This BBQ chicken salad is a summer-inspired recipe with crisp romaine tossed in a creamy barbecue ranch dressing, then topped with a colorful mix of black beans, corn, and sweet tomatoes.
Table of Contents
This easy BBQ chicken salad is the perfect entree for lunch or a light dinner. The good news is that you don’t have to wait for summer to fire up the grill as you can enjoy this meal all year. If you like this recipe and crave more hearty low-carb meals, give my cobb salad or grilled chicken and strawberry salad a try.
You can’t have a BBQ chicken salad without lean slices of chicken breast, black beans, and cheddar cheese. Plus, the juicy, ripe tomatoes and sweet corn make each serving pop with color. I’m a big fan of adding crunch to a salad, so if it’s not my homemade croutons, then another quick option is to crumble salty corn chips on top.
Boneless skinless chicken breast is the best choice for a lean protein option. Simply season with salt and pepper. If desired, add a dry rub similar to my grilled barbecue chicken, which uses paprika, onion, and garlic powder. Otherwise, try basting the meat with barbecue sauce while grilling, or lightly coat it before serving for extra flavor.
I use about 8-ounce pieces to prevent the meat from drying out. I recommend pounding the chicken to ½ inch thick for even cooking. Alternatively, slice in half into cutlets for very thick pieces. For a quicker option, use leftover rotisserie chicken. Just shred or chop it up.
Cook the chicken
Grab a grill pan, cast iron skillet, nonstick, or stainless steel pan for a year-round stovetop option. Or you can grill the chicken and add a smoky flavor when the weather’s warm. For a golden surface, sear the chicken in hot olive oil, pressing down initially to give good contact with the pan.
Let the crust develop, then give it a flip when about 50% cooked through. The process takes about 5 to 8 minutes per side. The internal temperature should register between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before slicing or cutting cubes into bite-sized pieces. I like to enjoy the chicken a little warm or chilled.
Make the dressing
For simple creamy and tangy dressing, all you need is two ingredients. I like to make a batch of homemade barbecue sauce which is perfect for this recipe, and ranch dressing adds a rich, savory element. I find a ratio of 2 parts ranch to 1 part barbecue sauce works well. Mix it up, and it’s ready to toss or drizzle.
Sturdy and crisp romaine lettuce hearts are my top choice. It’s still refreshing when coated with the dressing and doesn’t wilt down too much. Slice them ½-inch thick, so it’s easier to mix with the toppings and eat. Did you know you can grill the romaine for a charred flavor?
Alternatively, you can use other types of lettuce, like a spring mix or baby spinach. Lightly dress the salad with about ¼ cup of dressing, then serve the rest on the side to drizzle more later.
Add salad toppings
I’m a fan of adding a healthy and colorful mix of protein and fiber-rich toppings. Canned black beans are a convenient option versus making them on the stove top. Sweet and crisp corn kernels add a summery ingredient to the mix. Grill corn on the cob, then cut off the kernels when it’s peak season, or canned and even defrosted frozen works well too.
Cherry tomatoes are juicy and sweet, balancing the savory flavor of the chicken. Freshly diced red onions add an earthy allium flavor or pickling slices for a tangy taste. Garnish with cheddar cheese. Monterey Jack, blue cheese, queso fresco, and feta are delicious too!
Serve this with
For 1 pound of raw chicken breast, you will need about 2 ½ cups of cooked chicken. You can use shredded, sliced, or cube pieces.
Try balsamic vinaigrette, red wine vinegar dressing, or an apple cider vinaigrette for a lighter and more tangy dressing. A classic ranch or blue cheese dressing is great for a rich and creamy option. I recommend tossing the chicken in barbecue sauce to get that sweet and tangy flavor.
Using dark meat for the salad
If you prefer the flavor of dark meat, feel free to use it in the salad. Make sure to trim away any excess fat before cooking, so it’s not too greasy. I prefer grilling them for a smoky taste, but they can be cooked on the stovetop. Aim for 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC), as they need a longer cook time because the meat has more fat and connective tissue.
Pin this recipe to save for laterPin This
BBQ Chicken Salad
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, 2 pieces
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 cups romaine lettuce, ½” thick slices
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¾ cup corn kernels, canned or grilled
- ¾ cup black beans, canned, rinsed & drained
- ½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- ¼ cup crushed tortilla chips
- ¼ cup diced red onion, ¼” dice
- Flatten the Chicken – Place one of the chicken pieces between two plastic sheets or in a large plastic bag. Flatten to an even thickness, about ½-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining piece.
- Season the Surface – In a small bowl, combine ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Evenly season both sides of the chicken with the mixture.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, and heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking. Add the chicken and press down for maximum contact. Cook until golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Flip and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a clean plate to rest for 5 minutes.
- Rest and Slice – Rest the chicken for 10 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, slice against the grain. If desired, chop into cubes. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Make the Dressing – In a medium bowl, combine the ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. Set aside or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Dress the Salad – Add romaine lettuce to a large bowl and ¼ cup of dressing, gently toss to combine.
- Add the Toppings – Top the salad with tomatoes, corn, black beans, cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, red onion, and sliced chicken. Serve with remaining dressing on the side. If desired, drizzle extra barbecue sauce and ranch on top.
- Dressing Yield: ¾ cups
- Storing: Serve salad immediately or keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Make sure to refrigerate any unused dressing and do not leave it out longer than 2 hours.
- Grilled Chicken: Preheat grill over medium-high heat between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). Clean and grease the grates with the oil. Keep one burner off for indirect heat cooking. Place the chicken on the direct heat side of the grill and close the lid. Cook each side for about 5 to 8 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). If browning quickly, move the chicken to the indirect heat side of the grill to complete cooking.
- Using Pre-Cooked Chicken: 2 ½ cups of shredded, sliced, or cubes of chicken.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
Tried this recipe?
Tag me on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!