Do you love Chick-fil-A's salads so much, you want to eat them everyday for lunch? Our copycat Chick-fil-A lemon kale Caesar salad will stay within your budget, and will help you stay healthy. Keep reading to learn how to make their famous marinade, the spice rub, and their newest dressing: the lemon Caesar vinaigrette. You'll learn all the secrets to make the healthiest main course on CFA's 2021 menu.
Most of the ingredients in this fresh spring salad are pantry staples and are easy to find at your local grocery store. There is one ingredient we included to make it taste better, which may be harder to find, but you can get it at a Super Walmart in the U.S. or order it online: it's the Parmesan crisps.
- Salad: We used mostly romaine lettuce and a little bit of curly kale.
- Meat: We used boneless, skinless chicken breast. It's marinaded in a pickle juice and milk mixture, rubbed with spices, grilled, and cut into nuggets.
- Cheese: We shaved a block of hard Parmesan cheese with a box grater and veggie peeler to make the shards.
- Crouton Substitute: Chick-fil-A uses a lemon Parmesan panko topping instead of the croutons that a traditional Caesar salad has. We swapped the panko for crushed Parmesan crisps, which are cheesy, crunchy, and gluten free. We found that the panko crumbs got very soggy once the dressing was added, sank to the bottom, and didn't provide the desired crunch. If you want to make the panko topping, read the recipe card notes section.
- Citrus: We used a fresh lemon cut into wedges. Make sure each salad has at least 2 wedges, which should be squeezed onto the greens before enjoying.
- Dressing: We made our own version of Chick-fil-A's lemon Caesar vinaigrette.
See recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
- Need this vegan? Omit the chicken and use vegan cheese.
- Need to reduce the calories? Skip the vinaigrette and drizzle the salad only with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- Need this keto? Leave out the powdered sugar from the rub and the sugar from the vinaigrette.
- Can't eat lettuce? Swap out the romaine for kale and accent it with Swiss chard or spinach.
- Want a different protein? Try roasted chickpeas, grilled shiitake or portabella mushrooms, or marinated shrimp.
How to Make
Gather the ingredients for the marinade: pickle juice and milk. Get two large boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound them thin one at at time with the smooth side of the meat mallet.
Whisk the marinade ingredients and pour them into a zip top bag. Massage the marinade into the chicken, then place in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours.
Gather all the ingredients for the lemon Caesar vinaigrette.
Pour the two oils in one small bowl and set aside. Pour the rest of the dressing ingredients into a small mason jar. Place the lid on and give it a good shake, then pour in the oil and shake again.
Place in the fridge until ready to use. Shake before using, as settling will occur.
Take the chicken out 30 minutes before grilling to help the meat warm up to room temperature. Blot both sides dry with a paper towel.
Rub the spice rub onto both sides of the each chicken breast. This will help make the chicken taste more flavorful.
Grill the chicken in a cast iron grill pan on the stovetop.
Allow the meat to rest tented for 10 minutes to let the chicken finish cooking and for the juices to redistribute.
Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, slice it across the grain into nugget shapes, then pour the meat juices over top.
Gather the ingredients for the salad.
Assemble the salad with a base of fresh romaine lettuce sprinkled with curly kale, Parmesan shards, Parmesan crisps (we used these instead of the panko topping), 10 grilled chicken nuggets, and two lemon wedges.
Just before serving, squeeze the two lemon wedges on each salad and drizzle on the vinaigrette.
To round out your meal, serve this main course with Chick-fil-A drinks, like homemade lemonade or sweet tea. You can combine the two to make their new Sunjoy (an Arnold Palmer). Or, you can reach for an indulgent CFA milkshake for dessert!
As of May 2021, this new entree is Chick-fil-A's healthiest main course. One salad from the restaurant contains 470 calories, 24g fat, 22g carbs, and 43g protein. (This includes the 14g lemon Parmesan panko topping, but not the dressing.) Their dressing has 140 calories for 2 tablespoons or 2 ounces (56g).
For a similar serving size, our copycat version has 570 calories, 22.8g fat, 15g carbs, and 73.6g protein. (This includes 14g Parmesan crisps for the topping, but not the dressing.) Our copycat dressing has 156 calories for 2 tablespoons. For more nutritional information, please scroll to the end of the recipe card.
The ingredients are light, crunchy and refreshing. It tastes like lemon, thanks to the freshly squeezed lemon and the lemon Caesar vinaigrette, and a little bit cheesy thanks to the Parmesan shards and panko topping.
For one large salad, it costs $7.99 at our local restaurant. It's $2.00 less if you want it without the grilled chicken.
CFA's lemon Caesar vinaigrette was made specifically for this spring main course. It's a light dressing with only 140 calories, 13g fat, 6g carbs, 5g sugar, and 400mg sodium per 56g serving. It's made with 22 ingredients, which are listed on the back of the package.
Our version leaves out the water, xantham gum, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and calcium disodium.
On Monday, April 27, 2021, this salad was released on the menu nationwide in the U.S. as a limited time offering. We encourage you to try out the real deal if you live near this famous fast food restaurant, then make our version and tell us what you think in the comments below.
- Marinate the meat for 2 to 24 hours; at least 4 hours is best.
- Don't skip the lemon zest in the spice rub.
- Don't flip the chicken if it's stuck; cook a little longer, then flip.
- For maximum freshness and crunch, assemble just before eating.
- To make your own lemon Parmesan panko topping like Chick-fil-A uses, read the "Recipe Notes" section in the recipe card below.
Other Copycat Chick-fil-A Recipes
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Chick-fil-A Lemon Kale Caesar Salad Copycat
For the Marinade
- ½ cup dill pickle juice, strained
- ½ cup whole milk
- 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
For the Spice Rub
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, for grilling the chicken breasts
For the Lemon Caesar Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup soybean oil
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
- 2 teaspoons distilled vinegar
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest, from one lemon
- ½ teaspoon frozen concentrated lemonade
- ½ teaspoon frozen concentrated orange juice
- ¼ teaspoon white wine
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning, crushed
- ⅛ teaspoon dry mustard
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, from half a lime
- ⅛ teaspoon onion powder
For the Salad
- 8 cups romaine lettuce, rinsed, dried, and cut into bite-sized pieces
- ⅓ cup curly kale, ribs removed and torn into small pieces
- 0.7 oz Parmesan cheese shards
- 4 lemon wedges, seeds removed
- 1 oz Parmesan crisps, broken into small pieces
- 20 chicken nuggets, from the two grilled chicken breasts
Marinating the Chicken
- Place one large boneless, skinless chicken breast into a zip top bag. Keep the bag open to let the air escape and pound it thin using the flat end of the meat mallet. Repeat with the other breast.
- Combine the pickle juice and milk in a 2-cup measuring cup.
- Pour the marinade into the bag of chicken breast, then seal it. Massage the marinade into the meat with your hand, then refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
Making the Spice Rub
- Mix together all the dry ingredients with a spoon, then add the lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Making the Lemon Caesar Vinaigrette
- Pour all the dressing ingredients except the two oils into a small mason jar. Tightly screw on a lid and shake well, then add the oils and shake again until well combined. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week. Makes ½ cup.
Grilling the Chicken
- Take the chicken out of the fridge and allow it to warm up to room temperature before grilling, about 30 minutes.
- Use paper towel to pat dry both sides of each chicken breast.
- Sprinkle the rub on the meat, then rub it on both sides of each breast.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a 10-inch cast iron grill pan and allow it to heat up for 2 minutes over medium high heat. Carefully place one chicken breast on the grill. Cook for 1 minute, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 4 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to flip the chicken, then cook for 4 minutes on the other side, or until it has an internal temperature of 165 F on a meat thermometer. Repeat with the other breast.
- Place the grilled chicken breast on a clean plate, cover loosely with foil, and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. During this time, the chicken will continue to cook and will release its juices.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the cooled chicken breasts into nugget-sized pieces, making sure to slice against the grain of the meat. You should have 40 to 45 nuggets.
Finishing the Salad
- Fill a plate with the romaine lettuce, then sprinkle on the kale and Parmesan cheese chards. Place 10 grilled chicken nuggets on each salad. Sprinkle on the Parmesan crisps, and place two lemon wedges on the edge of the plate. Just before eating, drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of the lemon Caesar vinaigrette on top. Make sure that each guest squeezes both lemon wedges over the salad right before eating for the best flavor.
- Marinate the meat for at least 4 hours for the best flavor, but 24 hours is even better. Don't go beyond 24 hours, as the marinade will start to break down the proteins in the meat too much.
- For the maximum lemon flavor, don't skip the zest in the spice rub.
- Have patience when grilling; flip the chicken when it doesn't stick to the pan.
- Assemble the salad right before eating for maximum freshness and crunch.
- To make the lemon Parmesan panko topping: toss plain panko bread crumbs, lemon zest, olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Spread on baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 8 minutes or until golden brown.
Serving sizes and nutritional information are only an estimate and may vary from your results.