About this time in the summer, we start getting tired of the goopy, mayonnaise-thick side salads that are standard fare at every cook-out and picnic. We wanted something a little different to bring to the table, so we thought we'd perk up the traditional macaroni salad with barbecue sauce. Oh. My. Why haven't we tried this before?!
At first we tried making this salad with only barbecue sauce, but that was a bit overwhelming. We found that just a little mayo mixed with the barbecue sauce mellowed it out without tipping the salad into goopy heaviness. Start with a ratio of 1/4 cup mayo and 1/4 cup barbecue sauce, and then increase either of them based on your personal taste. Sour cream or even a whole-milk yogurt would also make interesting substitutes for the mayo.
Chicken has a tendency to get dry and tough, especially when served cold in a salad like this. Brining it before cooking ensures a moist and tender result. Even a quick half-hour brine makes a big difference. Don't brine it for more than two hours, though, or else the salt breaks down the muscle fibers too much.
If you've already got the grill on, you can certainly grill this chicken instead of cooking it under the broiler. This salad is also a great use for any barbecued chicken you have leftover from previous cook-outs.
Barbecue Chicken and Macaroni SaladMakes about 10 cups
For the Chicken:
1 quart warm water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 - 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3-4 individual breasts)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
Combine the water, salt, and sugar in a shallow baking dish, stirring gently until the salt and the sugar are completely dissolved. Add the chicken to the brine. It should be completely covered by the brine. Add more warm water if necessary. Brine the chicken for 1/2 - 2 hours.
When you're ready to cook, turn on the oven broiler and position an oven rack about 5 inches below the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a wire rack on top.
Remove the chicken from the brine and discard the brining liquid. Pat the chicken dry and coat each side with some of the barbecue sauce. Arrange the chicken on the rack over the baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Flip the breasts, baste them with a little more barbecue sauce, and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until they're completely cooked through.
Let the chicken breasts cool and then dice them into bite-sized chunks.
For the Macaroni Salad:
1/2 pound elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
1 red or green pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced and soaked in cool water for 15 minutes
3-4 stalks celery, diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped small
barbecue chicken, cooked and diced as described above
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 - 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 - 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
Salt and Pepper
Cook the macaroni in a large amount of salted, boiling water until it is cooked a little beyond al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked macaroni, all the vegetables, and the chicken. In a small bowl, combine the cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, and 1/4 cup of barbecue sauce. Stir this into the salad mix. Taste, season with salt and plenty of black pepper, and add more mayonnaise or barbecue sauce as desired.
This salad will keep unrefrigerated for 4 hours, or up to a week refrigerated.
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)