Fast food is a pretty rare occurrence for me. Our refrigerator consistently brims with leftovers begging to be eaten as midday meals, and I also try to save the money I’d spend at the drive through for nicer evenings out. Then, I became addicted to Panera’s BBQ Chicken Salad, and “rare occurrence” started looking decided less…rare.
This addictive grilled chicken salad and I met when I had been out of town for a week. After a long morning of running errands, the prospect of returning home to face an empty refrigerator was so unappealing, I decided to pull into Panera. I opted for a new (for me) menu item, the BBQ chicken salad.
And so it began.
Between the crispy onions, smoky corn and black beans, and BBQ ranch dressing, I was hooked at first bite.
Two days later, I ignored the guilty stares from the container of leftover Healthy Pepperoni Pasta Salad in my fridge and headed to Panera to order BBQ chicken salad a second time. It tasted even better than I remembered it.
From this pivotal moment of BBQ chicken salad obsession, I had two options: redirect some of my discretionary income (a.k.a. happy hour and date night budget), into purchasing this salad from Panera on repeat (which if you’ve been to Panera recently you know adds up quickly), or to create my own, at-home recipe so that I could enjoy it for a fraction of the price anytime I pleased. Guess which one I picked.
About This Flavorful BBQ Chicken Salad
Not only is this homemade BBQ chicken salad a dead-ringer for Panera’s, it’s loaded with twice the toppings for a fraction of the cost. Although I appreciate the fact that Panera offers healthy menu options compared with most fast food chains, the portions can be skimpy. By making my own BBQ Chicken Salad at home, I was able to load it with as large a serving of crisp veggies, juicy chicken, and crunchy tortilla chips as my heart desired.
Plus, the fact that the BBQ chicken in this recipe is freshly grilled, versus reheated in the back of a food assembly line, guarantees for a richer taste and increased BBQ chicken salad satisfaction.
Even Ben, who does not consider “salad” and “dinner” synonymous gave this recipe a vote of approval. It’s healthy, easy to make, and the chicken even tastes good leftover the next day. I see this BBQ chicken salad on our weeknight menu often this summer, especially in later months when fresh corn is in season in Wisconsin.
Since for most, fresh corn is not available year round, I’ve suggested using canned Mexicorn for the recipe. It makes the salad super fast and easy to prepare too. (You can also use it in this Black Bean Corn Salad.)
If you are lucky enough to have fresh ears of corn at your disposal when you make this recipe, grill them along with the chicken, then slice the kernels off the cob and add them to the salad, along with the beans, onions, and other goodies.
My one request: don’t skip the crushed tortilla chips. I promise this grilled chicken salad is still plenty healthy, and the salt and crunch even a few chips provide will have you addicted to this BBQ chicken salad too!
More Filling Salad Recipes
- Healthy Taco Salad
- Mexican Salad
- Chickpea Tuna Salad
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
- Balsamic Chicken Salad with Avocado Feta and Blackberry
- Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad
- Grilled Caribbean Chicken Salad with Mango Dressing
- Grilled Steak Salad with Roasted Veggies
Tools Used to Make This Salad
BBQ Chicken Salad
For the BBQ Chicken Salad:
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded 1/2 inch thick
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons homemade barbecue sauce or prepared store-bought sauce
- 6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup canned low-sodium black beans rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup canned Mexicorn drained
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- Crushed tortilla chips or strips for serving
- Chopped fresh cilantro for serving
For the BBQ Ranch Dressing:
- 1/3 cup prepared light ranch dressing I found a Greek yogurt–based dressing in the refrigerated section of the grocery store that I love
- 1 tablespoon homemade barbecue sauce or prepared store-bought sauce
- Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the pounded chicken breast with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on one side for 4 minutes, flip, brush the grilled sides with barbecue sauce, then grill the other side for 3 to 4 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove to a serving plate and brush the other grilled side with barbecue sauce. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes, then chop into bite-sized pieces.
- Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl or measuring cup with a spout, stir together the ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. Taste and adjust the ratio as desired.
- In a large serving bowl, combine the romaine, tomatoes, beans, Mexicorn, red onion, and chopped chicken. Drizzle the salad with dressing, then toss to lightly coat. Serve immediately, topped with crushed tortilla chips and cilantro.
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