How to Make The Best Southwest Chicken BBQ Salad

I love this salad. Love it. Did I mention LOVE it? It has all my favorite veggies (nothing weird!), perfectly seasoned chicken, and a dressing that I could seriously eat with a spoon.

I love to serve this Southwest BBQ Chicken salad to guests for lunch, or to myself when I want an easy dinner recipe. If you’re making it in the summer, try grilling the chicken and corn outside to keep the house cool.

The Southwest Barbecue Chicken Salad served in a white bowl with wooden salad tongs, showing a detailed view of the ingredients including lettuce, barbecue chicken, tomatoes, black beans, corn, avocado, red onion, shredded cheese, and tortilla strips.

Southwest Chicken BBQ Salad

This chicken salad combines smoky, tender chicken with fresh veggies and a creamy cilantro ranch dressing for a satisfying, flavor-packed meal.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Serving Size 4 servings

Ingredients 

For The Chicken

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts about 2 chicken breasts, sliced in half horizontally to make them thin
  • 2 tablespoons barbecue seasoning from the store or use the *optional rub below
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce divided

For Salad

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped Roma tomatoes about 3 tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups black beans rinsed well and drained
  • 1 cup corn kernels fresh, canned, or frozen and thawed, if using fresh corn about 3 ears of corn
  • 1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
  • 1 avocado chopped
  • ½ red onion chopped
  • ½ cup tortilla strips or crushed tortilla chips
  • 3-4 scallions chopped

Cilantro Ranch Dressing

  • 1 ranch seasoning packet 1 oz
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro about half a bunch of cilantro
  • ½ lime juiced
  • ½ jalapeno diced (about 2 teaspoons), seeds and membrane removed
  • 1 clove garlic peeled and minced
  • cup milk plus additional 1-2 tablespoons if necessary to thin

Barbecue Rub (optional)

  • 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coriander
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic

Instructions 

  • Prep and cook chicken. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet on medium-high heat. Use 1 ½ tablespoons barbecue seasoning to rub into the chicken breasts. Carefully place the chicken into the preheated skillet and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side until the chicken is fully cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove chicken from heat and transfer to a large plate.
    Chicken breasts seasoned with barbecue rub cooking in a skillet on a stovetop, showing a golden-brown sear on the chicken.
  • Make dressing. While the chicken rests, place all of the cilantro ranch ingredients in a blender and blend for 15-20 seconds until the ingredients are completely incorporated. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time to reach the desired consistency if too thick. Place dressing in the fridge until ready to serve.
    A blender filled with freshly made cilantro ranch dressing, showing a smooth and creamy green mixture.
  • Chop and add sauce to chicken. Chop chicken and place in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of barbecue seasoning. Pour in ¼ cup barbecue sauce and stir until the chicken is completely coated in the sauce.
    Barbecue chicken pieces coated in barbecue sauce, placed in a glass bowl, ready to be added to the salad.
  • Assemble. To serve, place chopped lettuce in a large serving bowl. Top with chopped chicken, tomatoes, beans, corn, shredded cheese, avocado, onion, and tortilla strips. Sprinkle with green onions. You can line toppings up side by side in a wheel-like pattern or place ingredients on the lettuce and toss.
    All the ingredients for the Southwest Barbecue Chicken Salad arranged in a bowl in separate sections, including chopped lettuce, barbecue chicken, tomatoes, black beans, corn, avocado, red onion, shredded cheese, scallions, and tortilla strips.
  • Add dressing and sauce. Drizzle with the desired amount of Cilantro Ranch dressing and barbecue sauce or serve sauces on the side for individual plating.
    A spoonful of cilantro ranch dressing being drizzled over a portion of the assembled Southwest Barbecue Chicken Salad, highlighting the creamy texture of the dressing.

Notes

Sweet Baby Ray’s original barbecue sauce is my favorite store-bought kind, but use any sweet sauce you like. Homemade barbecue sauce works beautifully too. 
The kind of chicken seasoning you use isn’t a big deal.  You can use homemade taco seasoning, store-bought barbecue seasoning, or any other chicken rub you like. Whatever you choose, rub some into the chicken before cooking and add additional after cooking for a little extra flavor on all of the chicken.
Calories: 953kcal | Carbohydrates: 62g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 61g | Saturated Fat: 18g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 16g | Monounsaturated Fat: 21g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 144mg | Sodium: 1622mg | Potassium: 1551mg | Fiber: 14g | Sugar: 24g | Vitamin A: 2909IU | Vitamin C: 30mg | Calcium: 455mg | Iron: 7mg

My husband calls this a girl food, but I think he might secretly love it. The smoky barbecue chicken mixed with fresh veggies and an amazing creamy cilantro ranch dressing is too good not to love.

The colorful Southwest Barbecue Chicken Salad arranged in a white serving bowl with lettuce, barbecue chicken, tomatoes, black beans, corn, avocado, red onion, shredded cheese, and tortilla strips, ready to be served.

I hope you find it as delicious as I do.

Southwest Salad Tips

  • Slice Chicken Evenly: Make sure to slice the chicken breasts evenly to ensure they cook at the same rate, preventing any undercooked or overcooked pieces.
  • Use Fresh Corn: If possible, use fresh corn kernels for added sweetness and crunch. Simply cut them off the cob and lightly sauté if desired.
  • Rest the Chicken: Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes after cooking. This helps retain its juices and keeps it tender.
  • Chill the Dressing: Let the cilantro ranch dressing chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.
  • Customize the Spice: Adjust the amount of jalapeno in the dressing based on your spice preference. Remove all seeds for a milder flavor or add extra for more heat.

What You’ll Need for the Best Southwest Chicken Salad

Here are a few important tools and ingredients you’ll need for this recipe:

Ingredients for Southwest Barbecue Chicken Salad neatly arranged on a wooden cutting board, including chicken breasts, corn on the cob, a tomato, an avocado, a lime, cilantro, green onions, a red onion, a jalapeno, garlic, shredded cheese, black beans, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, ranch seasoning, and tortilla strips.
  • Ranch seasoning packet. This gives the dressing a classic ranch flavor and can be found in the salad dressing aisle.
  • Barbecue seasoning. Adds a smoky, savory taste to the chicken. Store-bought works great, or you can make your own with the optional rub ingredients.
  • Cilantro. Fresh cilantro adds a bright, herbaceous note to the dressing. Look for it in the produce section.
  • Jalapeno. Provides a subtle kick to the dressing. Adjust the amount based on your spice preference.
  • Tortilla strips or crushed tortilla chips. These add a delightful crunch to the salad. You can usually find them near the salad toppings or snack aisle.

You can definitely leave out any veggies you don’t like, but try to keep the dressing ingredients the same. They’re all important!

Serving Suggestions

Serve with garlic bread and fresh fruit.

Troubleshooting and Help

Can I use a different type of lettuce?

Absolutely! You can use any lettuce you prefer, like iceberg or mixed greens. Romaine is just my go-to for its crisp texture.

What if I don’t have a ranch seasoning packet?

No worries! You can make your own by mixing dried herbs like dill, parsley, and chives with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.

Is there a substitute for cilantro in the dressing?

Sure! If you’re not a fan of cilantro, you can use fresh parsley instead. It will give a different flavor but still be delicious.

Can I grill the chicken instead of cooking it in a skillet?

Yes, grilling the chicken will add a nice smoky flavor. Just make sure to cook it to 165°F for safety.

How long will the leftovers keep?

The salad ingredients can be stored separately in the fridge for up to 3 days. Keep the dressing in a sealed container and give it a good shake before using.

Can I make this salad ahead of time?

You can prep all the ingredients in advance, but I recommend assembling the salad just before serving to keep everything fresh and crisp.

Storing Leftovers

To store this, keep each component separate to maintain freshness:

  • Chicken: Store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can also freeze the cooked chicken in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.
  • Vegetables: Keep chopped vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, corn, and onions in separate containers in the fridge. They will stay fresh for up to 3 days.
  • Cilantro Ranch Dressing: Store the dressing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. I like to use a mason jar with a reusable screw-top lid. Do not freeze the dressing; it won’t maintain its texture and flavor when thawed.
  • Tortilla Strips: Keep tortilla strips or chips in a sealed bag at room temperature to stay crisp. They will last for several days.

When you’re ready to serve the salad again, simply reassemble the components and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy making and eating this salad as much as we do. It’s a simple, flavorful meal that’s perfect for any occasion. Feel free to customize it with your favorite ingredients and make it your own.

How to Make The Best Southwest Chicken BBQ Salad
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