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Can You Make Chicken Salad Ahead? Only if You Do This

Bringing chicken salad to a get-together? Need a ready-made meal for dinner? Instead of adding to an already busy day, make chicken salad the day before. You will lighten your schedule and go stress-free to the party.

chicken salad sandwiches made the day before

Do you love bringing chicken salad to a party? It is a popular dish, and you may need a big batch. If you are serving it at your next potluck, you may wonder, can you make chicken salad the day before?

You can make chicken salad ahead of time, even 2 days early, if you keep it refrigerated until serving it. To preserve the taste and freshness and avoid sogginess, do not add celery, grapes, or nuts until just before serving.

Here is more information on prepping this tasty salad ahead of time, including notes on proper storage.

You may also be interested in the best bread for chicken salad sandwiches. Get tasty bread ideas.

Plus, find some non-bread alternatives to serve with chicken salad.

How Far Ahead Can You Make Chicken Salad?

Ideally, you should make the chicken salad the night before a potluck or get-together. Making the salad as close to your event as possible ensures you’ll be serving a delicious, quality dish.

The FDA advises against eating cooked refrigerated chicken after 3 to 4 days. So don’t plan on making your chicken salad any earlier than 3 days. Although even that is stretching it.

Shoot for making it the night before or no more than two days early.

Wondering if you can freeze chicken salad? It depends on the ingredients in the salad. Read all about freezing chicken salad.

Best Tips to Make Chicken Salad Early

Below, you’ll find tips and information to help you prep a chicken salad recipe ahead of time. Following these guidelines will help you avoid mushy, watery salad.

Instead, your salad will be crisp, crunchy, and flavorful. A dish you will be proud to serve your guests.

Don’t forget to check out my guide on how much chicken salad to plan on per person. It will all depend on bun size and side dishes served.

Chop Nuts and Cranberries First but Leave Them Out of the Salad Until Serving.

bowls of nuts and dried fruit

You can prep nuts and dried fruit, like cranberries, beforehand so they’re ready to go. But for best results, leave the nuts and dried fruit out of the make-ahead salad mixture.

Because of the moisture in the salad, the consistency of nuts and dried fruit will change over time. Nuts can soften and lose their crunch. And dried fruit will soak up the moisture and become soft and mushy.

Chop these two ingredients and keep them in separate baggies or containers outside of the fridge. Stir in the chopped nuts and dried fruit right before serving the chicken salad. Give the salad a good toss, and it’s ready to go.

Don’t forget your sandwich toppings. You can prep many of them ahead too. Check out this list of amazing chicken salad sandwich toppings.

Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Separately in the Fridge. Then Mix in Before Serving.

celery and grapes

Since most fresh fruit and vegetables (like grapes and celery) have a high water content, they can cause the chicken salad to become watery. Especially when it’s sitting in the fridge for a while.

Avoid the sogginess by chopping your fruits and vegetables beforehand but keeping them in a separate container in the fridge. Drain any excess moisture from the fruits and veggies before incorporating them into the salad.  

Try this tip with Instant Pot chicken salad with grapes.

Use Dry Herbs.

wooden spoon with dry herbs

Some recipes call for fresh herbs. Unfortunately, this is one ingredient that can wilt or become slimy if made ahead. Dry herbs work best when seasoning make-ahead chicken salad.

If you really want to use fresh herbs, prep them right before serving the salad. You will have a fresher flavor and can avoid wilted herbs.

Want to learn how long chicken salad lasts and the warning signs when it has gone bad early? Then you will like this post on the shelf-life of chicken salad.

Only Freeze Chicken Salad Without Dairy, Grapes, or Celery.

If you need to make chicken salad more than two days early, freezing it might be a good option.

Unfortunately, eggs, dairy, grapes, and celery do not freeze well. So, if you are planning on freezing the salad, avoid including these ingredients in it.

Miracle Whip is the only creamy condiment you can add to the salad that will freeze well, even though it has eggs.

Other forms of dairy like mayo, Greek yogurt, and sour cream typically separate during the freezing process. This separation leaves an unappealing consistency that is challenging to salvage once you defrost the salad.

Can You Make Chicken Salad Sandwiches the Night Before?

chicken salad sandwich with arugula

Usually you cannot make chicken salad sandwiches the night before without the bread getting soggy. However, if you make the sandwiches without fruits or veggies, the sandwich bread should stay dry overnight.

Chicken salad recipes often have grapes, apples, and celery. These ingredients have moisture which can drain into the salad when refrigerated overnight. If the sandwich is pre-made, the juice will leach into the bread causing sogginess.

Love crackers? Then you will love this list of the best crackers to eat with chicken salad. Crispy, crunchy, and crumbly choices. Plus, find out about gluten-free crackers too.

How Long Can Chicken Salad Stay Out?             

bowl of chicken salad made the day before

The USDA has a two-hour rule for all food. This rule means that perishable food should not be out of the fridge for more than two hours.

When prepared food is resting at room temperature, it can develop harmful bacteria that can make you sick when you eat it. It’s best always to refrigerate food (especially meat) as soon as possible.

If your kitchen is on the hotter side or it is summer, refrigerate the salad within one hour. Get in the habit of covering and refrigerating the salad after everyone has dished out their serving. That is the easiest way to make sure the leftovers stay safe.

If you are serving chicken salad at an outside barbecue, keep the salad bowl on a tray of ice. And still, be mindful of the two-hour rule.

Serving chicken salad at your next get-together? Check out all the creative ways to serve chicken salad at a party. Be prepared to be inspired.

Can You Eat Chicken Salad the Next Day?

You can eat chicken salad the next day if you refrigerated it properly. Never eat salad left out overnight. Take proper food safety measures and keep the food under 40°F (4°C). Then it should last in the fridge for about 3 to 4 days (even with hardboiled eggs).

Check out my post on how to hard boil perfect eggs. You will get the best method that ensures moist, soft eggs with no green tint.

Why Is It Important to Keep Your Leftover Chicken Salad in the Refrigerator?

If you don’t keep chicken salad in the fridge, it can develop harmful bacteria. Even if you refrigerate the salad after it sat out for over two hours, it may have already developed bacteria.

Pro Tip: Don’t taste salad that has been sitting out for longer than two hours. Even though it may not smell or look bad, it is no longer safe to eat.

Get fantastic ideas for side dishes to serve with chicken salad at a luncheon.


Can You Eat Cold Chicken in a Salad?

You can eat cold chicken in a salad. Many salads are served with cold chicken, like refrigerated, pre-made Caesar salad. There should be no issue with eating cold chicken in the salad as long as you’ve prepped the chicken meat properly before refrigerating.

Avoid eating raw chicken, and double-check that your cooked chicken does not have any pink in the middle before adding it to the salad.

See my post on cooking moist, juicy chicken on the stove.

How Do You Fix Dry Chicken Salad?

Unfortunately, leftover chicken salad that is not kept in the fridge in an airtight container can dry out.

You can remedy this by using sour cream or Greek yogurt to make the salad creamy again.

If your salad is still too dry, some lemon juice can help perk up the flavor and disguise the dryness. Adding salad dressing is also a great alternative to lemon juice.

After trying the above solutions, if your chicken salad is still too dry, it’s likely time to discard it.

How Do You Make Chicken Salad Sandwiches Out of Canned Chicken?

Using canned chicken is similar to rotisserie chicken or shredded chicken. The only difference is that it is already prepped. Canned chicken is fully cooked and already cut into pieces. When using canned chicken, make sure to drain the water first.

Some canned options have a lot of salt, so you may want to cut back on other salty ingredients like mustard. Otherwise, this pre-cooked chicken works with any chicken salad recipe. Try my delicious canned chicken salad for a crowd. It has dill pickles, green onions, and celery.

Once your salad is ready to go, you can make a chicken salad sandwich to enjoy.

Pro Tip: You can use canned chicken in place of any cooked chicken in a recipe. Canned chicken is an excellent option for making chicken salad recipes because it cuts down on chicken prep time and cook time.

Costco makes tasty canned chicken. It is the only brand I recommend.

Can You Prep Ahead?

You can always make chicken salad the day before! Leave nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and fresh veggies out of the mixture until you’re ready to serve the salad to avoid an odd consistency.

Adding dairy to the refrigerated salad is perfectly fine. Hardboiled eggs are also okay to add the night before.

When in doubt, leave the ingredient out. You can always chop it ahead of time and add it to the salad mixture right before serving.

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