Chicken Salad — This classic chicken salad recipe is great for sandwiches, on crackers, over a bed of lettuce, or just dig in with a fork! You can’t go wrong with this FAST and EASY and chicken salad that’s a tried and true FAMILY FAVORITE!
The BEST Chicken Salad Recipe
When it comes to classic recipes, a classic chicken salad recipe is at the top of the list. My tried-and-true chicken salad recipe is fast, easy, and a family favorite! Make it for your next picnic, potluck, graduation party, barbecue, backyard get-together, or game day party!
That’s because it’s made with tender shredded chicken, celery and pecans for crunch, and tossed in a creamy yet tangy and zippy dressing thanks to mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard.
You can use either shredded store-bought rotisserie chicken if you’re looking for the fastest possible option. Or feel free to take just a tiny bit longer and poach your own chicken.
Either way, this creamy chicken salad with just a touch of crunch is so fast and easy. Seriously this is a 10-minute, stir it all together, in one big bowl kind of recipe. The best kind.
I use this chicken salad recipe for classic chicken salad sandwiches. Just add the chicken salad to croissants, bread, toast, or dinner rolls and get ready to take a big hearty bite!
Although there are other ways to enjoy homemade chicken salad. Keep on reading for my various chicken salad serving suggestions.
Ingredients in Chicken Salad
This easy chicken salad recipe takes advantage of extremely common fridge and pantry staples. To make the best chicken salad for sandwiches, you’ll need:
- Shredded chicken
- Sour cream
- Dijon mustard
- Light brown sugar
- Lemon zest
- Lemon juice
- Fresh dill
- Red pepper flakes, optional
- Bread, buns, roll, croissants, crackers, for serving
How to Make Chicken Salad
Making this traditional chicken salad recipe is so fast and easy, which is my favorite kind of recipe!
Follow these super straightforward steps for the best tasting chicken salad recipe:
- Shred homemade poached chicken or shred rotisserie chicken and add it to a large bowl.
- Chop all the remaining ingredients and add them to the bowl and stir.
- Cover and chill it until you’re ready to serve it!
How Long Does Chicken Salad Last?
If you find yourself with leftover chicken salad, it will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Can You Freeze Chicken Salad?
No. It’s not a great one frozen and then thawed so I don’t recommend that. Find a way to use it up!
What’s the Best Chicken for Chicken Salad?
Shredded poached chicken is what I use to make chicken salad for chicken salad sandwiches.
Alternatively, store-bought rotisserie chicken is always a fast and easy option. Bring it home, shred what you need, and nibble on the rest!
Although they aren’t the classic choices since they may have a more distinct flavor depending on how you originally cooked them, and possibly slightly tougher texture in the case of the exterior of grilled chicken but go with what works for you.
How to Poach Chicken for Chicken Salad
Use my foolproof Poached Chicken recipe and you won’t be disappointed! You can dice it rather than shred it if you prefer.
Do I Need to Use Mayonnaise and Sour Cream in Chicken Salad?
There’s no way to have classic, creamy, comforting chicken salad without mayo and sour cream. So yes, they are necessary.
You can use lite or reduced fat versions of both mayo and sour cream if you’re trying to shave some fat and calories noting your chicken salad won’t have quite the creamy factor.
Plant-based mayos such as avocado mayo and dairy-free sour cream are also fine if you’re trying to avoid dairy.
Favorite Add-Ins and Substitutions for Chicken Salad
Easy chicken salad is such a versatile base and easily adaptable! For example:
- If you want to use chopped walnuts or slivered almonds instead of the pecans, feel free
- For those who want to omit the nuts all-together, that’s just fine
- Add finely diced white onions for a bolder flavor
- Sliced green onions, scallions, or chives are a milder touch
- Dijon mustard is my favorite but yellow mustard will work in a pinch
- Dried cranberries add lots of fun and interesting chewiness
- Sliced grapes are a favorite of mine in salads like chicken salad or Broccoli Salad
- Mandarin oranges are not only great in Ambrosia Salad but also in this fast chicken salad
- Finely diced apples Waldorf Salad style make a great addition
Do You Put Eggs in Chicken Salad?
While you definitely could put diced or sliced hard-boiled eggs in chicken salad, I don’t.
I love egg salad more than anyone but I don’t add eggs to my chicken salad recipe on the regular.
However, if you have extra hard boiled eggs on hand and want to toss them in, go for it!
Tip: If you love creamy pasta salads and hard boiled eggs, my Amish Pasta Salad needs to go to the top of your list because it is both!
How to Serve Chicken Salad
Classic chicken salad made with mayonnaise is creamy and perfect in the sandwiches shown here.
Whether you want to serve the chicken salad on bread, toast, croissants, or dinner rolls, it’s up to you.
Other great ways to serve chicken salad include:
- In butter lettuce like I do for my Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- Try chicken salad in hollowed out zucchini boats
- Add it to your favorite small Hawaiian bread like I use for Ham and Cheese Sliders
- Make a charcuterie board and add the chicken salad to crackers or crudites
- Or if you’re watching your carbs, just eat it with a fork!
If desired, you can make this chicken salad recipe up to one day in advance if you’re planning to serve it for a party or event. But see my tip below about celery!
Just don’t add it to the croissants or buns until right before you plan to serve it if you’re making classic chicken salad sandwiches with it.
How to Prevent Chicken Salad From Getting Watery
If you do plan to either make your chicken salad in advance, one tip is to not add the celery until closer to the time you plan to serve it.
That’s because celery tends to draw out water because it’s a natural diuretic. Therefore, it draws out the water from the chicken, the mayo and sour cream, and your chicken salad sandwiches could get a little water-logged.
However, this isn’t really an issue if you plan to make and consume it – but worth mentioning for anyone making it in advance.
Tips for the Best Chicken Salad Recipe
If you have a little more, or a little less, of a particular ingredient such as the chicken itself, or celery, or you love mustard like we do, but can do with slightly less mayo, feel free to customize the recipe to your taste.
I don’t find that the red pepper flakes make the chicken salad sandwiches spicy in the least. Rather, the add a bit of interest and extra flavor, but they are optional and you can omit them if desired.
You may question the brown sugar in the recipe and I find it’s necessary for flavor balance. You can try making chicken salad without it see how it goes and add it at the end if you decide it will work.
Always zest a fresh lemon before you juice it. Make sure not to go down to the white part, or pith, of the lemon and just use the very surface layer which is nice and yellow and not bitter like the pith.
Make sure to chill the chicken salad before serving it because it just has a better overall mouthfeel when it’s chilled a bit.
What to Serve with Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Now that you know how to make the best chicken salad for sandwiches, it’s time to get eating! Here are my favorite sides for chicken salad sandwiches:
- Pickle spears
- Vanilla Pudding Fruit Salad or Tropical Fruit Salad
- German Potato Salad
- Herb-Roasted Carrots
- Creamy Pumpkin Soup
- Tomato Basil Soup
- Broccoli Salad
Pin This Recipe
- 2 cups cooked chicken, shredded (store bought rotisserie or homemade poached)
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup pecans (toasted if desired)*
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar**
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh drilled, minced (or use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried dill)
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional but recommended***
- Croissants, bread, toast, buns, rolls, crackers, etc., as desired for serving
- To a large bowl, add the shredded rotisserie or poached chicken. You can also dice it as well as used leftover baked or grilled chicken depending on the flavor and if it will mix well for this recipe.
- Add all the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and taste. If necessary, make any flavor adjustments such as additional salt and pepper, a bit more celery, more chicken if you have it, etc.
- Cover and refrigerate to chill for at least 1 hour before serving as desired. Chicken salad will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days.
*Use chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, or omit the nuts if preferred.
** While brown sugar may seem like an odd choice here, it balances the acidity and sourness from the lemon zest and juice. You can try it first without it, but the chicken salad may be a bit bitter and so you'll likely end up adding it at the end after doing a quick taste test.
***The red pepper flakes don't make the chicken salad sandwiches spicy. Rather than add interest and extra flavor but you can omit them, if desired.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 283Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 47mgSodium: 541mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 11g
More Easy Salad Recipes:
Waldorf Salad — Classic and timeless, apple Waldorf salad is always a crowd favorite especially when apples are in season! It makes a great holiday side dish that your guests will devour thanks to a sweet and creamy dressing that coats a mixture of apples, grapes, celery, walnuts, and more! A highly flexible recipe so feel free to substitute, get creative, and make it your own.
Watergate Salad – The classic side salad that’s light, sweet, fluffy, and creamy! Made with just 6 ingredients including pineapple, pistachio pudding mix, marshmallows, maraschino cherries, pecans, and whipped topping! A one-bowl, stir-together, 5-minute recipe that’s perfect for casual events, parties, and family dinners. Everyone loves this one!
Italian Chicken Pasta Salad — This Italian Chicken Pasta Salad is easy, ready in 20 minutes, and showcases some of my favorite summer ingredients. It’s perfect for summer potlucks and BBQs, or as a no-fuss family dinner!
Apple, White Cheddar, and Grilled Chicken Salad – All the flavors just POP in this fast, easy, and healthy salad!! The Honey-Apple Cider Vinaigrette doubles as marinade + salad dressing to save time!!
Chopped Chicken Salad — An EASY chopped salad with so much FLAVOR and CRUNCH topped with PERFECT juicy oven-baked chicken that’s ready in 15 minutes!! Homemade honey apple cider vinaigrette adds the finishing touch!!
Pecan Strawberry Chicken Salad — The grilled chicken is so JUICY and moist thanks to a homemade pecan butter marinade!! Sweet strawberries and crunchy pecans add extra texture and FLAVOR!!
Sunflower Chicken Salad – LOADED with juicy chicken, veggies galore, sunflower seeds, and a sunflower seed butter dressing!! EASY, healthy, ready in 15 minutes! A HEARTY and satisfying salad!!
Grilled Chicken Berry Salad — Big, hearty, healthy, and chock full of juicy grilled chicken, blueberries, blackberries, creamy avocado, hard-boiled eggs, and more! Topped with a creamy shake-together red wine Dijon vinaigrette, this is a salad that you’ll want to put on rotation all spring and summer! EASY, so flavorful, and ready in 30 minutes!