This apple cranberry chicken salad recipe is full of crunchy apples and sweet tart dried cranberries. It makes a great lunch, perfect on a sandwich or on lettuce for a lower carb option. This is the chicken salad for people who like tons of flavor and texture. It has plenty of crunch from celery and apples, pecan and almonds, and flavor from the scallions (green onions), parsley and dill. The chicken is cooked in a slow cooker, so you can get on with your day.
I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.
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Why you should make this recipe
- Make ahead – You can make this apple cranberry chicken salad on Sunday for the week ahead.
- Easy – The chicken is cooked in the slow cooker and the rest is just a bit of chopping.
- Great for gatherings – This recipe can be scaled up to feed a big crowd.
Apple Cranberry Chicken Salad
I have been making this version of my chicken salad recipe for almost two decades. A chicken salad sandwich is one of my favorite lunches and a batch will keep in the fridge all week, making lunchtime a breeze.
I use chicken thighs for my chicken salad, because that’s what I prefer. I find they have more flavor than boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and they don’t dry out.
- Chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken thighs cooked in the Crock Pot.
- Celery – Celery gives it great crunch and freshness.
- Apple – Apple gives the chicken salad sweetness and crunch.
- Parsley, scallions, dill – Fresh herbs make a huge difference, please don’t skip them.
- Mayo and sour cream – This combination makes the chicken salad creamy, with a little tang.
- Almonds and pecans – Toast the nuts to bring out their “nuttiness” and flavor.
- Lemon – If you like a little extra zing, a squeeze of lemon is great.
- Dried cranberries – Sweetened dried cranberries add chewiness and sweetness.
How to make
Here’s a quick summary of how to make apple cranberry chicken salad. Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full recipe.
I prefer to use shredded chicken instead of diced for my chicken salad. I like the way thigh meat shreds, so that’s another win for dark meat. You can absolutely shred chicken breasts, if that is your preference, but honestly, I don’t recommend it.
Kitchen tip: meat shreds more easily when it’s warm than when it’s cold.
- First, place the chicken in the slow cooker and cook until it’s done. The timing will depend on your slow cooker and whether you use the high or low setting.
- Once the chicken is done, set it aside to cool enough to handle. Then shred the meat with clean hands or with forks and set aside to cool completely.
- Cut up the apple and celery, herbs and anything else you want to add to your chicken salad.
- Make the dressing and combine everything in a large bowl. Stir and fold until it is well combined.
That’s the great thing about cooking, you can do whatever you want to (within reason). Like most of the recipes on this blog, this apple cranberry chicken salad recipe is totally customizable to your personal preferences.
Cranberry chicken salad wraps
If you like the Whataburger apple and cranberry chicken salad, you’ll like these wraps.
I make a fairly big batch of this recipe for chicken salad with apples and then use it for the week ahead. It’s great to have it made already when you need a quick bite. This is a staple in our house and I’m sure once you make it, you’ll be hooked too.
Apple cranberry chicken salad FAQ’s
This chicken salad will last 5 – 7 days in the fridge, stored in an airtight container.
I do not recommend freezing it. The mayonnaise and sour cream dressing will turn grainy and watery, as will the celery and apples.
You can freeze the cooked chicken, then thaw it and make the chicken salad when you’re ready.
Absolutely. Place seasoned chicken in an ovenproof dish and bake at 350°F / 180°C for 40 minutes, then shred when cool enough to handle.
Helpful tools and equipment
- Slow cooker – This is the same one I own and love.
- Heavy duty rubber spatula – My go-to tool for mixing anything and everything.
- Chef’s knife – This is the same knife I’ve owned for over 20 years. Invest in a decent knife and you’ll never buy another one.
Variations and substitutions
As stated above, you can make this in the oven if you prefer, and you can use chicken breasts instead of thighs if you really don’t like dark meat.
You can swap out the herbs I’ve used for others like thyme, tarragon, marjoram, or basil for a completely different taste. One add-in that I sometimes use is halved grapes. They make a fantastic addition.
More sandwich ideas
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- 2 - 3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs // .9 - 1.3 kilograms
- 1 tablespoon granulated onion
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 3 scallions (green onions), diced
- 1 small apple, diced
- 1/3 cup cranberries, dried, sweetened (craisins) // 80ml
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted // 60ml *see notes
- 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped // 60ml *see notes
- 1 bunch parsley, washed, dried and chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise // 160ml
- 1/3 cup sour cream //80ml
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh (optional)
- Sprinkle 2 - 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with the granulated garlic and onion, 1 teaspoon salt and half teaspoon of pepper.
- Cook on low in a slow cooker for 6 hours, or on high for 3 hours.
- Remove chicken from crock pot, cool slightly and shred. Set aside.
- Mix mayo and sour cream together. Add lemon juice, if using.
- Add all remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more mayo, if needed.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5 - 7 days.
To toast almonds and pecans: Place nut on a baking sheet in a preheated oven (350°F/180°C) for 5 - 7 minutes, or until starting to lightly brown and they small fragrant.
I make extra chicken in the crock pot for other uses. I figure if I'm making chicken anyway, I'm going to cook a little more than I need. If you find you have more chicken than you need, freeze the rest for another batch of chicken salad when you don't have time to make the chicken. Or, you can add it to soups, casseroles, etc.
If you are really in a pinch, buy a rotisserie chicken. We've all been there.
Sometimes, I add a spoonful of whole grain or Dijon mustard to this chicken salad. It adds a nice tangy bite.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 327Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 285mgSodium: 622mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 2gSugar: 6gProtein: 56g
Nutrition information calculated by a third-party company as a courtesy. It is intended as a guideline only.
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Originally published 3/19/18.