BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing

Refreshing. Crisp. Flavorful. Healthy-ish.

BBQ Chicken Salad. Probably one of my favorite salad combos ever. Ranks right up there with this one. Oh and this one and this one.

Gotta love a great dinner salad.

One Year Ago: Cream Biscuits
Two Years Ago: Tri Color Pasta Salad
Three Years Ago: Pasta Chicken Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach

BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing

Yield: Serves 4-6

BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing

Note: this recipe calls for already cooked chicken so plan ahead! I like to cook my chicken in the crockpot, using frozen chicken breasts and about 1 cup of chicken broth for every 2 chicken breasts. I cook on low for about 4-5 hours and then shred and refrigerate (or freeze) for later.


    Chicken and Salad:
  • 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
  • 2 cups BBQ sauce, storebought or homemade
  • ½ head iceberg lettuce, cored and chopped
  • 2 romaine hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion diced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cubed small or shredded
  • 4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, cubed small or shredded
  • Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing:
  • 1 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup BBQ sauce


  1. For the salad, combine the cooked chicken and BBQ sauce in a medium bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, red onion, cilantro, corn, black beans and cheese. Toss the mixed salad with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the dressing, if desired. Otherwise, you can serve the dressing on the side. Place salad on plates and top with the prepared BBQ chicken and additional dressing.
  3. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients together and whisk (or shake, if using a jar) vigorously to combine. You could also run this through a blender to make it even more smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Make Ahead Instructions: All the components of this salad can be prepared up to a day in advance (the dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance). Store separately in the refrigerator and toss before serving.

Recipe Source: salad from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, dressing inspired by El Pollo Loco’s Creamy Cilantro Dressing

104 Responses to BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing

  1. jackie says:

    This looks so good. I’ve been thinking lately that I want to start “exploring” some salad recipes to get rid of just plain lettuce. My husband is not a big “stuff on salad” person but I am. Can’t wait to try this as my lunch soon!!

  2. Taylor says:

    YUM!! Panera has a great BBQ chicken salad but yours looks even better! I’m loving that Cilantro Lime Dressing!

  3. Alicia says:

    Sounds delicious! Can’t wait to try it!

  4. Kim in MD says:

    My favorite salad at California Pizza Kitchen is their Chopped BBQ Salad-it is served with BBQ sauce and ranch dressing. Your salad has the same flavor combinations! I think this will be dinner tonight, as it suppossed to be 75 degrees here in MD today! Salad weather today, but soup weather tomorrow. I’m not complaining, though! :-)

  5. I love the classic BBQ chicken salad with ranch, but this salad with creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing sounds like it would be a knock out!

  6. Sounds great! I never thought to add corn and black beans to BBQ chic salad. And can’t wait to try the dressing, thanks so much! :)

  7. StephenC says:

    There is no better compliment to pay than to say, I’d eat this in a heartbeat.

  8. Sounds like a great lunch in my near future!

  9. Linda says:

    this is right up my alley… very excited to make this one. Thank you! I am your biggest fan.

  10. Mel, this looks so good! I’ve been overdosing on sugar this week (posting dessert recipes everyday) and I came to your site specifically looking for something lighter and savory. This totally fits the bills! I also love that you included how to poach chicken breasts in the slow cooker. I’m obsessed with my slow cooker, so I’ll definitely try your method the next time I need pre-cooked chicken for a recipe. Thank you! :)

  11. Heidi says:

    Thank you, thank you for the tip on how you cook your chicken! I don’t know why cooking stresses me out so much sometimes. Your great recipes and cooking tips go a long way to helping me feel more confident in my cooking and everything I have tried off of your website is delicious!

  12. I am going to make that dressing tomorrow for lunch, sounds so yummy. I love homemade salads and dressing. This is a winner for sure!

  13. Your salad looks wonderful! I love the BBQ Chicken Salad at Panera and this looks similar ~ can’t wait to give it a try!

  14. Jessica says:

    I was planning on making taco pizza for dinner tonight but this looks so much better! Plus if we have salad for dinner then I won’t feel so bad about making your sinful brown butter brownies! Can’t wait!!!

  15. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Recipes for you, james hamilton. james hamilton said: BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing: Toss the mixed salad with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the … [...]

  16. TaLaisa says:

    I nearly licked the screen. This is my very favorite kind of salad. Ever. I like to crush up some of those ‘Food should taste good’ brand multi-grain tortilla style chips on top and add avocado. YUM!

  17. Delicious! I can’t wait to try this. It seems so springy. I’m over winter!

  18. Oh, that looks and sounds so wonderful! I have yet to find fresh cilantro in Taiwan and it’s sad thing because I LOVE it. I’m dying to have a bite of this.

  19. briarrose says:

    Wonderful, tasty dressing.

  20. Heide M. says:

    Can’t wait to try this salad. The dressing sounds divine.

  21. Muriel says:

    Oh my I cannot wait to try this salad! Looks so delicious!

  22. I have lettuce that needs used up and I think this is the perfect thing to use it for. I even have all the ingredients, I think? Is white vinegar, just regular vinegar? I think it would be perfect with crunchy tortilla strips on top!

  23. grace says:

    this is very much like the salad i get at chili’s from time to time, but they don’t offer any creamy cilantro dressing! if they did, i fear i’d be eating there 3 or 4 nights a week! :)

  24. Sue E. says:

    Made this for dinner – i skipped the bbq sauce on the chicken though and just used the dressing – it was absolutely wonderful! Thanks for the recipe!

  25. Nicole says:

    awesome meal! We added chopped red bell peppers and black olives to the salad, and since our chicken was chipolte flavored already from the meal before, we subbed some salsa and some sour cream for the bbq sauce in the dressing. As an afterthought, I think an avocado in the blender dressing would have been a perfect finish to the chipolte chicken salad version we had. Thank you, yet again!!

  26. Tasha says:

    Made this tonight and it was A. MAZ. ING. Totally cured my preggo craving, for tonight at least :) Thanks for sharing! You’re awesome!

  27. Keri says:

    Made this tonight for the family andthey gobbled it. We have l o v e d every recipe from your site so far. Thank you for all the delicious family dinners!

  28. Merideth T. says:

    I made this tonight for my husband and I and it was delicious! Wonderful idea with the bbq dressing!

  29. Erin says:

    I always wonder why salad at home never tastes as good as at a restaurant. I will wonder no more! This was great. Thanks for sharing all of your deliciousness!

  30. Mel, I just made this and I wanted to let you know, it might just be my new favorite salad too! Usually when I eat salads I don’t get completely “full”, but I was “full” after this one. I will be making this a lot. Thanks!

  31. Allison says:

    I made this tonight and we all loved it! Thank you!!

  32. Merilee says:

    This made my mouth was water when I saw it late at night last week. I made this for dinner a few nights ago and it didn’t disappoint!! So YUMMY, thanks!

  33. My husband would absolutely love this salad. I will definitely have to try it. The dressing sounds really tasty!

  34. NIkki says:

    Thanks for the great recipe. The dressing was delicious. My three picky kids even ate it!!

  35. That is one tasty looking salad!

  36. Kendall says:

    I made this for dinner on Sunday night and it was outstanding! The dressing is a new favorite of mine. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Danny says:

    This salad was absolutely fabulous! I forgot to grab mayo so we just used ranch. My husband doesn’t much care for chicken but even he said “wow this is actually really good”. I will definately be making this again!

  38. Emily says:

    Yum, this was great! My husband and I both had seconds….of salad! I did a couple things to make it a little healthier, I used spring mix instead of romaine & iceberg and substituted greek yogurt for half the mayonnaise (and used oil olive mayo for the rest). Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  39. Danielle Parkson says:

    Thanks for the tip on how you pre cook your chicken. I was wondering, after you cook the chicken in the crockpot how long does it last in the refrigerator? And if you freeze it, whats the best way to reheat it. Thanks again for all your yummy recipe!

  40. Mel says:

    Hi Danielle – I usually keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days but after that, I can kind of taste a funny after taste that isn’t very enticing. After freezing it, I usually thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before using it. If I forget to do that, I’ll gently thaw it in the microwave before using (or sometimes just throw it into a casserole or baked dish frozen since it will be going in the oven anyway).

  41. Steph says:

    Wowza!! This was so delicious. We’ve got some dairy allergies in the family, so I substituted unsweetened almond milk and a little lemon juice for the milk and buttermilk in the dressing. It turned out so yummy I could eat it all by itself.

    Thanks for a recipe that I’ll be coming back to again and again and again.

  42. Noelle Tomco says:

    since i’m a carb addict, i’m going to throw this (minus the lettuce) on a potato. can’t wait.

  43. Rachel says:

    This is my favorite dinner now. It fits the good for you, savory, fresh, and filling bill for my family. YUM!!! We have had this a dozen times in the last few months and we are not sick of it yet. I have not found a better way to cook my chicken either, thanks for the tip!

  44. Mel says:

    Rachel – I’m thrilled this meal has become a staple for you!

  45. Kimmy says:

    This salad was like a party for my taste buds. LOVED IT!!! That dressing…oh my, FAAAAAbulous! Thanks for the great recipe.

  46. Karen says:

    We make this often. It is one of our favorites. Thanks for your great site.

  47. Shelly says:

    This dressing is the bomb!! I made this salad last night, and took the leftovers to work. All my co workers loved it!! It reminds me of my fav BBQ chicken salad at Cheesecake Factory.

  48. Logan says:

    Thanks Mel! This was our dinner tonight and it was really yummy! The dressing has really amazing flavor. I will definitely make this again!

  49. Kristin says:

    Loved this tonight! The dressing is fantastic. Thanks.

  50. n82 says:

    Hi Mel,

    How much does this dressing make and how long will it last in the fridge?

  51. Mel says:

    n82 – the dressing makes about 2 cups, give or take a little, and I have kept it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks with good results.

  52. Kristi says:

    Mel, This was fabulous!!! Yum! Thank you for sharing!!!

    For a slightly lighter and zestier dressing I replaced the 1 cup of mayo with 1/4 cup light mayo and 1/4 cup of lowfat plain yogurt. I’m not sure what the regular recipe is like, but it was so fabulous. My mouth was still loving it at the end!!! Yum!

  53. Joyce says:

    FYI, only the salad recipe comes up when you want to print it. Not the dressing. Just thought you’d like to know… I’m going to make this this week.

  54. Annie says:

    I made this last night and my husband was freaking out saying it was the best thing he’d eaten in forever. Of course that made me feel like every other meal I’ve made was bad, but I have to agree with him that this salad was delicious!

  55. Tiffany says:

    Wonderful salad, I would have never thought to put bbq on a salad but it was amazing. Thanks Mel.

  56. Brandie says:

    I am excited to be putting this on our menu for one night in the next few weeks. One question though, when I print out the recipe it doesn’t include the dressing. Is this something your can fix or do I need to just “select Print” that part? Just wondering.

  57. Mel says:

    Hi Brandie – I just fixed the printable to include the dressing!

  58. Kristine says:

    Good one Mel! My daughter ate 2 helpings and the baby even liked it. Easy to make too. Thank you!

  59. Anna says:

    This was delicious! The recipe makes a TON Of dressing though. I had a lot left over. I also added avocado and cherry tomatoes to the salad and only used about 1/2 a cup of mayo and was VERY happy with the result! Will be making this again for sure!

  60. [...] 11.  Supper tonight was a BBQ Chicken Salad.  Shredded bbq chicken, corn, black beans, grated cheese, and tortilla chips on top of a bed of lettuce and then drizzled with a barbecue cilantro lime dressing.  I’ve made it a few times now and we all enjoy it!  Recipe can be found HERE. [...]

  61. [...] salads in the summertime. What could possibly be better? The dressing for this recipe comes from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe (one of my favorite foodie bloggers). I used this dressing on my usual BBQ chicken salad and it was [...]

  62. [...] chicken salads are a summertime must, and adding ridiculously good homemade dressing from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe only adds to the [...]

  63. [...] BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing [...]

  64. [...] of dressing is needed to coat the entire bowl of salad).Serves 4Print This RecipeRecipe adapted fromMel’s Kitchen Cafe  Emailvar addthis_config={data_track_clickback:false}; Previous PostWritten by Ashley [...]

  65. Ann says:

    Great! If you want “croutons” for a salad like this Fritos honey bbq spirals are really good!

  66. Tamatha says:

    Just made this salad, and it was fabulous! It tastes very similar to a favorite restaurant salad–now I can stay home to eat it! Thanks for the recipe!

  67. Jenn says:

    I LOVED the dressing. My favorite part of the salad!

  68. RecipeNewZ says:

    Wonderful salad – I wish I could download the plate from the screen! But I guess I’ll have to settle for just pinning it for now :-)

  69. Carrie says:

    I was deliriously happy with the taste of this!!! YUM!!! I haven’t felt so great about something I made in ages. Thanks! We had it last night & I know it will now be in our regular rotation. You are brilliant!

  70. [...] BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing Side Dishes: [...]

  71. Jessica says:

    made this last night! so yummy! It was a great treat to be able to provide a nice cool meal (it was only 113 here yesterday). Everyone enjoyed it :) the dressing is amazing!

  72. Melinda says:

    Already passed this along to a few friends who also rave about it. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! And it makes me feel like I’m a nutritious person…I make a whole bunch and eat every day for lunch until it’s gone…then I sigh and wish for more. My husband prefers this salad dressing to Cafe Rio dressing (and he’s not huge on dressing, so he was skeptical at first). Huge fan of yours! Thanks for sharing the deliciousness!

  73. Melissa says:

    Had this tonight – it was so yummy! Will make it again for sure.

  74. Danielle says:

    This salad even on its own is absolutely delicious!! One of my partners favourite meals and he is a salad-hater!!!

  75. Abby says:

    Why do people comment when they haven’t tried it!!!! Only comment if you’ve tried it! OMG!

  76. Anonymous says:

    Abby – is that a joke? Seriously, cause why are you leaving a comment like that if YOU haven’t tried it.

  77. [...] I wasn’t sure if I wanted to BBQ the whole thing but decided to try to fix a salad. I found this recipe and decided to try it since I had all of the ingredients. Turned out to be very very good and I [...]

  78. Denise says:

    This is one of our favorite salads!! My husband devours it!

  79. [...] – BBQ Chicken Salad [...]

  80. [...] it during the week! Here is a great recipe for BBQ Chicken Salad that we had Friday night – [...]

  81. Emily says:

    Another home run from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe! Seriously. Sometimes, when I eat the stuff I prepared using your recipes, I can’t believe the food actually came from my kitchen … it tastes so good! This salad was easy (made the dressing the night before) and scrumptious. Thank you!!

  82. Trudy says:

    I’m making this again….for the third time now….for dinner with my Mom….I’m in love with this dressing…I think I wanna marry it :)

  83. [...] Pot Chicken + Brown Rice Wednesday: Leftovers Thursday: Work Event February 11th-14th Monday: BBQ Chicken Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing Tuesday: Lighter Tastes like Lasagna Soup (this is SO good) Wednesday: Leftovers Valentines Day: [...]

  84. [...] We’ve got our sombreros ready for meals this week, ha! Reports from last weeks plan: The BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing was delicious! The dressing alone is very, very good and I know I will be making it again [...]

  85. [...] was very nice…more on what we did coming tomorrow! Sunday: Dinner with some friends! Monday: BBQ Chicken Salad with Creamy BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing  Tuesday: Salads again Wednesday: Chili Pot Pies  Thursday: Pot Pies again [...]

  86. Georgia says:

    I (along with everyone else on here!) love love loved this! Thank you so much for the wonderful recipes!

  87. [...] BBQ Chicken Salad from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe [...]

  88. [...] BBQ Chicken Salad with BBQ Cilantro Lime Dressing [...]

  89. Sheree says:

    This was a hit with my family! I did not combine the chicken with the 2 cups of BBQ sauce, as I knew that would be too much BBQ flavor for my family. We loved the dressing! In it, I used a heaping 1/4 c Trader Joe’s eggless mayo & the same of plain Greek yogurt instead of 1 c. regular mayo. I didn’t have buttermilk, so just combined my skim milk with the vinegar first. Topped the whole salad with avocado and it was perfect! Thanks for another recipe for our rotation!

  90. Katie says:

    MMM. This salad was to die for good! I used romaine and spinach instead of romaine and iceberg. I also used tomatoes instead of red onion, since raw onion is a no-no in this house. The dressing was heaven. I am dreaming about it on your layered cornbread salad. I can’t wait to try that! Needless to say, dinner was a big hit!

  91. Melissa says:

    This was phenomenal!! We couldn’t get enough!

  92. Julie says:

    I am a new reader, and I am so glad I found your site! I stumbled upon it while looking for creative salad ideas. This was so yummy! I’ve been bringing it to work for lunch, and all of my coworkers are jealous!

  93. Aubri says:

    This salad was soooo good! My husband asked if we can keep this dressing in the fridge at all times. It’s really great for dipping…our favorite thing to dip in it…celery! Thanks for another great recipe!

  94. Beth says:

    We love this salad in our house. One of our fav meals.

    Do you think you could freeze the salad dressing?

    It makes more than we need and I find the dressing to be the most time consuming – yet the most delicious! It would be great to have on hand to quickly make the salad another night.

  95. Mel says:

    Beth – well, you could definitely try freezing the dressing but I think the texture could get a little weird (thanks to all the dairy). Having said that, it’s always worth a try!

  96. Beth says:

    I am going to give it a try. I will report back when I defrost it. :) I saw your recent recipe that mentioned that you can freeze buttermilk. I was thrilled to discover this bc we just don’t use buttermilk that much in our house. I was wondering how the mayo would do in this dressing in the freezer. We shall see. Thanks for all of your delicious recipes. Our family hasn’t met one yet that we didn’t love!

  97. Julia says:

    My 6-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy each take a turn making dinner every week. This salad is one of the favorites on their dinner nights because it’s so easy. My 6yo made it by herself last night. She left out the onions and used cooked chicken from the freezer. For the dressing she mixed ranch dressing with BBQ sauce and my kids actually liked it better that way. I still prefer the homemade dressing, but if my 6yo can make dinner without help I don’t mind the ranch kind! Thanks for another delicious and quick dinner!

  98. Melenie says:

    I love this salad so much! I could drink the dressing..

  99. KayAnn says:

    We aren’t fans of cilantro but the rest of the recipe looks delicious & like a salad my hubby will enjoy too. I’m very lucky that he’s a salad eater from what friends have said, since theirs would never eat a salad as the entire meal.

  100. Beth says:

    Hi Mel -

    I wanted to tell you that I defrosted the dressing that I had frozen a couple of months ago. It was still delicious! :)


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