A fun twist on the famous appetizer, here’s a delicious buffalo chicken salad tossed with a spicy ranch dressing. The recipe contains various fresh vegetables and crumbles of blue cheese that keep you craving more.
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Are you a fan of spicy buffalo wings or buffalo chicken dip? They are some of my family’s favorite appetizers during game day. For this recipe, I transformed the flavors of the tasty starter and turned it into a hearty buffalo chicken salad. Each bowl is loaded with all of the delicious components of the popular finger food.
Tender pieces of chicken breast are marinated in a hot sauce mixture to infuse more tanginess and heat into each slice. Don’t worry. All you need is 30 minutes of soak time. To build the salad, I use sturdy pieces of romaine topped with crunchy vegetables, juicy tomatoes, creamy avocado, and blue cheese. A generous drizzle of spicy ranch dressing makes the meal complete. No more bones to eat around or sticky fingers. Just grab a fork and dig in!
Use boneless skinless chicken breast for a quick cooking, lean protein option. Purchase a 1-pound package, then slice in half into thin cutlets. This technique allows the marinade to soak into more surface area of the meat in a short period for better flavor.
For a quick and easy option, use leftover cooked chicken. Just shred or dice it up and toss it with the marinade to flavor the pieces. This recipe works great with rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken ready to be transformed into a new meal.
Marinate the chicken
The chicken cutlets get a brief soak in a buffalo sauce marinade. It’s a mixture of Frank’s RedHot sauce for heat and spice, olive oil for richness, and salt and pepper to enhance the savory taste. Marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes. There’s a lot of distilled vinegar in the hot sauce, so letting it sit much longer will cause the proteins to contract and release moisture, creating dry pieces.
What’s great is you can use the marinade to drizzle over the salad. Use my homemade buffalo sauce, or look for buffalo wing sauce at the store for a quick swap. These are thicker in consistency compared to plain hot sauce.
Cook the chicken
Grab a cast iron skillet, grill pan, or nonstick skillet to cook the marinated chicken on the stovetop. Grilling the chicken is a delicious option if you prefer a smokey taste. No matter what method is used, shake off the excess marinade before cooking the chicken, so the liquid doesn’t steam in the pan. You can blot the surface with paper towels for an extra golden brown exterior.
Cook the chicken in olive oil over medium heat. It will take about 5 to 7 minutes per side. It’s ready when the internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). I rest the chicken for about 10 minutes to let the juices redistribute and allow for carryover cooking. You can slice, shred, or dice the chicken for the salad.
Make the dressing
I use my homemade ranch dressing as the base. It’s made from buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise, savory spices, and fresh herbs. However, grab your favorite store-bought product for a convenient option.
To add some heat, stir in hot sauce and cayenne pepper. If you don’t want it spicy, just omit the spicy ingredients. If you love blue cheese, try my blue cheese dressing instead!
To complement the crunchiness of the salad, use romaine lettuce. It’s crisp and refreshing, plus sturdy enough to hold up to the heavy pieces of meat and toppings. Slice them into ½-inch thick strips to make them easy to grab with a fork. You could even serve the salad on the hearts to make appetizer boats or lettuce wraps.
This buffalo chicken salad recipe would be even more delicious with grilled romaine. It adds a nice warm, charred element. If desired, you can substitute with other types of lettuce like iceberg, baby spinach, kale, or spring mix.
Add salad toppings
When building a buffalo chicken salad, I made sure to incorporate all of the crunchy fixings. Crispy carrots, celery, cucumber, and creamy avocados help tame the heat of the buffalo sauce. Sweet tomatoes complement the spicy hot sauce. Raw sliced red onions add some zing to the salad. However, give my pickled onions a try to add a sweet and tangy flavor to the alliums.
Don’t forget the blue cheese. It adds a sharp, salty, and tangy element to the salad. I like to add the dressing and the reserved buffalo marinade on top right before serving for extra heat.
Serve this with
Yes, you can use boneless skinless chicken thighs if you prefer dark meat. Trim off excess fat before marinating, so the chicken isn’t too greasy.
You can use milder options if you’re not a fan of the semi-soft cheese because of its pungent taste and intense aroma due to ripening with the edible mold Penicillium. Feta and goat cheese is still spicy but doesn’t have the blue vein running through their curds. Shredded mozzarella, Monterey, pepper jack, or cheddar cheese are delicious substitutes.
What is the difference between hot sauce and buffalo wing sauce?
Hot sauce combines dried red pepper like cayenne, vinegar, water, and seasonings. It’s a more liquid and is used as an ingredient to add heat. Buffalo wing sauce is a recipe using hot sauce as its main ingredient, along with more vinegar for pungency, additional seasonings, and thickening agents to help the sauce cling to the chicken. Butter, oil, cornstarch, or products like xanthan gum make a stickier, thick sauce.
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Buffalo Chicken Salad
Buffalo Chicken Marinade
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- ½ cup hot sauce, Frank’s RedHot recommended
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Spicy Ranch Dressing
- 1 cup ranch dressing
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce, Frank’s RedHot recommended
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
- 8 cups romaine lettuce, ½” thick slices
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup sliced celery, ¼" thick
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup diced cucumber, ½” dice
- 1 medium avocado, sliced
- ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
- ¼ cup sliced red onion, ⅛” thick
- Prepare the Chicken – Cut each chicken breast in half horizontally lengthwise to make 2 thinner cutlets, 4 total.
- Make the Marinade – In a medium bowl, whisk together the hot sauce, ¼ cup olive oil, honey, salt, vinegar, garlic powder, and black pepper—Reserve ¼ cup for topping.
- Marinate the Chicken – Add the chicken to a baking dish or large resealable plastic bag. Add the remaining buffalo sauce marinade, and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate. Press out the excess air if using a plastic bag. Marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking. Shake off the excess marinade. Carefully add the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes per side. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Transfer to a clean plate to rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice the Chicken – Slice the meat against the grain. If desired, chop into cubes. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Make the Dressing – In a medium bowl, combine ranch dressing, 2 tablespoons hot sauce, and cayenne pepper (if using)—season to taste.
- Dress the Salad – Add romaine lettuce to a large bowl and ¼ cup of spicy ranch dressing. Gently toss to combine.
- To Serve – Top the lettuce with carrots, celery, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, blue cheese, and onions. Serve with remaining ranch dressing and buffalo sauce marinade on the side.
- Dressing Yield: About 1 cup
- Storing: The undressed salad and dressing can be covered and stored separately in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Grilled Chicken: Preheat grill over medium-high heat between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). Clean and grease grates with the oil. Keep one burner off for indirect heat cooking. Place chicken on the direct heat side of the grill and close the lid. Cook each side for about 5 to 7 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). If browning too quickly, move the chicken to the indirect heat side of the grill to complete.
- Using Pre-Cooked Chicken: 2 ½ cups of shredded, sliced, or cubed chicken.
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