, what about the celery, and may I freeze it? Read on.
What goes in chicken salad?
The basic components of most recipes include shredded or cubed chicken, some cut vegetables and occasionally fruit, fresh herbs or spices, sometimes nuts, and a dressing that serves as a binder and often includes some combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, or plain yogurt (but not always). It can be served as a sandwich filling or over a bed of lettuce as a salad in its own right.
A note on bread: Make sure to use sturdy slices of bread, whether that means a hearty seeded baguette, whole honey wheat, or thickly sliced sourdough. Chicken salad is weighty; don’t let it fall through a wimpy slice. Croissants also have an uncanny ability to hold up to chicken salad.
Chicken salad sandwich on a croissant
Should I use white or dark meat?
Most recipes are pretty flexible; if you only have one type of chicken meat on hand, or prefer one over the other, feel free to use it in equal measure. White meat is leaner than dark, so if you use chicken breasts, the dressing will be an important component to avoid a dry homemade chicken salad.
Is celery a required ingredient?
Many recipes for homemade chicken salad call for chopped celery in the mix. Not everyone loves its slightly bitter notes, but unless you absolutely hate it don’t leave it out. Celery provides additional nutrients, a contrasting crunch, and hydration to the final dish. If you’re not a fan, here’s an easy way to minimize its impact: Simply chop your celery about half the size of the smallest vegetable you’ve cut (except any minced garlic, of course). You’ll still enjoy the textural crunch but its flavor will be muted next to the other ingredients.
How do I store leftover chicken salad?
Chicken salad can be stored in a plastic or glass airtight container (or covered in the bowl you made it in) in the refrigerator for four to five days. But always use your eyes and nose before you eat: If it looks or smells off, toss it!
Can I freeze chicken salad?
Sadly, freezing is not generally recommended, especially if mayonnaise or dairy is in the mix. What you can do to speed the process is have shredded or cubed cooked chicken in the freezer, ready to go at a moment’s notice. (Learn more in our guide to using your freezer.) If you’re still pressed for time, try buying any veggies or fruit you need pre-washed and pre-cut from your local market’s salad bar. And take advantage of a store-bought roast chicken.
The plot chickens: Easy steps for making chicken salad
Follow these basic steps for delicious results
Step 1: Prep the chicken
Most chicken salad recipes don’t call for starting with raw chicken, and if they do it’s almost always ok to swap in meat from a rotisserie bird or use cooked chicken you’ve got in the fridge. It used to be de rigueur to cube the meat, but in recent years shredded chicken has become a popular option. You can use two forks to shred chicken, but it’s actually easier to use your hands.
If your chicken salad recipe calls for starting with cooked chicken and you have a package of raw chicken on hand, use this easy recipe for poached chicken and go from there once the meat has cooled. (And save the flavorful poaching liquid to use in other recipes.)
Step 2: Boil any pasta (if called for)
Most chicken salad recipes don’t include noodles, but if yours does get that pot of water on the stove ASAP. There are few kitchen experiences more frustrating than getting to the end of a recipe and realizing you’re still waiting for the water to boil! Most chicken salad recipes come together pretty quickly, so get that pasta cooking early on in the process. Once the water boils add salt to it and then follow the directions on the package.
You can move on to the steps below while waiting for the water to boil, and then for the pasta to finish cooking.
Step 3: Make that dressing
The longer the dressing sits, the more the flavors will meld and complement each other. Once your chicken situation is sorted, assemble the dressing and then set it aside while you do the rest of the prep. If you want to overachieve (or simply save time), you can make the dressing a day beforehand and store it in a covered container in the fridge until it’s time to stir it in.
Step 4: Chop veggies, fruit, and any fresh herbs
Chop, slice, or dice all the fruits, veggies, and fresh herbs listed in the recipe. Toss everything except lettuces (if called for) in a bowl together. Set any lettuce aside after washing and prepping it as instructed. Lettuce is delicate and easily bruised.
Step 5: Bring it all together
In a large bowl, toss the chicken, dressing, and any fresh herbs to coat. Add any vegetables or fruit and gently fold together until entire mixture is coated and cohesive. Taste for salt and black pepper and add more as needed.
Note: Do not include any lettuces until just before serving. Oils and acids can quickly break down delicate leaves, so it’s best to leave lettuce set aside until it’s time to eat.
Im-peck-able chicken salad recipes
Make a meal everyone enjoys with these easy chicken salad recipes.
This chicken salad recipe has a touch of sweetness from red grapes and balanced sweet and sour notes from equal parts honey and white wine vinegar. Toasted sliced almonds deliver a pleasant crunch and make this a chicken salad perfect for a day on the beach or a backyard brunch.
This modern, skinnytaste update on the classic Waldorf salad stays true to the OG 1890s version with its crunchy mix of apples, celery, and later on, walnuts. But this version calls for pecans, cuts the mayo with Greek yogurt, and includes seedless red grapes for a brightly colored mélange served over the traditional mixed greens.
This healthy chicken salad recipe packs a protein punch with a lower carb count, making it a recipe friendly to the keto and paleo crowds. The avocado is served on the side, so be sure to wait until just before serving to slice and plate it to avoid browning upon exposure to air; the acid in an extra squeeze of lime juice over the slices can help protect the fruit and adds a tangy counterpoint to the lushness of the avocado.
Why does curry chicken salad taste so good, and feel so satisfying in your belly? Perhaps it’s the ginger in the curry powder, or the cheerful golden hue of the turmeric. In this classic chicken salad recipe it might be the salted crunch of the cashews or pop of the grapes, or the sharpness of the scallion offset by the sweetness of the honey. Either way it’s destined to be a lunchtime sandwich favorite.
This hearty yet easy Southwest chicken salad recipe takes advantage of pantry staples you probably already have at the ready. Bottled BBQ sauce gets mixed with some mayo and sour cream, plus a little lime juice to cut the richness and add a little bite. Hearty black beans come from a can, and whatever corn you’ve got — frozen, canned, or fresh — will be tasty in this filling dish. Serve over salad greens for a satisfying, well-balanced meal.
This refreshing homemade chicken salad recipe delivers a complete meal topped with crunchy cellophane noodles (feel free to swap out with vermicelli, rice, or glass noodles if you prefer). Most of the effort will be chopping colorful veggies at an easy pace, then drizzling the authentic chile-lime Thai dressing that’s quick to whip up over the vibrant canvas of grilled chicken, crisp fresh veg, fresh mint, and basil and crunchy peanuts.
Embrace summer’s finest and eat up the rest of the watermelon in the fridge with this mayo-free, healthy chicken salad that only has seven ingredients, yet pops with flavor from first to last bite. Shredded or chicken cubed the same size as the watermelon cubes make it lovely to look at and fun to eat, and fresh mint and feta deliver brightness and character in a meal guaranteed to disappear quickly.
If you’re looking for a quick, one-dish weeknight dinner that comes together in about a half-hour, then this pretty Southwest chicken salad inspired by Tex-Mex flavors is likely to become a favorite — and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day too. Instead of mayo you simply toss the dish with lime juice and olive oil, while the smoked paprika delivers an earthy note to balance the lush avocado and perky cherry tomatoes.
Feel free to use any leftover chicken from a barbecue to make this simple yet complex tasting grilled chicken salad. The good news is that this easy chicken salad recipe is quick to prepare since most of the effort is assembly: Layer romaine lettuce on the plate, then top with rows of crunchy bacon, piquant feta cheese, chopped tomato, cubed avocado, and sliced grilled chicken. A drizzle of vinaigrette and it’s ready to eat.
This triumph of Chinese American culinary ingenuity was the innovation of Sylvia Cheng Wu, an immigrant from Jiujiang, China, who was the force behind Madame Wu’s Garden, her restaurant in Santa Monica that drew Hollywood luminaries from its start in 1959. Her iconic Chinese chicken salad was the most popular dish, and today we see its influence everywhere: from fast food drive-thrus to celebrity studded hotspots, and this homemade chicken salad recipe.
All the flavors of your favorite wings come together in this crowd pleaser of a Buffalo chicken salad recipe. And with only seven ingredients, including some shredded rotisserie chicken and bottled ranch dressing, you can get dinner on the table in about a half-hour. Use your favorite pretty glass bowl to layer ingredients and prepare for compliments.
This fresh and bright main course salad comes together easily and serves a crowd — and once you’ve made the easy Caesar chicken salad dressing you’ll never reach for a gloopy bottle in the refrigerator ever again. A quick whisk of classic ingredients produces a bold, zippy sauce that really ties the dish together, while thinly sliced red onion and deep green romaine keep it light and refreshing.
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