BBQ Chicken Salad

5 from 6 votes
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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.

Colorful BBQ chicken salad served in a white bowl and topped with barbecue ranch dressing.

Recipe Science

  • Grilling chicken imparts a smoky flavor and creates a savory crust that enhances the dish when seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • Romaine lettuce is ideal for salads as its crisp, sturdy leaves resist wilting, maintaining a refreshing crunch even when dressed.
  • Mixing barbecue sauce and ranch dressing creates a flavorful and viscous sauce that clings better to salad ingredients.

Why It Works

This easy BBQ chicken salad recipe is perfect for lunch or a light dinner. The good news is that you don’t have to wait for summer to fire up the grill; 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 strawberry chicken 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, another quick option is to crumble salty crushed tortilla chips on top.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Salad ingredients all labeled and inside small white bowls.
  • Chicken: Boneless skinless chicken breast is the best lean protein option. I use about 8-ounce pieces to prevent the meat from drying out. Simply season with salt and pepper.
  • Oil: Use a high smoke point oil, like a fruity-tasting olive oil, to coat the chicken and prevent it from sticking to the grill.
  • Lettuce: 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.
  • Dressing: Mix your favorite BBQ sauce and ranch dressing equally.
  • Toppings: Add a mix of fresh vegetables and legumes, such as corn, black beans, tomatoes, and onions. Add sharp cheddar cheese and crunchy chips.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Chicken Options: For a quicker option, use leftover roast chicken. Just shred or dice it up for a BBQ chicken chopped salad.
  • Seasoning: Add a dry rub similar to my grilled BBQ chicken, which uses paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder. Make it spicy with my cajun seasoning blend. Try basting the meat with BBQ sauce while grilling.
  • Lettuce: Did you know you can grill the romaine for a charred flavor? It would be lovely with the chicken salad. Alternatively, try othertypes of lettuce, like a spring mix or baby spinach.
  • Add More Veggies: Add crisp diced cucumber, shredded carrots, jicama, mild green onions, chives, or sliced mushrooms. Grill corn on the cob, then cut off the kernels when it’s peak season. Canned and even defrosted frozen works well, too. Add pickled red onions for a sweet and tangy flavor.
  • Cheese Swaps: Monterey Jack cheese, blue cheese, queso fresco, and feta are delicious too!

How to Make BBQ Chicken Salad

Step 1: Flatten the Chicken

I recommend pounding the chicken to ½ inch thick for even cooking. Alternatively, slice in half into cutlets for very thick pieces.

Two raw skinless chicken breasts on a white plate seasoned with salt and pepper.

Step 2: Season the Surface

Combine the salt and pepper in a small bowl. Evenly apply the seasoning on both sides of the flattened chicken pieces.

Chicken breast with char marks cooking on a stovetop grill pan.

Step 3: Cook the Chicken

Grab a grill pan, cast iron skillet, nonstick, or stainless steel pan for a year-round stovetop option. Alternatively, grill the chicken to 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 flip it 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).

Seasoned piece of chicken breast cut into slices on a wooden cutting board.

Step 4: Rest and Slice

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before slicing or cutting cubes into bite-sized pieces. I enjoy the chicken a little warm or chilled with the salad.

Step 5: Make the Dressing

You only need two ingredients for a simple, creamy, tangy dressing. I like to make a batch of homemade barbecue sauce, which is perfect for this recipe. Ranch dressing adds a rich, savory element. It combines buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise, and seasonings.

A ratio of 2 parts ranch to 1 part barbecue sauce works well. Whisk it up, and it’s ready to toss or drizzle.

Pieces of romaine lettuce in a bowl topped with salad dressing.

Step 6: Dress the Salad

Lightly dress the salad with about ¼ cup of the BBQ ranch dressing, then serve the rest on the side to drizzle more later.

BBQ chicken salad in a bowl served with corn, tomatoes, black beans, and tortilla chips.

Step 7: Add the 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 stovetop, and sweet and crisp corn kernels add a summery ingredient to the mix.

Cherry tomatoes are juicy and sweet, balancing the savory flavor of the chicken. Freshly diced red onions add an earthy allium flavor. Garnish with sharp cheddar cheese, and you’re ready to dig in!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use chicken thighs 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 cooking time because the meat has more fat and connective tissue.

Can I use pre-cooked chicken?

For 1 pound of raw chicken breast, you will need about 2 ½ cups of cooked. You can use shredded, sliced, or cube pieces.

What other salad dressings pair well with the BBQ chicken?

Try balsamic vinaigrette, red wine vinegar dressing, or an apple cider vinaigrette for a lighter, tangier dressing. A classic ranch or blue cheese dressing is a rich and creamy option. I recommend tossing the chicken in barbecue sauce for that sweet and tangy flavor.

More BBQ Favorites

If you tried this BBQ Chicken Salad recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

BBQ Chicken Salad

Delicious BBQ chicken salad with crisp romaine tossed in a creamy dressing, then topped with a colorful mix of vegetables and tortilla chips.
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Salad
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

Chicken

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, 2 pieces
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Salad Dressing

Salad

  • 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

Instructions 

  • Flatten the Chicken – Place one of the chicken pieces between two plastic sheets or in a large plastic bag. Use a meat tenderizer to 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) on a meat thermometer, 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.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • 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 the grill over medium-high heat between 375 and 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). Clean and grease the grates with 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 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.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 471kcal (24%)Carbohydrates 32g (11%)Protein 34g (68%)Fat 24g (37%)Saturated Fat 6g (30%)Polyunsaturated Fat 10gMonounsaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0.02gCholesterol 95mg (32%)Sodium 1213mg (51%)Potassium 991mg (28%)Fiber 6g (24%)Sugar 11g (12%)Vitamin A 8614IU (172%)Vitamin C 15mg (18%)Calcium 176mg (18%)Iron 3mg (17%)

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.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Maria T. says

    This is a perfect warm weather meal because the only thing that needs to be cooked is the chicken, which was simple to do with simple seasoning. The dressing was surprisingly delicious and went perfectly with the salad. I had everything I needed in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer. This was salad and my husband went to town and really chowed down. I left the chicken, cheese and chips on the side in case of leftovers since it’s just the two of us. This recipe will go in our rotation. Another winner.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Awesome! I’m so happy that the family enjoyed the chicken salad. It’s so great for those hot summer nights!