King Ranch Chicken Casserole

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Whip up a little taste of Texas.

Prep Time:
35 mins
Cook Time:
35 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 10 mins
Yield:
6 to 8 servings

Synonymous with comfort food, you'll find King Ranch casseroles frequently gracing the tables of Southerners looking for a hearty dish for their busy weeknight family dinners, potlucks, and covered-dish suppers. The recipe can be easily doubled or tripled for large parties.

With roots in the Lone Star State—some Texans even consider it to be the state's official casserole—King Ranch chicken casseroles, or King Ranch chicken as it's sometimes called, showcases the piquant flavors that are an integral part of Tex-Mex cuisine.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

Pulled chicken, corn tortillas, shredded cheese, peppers, and spicy green chiles come together to create this effortless and quintessential Texan dish that's beloved by savvy home cooks not just in the South but beyond as well.

Next time you're craving comfort food, pull out your 13x9 casserole dish, and whip up a little taste of Texas. One cheesy, creamy bite, and you're sure to be hooked.

What Is a King Ranch Chicken Casserole?

While the popularity of King Ranch casseroles show no signs of slowing down, its origins remain a bit fuzzy. Some attribute the recipe to the United States' biggest ranch—and its namesake—King Ranch.

This alleged connection, however, extends only to its name as the sprawling south Texas ranch has never claimed to be creators of the original recipe, instead citing that their focus has always been on ranch meats like beef and game.

According to a 1989 Texas Monthly magazine article by former senior editor Anne Dingus, King Ranch chicken owes a lot to chilaquiles, its Mexican casserole counterpart, as much as it does to post-World War II meals when American recipes heavily featured canned soups to help free up cooks' time in the kitchen without compromising on taste.

Variations on the casserole (dare we say the best chicken casserole, ever?) have been around since the 1950s, with recipes appearing in Junior League cookbooks across the state and all the way to Louisiana and Kentucky.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole Ingredients

Tex-Mex flavors play the lead role in this hearty community-loved casserole and its many variations, which can often include the following ingredients:

  • Bell peppers and onion: Diced green bell peppers and onion lend a savory note and much-needed crunch to the creamy casserole. If you want to add a slight hint of sweetness, use chopped red bell pepper instead.
  • Chicken: While leftover chicken is great in this casserole, you can also get away with making use of store-bought rotisserie chicken or roasting your own whole chicken at home. Just shred whatever option you have before adding it to the casserole, and you're good to go.
  • Canned soup: Cream of mushroom soup and cream of chicken soup add both seasoning and sauce to the original recipe. Modern variations have been known to skip the condensed soups and instead make a roux from milk, cheese, and mushrooms.
  • Corn tortillas: Cut into one-inch pieces, corn tortillas are layered throughout the casserole, serving as a structural element to this otherwise gooey dish. Variations on the King Ranch chicken casserole recipe can call for flour tortillas or tortillas chips.
  • Canned tomatoes and green chiles: For a signature King Ranch casserole, be sure to use a can of Rotel's diced tomatoes and green chiles.
  • Grated Cheese: While the original recipe calls for a blend of shredded Mexican cheese, variations of the King Ranch Casserole have been known to use Cheddar cheese.

The Right Chicken for Your King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Keeping things simple is key for most casserole recipes, and the King Ranch chicken casserole is no different. While the traditional recipe calls for shredded roasted chicken, you can get away with using any one of the following:

Rotisserie Chicken: Short on time? Head to the store for some rotisserie chicken. All you have to do is shred it before adding it to the recipe.

Leftover Chicken: Casseroles are the perfect dish for your leftovers, and the King Ranch casserole is no exception. Got some baked or grilled leftover chicken? Shred it, and add it to your casserole!

Boiled Chicken: If you have time to spare, cook your own chicken—be it breasts, thighs, or the whole bird—by simply boiling the meat, baking it in an oven, or barbecuing it on the grill.

What to Serve With King Ranch Chicken Casserole

As a true comfort dish, you'll get away with serving King Ranch casserole on its own. Whether you're sitting down to supper or enjoying a potluck, the creaminess from the cheese and condensed canned soups, the addition of protein in the form of shredded chicken, the veggies, and corn tortillas guarantee that a serving or two of this hearty casserole is all you need.

But, if you'd like to pair this casserole with a side, here are some recommended pairings:

How to Store King Ranch Chicken Casserole

With 6 to 8 servings per casserole, this recipe is sure to leave you with plenty of leftovers. While you can safely store any leftover casserole in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, it's best to reheat leftovers only once because both the texture and taste get lost the more times you reheat.

If eating leftovers immediately is not an option, you can also freeze the leftover cooked chicken casserole for up to 3 months. Just be sure to divide the leftovers into individually-sized servings before freezing them in tightly wrapped aluminum foil bundles.

Can I Freeze This Casserole for Later?

Want to make this in advance? All you need to do is assemble the casserole, bake it, and let it cool before freezing it for up to a month.

When you're ready to eat this freezer-friendly meal at home—or take it to your next potluck—let it thaw in the fridge overnight and stand at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes before you're ready to reheat it.

Tips From the Southern Living Community

"You could add broccoli, stronger peppers—a tablespoon of mashed-up chipotle in adobe sauce could be transformative—beans or cilantro," says reviewer kgdickey.

Though this recipe calls for a 13x9 baking dish, you can also use two 8x8 or 9x9 baking dishes instead. Freeze one for a future meal or potluck dinner.

Editorial contributions by Christabel Lobo.

Ingredients

  • 1 chopped green bell pepper

  • 1 chopped onion

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken

  • 1 can cream of chicken soup

  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup

  • 1 can diced tomato and green chiles

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 2 pinches garlic powder

  • 2 pinches pepper

  • 12 corn tortillas, torn into 1-inch pieces

  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. In a large skilled over medium-high heat, sauté bell pepper and onion 5 minutes or until tender.

    sautéd peppers and onions

    Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    Stir in chicken and next 7 ingredients; remove from heat.

    chicken casserole ingredients in skillet

    Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

  2. Layer one-third of torn tortillas in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.

    tortillas in casserole dish

    Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    Top with one-third of chicken mixture and 2/3 cup cheese. Repeat layers twice.

    unbaked chicken casserole

    Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes.

    King Ranch Chicken Casserole

    Stacy K. Allen, Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

Chef's Notes

Note: Freeze casserole up to 1 month, if desired. Thaw in refrigerator overnight, and bake as directed.

Additional reporting by
Christabel Lobo
Christabel Lobo

Christabel Lobo is a freelance food writer and illustrator based between Washington, D.C., and India. She has contributed to Southern Living, Allrecipes, Zagat, OpenTable, EatingWell, Cooking Light, Insider, and more.

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