Chicken Taco Salad

Anyone else trying to figure out what kind of meal(s) to plan for family reunions or other large get togethers this summer? We should start a support group.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one in the midst of this agony since I’ve been receiving tons of emails and comments lately from many of you wondering what the heck you should make for your upcoming family reunion for a bazillion people that won’t keep you in the kitchen all day (and in some cases, several of you don’t even have access to a kitchen – my condolences).

Can I suggest taco salad as a super star front runner in that decision making? It’s one of my favorite meals of all time any average Thursday night dinner, but it’s also fabulous for large groups, get-togethers, family reunions, you name it.

Because it doesn’t have to be served warm, all of the ingredients can be prepped ahead of time (hallelujah), and when making it for a crowd, I always serve it build-your-own style to cater to even the pickiest of eaters (leave those avocados for me, thankyouverymuch!).

It’s also great for mixed allergen crowds since it can easily be tailored to be egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and a lot of other -frees.

Chicken Taco Salad

Today’s chicken taco salad is amazing and would be perfect for your upcoming gathering (if you’re looking for a more traditional option, here’s my favorite traditional chopped taco salad number).

The chicken gets a huge boost of flavor after simmering in a yummy concoction that takes seconds to stir together and can be cooked in an InstantPot (or other electric or stovetop pressure cooker), slow cooker or on the stovetop; all of those instructions are included in the recipe. That sauce then doubles as dressing, and drizzling in swirls with the creamy ranch, it is simply divine.

Taco salad doesn’t have to be old school and boring – a few simple steps to add homemade flavor can make a huge difference. And don’t underestimate the glitz of serving it with fresh lime wedges. Not only do those luscious limes add the best burst of flavor when squeezed over the colorful salad, but they add a bit of fancy-pants value with hardly any work, and you’ll get some bonus points for having those cut limes ready. Promise.

If you’re looking for a few other family reunion/large gathering meals, here’s a step-by-step menu plan I did a while back for large groups with three great meal ideas. And here are a few additional easy, delicious meal ideas that can be exponentially increased for whatever size group you are serving and won’t leave you missing out on the family olympics in order to get a meal ready:

Sloppy Joes (make ahead of time and heat up in a slow cooker or roaster)

Freezer Beef and Bean Burritos (these are great for family reunion lunches; make them ahead of time and  people can heat them up as needed one-by-one or in batches in the oven)

Slow Cooker Southwest Chicken Stacks (another Mexican-themed meal but it’s so super easy, it’s hard to resist for large crowds – I’ve made it for upwards of 100 people and it is easy-peasy)

Ultimate Beef Stroganoff (served with rice and a salad or vegetable)

Italian Beef Sandwiches (another great slow cooker meal that can actually be made ahead of time and reheated to serve)

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (this sauce can be made ahead of time – and even frozen – and is easily reheated in a slow cooker or on the stovetop and can be served over any type of noodles)

What are your favorite meals to serve at family reunions?

One Year Ago: Baked Orange-Glazed Meatballs
Two Years Ago: Glazed Lemon Yogurt Sheet Cake
Three Years Ago: Sour Cream Lime Tart {Or Pie!}

Chicken Taco Salad

Yield: Serves 6-8

Chicken Taco Salad

It's really annoying to have to open a can of tomato paste for a couple tablespoons (I get it); try looking for tubes of tomato paste. My grocery store carries them as well as Trader Joe's. Just squeeze out what you need and refrigerate the tube until you need it next time.

Also, you might be questioning the cocoa powder in the sauce. It's not a typo! The small amount adds a depth to the sauce; it's yummy, I promise (and it won't make the sauce taste like a brownie)!


    Chicken and Sauce:
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow or white onion
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 to 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salad:
  • 10 to 12 cups chopped romaine salad (about 3 medium heads of romaine)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 to 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup thawed frozen or fresh corn kernels
  • 1 to 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 4 ounces (about 1 cup) cubed or thinly sliced cheddar, Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese (or a combo)
  • 1 cup chopped olives
  • 1 to 2 avocados, seed removed and diced
  • Lime wedges for serving, optional
  • Tortilla chips for serving
  • Ranch dressing for serving (favorite homemade version here)


  1. For the chicken:
  2. Pressure cooker, combine all the ingredients for the sauce, except the chicken, in an electric or stovetop pressure cooker and stir well. Nestle the chicken in the sauce. Cook on high pressure for 9 minutes (7 minutes if using a stovetop pressure cooker). Let the pressure naturally release.
  3. Slow cooker, combine all the ingredients for the sauce, except the chicken, in a slow cooker and stir well. Nestle the chicken in the sauce. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or high for 2-3 hours.
  4. Stovetop, combine all the ingredients for the sauce, except the chicken, in a saucepan. Nestle the chicken in the sauce. Bring to a simmer, stirring often to make sure it isn't sticking. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. When the chicken is finished cooking, take it out and dice or shred into small pieces.
  6. Puree the sauce (with an immersion or regular blender) until smooth. If you want the sauce even thicker, consider simmering it on the stove for 10 minutes until it thickens and reduces a bit (I'm never that patient).
  7. For the salad, either toss all the salad ingredients together in a bowl, including the chicken, or serve all the ingredients separately so everyone can build their own salad.
  8. Drizzle the salad with ranch dressing and cooled tomato sauce (from cooking the chicken). Toss, if desired. Top with crushed tortilla chips, serve with lime wedges, and dig in.

Recipe Source: adapted from a recipe in Cuisine at Home (changed up the ingredients a bit, added instructions for slow cooker, pressure cooker and stovetop)

35 Responses to Chicken Taco Salad {InstantPot, Slow Cooker, or Stovetop}

  1. Ashlee says:

    I made this on Sunday, and my husband was downing that sauce like no ones business. He wants just a big jar of that sauce in the fridge at all times. Super yummy meal! And I love my instant pot! I’ve made several things you’ve posted, and I made one from another site, but yours have been the best! Thanks!!

  2. Julie H says:

    Just came home from a family reunion where I was in charge of one of the dinners (50 people). We had pulled pork (Carolina style!), cole slaw, fruit salad, & Better Than “Anything” cake (choc cake w/caramel sauce, whipped topping & Heath bits). Good southern food — minus the okra & hushpuppies.

  3. Loretta says:

    If you really want to amp up the WOW! factor for dinner, make rice bowls using your Confetti Rice and Bean Salad as the base and top it with the chicken from this salad. Then finish it with favorite toppings (lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, guac, Ranch dressing or sour cream, etc). Really delicious!

  4. Katie says:

    Do you use frozen chicken at all? If not, how much extra time would you cook it for? I am new to the pressure cooker 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Yes, you can definitely use frozen chicken! I usually add 2-3 minutes to the cooking time in the pressure cooker (kind of depends on thickness of the chicken).

  5. Marci says:

    So I accidently put the beans in for the first step of cooking the chicken. I have to say it was the best mistake ever! When I puréed the sauce the beans made if perfectly thick and they became sort of a refried bean sauce. I’m not sure if that sounds good or not but it was AMAZING! I will do it this way every time! Does 9 minutes give you perfect chicken every time? I’m constantly debating what I think the perfect time for chicken in the pressure cooker is. I almost get a better shred at 20 minutes

  6. Mary says:

    I gotta give it to you Mel! These are good! Made them yesterday doubtful they could be much better than the even super simpler method of throwing some chicken in a crock pot with a jar of salsa–but they were! You’ve done it again! Brilliant girl, you.

  7. Hilary says:

    Really, really delicious!!!! Made this last night in my was a hit all the way around!!! Thank you!!!

  8. Madison says:

    I made this tonight and it was so delicious! I used the pressure cooker method and when I took the chicken out to shred it, I turned the pressure cooker to the browning setting to simmer the sauce (the lid on, but not sealed so I didn’t make a huge mess), and in the couple minutes it took me to shred the meat, the sauce thickened up nicely. Seriously, this was so yummy and will be a summer staple at our house. It’s not heavy, but substantial enough to stick with you. We loved it!

  9. Becky Phillips says:

    Hawaiian Haystacks are always a great crowd pleaser!

  10. Emily says:

    Thank you, Mel! We love taco salad and eat it often. This version will be made soon for my regular crowd!! The Penzeys taco seasoning has cocoa in it and we love it, so I am excited to try this seasoning mix. As far as the tomato paste dilemna, I introduce: Tomato Powder. It is AMAZING and life changing! Try it!

  11. Wendi Bohn says:

    I’m so glad I saw this today because I really thought I might be feeding my family croutons for dinner tonight since my fridge is empty! Luckily I have the ingredients for this instead!

  12. Kimber says:

    I LOVE the pressure cooker, slow cookers, stovetop directions, you are a SAINT!

  13. Sharon says:

    Love your salads – can’t wait to try this one. And THANK YOU for the tips for family reunion menu ideas. Ours is coming up in 2 months and I’ve been stressing about it for way too long now. Time to stop stressing and starting planning – thanks!

  14. Gina says:

    Instead of the ranch dressing, try the avocado cream from the chili lime tacos w/ mango salsa recipe. It has cilantro in it, but tastes so good I think it will convert cilantro haters into cilantro lovers. It did for me, anyway. This stuff is lick the spoon good. I’ll NEVER use plain sour cream on Mexican food again.

  15. Heather bell says:

    You rock girl.

  16. Alisha says:

    Since the tube tomato paste is often more expensive, I just pop the rest of the can into Tablespoon scoops on a plate and freeze. Once frozen, I place them into a freezer bag for longer storage.

  17. Kim says:

    My handsome husband and I are in charge of all the food for our huge family campout in 3 weeks. No access to a kitchen. The biggest tip I have is to prep as much as you can ahead of time! If you’re using dutch ovens like us, buy dutch oven liners, they make clean up virtually non-existant! For one of our dinners we’re serving Mel’s Cuban pork and having it taco style. The meat will be prepared at home then at the campsite we’ll just throw it in a lined dutch oven, heat it and eat it! Can’t get much easier, or more delicious than that.

  18. Liz says:

    This is great timing as we are to have our first mini-heat wave of maybe 90F … in northwest Montana! I might add just a smidge of cinnamon to that chicken also. And I might use thin sliced cabbage also 🙂

    For the leftover tomato paste, while I’ve used ice cube trays to freeze, as well as ziplocs, my current favorite way to freeze bits of things is in paper cups. I found some bathroom dispenser sized cups on Amazon that are plain paper with no coating. They hold about 1/3 cup of whatever and easy to peel them off when you want to use whatever is in them.

  19. Catherine says:

    Yummy! Do you add the chicken back to the sauce after it’s pureed?

    • Catherine says:

      Never mind, I see you drizzle the cooled sauce over your salad. This sounds so good! I think I’ll suggest it for our family reunion this summer!

  20. Patricia Mahoney says:

    Hi Mel – thanks for the menus for large gatherings! Question – in the recipe for the balsamic glazed pork, the ingredients list 2 cups of water, but the instructions say “pour the 1/2 cup of water over pork” – should it be 2 cups? Thanks- can’t wait to try a few of these over the summer!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Patricia – I don’t see 2 cups water listed in the ingredients for that recipe. It’s just 1/2 cup for the pork and another 1/2 cup for the glaze. Hope that helps!

    • Sandra says:

      I believe the “1/2 cup of water” was from Mel’s original recipe which was not meant for a large gathering….the recipe for a crowd was reworked and changed to 2 cups but the new amount may have been overlooked in the instructions. Hope this helps.

      • Mel says:

        Oh, thank you, Sandra! I think you sorted it out. I appreciate you commenting – I think that’s right! I was only looking at the recipe online not at the one in the large menu planning spreadsheet.

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