grilled chicken salad with a dressing that doubles as the marinade!
This Grilled Chicken Salad recipe is summer in a bowl! It’s a hypnotic, healthy, satisfying, light lunch or dinner that you will CRAVE plus it’s super easy to prep ahead so you can serve dinner in no time at all. The grilled lemon basil chicken is crazy juicy, bursting with bright, citrus, and earthy basil – one of my favorite chicken marinades to date! The salad itself is sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy loaded with apples, blueberries, fresh corn, red onion, avocado, bacon, almonds and feta! Of course, you can customize this grilled chicken salad recipe by swapping in your favorite ingredients or whatever you have on hand because it is all about the grilled chicken and that dressing! Add a side of cornbread and watermelon and you have the perfect summer dinner!
We are loving chicken salads lately – all the fresh flavors and textures without turning on the oven! Some of our go-to recipes include Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad, Buffalo Chicken Salad, Mango Chicken Salad and Greek Chicken Salad – you will have them on repeat!
Grilled Chicken Salad Recipe
We finally hit a heat wave in southern California which makes it really feel like summer – and makes me really want to eat salad 😉. There’s just nothing better than a fresh, crunchy, sweet and savory grilled chicken salad on a hot summer night – especially when it’s this salad.
This grilled chicken salad recipe had me eating leftovers straight from the fridge, and I’ll be honest, I don’t usually crave salad like that. But this grilled chicken salad recipe hits all the right notes:
- EASY to make but tastes gourmet
- FRESH and bright with the BASIL herb flavor
- Tastes like SUMMER (even when it’s not!)
- JUICY, tender chicken seeping with complex flavor
- LEMON! but not too much
- The requisite SWEET berries and apples to complement the tangy dressing
- The CRUNCH of apples, almonds and salty bacon
- The CREAMINESS of avocados and feta
- Uber VERSATILE – add any ingredients you want!
- PREP AHEAD – make the chicken, chop the salad ingredients then assemble when ready to eat!
The best grilled chicken and dressing
The star of this grilled chicken salad recipe is the lemon basil chicken. I love marinating chicken because it is the easiest way to tenderize chicken and infuse otherwise boring chicken with tons of flavor. And bonus, the marinade does all the heavy lifting so all you have to do is grill and devour!
This grilled chicken is tender, bright, aromatic and a little sassy from an easy marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, ground mustard and red pepper flakes. Consequently, the dressing is mega flavorful because, remember, the marinade doubles as the dressing – no double work! Simply whisk together a large batch of marinade and separate out half for the chicken and half for the dressing.
As far as the add-ins, I’ve come up with a colorful complementary combination of juicy tomatoes, crunchy sweet corn, sweet blueberries, crispy apples, zippy red onions, creamy avocados, salty, crackling bacon, crunchy almonds and creamy, tangy feta cheese. It’s a hypnotic bowl of textures and flavors that will have everyone coming back for more.
GRILLED CHICKEN & DRESSING INGREDIENTS
This grilled chicken marinade and dressing is simple to whisk together – literally. It’s bright, tangy, zippy, sassy and SO fresh. You will need:
- Chicken: marinated chicken cooked on the grill for an explosion of flavor in every juicy forkful. You can use chicken breasts or chicken thighs – totally personal preference here. After the chicken cooks, let it rest for 5 minutes to reabsorb the juices then you can slice or chop the chicken.
- Basil: measure the basil by pressing the leaves into a measuring cup and then mincing.
- Olive oil: use extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
- Lemon juice: fresh is best but you may use bottled in a pinch.
- Honey: balances the tart lemon juice. Use more or less to taste.
- Garlic: I use 4 cloves garlic which gives it a nice garlicky kick; use less if garlic isn’t our thing. You may also substitute with 1 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Seasonings: onion powder, dried parsley, dried oregano, ground mustard, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper inject both the chicken and dressing with TONS of flavor!
CAN I USE A DIFFERENT CUT OF MEAT?
Absolutely! You can use chicken breasts, chicken thighs, bone-in chicken thighs or chicken legs. Different cuts of chicken will have different grilling times which I’ve outlined below.
GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD INGREDIENTS
The salad portion of the grilled chicken salad recipe is extremely versatile but here’s my favorite composition:
- Spring salad mix: boasts a broad spectrum of flavor and textural interest. It usually consists of 16 different fresh greens and lettuces including red romaine, green romaine, baby spinach, radicchio, red oak leaf, mizuna, red leaf, lollo rosso, arugula, red mustard, green mustard, red chard, frisee, and tatsoi.
- Apples: I LOVE apples in this grilled chicken salad recipe and don’t suggest swapping or omitting. The apples pack the crunch and a punch of sweetness to complement the tart dressing. Use a sweet apple such as Fuji or honey crisp.
- Blueberries: add delightful juicy sweetness and are sturdy enough to not get lost in the salad. They also hold up great if storing leftovers.
- Tomatoes: please use ripe cherry tomatoes for the best texture. Cherry tomatoes are inherently sweeter than grape tomatoes, so aim for cherry if you can. You can also use a few Roma tomatoes, but you will want to seed them first so they don’t make your grilled chicken salad soggy.
- Corn: adds succulent pops of juicy, smokey crunchy sweetness. To find the freshest corn, you want to focus on the smell and feel of the corn rather than the look of the kernels. The corn should smell sweet and be firm when pressed and free of blackened tassels. Fresh corn is the sweetest and juiciest used within the first 1-2 days. The sugars begin converting to starch soon after the corn is harvested. Make sure you store your corn in the refrigerator to stall this process.
- Avocados: slice or chop a large avocado for satisfying creamy bursts to complement the crunchy textures. Make sure you use ripe avocados but not overly ripe or they will turn to mush. To tell if an avocado is ripe, squeeze it gently. A ripe avocado should yield slightly to pressure but not feel overly soft. If your avocados ripen before you are ready to use them, they can be stored in the refrigerator which will dramatically slow down the ripening process.
- Red onion: I like the fresh pop of red onion but if you’re not a fan, you can soak chopped red onions in cold ice water for 10 minutes, drain, then dry to soften the flavor.
- Bacon: adds a grounding earthiness to the salad with its salty bacon flavor and bonus, it’s shatteringly crispy. Use thick cut bacon for its extra flavor and because it is hearty enough to stand up to the dressing without immediately becoming soggy. The best way to cook bacon is low and slow over medium-low heat in a cast iron skillet so the fat has time to render and the bacon can crisp up.
- Almonds: every salad needs nuts! Crunchy almonds bolster the salad with their nutty flavor and CRUNCH. You can also use whole almonds and slice them yourself.
- Feta: adds a salty, creamy, tangy richness and rounds out the flavors and textures. It is sold by the block or in crumbles but I prefer crumbles because then you are guaranteed its swaggy creaminess in every bite. Feta is lower in fat and calories than most cheeses such as mozzarella, Parmesan and cheddar but adds TONS of flavor.
- Lettuce: you can swap the spring salad mix for your favorite crunchy lettuce such as Romaine or a combination of lettuces. You will want a large head of Romaine, otherwise you can use 3 smaller hearts.
- Green onions: if red onions aren’t your thing, you can swap them for chopped green onions.
- Nuts: you can swap the almonds for any of your favorite nuts such as walnuts, pine nuts or cashews.
This grilled chicken salad is a harmony of sweet, tangy, salty, crunchy and creamy as written. You can use more or less of your favorite ingredients, omit ingredients, add ingredients, etc. as long as you maintain a balance of sweet, tangy, and crunchy. If you swap out an ingredient, replace it with something with a similar flavor profile. For example, if you omit the blueberries, replace them with another sweet fruit such as clementine oranges. Here are some ideas:
- Chicken recipes: I am obsessed with this grilled lemon basil chicken but you can also mix it up with cilantro lime chicken, Greek chicken, or balsamic chicken. If you use a different chicken recipe, simply half the dressing.
- Plain chicken: you can also use rotisserie chicken, baked chicken or poached chicken if you want to serve the salad right away without the marinating time – just don’t call it grilled chicken salad! If this is the case, shred or chop the chicken and toss it in the “marinade” after it is cooked. It will still soak up tons of flavor.
- Other proteins: this salad can be made using any grilled protein such as shrimp, beef, pork or salmon.
FRUIT: REQUISITE SWEETNESS
I don’t recommend swapping the apples because they are both sweet AND crunchy and one of my favorite parts of the salad and tastes phenomenal with the bacon. You can swap the blueberries for other fruit or add additional fruit such as:
- Clementine oranges: are seedless and super easy to peel. “Cuties” brand is an example of what you are looking for. Avoid tangerines as they are not seedless.
- Strawberries: choose strawberries that are dark red, firm, fragrant and fully ripe – but not soft! Ripe strawberries will deliver the sweetest, deepest flavor.
- Mangos: only use ripe mangos so they will be sweet and juicy. If you are intimidated by choosing and cutting mangos check out my how to cut a mango post.
- Peaches: you can tell if a peach is ripe by gently squeezing, much like you would an avocado. If there’s a little bit of a give there, then it means the fruit is almost ripe but not quite; if there is real “give” then the peach is ready to use immediately.
VEGGIES: REQUISITE CRUNCH
You can add any extra veggies just for kicks. If you opt out of the apples and/or corn, you will want to add a sweet fruit + a crunchy vegetable in its place.
- Bell peppers: red is the sweetest, yellow and orange the next sweet and green is more earthy.
- Cucumber: I recommend an English cucumber because then you don’t have to peel it, but you are welcome to substitute with a peeled, slicing cucumber.
- Broccoli: adds a wonderful earthy crunch and stores great.
- Asparagus: trim ends of asparagus and chop into 1-inch pieces; blanch for 1-minute in boiling water then transfer to ice water.
- Jicama: choose a small jicama for sweeter, more appealing flavor. Choose jicama that is firm, with a smooth skin that’s not cracked, shriveled or bruised and free of soft spots.
NUTS OR SEEDS
You can swap the almonds for other nuts or seeds – or enjoy nuts and seeds!
- Nuts: swap the almonds for pistachios, walnuts, cashews, etc.
- Seeds: sunflower seeds or pepitas are delish on their own and make every salad better. I just pick some up at the bulk section of Sprouts so that way it’s easy to control the quantity.
- Swap the feta for your favorite creamy cheese such as goat cheese or gorgonzola.
- You can also add fresh mozzarella pearls or chunks of chunks of provolone.
- Olives: add a Mediterranean flair. Kalamata olives are particularly wonderful known for their dark, rich, intensely fruity flavor. Use pitted Kalamata olives and then halve them yourself because they are juicer and tend to hold together better than jarred sliced olives.
- Chickpeas. add a nutty, earthy, creaminess and are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Jalapeno: spice up your grilled chicken salad with jalapenos! Remove the seeds and the white veins of your jalapenos because these pack the fieriest heat. You can add the seeds back to the salad after you taste it and still want more heat.
- Hard boiled eggs: add a Cobb-salad flair. You may need to google “How to Make Hard Boiled Eggs” as I have found some methods that work for some, don’t work for others. For me, I fill my small pot rim to rim with eggs so there is no wiggle room for the eggs to rattle around and break. I then fill the water so it is almost covering the eggs. I bring the water to a boil then reduce the temperature to low for 10 minutes. Next, I remove the eggs from the heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. At this point, I sacrifice an egg to see if it’s done, if not, then I cover the eggs for another 5 minutes or so. Once done, immediately rinse eggs in cold water to keep from cooking.
How To Make Grilled Chicken Salad
- Pound chicken to an even thickness. Place chicken in-between two pieces of plastic wrap or I like to place my chicken in a large freezer size bag. Pound the chicken to an even thickness using the flat side of a meat mallet, rolling pin or side of a can. Pounding the chicken ensures the chicken cooks evenly and also breaks down the fibers and tenderizes the chicken.
- Marinate the chicken. Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a freezer bag. Remove half to a separate airtight container – this will become your dressing. Add chicken to the marinade in the plastic bag. Marinate chicken for 4-12 hours, occasionally flipping the bag over.
- Let the chicken rest. When you’re ready to cook the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator and let it rest 15-30 minutes.
- Prep the grill. While the chicken is resting, heat the grill so that it’s around 400ºF degrees. Clean and grease the grill. 400ºF is the ideal temperature – not too hot and not too cold – you get gorgeous grill marks on the outside without burning and the inside remains juicy and tender.
- Cook bacon. While the chicken is resting and grill is preheating, cook the bacon in a large cast iron skillet over medium-low heat until crispy. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
- Grill the chicken. Grill the chicken for about 5-7 minutes per side depending on thickness. An inserted thermometer should read 165 degrees F. Let the chicken rest while you finish making the salad, then slice into thin 1/2-inch strips.
- Grill the corn on the cob alongside the chicken. Grilling the corn enhances its natural sweetness and is easy to pop on the grill at the same time as the chicken – no foil needed! Simply brush the cob all over with olive oil then place the corn directly on the grill for about 12 minutes, rotating until all the sides are charred. When it’s cool enough to handle, slice the kernels off the cob.
- Make the salad. Add lettuce, tomatoes, blueberries, apples, avocado, red onions, bacon, almonds and feta to a large bowl. Top with sliced chicken.
- Dress salad. Whisk reserved dressing with 1/4 cup additional extra virgin olive oil and drizzle all over salad.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY CHICKEN IS DONE?
Grilled chicken breasts are done when they register 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Chicken thighs and other dark meat, however, should be cooked to 175 degrees F because dark meat contains higher amounts of connective tissue. Cooking dark meat to only 165 F will yield chewy, rubbery meat, but cooking it to 175 F will yield tender, juicy meat as the collagen melts and turns to gelatin.
I highly recommend investing in a meat thermometer otherwise there is no accurate way to check and see when your chicken is cooked without slicing and loosing valuable juices.
TIPS FOR GRILLING CHICKEN BREASTS
- Marinate Chicken. You can get away with marinating the chicken for as little as 30 minutes if it is pounded thin, but the longer you marinate the chicken, the more flavorful it will become. I recommend at least 4 hours but closer to 8 hours is ideal.
- Don’t over marinate chicken. On the other hand, you don’t want to marinate the chicken longer than 12 hours because lemon juice can actually constrict the protein fibers and make your chicken tough and chewy.
- Pound chicken to an even thickness. Pound the thickest part of the chicken so it’s even with the thinnest part to ensure the chicken cooks evenly. You don’t want one side to be cooked perfectly and the other side to be raw or overcooked/dry.
- Tenderize chicken. Pounding the chicken also tenderizes it as well. If you don’t have a meat mallet, you can use the side of a can.
- Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking. Transfer the marinating chicken to your kitchen counter 30 minutes before grilling. Room temperature chicken cooks more evenly and quickly which translates into juicier chicken because there is less time for moisture to be released while cooking.
- Clean grill. You should clean your grill grates before and after grilling with a wire grill brush to remove any residue. This will help create beautiful grill marks and help prevent the chicken from sticking.
- Use a hot grill. Heat up the grill with the lid closed cranked to the maximum temperature so it can achieve temperature more quickly; plan on 10-15 minutes. Once the grill is hot, you can adjust the temperature. Don’t add the chicken until the grill reaches temperature or you won’t get those beautiful grill marks.
- Flip only once using tongs. After you add the chicken breasts to the grill, don’t touch them for a full 5 minutes. You need enough time for the chicken to sear and then they will naturally release from the grill. Once you can easily move the chicken, then you can flip it over using tongs.
- Don’t overcook! Cook chicken breasts just to 165 degrees F. Chicken breasts are a lean protein and therefore can dry out if overcooked. Use a meat thermometer to eliminate all of the guess work to achieve succulent, juicy chicken every time.
- Let chicken rest. Let the grilled chicken rest for 5 minutes before slicing. This gives the juices that have pushed to the outside of the meat time to redistribute throughout the chicken. If you cut into the chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
HOW TO GRILL CHICKEN THIGHS
- Grease and preheat the grill to medium heat, 375-400°F.
- Add chicken and cook undisturbed for 6-8 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. An inserted thermometer should read 175° F.
HOW TO GRILL BONE-IN CHICKEN THIGHS
- Grease and heat grill to medium heat.
- Add chicken to the grill and cover; reduce heat so it stays around 350-375°F with the lid CLOSED.
- Grill chicken thighs 6-10 minutes per side, depending on size, or until no longer pink and an inside thermometer registers 175° F
TIPS FOR GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD RECIPE
- Customize ingredients. The grilled chicken salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions. You can add/swap any ingredients for your favorite veggies and fruits as long as you maintain a balance of sweet, tangy, and crunchy; if you swap out an ingredient, replace it with something with a similar flavor profile and texture.
- Alternative proteins. The chicken marinade would also be delicious on shrimp, salmon, pork or steak, so feel free to mix it up!
- Prep ahead. You can make your chicken, chop all your veggies, and cook the bacon all ahead of time and store in air-tight containers in your refrigerator so all that’s left is to do is assemble and EAT! Detailed prep ahead instructions to follow.
- Freeze chickened in marinade, if you can’t get to cooking your marinating chicken within 12 hours, pop it in the freezer. Freeze chicken for 2 to 3 months. When it’s time to cook, thaw the chicken and grill.
HOW TO SERVE GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD
- If not expecting leftovers: add all of the salad ingredients to a large salad bowl. You can toss everything together with the dressing or serve it on the side and let everyone dress their own salads.
- If expecting leftovers: toss all of the salad ingredients together in a large salad bowl except avocados and bacon. Serve avocados, bacon and dressing on the side. This will prevent the salad from getting as soggy when storing.
- Salad Bar: if you have picky eaters or want a fun entertaining idea, then consider a salad bar where everyone can pile on as much or as little of their favorite toppings. Everyone is a winner with a salad bar!
HOW TO STORE grilled chicken salad
If you plan on storing grilled chicken salad, do not toss the salad with the dressing or the lettuce will become soggy and wilted. Instead, store the salad and dressing in separate airtight containers. The avocados and bacon should also be removed from the salad or better yet, not tossed with the salad initially and instead added to individual servings.
The grilled chicken salad without dressing will stay nice and fresh for about 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.
How to Prep Ahead Grilled Chicken Salad
This grilled chicken salad recipe is simple to make but does require some chopping. The good news is you can prep your ingredients while your chicken is marinating. To prep ahead:
- Chicken: can be marinated 12 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can also cook the chicken completely ahead of time.
- Chop vegetables: can be chopped 24 hours in advance except the avocados and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator. I will add the vegetables to separate paper towels, fold up the paper towels around the contents and place in sandwich bags – this keeps excess moisture away from the veggies to keep them fresh.
- Chop apples: the apples can be chopped up to 24 hours ahead of time and soaked in a mixture of apple juice with a splash of lemon juice. This way they retain their apple flavor and they don’t become tart like soaking in lemon juice. Another great alternative is pineapple juice.
- Cook bacon: can be cooked up to 3 days in advance, crumbled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Corn: the corn cooks at same time as the chicken so it doesn’t make too much sense to prep ahead but you are still welcome to grill, cool and slice off of the cob; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH grilled chicken SALAD recipe
Grilled chicken salad is practically a meal-in-itself with protein, veggies and fruit – the only thing left to add is carby bread! We love it with a side of cornbread or buttery breadsticks. It’s also fabulous with favorite backyard barbecue sides such as Baked Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, Baked Beans, and Corn Casserole
Want to try this Grilled Chicken Salad RECIPE?
Pin it to your Salad, Dinner or Chicken Board to SAVE for later!
Find me on Pinterest for more great recipes! I am always pinning :)!
©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com
Carlsbad Cravings© Original