How to Make Chicken Salad Better (and Fresher!) Than Any You Can Buy

Master how to make chicken salad at home and you'll always be the star of the potluck or picnic. Break up with the store-bought kind once and for all—we'll show you how to make homemade chicken salad that's customizable and packed with way more flavor. Whether you devour it as part of a lunch sandwich, a light dinner entrée, or a party recipe, here's how to make the best chicken salad ever.

If you think chicken breast recipes are bland and boring, we bet a luscious, well-seasoned homemade chicken salad will convince you otherwise. In this guide for how to make chicken salad, we'll talk you through how to choose juicy meat, coat it in a flavorful dressing, then spike all that with flavor-boosters. (Yep, we're dishing about how to make chicken salad with grapes, nuts, and so much more!) No need to start completely from scratch, even if you're seeking out how to make homemade chicken salad. We have options for using rotisserie chicken, canned chicken, or leftover chicken, too.

Lunchtime Chicken Salad with Rhubarb
Andy Lyons

How to Make Chicken Salad at Home

Cooking chicken for chicken salad is not a necessity. Read on for a variety of poultry picks, plus how to make homemade chicken salad, what to add to elevate the flavors, and ways to serve chicken salad at a party.

Choose the Chicken

You can buy chicken salad at the deli, but nothing beats a DIY version made with fresh, top-quality ingredients. It all starts with good chicken. Here are a few chicken options to consider.

  • Fresh chicken breasts: White meat, or breast meat, is most popular for chicken salad. You can cook your own chicken breasts by boiling or poaching them. You can also cook chicken breasts by grilling (our go-to method for how to make healthy chicken salad come summer!), sautéing or oven-roasting them. For instructions on all of these methods, see how to cook chicken for salad (or other uses). For 2 cups of cooked, cubed chicken needed to make four servings of chicken salad, you will need to start with about 12 ounces of skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
  • Whole chicken: For dark meat or a combination of dark and white meat, roasting a whole chicken is an option. One 3½- to 4-pound chicken will yield about 3½ to 4 cups of cooked meat.
  • Rotisserie chicken: If you don't want to bother cooking chicken at home, a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is a brilliant, budget-friendly, and preseasoned time-saver.
  • Deli chicken: You could also use a large piece of cooked chicken from the deli as your starting point.
  • Canned chicken: If you prefer a pantry staple-friendly method, it's absolutely possible to become a pro at how to make chicken salad from a can. Simply trade an equal amount of drained canned chunk chicken for the amount called for in your recipe.

Chop the Chicken into Bite-Size Pieces

Once your chicken is cooked or purchased, use a sharp knife ($40, Target) to cut it into cubes, about ½- to ¾-inch in size, depending on your recipe or preference.

Prepare the Chicken Salad Dressing

Mayonnaise is the classic base for chicken salad dressing. But if you're curious about how to make chicken salad without mayo, purchased creamy salad dressing has its fans as well. Or opt for half mayo and half sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. (That latter blend will give you a bonus protein boost.) Estimate about ⅓ to ½ cup dressing for 2 cups of chicken. A pinch of salt, a teaspoon of snipped fresh herbs like basil or tarragon, and a squeeze of lemon juice can help to boost the flavor of the dressing as you ace making chicken salad at home.

How to Make the Best Chicken Salad with Mix-Ins

Chicken salad is as versatile as the little black dress or comfy pair of jeans. You can keep it simple with a few classic add-ins or transform it into an international dish. Regardless of the mix-ins you choose, check the salt level—seasoning is crucial as you continue your quest to master how to make chicken salad from scratch.

Here are some of our favorite variations:

  • Classic Chicken Salad: Add one or more of the following: ½ cup chopped celery, 1 teaspoon snipped fresh basil, ½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel, and/or ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions.
  • Hawaiian Chicken Salad: Stir in ½ cup chopped pineapple. Before serving, stir in ¼ cup chopped macadamia nuts.
  • Mediterranean Chicken Salad: Stir in ½ cup chopped marinated artichoke hearts and ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese.
  • Curry Chicken Salad: This one answers the question "how to make chicken salad with grapes." Reduce mayonnaise to ¼ cup. Stir 2 tablespoons cut-up mango chutney and 1 teaspoon curry powder into the dressing. Add ¾ cup halved red or green seedless grapes or chopped apples to the chicken salad. Before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted cashews or almonds.
Chicken Salad
Karla Conrad

How to Serve Homemade Chicken Salad

Once you've mixed up the chicken salad, cover and chill it for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend and to thoroughly chill the ingredients. There are many ways to serve chicken salad:

  • Salad: Serve it straight up on vibrant leafy greens.
  • Appetizer: Use it as an appetizer spread served with sturdy crackers or pita chips.
  • Sandwich: Pile it high atop whole grain bread, which offers a nice, nutty contrast to the mild flavor of chicken salad. Or for an instant touch of class, serve homemade chicken salad on a warm croissant. Pita bread pockets, split biscuits, or tortilla wrap sandwiches work well, too.
  • Cocktail party: Stuff hollowed-out tomatoes with chicken salad to turn chicken salad into party fare.
  • Sweet-and-savory: Spoon it alongside fresh chunks or slices of cantaloupe, pineapple, or mango or in a scooped-out papaya shell. Spicy Curried Chicken Salad pairs especially well with these fresh fruit options
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