BBQ Chicken & Macaroni Salad

This tangy dish is a great variation on the tried and true macaroni salads we love and enjoy all summer long. The great kick here is you can serve it warm on the side with dinner or cold in your lunch pack. Great either way!

salad barbecue chicken

Makes about 8 cups; serves 8 to 10 as a side dish

Brining: Chicken has a tendency to get dry and tough, especially when served cold in a salad like this. That’s why you should give these boneless, skinless chicken breasts a quick brine before cooking — this ensures moist and tender shreds of chicken even after some time in the fridge. Even a quick half-hour brine makes a big difference, but don’t brine it for more than two hours or else the salt breaks down the muscle fibers too much.


For the chicken:
1 quart warm water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 to 3 individual breasts)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade

For the salad:
1/2 to 1/4 cup barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade
1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 pound elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
1/2 medium red onion, diced and soaked in cold water until needed (see Recipe Note)
1 medium red or green pepper, diced
3 to 4 stalks celery, diced
Salt and pepper


1. For the chicken, combine the warm water, salt, and sugar in a shallow baking dish. Stir gently until the salt and the sugar are completely dissolved. Add the chicken to the brine. It should be completely submerged; add more warm water if necessary. Cover and brine the chicken for 1/2 to 2 hours, refrigerating if brining for more than 1/2 hour.

2. When ready to cook the chicken, turn on the oven broiler and position an oven rack 4 to 5 inches below the broiler element. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a wire rack on top.

3. Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brining liquid. Pat the chicken dry and coat each side with a few tablespoons of barbecue sauce. Lay the chicken, spaced an inch or so apart, on the wire rack over the baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and broil for 6 minutes. Flip the breasts and broil for another 6 minutes. Check that the chicken is cooked through and registers at least 165°F on an instant-read thermometer; broil in additional 2-minute intervals if necessary until the chicken is cooked. Remove the chicken from the oven and set aside to cool.

4. Whisk together 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce, 1/4 cup of the mayo, and the cider vinegar in a small bowl. When the chicken is cool, shred or cube into bite-sized pieces. You should have 2 to 3 cups of shredded chicken.

5. Cook the macaroni in a large amount of salted, boiling water until it is cooked a little beyond al dente. Drain and immediately toss with about 1/4 cup of the dressing.

6. In a large bowl, combine the cooked macaroni, shredded chicken, drained red onions, pepper, and celery. Toss with the remaining dressing until evenly coated. Taste the salad and add salt, pepper, more mayo, more barbecue sauce, or a splash of cider vinegar to suit your taste.

7. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving. This salad will keep unrefrigerated for 4 hours, or up to a week refrigerated.

Recipe Note
-Soaking the red onion in cold water removes some if its bite and makes it more pleasant when served raw in a cold salad like this. Soaking for 15 minutes is ideal, but even a short soak will help.
-If the salad has been refrigerated for more than a few hours, it may lose its creaminess. Toss it with a little mayo or barbecue sauce until creamy again.

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