BBQ Chicken Salad
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Enjoy the famous CPK BBQ Chicken Salad at home with this easy 15 minute recipe! It’s loaded up with all of your favorite ingredients, including crunchy tortilla strips, creamy ranch dressing and juicy, sweet bbq chicken. This healthy salad is perfect for meal prep and guaranteed to become your new favorite salad recipe!
Table of contents
A few weeks back Kurt and I took a visit to the mall, a rare occurrence these days with online shopping. By the time we were finished shopping, we were tired and hungry, so Kurt requested dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. It had been years since I ate at a CPK, so I obliged. Of course, we ordered their famous BBQ Chicken Salad, which they claim to be the original.
I was so disappointed with the size of the salad for $22!! I knew that I could do so much better at home for a fraction of the cost. Off to Costco I headed the very next day! I grabbed a rotisserie chicken and all the salad ingredients, then came home and made it myself.
It turned out so delicious, I made it again the next week, and the next. That’s when I knew that it had to go on the blog!
Why you’ll love this recipe
- It’s customizable. You can make it your own by swapping out the toppings, or salad dressing. I even have copycat versions of four other chain restaurants versions of this salad, included in this post!
- It’s affordable. No need to spend $22 on a salad for one at a restaurant, when you can make this salad for four at a fraction of the cost at home!
- It’s delicious. The combination of creamy ranch dressing, crisp lettuce, crunchy tortilla strips, sweet bbq chicken and tons of veggies, makes this salad one of my favorites. I love the variety of tastes and textures throughout the salad.
- It’s nostalgic. If you ever had a favorite bbq chicken salad at a chain restaurant, making this recipe at home will remind you of this salad and give you all the feels! I worked at Islands restaurants for 2 years in college and always loved their bbq chicken salad. Making this salad at home took me right back to those days!
- Lettuce – I recommend chopped romaine lettuce for this recipe. It has the perfect flavor and crunch to pair with the other ingredients in this salad. If you’d like, you can also use chopped iceberg lettuce.
- Cilantro – fresh cilantro leaves are tossed with the lettuce for an extra fresh flavor. If you’re not a fan of cilantro, you can simply leave it out.
- Jicama – this crunchy root vegetable is similar in texture to an apple, but not as sweet. It’s nutrient-dense and adds a great crunch to this salad.
- Red onion – finely diced red onion adds a crisp texture and mild, sweet flavor to the salad.
- Black beans – the addition of beans adds another texture and extra protein to the salad.
- Corn – kernels of corn, drained and rinsed from a can, add a sweet flavor and extra fiber to the salad. If you’d like to give the corn a smoky flavor and char on the outside, add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a cast iron skillet on the stove over high heat. Add the corn and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Ranch dressing – traditional ranch dressing is most commonly used in a bbq chicken salad, but if you’d like to spice things up, feel free to use a jalapeno ranch dressing. This is my favorite salad dressing to pair with this salad! It adds a kick of flavor, without making the salad spicy.
- Roma tomato – this tomato is firm, with very little liquid and seeds inside, making it the perfect tomato to dice up and top this salad.
- Cheddar cheese – shredded cheddar compliments the bbq chicken on this salad perfectly. You could also use half monterey jack cheese to make a cheddar jack combo.
- Avocado – diced avocado may be extra at restaurants, but it’s a must at home! This creamy fruit is delicious on top of the salad.
- Tortilla strips – add the perfect crunch to finish the salad with crispy tortilla strips. This can be purchased in a bag at the grocery store, near the salad dressing and croutons, or you can use crushed tortilla chips from a bag.
- Cooked chicken – the cooked chicken for this salad could be pulled from a rotisserie chicken, cooked in a pressure cooker or grilled. See more options below in the section, ways to cook the chicken.
- BBQ sauce – pick your favorite bottled bbq sauce to toss with the chicken.
- Toss the lettuce in the dressing. In a large bowl, toss chopped romaine lettuce and fresh cilantro leaves with ranch dressing, until the lettuce is completely coated.
- Assemble the salads. Divide the dressed lettuce between four bowls. Top each bowl with jicama, red onion, black beans, corn, tomato, cheddar cheese and avocado.
- Top the salads. In a separate bowl, toss cooked, diced or shredded, chicken with bbq sauce. Top each salad with the bbq chicken and tortilla strips. Serve immediately.
Ways to cook the chicken
One of my favorite ways to make this salad is with chicken breast meat, pulled from a rotisserie chicken. This makes this recipe easy to toss together in 10-15 minutes, with no cooking required!
If you want to cook the chicken yourself, I recommend either pressure cooking or grilling the chicken.
To pressure cook the chicken, follow this recipe for Instant Pot Shredded Chicken.
To grill the chicken, I recommend tossing 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon chicken seasoning or bbq seasoning. Heat a grill, or grill pan, to medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 6-7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Rest the chicken for 5 minutes, then dice, toss with the bbq sauce and add it to the salad. Or use this recipe for slow cooked bone-in bbq chicken on the grill.
You can prepare the pressure cooked or grilled chicken up to 5 days in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the salad. The chicken on the salad can be served hot or cold. I usually serve it cold, but it’s totally up to your preference!
Make it like your favorite restaurant
California Pizza Kitchen claims to have invented the original BBQ Chicken Salad, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of chain restaurants haven’t made their own versions over the years.
While the recipe I made here is a copycat of the CPK BBQ Chicken Salad, with just a few minor additions or substitutions, you can make this recipe just like your favorite restaurant!
- Make it like Cheesecake Factory! Omit the jicama, add diced cucumber and replace the tortilla strips with crispy onions strings to make a Cheesecake Factory BBQ Chicken Salad.
- Make it like Panera Bread! Replace the tortilla strips with crispy onion strings, omit the jicama and use canned Mexicorn instead of canned sweet corn to make Panera’s BBQ chicken salad at home.
- Make it like The Habit! Omit the jicama, black beans and tortilla strips. Replace the raw red onions with pickled red onions, add crispy chopped, cooked bacon, replace the cheddar cheese with crumbled feta cheese, and use cilantro lime ranch dressing to make a Southwest BBQ Chicken Salad, just like The Habit.
- Make it like Yard House! Replace the black beans with pinto beans, replace the tortilla strips with crispy onion strings and use a Chipotle ranch dressing to make a Yard House BBQ Chicken Salad right in your own kitchen.
Other additions that I’ve added to this salad over the years include diced green onions, fresh sliced jalapenos and shredded carrots. Sometimes I also like to drizzle a little extra barbecue sauce over the salad before serving.
Feel free to make it your own and add or take away ingredients to customize this salad just the way you like it!
To make this salad vegetarian, omit the chicken and replace it with extra black beans for protein, or cooked, diced tempeh, tossed in bbq sauce.
To make this salad vegan, follow the instructions above to make it vegetarian. Also, omit the cheddar cheese and use this recipe for Vegan Avocado Ranch Dressing.
This salad is naturally gluten free. Always make sure to check the labels on salad dressings and bbq sauces to make sure they’re gluten free.
To make this recipe low-carb, omit the black beans and corn. Use this recipe for Keto BBQ Sauce. This will reduce the total carbs from 38 grams per serving, down to 22 grams per serving, and the net carbs down to 13 per serving.
Meal prep and storage
This salad is perfect for meal prep! Follow these simple steps to meal prep this salad for the week.
- Divide all of the ingredients between four large storage containers, except the tortilla strips, salad dressing and bbq chicken.
- Divide the salad dressing into four small containers and the bbq chicken into four small zipper bags. Add a salad dressing and bag of bbq chicken to each of the larger containers with the other ingredients.
- Place the containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Store the tortilla strips in separate zipper bags, outside of the refrigerator.
- When you’re ready to enjoy the salad, remove the salad dressing and bbq chicken from the larger container.
- Pour the salad dressing into the large container and toss it with all of the ingredients.
- Add the bbq chicken and tortilla strips on top, then serve immediately.
BBQ Chicken Salad
- 8 cups chopped romaine lettuce, approximately 2 romaine hearts
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- ½ cup ranch dressing
- 1 cup jicama, julienned
- ½ cup red onion, finely diced
- ½ cup black beans, drained and rinsed from a can
- ½ cup corn, drained and rinsed from a can
- 1 roma tomato, diced
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 cup tortilla strips
- 2 cups cooked chicken *see notes below, diced or shredded
- ⅓ cup bbq sauce
- In a large bowl, toss chopped romaine lettuce and fresh cilantro leaves with ranch dressing, until the lettuce is completely coated.
- Divide the dressed lettuce between four bowls.
- Top with the jicama, diced red onion, black beans, corn, diced tomato, shredded cheddar cheese, diced avocado and tortilla strips.
- In a separate bowl, toss the cooked chicken with bbq sauce, then place it on top of the salad. Serve immediately.
- Cooked chicken options for the salad:
- Pull the chicken breast meat from a cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.
- Pressure cook the chicken using this recipe for Instant Pot Shredded Chicken.
- Grill the chicken. Toss 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon chicken seasoning. Heat a grill, or grill pan, to medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 6-7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Rest the chicken for 5 minutes, then dice, toss with the bbq sauce and add it to the salad.
- To make this salad vegetarian, omit the chicken and replace it with extra black beans for protein, or cooked, diced tempeh, tossed in bbq sauce.
- To make this salad vegan, follow the instructions above to make it vegetarian. Also, omit the cheddar cheese and use this recipe for Vegan Avocado Ranch Dressing.
- To make this recipe low-carb, omit the black beans and corn. Use this recipe for Keto BBQ Sauce. This will reduce the total carbs from 38 grams per serving, down to 22 grams per serving, and the net carbs down to 13 per serving.
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