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A simple Southern chicken salad recipe that’s loaded with tender meat, sweet cranberries (or juicy grapes), celery, and almonds in a mayonnaise-based dressing. You just can’t beat a classic. Serve the old-fashioned dish on its own with cornbread, coleslaw, or crackers; or pile it high on a sandwich with a side of potato chips and pickles!

Side shot of a southern chicken salad recipe served in a sandwich on a croissant.
Table of Contents
  1. Why This is the Best Homemade Chicken Salad
  2. Chicken Salad Ingredients
  3. Frequently Asked Questions
  4. The Directions
  5. Serving Suggestions
  6. Preparation and Storage Tips
  7. Recipe Variations
  8. Expert Tips
  9. Southern Chicken Salad Recipe Recipe

If you love chicken salad recipes as much as we do, be sure to try this curried chicken salad, a strawberry chicken salad, this hot chicken salad, and a tortellini salad with chicken, too!

This easy Southern chicken salad recipe has been one of my favorite make-ahead lunch or light dinner options for as long as I can remember. My mom serves it regularly, and I’ve tweaked my own version over the years to make it absolutely perfect. While a curried chicken salad with grapes is delicious for a change of pace, I always come back to the tried-and-true favorite!

Had this at a friend’s. Best chicken salad I’ve ever eaten!

– Debby

Why This is the Best Homemade Chicken Salad

There’s a little country store near our house that sells the best store-bought chicken salad I’ve ever tasted. I used the chicken salad from Yoder’s Country Market as the inspiration for my homemade version, even consulting one of my local girlfriends to make sure that my recipe was a close copycat to the market’s. We’ve got a winner, and I’m so excited to share it with you! Here’s why this old fashioned chicken salad recipe is truly the best:

  • The Right Amount of Mayonnaise: Yoder’s chicken salad has just the right amount of mayo — enough to hold the dish together, but not so much that it’s overpowering. It took some tweaking, but I finally got the proportions correct. The salad is moist and flavorful, but not drowning in dressing.
  • A Variety of Textures and Flavors: The recipe includes a great mix of sweet and savory flavors, as well as crunchy, chewy, and tender textures. You’ll love the combination of nutty almonds, crisp celery, tender chicken, and sweet cranberries or grapes. Add hardboiled eggs or pickle relish for even more flavor!
  • It’s Quick and Easy: No one wants to spend hours in the kitchen just to get a meal on the table. I’ve got 5 hungry mouths to feed, so I need delicious, flavorful options that come together without too much effort. This recipe delivers! You can cook your own chicken at home, or use the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken. When starting with cooked chicken, the entire dish is ready in about 15 minutes.
  • A Prep-Ahead Option: This traditional chicken salad recipe is best when it has a chance to chill for at least 1 hour before serving. As a result, it’s a great choice for parties, luncheons, or busy weeknight dinners when everyone is on different schedules and you need an easy meal ready in the fridge.
Stirring together ingredients for southern chicken salad recipe.

Chicken Salad Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need to prepare the easy chicken salad recipe. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Chicken: cooked and shredded; a rotisserie chicken is my preference for both ease and flavor.
  • Dried cranberries, dried cherries, or red grapes: sweet fruit provides a delicious contrast to the savory chicken. Diced apple would work, too!
  • Celery: crunchy, crisp texture and savory flavor.
  • Nuts: I use sliced almonds (since that’s what Yoder’s does), but chopped pecans, cashews, or walnuts are also delicious.
  • Mayonnaise: Duke’s brand is my top pick for the best quality and flavor.
  • Vinegar and fresh lemon juice: bright, acidic additions to the dressing.
  • Sugar: I realized that one aspect of Yoder’s chicken salad that I really love is the sweetness in the dressing. It’s similar to a classic coleslaw dressing.
  • Ground mustard, onion powder, kosher salt, and ground black pepper: simple pantry staples that add so much delicious flavor to the salad.
Whisking together mayonnaise dressing in a bowl.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the best chicken to use? My favorite chicken to use in this recipe is shredded meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken. It’s a quick shortcut that yields delicious results, since the rotisserie chicken is moist, tender, and already seasoned. White meat or dark meat both work well, so pick your favorite (or use a combination). The mayonnaise dressing tends to cling better to the shredded chicken, so that’s my preference over chopped or diced chicken.
  • What can I substitute for the celery? If you don’t have any celery on hand, or if you just don’t care for the taste, you can substitute with extra nuts, extra cranberries, diced or grated sweet onion, scallions or green onion, diced or grated carrots, water chestnuts, or diced green apple.
  • How can I season the chicken salad so that it doesn’t taste bland? This salad is seasoned simply with a little bit of ground mustard, onion powder, salt, and pepper in the mayonnaise-based dressing. Fresh parsley adds a bright touch at the end, but you can also stir additional herbs into the dressing. Try chopped fresh rosemary, dill, or thyme. Adding a little bit of curry powder (like this recipe) or garlic powder works well, too!
  • How can I thicken up this shredded chicken salad recipe? If you find that you have too much dressing for your preference, you can thicken the chicken salad by adding more chicken, almonds, celery, cranberries, or grapes. You might also like to stir in some chopped hardboiled eggs. This recipe is very flexible, so feel free to tailor it to suit your taste.
  • Why is my chicken salad watery? When the salad sits in the fridge overnight, the vegetables (like celery) release liquid. Give it a good stir again just before serving, and it should be fine!
  • What are the best crackers to pair with chicken salad? Our favorites include Ritz (perfect flaky, buttery texture and flavor), Wheat Thins (a nice sweet-and-savory flavor profile with a lot of crunch; try the “big” size for dipping), Carr’s Table Water Crackers (my grandmother’s favorite!), and Triscuits (thick and sturdy — perfect for scooping).
Process shot showing how to make a southern chicken salad recipe.

The Directions

If you’re starting with cooked, diced chicken, this recipe comes together in about 15 minutes — no baking required! You’ll find detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Stir together the chicken, cranberries (or cherries or grapes), celery, and almonds in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, ground mustard, onion powder, salt, and pepper in a separate bowl.
  3. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the chicken mixture and toss to coat.
  4. Cover and refrigerate the chicken salad for at least 1 hour before serving. This gives the ingredients a chance to absorb the dressing, it brings the flavors together, and it ensures that the salad is crisp and cool.
Side shot of a blue ceramic bowl full of an old fashioned southern chicken salad recipe.

Serving Suggestions

This Southern chicken salad recipe is a great option to keep in the refrigerator and pull out when you need a quick snack with crackers, when you need an easy lunch, or when you want a simple, make-ahead, light dinner or potluck option. Here are a few great ways to serve a traditional chicken salad:

Square side shot of the best chicken salad sandwich on a croissant.

What to Serve with a Chicken Salad Sandwich

If you prefer to serve the salad on bread, croissants, rolls, or biscuits, here are a few sides that will go well with the chicken salad sandwiches:

Preparation and Storage Tips

Prepare this salad at least 2 hours in advance. It keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and actually gets better as it sits overnight and the flavors come together. Stored properly, homemade chicken salad will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

I do not recommend freezing this dish, since the creamy dressing may separate when thawed, and the fruit and vegetables will have a mushy, watery texture.

A bowl of old fashioned chicken salad recipe on a blue table with croissants and potato chips nearby.

Recipe Variations

  • Add grapes. I’ve shown cranberries here, because that’s how Yoder’s Country Market makes its chicken salad. I love the sweet, tart, and chewy taste that the Craisins provide. That said, red grapes or dried cherries are also classic additions to a southern-style chicken salad and work well as a substitute for the cranberries.
  • Hardboiled eggs. Many Southern chicken salad recipes include chopped hard-boiled egg. You can feel free to add those, too!
  • Add mustard. This particular chicken salad recipe is made without mustard and instead takes advantage of ground mustard. If you prefer, you can add a dollop of Dijon mustard, yellow mustard, or honey mustard to your dressing.
  • For a bit of tang, replace some of the mayonnaise with sour cream or full-fat plain Greek yogurt.
  • Stir in sweet relish or chopped dill pickles for an extra briny, tangy flavor.
  • Add herbs such as parsley, chives, dill, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, or basil. Sliced green onions (or scallions) are also delicious in the salad.
  • Cooking just for two? Cut all of the ingredients in half to prepare a smaller portion. If you’d like to serve a larger crowd, you can easily double or triple all of the ingredients.
Side shot of a Southern chicken salad recipe served on a croissant sandwich on a rustic table.

Expert Tips

  • White or dark meat: If you like dark meat, it adds great flavor to chicken salad. We like a combination of both white and dark, but you can use whichever you prefer.
  • Use the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken for an easy, flavorful shortcut.
  • We prefer shredded chicken rather than diced or chopped chicken. The mayo dressing tends to cling to the shredded chicken a little better.
  • How to cook the chicken at home: If you’d rather cook your own chicken instead of using a rotisserie chicken, you’ll need about 1 ½ pounds of raw boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Boil the chicken until cooked through (about 15-18 minutes), and then shred with two forks. Alternatively, you can cook the chicken in a crockpot for 1-2 hours on HIGH, then shred and cool before using in the salad. If you’re shredding a lot of cooked chicken at once, use the paddle attachment on a stand mixer to make the job easy!
  • Use a high-quality mayonnaise, since this contributes a lot of flavor to the dish. I prefer Duke’s brand.
  • Add more or less mayonnaise. The amount of mayonnaise in a chicken salad recipe is truly a matter of personal preference. I like to err on the side of less mayo, so I think this is best with about ¾ cup. If you like a wetter salad, increase the amount to 1 full cup.
Overhead shot of the best chicken salad recipe served in a blue bowl.

More Traditional Chicken Salad Recipes to Try

Square side shot of a bowl of the best southern chicken salad recipe.

Southern Chicken Salad Recipe

5 from 4 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 0 minutes
Chilling Time 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 428 kcal
A simple, old fashioned chicken salad recipe that's delicious on its own, and equally good in sandwiches!

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (such as from a rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries (such as Craisins), dried cherries, or halved red grapes
  • cup finely diced celery
  • ½ cup sliced almonds (or chopped pecans or walnuts)
  • ¾ cup Duke’s mayonnaise, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, toss together the shredded chicken, cranberries (or grapes or cherries), celery, and almonds.
    Stirring together ingredients for southern chicken salad recipe.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, ground mustard, onion powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and a dash of pepper.
    Whisking together mayonnaise dressing in a bowl.
  • Add the mayonnaise mixture to the chicken mixture; stir gently to combine. Gradually add more mayonnaise, if necessary, to reach the desired consistency.
    Process shot showing how to make a southern chicken salad recipe.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours (or overnight) to allow the flavors to come together.
    Square side shot of the best chicken salad sandwich on a croissant.

Notes

  • White or dark meat: If you like dark meat, it adds great flavor to chicken salad. We like a combination of both white and dark, but you can use whichever you prefer.
  • Use the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken for an easy, flavorful shortcut.
  • We prefer shredded chicken rather than diced or chopped chicken. The mayo dressing tends to cling to the shredded chicken a little better.
  • How to cook the chicken at home: If you’d rather cook your own chicken instead of using a rotisserie chicken, you’ll need about 1 ½ pounds of raw boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Boil the chicken until cooked through (about 15-18 minutes), and then shred with two forks. Alternatively, you can cook the chicken in a crockpot for 1-2 hours on HIGH, then shred and cool before using in the salad. If you’re shredding a lot of cooked chicken at once, use the paddle attachment on a stand mixer to make the job easy!
  • Use a high-quality mayonnaise, since this contributes a lot of flavor to the dish. I prefer Duke’s brand.
  • Add more or less mayonnaise. The amount of mayonnaise in a chicken salad recipe is truly a matter of personal preference. I like to err on the side of less mayo, so I think this is best with about ¾ cup. If you like a wetter salad, increase the amount to 1 full cup.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the recipeCalories: 428kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 24gFat: 28gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 14gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 71mgSodium: 239mgPotassium: 290mgFiber: 2gSugar: 16gVitamin A: 83IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 44mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: chicken salad sandwich, chicken salad with cranberries, chicken salad with grapes, easy chicken salad recipe, how to make chicken salad, southern chicken salad recipe
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in June, 2020. It was updated in April, 2024.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. I’ve been trying to replicate Yoders chicken salad too! But failing badly. One thing I notice they do is make their salad really sweet, but I didn’t notice any sugar or sweetener in your recipe? I’m dying to make theirs at home!!

    1. That’s funny, Stephanie! I hadn’t noticed that Yoder’s version is sweeter than usual. I’ll have to pay attention to that the next time I buy it. 🙂 Or, if you add sugar to yours and it works well, let me know — maybe that’s a missing ingredient! Hope you enjoy!

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve been looking for a good chicken salad recipe, this one is so delicious! I love the creaminess and the tang, just right! And the craisons are the perfect amount of sweetness! This will be my go to for a hot summer day!

  3. 5 stars
    I made the Southern Chicken Salad it’s the best I ever had plus I did not use all the ingredients. you have my vote on this I been a baker for over 40 yrs i might to start making different breads

  4. 5 stars
    Love this chicken salad recipe. I like using half organic full fat Greek yogurt and half Dukes mayo. I usually have a dish in the refrigerator at all times. Will be making for about 50 people and serving on mini croissants as there will be other foods. Wondering if you have ever tried toasting the almonds?

    1. We’re so glad you love the recipe, Karen! We haven’t tried toasting the almonds but think it would taste delicious. You’ll have to let us know how it goes if you do!