This easy King Ranch Chicken Casserole combines juicy chicken, colorful peppers, tortillas, and Mexican-inspired spices together in a bubbly, creamy, cheesy sauce. It cooks in one pan, doesn’t use canned soup, and is begging to be topped with all of your favorites (more cheese anyone?).
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Why You’ll Love This Comfort Food Recipe
- It Cooks in One Pan. One-pan meals are a favorite in our house. There’s nothing better than using fewer dishes and still creating an exceptionally flavorful and deeply satisfying meal. Everyone at the table is happy and cleanup is a breeze!
- Homemade Comfort You Can Feel Good About. Making healthy versions of comfort foods from everyone’s childhood is among my favorite cooking challenges. This sped-up skillet version of the original King Ranch chicken recipe offers lean protein, fresh veggies, and plenty of Tex-Mex comfort with less fat and fewer calories (like my favorite Taco Skillet).
- It’s Ready in a Flash. If you hustle, this recipe is ready in 30 minutes or less. Meaning that it’s a fabulous alternative to more time-consuming recipes like Chicken Tortilla Casserole for a quick weeknight dinner.
5 Star Review
“This was so good, better than the canned soup, heavy version. Absolutely loved it and so did my husband!”— Jen —
What Is King Ranch Chicken?
The name “King Ranch chicken” is an ode to King Ranch, a large ranch in Texas.
- The recipe and the ranch don’t seem to have any connection to each other historically (at least not one that I can find). However, the ingredients would feel right at home on the ranch.
- The original King Ranch chicken recipe is a Tex-Mex casserole with layers of corn or flour tortillas, cheese, chicken, diced tomatoes, spices, and usually a can of cream of this or that soup.
King Ranch chicken is like an enchilada, pan of Chicken Nachos, and your grandma’s best casserole rolled into one gooey dish of comfort food bliss.
How to Make King Ranch Chicken
- Bell Peppers. Loaded with vitamin C, fiber, folate, and potassium, bell peppers add color and texture to the classic King Ranch casserole recipe. Stick with red or opt for a mix of colors (like in these Beef Fajitas).
- Poblano + Jalapeño Peppers. Add a little kick beyond the chiles in the can of Rotel-style diced tomatoes.
- Onion + Garlic. Add an extra layer of zippy flavor.
- Spices. A classic Tex-Mex blend of chili powder, cumin, and salt delivers all the depth, spice, and flavor this dish needs. (I use a similar blend in this Fiesta Chicken.)
- Flour. Thickens our healthy, homemade King Ranch chicken sauce.
- Chicken Broth. Hydrates the dish and forms the base of the lightened-up sauce.
- Reduced-Fat Cream Cheese. Just two ounces of reduced-fat cream cheese in the sauce was all I needed to eliminate the canned soup and create a healthy King Ranch chicken recipe that was still gratifyingly rich.
- Cooked Chicken Breast. This lean and healthy protein is my hack for getting this easy King Ranch chicken recipe (and this Chicken Enchilada Skillet) on the table in 30 minutes or less.
Cut this recipe time even further by swapping in precooked chicken or leftover chicken made with one of these easy methods (or use store-bought rotisserie chicken):
- Corn Tortillas. I opted for corn tortillas because I love how their texture breaks down and mixes with the creamy sauce, thickening it further.
- Rotel Tomatoes. Or your favorite brand of canned diced tomatoes with green chiles.
- Mexican Cheese. Choose your favorite store-bought blend of shredded Mexican cheese or grate directly from a block of Monterrey Jack, pepper jack, cheddar, and/or quesadilla cheese.
King Ranch Chicken Toppings
Use any of your favorite taco or nacho toppings to garnish this easy skillet King Ranch chicken. Here are a few of my favs:
- Nonfat Greek yogurt or light sour cream
- Avocado or a dollop of the Best Guacamole Recipe
- Sliced green onions or diced red onion
- Chopped greens such as kale or spinach
- Black olives
- Sauté the Vegetables. Cook until softened.
- Stir in the Spices. Your kitchen is going to smell amazing.
- Add the Flour and Broth. Simmer until it thickens.
- Fold in the Remaining Ingredients. Top with the rest of the cheese.
- Broil. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned. ENJOY!
- To Store. Store leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Gently heat leftovers in a large ovenproof skillet at 350 degrees F until warmed through. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Leftovers may be stored in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
I think you could assemble the casserole up until the point of broiling, let it cool, then refrigerate it for 8 hours. Let come to room temperature, then rewarm it in a 350 degrees F oven.
What to Serve With King Ranch Chicken
- Cornbread. A side of Jalapeno Cornbread or Mexican Cornbread goes well with King Ranch chicken.
- Salad. Both Grilled Corn Salad and Green Goddess Salad would be tasty with this dish.
- Beans. Serve Instant Pot Refried Beans or Instant Pot Black Beans with this casserole.
- Veggies. Pair King Ranch chicken with Grilled Corn or Air Fryer Broccoli.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Skillet. This oven-safe skillet is the best for one-pan meals like this one.
- Wooden Spoons. For all your stovetop mixing and stirring needs.
- Chef’s Knife. An essential tool for any kitchen.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Don’t Burn the Cheese! Watch very closely while your cheese is broiling, as it can burn quickly. If you see it start to brown early, go ahead and remove it from the oven.
- Use the Right Pan. Make sure you’re using a skillet that is oven-safe and broiler-safe. Since we’re taking this dish from the stovetop directly to the broiler, it needs to be able to handle both.
- Use Pre-Cooked Chicken. One of the easiest ways to shave time off of this recipe is by using pre-cooked chicken breast. If you make a big batch early in the week, you can use it to prepare different recipes all week long (see the recipe card below or the blog post above for some of my favorite cooking methods).
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 red bell peppers chopped
- 1 small yellow onion chopped
- 1 poblano pepper chopped
- 1 small jalapeño seeded and finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/2 tablespoon ground chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (substitute a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend to make gluten free)
- 1 cup unsalted chicken broth or water
- 2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups shredded or diced cooked chicken breast about 1 medium breast (for cooking tips, see this post on How to Cook Shredded Chicken, Baked Chicken Breast, Air Fryer Chicken Breast, Crock Pot Shredded Chicken, or Instant Pot Chicken)
- 1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles drained (10 ounces)
- 3 (6-inch) corn tortillas torn into rough 1-inch pieces
- 2/3 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese divided
- Chopped fresh cilantro optional
- Nonfat plain Greek yogurt optional
- Place a rack in the upper third of the oven (usually the second-most slot from the top) and preheat the oven to broil.
- In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not yet smoking. Add the bell pepper, onion, poblano, and jalapeño. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 to 9 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and salt and stir constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, still stirring constantly, until they are thoroughly coated and the white bits of flour disappear, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the broth and bring to a boil. Stir and cook until the mixture is somewhat thickened, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
- Break the cream cheese into the skillet in bits. Stir until melted. Gently stir in the chicken, diced tomatoes, torn tortillas, and half of the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
- Place the skillet under the broiler. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not walk away. Watch the skillet the entire time to make sure it doesn’t burn.
- Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
- TO STORE: Store king ranch chicken in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm leftovers in a large ovenproof skillet in the oven at 350°F until warmed through. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: King ranch chicken may be stored in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Personally, I prefer the taste and texture of making King Ranch chicken with corn tortillas or flour tortillas. Tortilla chips become mushy once incorporated, so they are better saved for Mexican Corn Dip.
I do not follow a keto diet, so I don’t feel comfortable advising whether or not this recipe aligns with a keto diet as it is written. That said, I’m sure this recipe could be adapted with some tweaks if you want to make a keto King Ranch chicken recipe. For example, try using low carb tortillas and omit the beans.