The Surprising Ingredient That Makes the Best Chicken Salad Ever

updated Oct 21, 2020
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Chicken salad on lettuce on a piece of toast on a plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

One of the many benefits of our Recipe Showdown series, beyond narrowing down popular recipes find to the absolute best one, is that we also learn new techniques and interesting ways to use old favorite ingredients. Case in point: The winning recipe from our chicken salad showdown, which has a surprising ingredient that makes it so special.

The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Salad recipe calls for a ton of optional add-ins, but the less-optional dressing ingredients are what won all of us over — specifically one in particular. Here’s what we learned about chicken salad dressing from Ree Drummond’s winning recipe.

Credit: Amelia Rampe
Pioneer Woman's Chicken Salad

Brown Sugar Is the Secret to the Best Chicken Salad Ever

We love chicken salad for its creamy, tangy dressing; tender pieces of chicken; and bits of crunchy celery, red onion, and nuts. Even with some dried fruit or grapes, you’d hardly consider chicken salad sweet. So when The Pioneer Woman’s recipe called for tablespoons of brown sugar, it certainly raised an eyebrow. But as Studio Food Editor Amelia discovered, a touch of sweetness was everything basic chicken salad needed.

Ree’s recipe calls for yogurt and half-and-half in the dressing, which keeps things from getting too sweet, but you can easily adapt Ree’s secret ingredient to your own favorite chicken salad. Just add a tablespoon of brown sugar for every cup of dressing in your recipe for the best chicken salad ever.