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Southern Chicken Salad

Everyone has their own favorite chicken salad recipe, and this southern chicken salad is my favorite. Packed with bright lemon, celery and onion you can whiz it up in the food processor in no time.

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a chicken salad sandwich on a small plate on a white napkin

Everyone loves a good chicken salad recipe and this one is a classic. There are no grapes. There are no apples. It’s just the basics–and I don’t know why anyone would want to mess with a version as good as this one that came from the Elmwood Inn in Perryville, Kentucky.  I could eat my weight in it, and it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. Serve it with crackers, on croissants for a main dish, or on rolls for an appetizer.

Make it heavy on the celery and lemon. Because it’s finely ground, no one ingredient is obvious–it just blends into a big tangy ball of yum. It’s fun to watch people take a bite. First you’ll see them start thinking. Then they’ll ask, “What’s in this?” It’s up to you if you tell. You will be a hero, and the chicken salad will disappear.

Southern Chicken Salad

Southern chicken salad with celery, onions and plenty of zesty lemon make this a great appetizer or main dish choice. 
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 6
Author Rachel Ballard


  • 3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2/3 cup celery
  • 1/4 yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice no bottled stuff
  • 3/4 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper


  • Fill a 2 1/2 quart pot with water and add a little salt to flavor the water. When the water is boiling, add the chicken and cook until tender and no longer pink in the center, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken and allow it to cool enough to handle.
  • In the mean time, add the celery and onion to the food processor and pulse for about 30 seconds until the vegetables are finely chopped. Add them to a bowl and chop the pecans if you didn't buy them already chopped. You can do that by hand or put them in the food processor--just don't chop them too small. You want them to still have some crunch.
  • Once the chicken is cool enough to handle but still warm, remove any tough areas from the chicken and break the meat into quarter-size chunks and throw it in the food processor. I do my chicken breasts one at a time because I have a small food processor. If you have a large one, you can do them all at once. Pulse the machine until the meat is finely chopped and no large chunks remain. This usually takes about 20 seconds or so. Add your chicken to the vegetables and pecans.
  • Stir in the mayonnaise, salt, pepper and lemon. Taste for seasoning. Wrap the salad in plastic wrap and allow it to sit in the fridge several hours or overnight for the best flavor.


Calories: 359kcal
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Course Appetizer, main
Cuisine American

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  1. I did this for dinner TONITE and it was GREAT!! I used half the mayo and used Cole Slaw dressing for the other half of mayo and added a little relish. Instead of the food processor, I just cut everything up into chunks and mixed it all together and it turned out chunky and delicious!!! Yum yum!!!

  2. Nice variation is subbing Asian Sesame salad dressing for some of the mayo and couple squirts of worchesshire.

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About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.