Homemade Chicken Salad


A classic chicken salad recipe, fit for lunches, teas, or afternoon snacks.

Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 40 mins
4 to 6

If you don’t know how to make Chicken Salad, you're in a safe space. Some folks may scoff at you, or try to take away your Southern card, but not us! We understand that everyone wasn’t born a great cook; that we all didn’t grow up with the profound blessing of a food-loving grandmother who passed down all her secrets, tips, and time-tested recipes.

In this age of grocery store deli convenience and entire restaurant chains devoted to chicken salad, it’s no wonder that plenty of folks don’t know how to make a proper chicken salad at home. So without further ado, I’m hopping off my soapbox and getting to the good stuff: how to make chicken salad from scratch, the way our grandmothers did.

Homemade Chicken Salad
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Step 1: Gather your ingredients

There’s a million ways to make chicken salad—this recipe keeps it pretty classic so you can jazz it up to suit your taste. Get the best bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts you can; they’re cheaper than boneless-skinless and have more flavor.

You’ll need some chicken broth to cook the chicken in for extra chicken-y goodness; celery for crunch, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and thyme for flavor, and your favorite mayonnaise to bind everything together. Because in the South, it’s not a salad unless mayonnaise is invited to the party, right?

Chicken salad ingredients

Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Step 2: Cook that chicken

Short on time? Yes, you can make this recipe with rotisserie chicken. But remember—we’re going old-school grandmother here, and scratch-made is always tastier.

Simmering the breasts in this thyme-infused broth achieves two goals. First, it ensures the chicken is tender, moist, and flavorful throughout. Second, it yields a super chicken-y (yes, that’s a made-up word) homemade chicken stock that you can stash in the fridge or freezer to use as the base of a soup or to take your Thanksgiving dressing to the next level.

Chicken simmering in a pot

Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Step 3: Fork it over

After the chicken has cooled to a tolerable temperature, it’s time to shred. If you’re fan of chunkier chicken salad, feel free to cube the chicken; if you like a creamy, pasty chicken salad (personally it’s not my thing, but all preferences are welcome here!), then feel free to chop that chicken into oblivion.

For this recipe, we use two forks to shred the tender cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces. You can also give it a little chop if any of the shreds are prohibitively long.

Cooked chicken being shredded

Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Step 4: Mix it up

Now it’s time to grab your favorite bowl and bring it all together. Pause: Do you have a “favorite” mixing bowl that you use for most of your cooking? I have a go-to medium-sized ceramic bowl that isn’t anything special; it’s just fairly lightweight and cooperates with me most times. It’s my trusty workhorse. If you don’t have one, be on the lookout—it makes cooking more fun to have a “buddy.”

Anyhoo…back to this chicken salad we’re making. Stir everything together. That’s it!

Chicken salad ingredients in a mixing bowl

Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Step 5: Season to taste

Flavor is such a personal preference, so be sure to taste a bite and adjust the seasoning as needed. Different mayonnaise brands vary in savory-ness and tartness; add more salt or lemon juice if you like. I like to pile on the pepper, but that’s just me.

You can also add halved grapes, or chopped toasted pecans, or, if you’re like my mom, maybe a little bit of finely diced onion. Whatever floats your boat is exactly what makes the perfect chicken salad.

chicken salad with seasonings

Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Don't forget the crackers!

Whether you serve it on a bed of lettuce or with a side of fruit, there’s one thing you must include to enjoy the full chicken salad experience—crackers!

While you can definitely make your own (these piecrust crackers are easy and impressive), your local grocery store has a plethora of options for any budget. Whether you love a buttery Ritz (but are they too crumbly?), a plain-Jane saltine (they sure are sturdy!), a fancy pepper-studded water cracker (does anyone else find them super bland?), or a gourmet seed-and-nut crisp (but seriously, who wants to pay $9 for 12 crackers, y’all?), crackers are an absolute MUST. Don’t be sad if you’re on the gluten-free team—there are loads of delicious celiac-friendly crackers that I would gladly get kicked out of bed for eating.

So that’s all you need to know to make a knockout chicken salad. Whether you’re gathering with the girls or spending your lunch hour at your desk, this versatile recipe will satisfy your cravings for the South’s favorite salad.

Homemade Chicken Salad

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Editorial contributions by Josh Miller.


  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts

  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

  • 3 sprigs thyme

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 cup high quality mayonnaise, such as Duke's


  1. Place chicken breasts in a large Dutch oven, then pour chicken broth over them and add thyme sprigs. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat, and cook, 15 minutes, or until chicken is done and registers 160°F on a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the breast meat. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

  2. Remove chicken breasts from broth and reserve broth for another use. Broth can be transferred to containers and frozen, if desired. Place chicken breasts on a work surface and remove, then discard skin and bones. Meat will shred easily with fingers, as it should be very tender. You will have 5-6 cups of shredded chicken.

  3. In a medium bowl, combine celery, lemon juice, salt, pepper and mayonnaise; stir to blend. Add shredded chicken to bowl and fold into mayonnaise mixture. Refrigerate, covered, until chilled and serve as desired.

Related Articles