This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

This Pesto Chicken Salad is a fun and fresh take on a classic lunch staple. Juicy chicken breasts are cooked in the crockpot for extra hands-off prep, shredded or diced, then mixed with fresh spinach basil pesto and pine nuts. It’s simple, fresh, healthy, and perfect for meal prep!

overhead of a bowl of chicken salad next to a small bowl of pesto.

Easy Crockpot Recipe for Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is one of those classic meal prep recipes that you can always rely on. But sometimes it’s fun to switch the flavors up a little bit!

We’ve got a few fun recipes for chicken salad, including sun-dried tomato chicken salad, taco chicken salad, and apple dill chicken salad…but this pesto chicken salad might just be the best chicken salad recipe yet.

This version is a mayo-free chicken salad made with dairy-free pesto. It packs an herby punch and is so, so delicious!

a fork being plunged into a bowl of pesto chicken salad.

Ingredients Needed

  • Chicken Breast: I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
  • Chicken Broth: You will need enough chicken broth to completely cover the chicken breasts in the crockpot.
  • Aromatics: We’re creating a flavor base for the chicken using a little bit of fresh garlic and onion.
  • Seasonings: I like to keep it simple with salt and pepper. The chicken broth adds plenty of flavor!
  • Spinach Basil Pesto: Our simple homemade pesto is made with a combination of basil, fresh baby spinach, raw cashews, parmesan (optional), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and pine nuts.

How to Make Chicken Salad

This easy chicken salad recipe comes together with very little prep. And since the chicken is cooked in the crockpot, it’s very hands-off!

Here’s a breakdown of the recipe. Scroll to the recipe card below for full instructions and ingredient amounts!

  1. Cook the chicken: Place your chicken breasts into the slow cooker, then pour the broth over top. Add in garlic, onion, salt, and pepper, then cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours.
  2. Make the pesto: In a food processor or blender, combine basil, spinach, cashews, parmesan, oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth.
  3. Assemble the chicken salad: Once the chicken is done cooking, remove from the crockpot, shred or dice it, then mix it with the pesto and pine nuts. Serve as desired.

Can You Put Raw Chicken Straight Into the Slow Cooker?

Yes! The chicken goes into the crockpot raw and comes out perfectly tender, juicy, and cooked. No extra cooking necessary.

Don’t skip the broth, though. Cooking chicken in the slow cooker does require a liquid! It adds flavor and prevents the chicken from burning on the bottom of the slow cooker insert.

Does Cooking Chicken Longer in the Crockpot Make It More Tender?

Usually, yes. Technically, you can cook the chicken either on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours. Either option is perfectly sufficient…and delicious!

However, if you have a little extra time to work with, I do recommend cooking on low for the full 6 hours. The lower, slower cooking time creates even more tender and flavorful chicken.

Should Chicken Be Hot or Cold for Chicken Salad?

In this chicken salad, it doesn’t matter! You can serve this pesto chicken salad while it’s still warm or chill it completely and enjoy it cold from the fridge as you would classic chicken salad.

Either way, it’s delicious!

overhead of two halves of bread on a plate covered in chicken salad.

Tips and Notes

  • Let the chicken cool slightly before shredding it and mixing it with the pesto. Giving it just a few minutes to rest lets the moisture and flavor settle into the meat.
  • If you blend the pesto and it still isn’t smooth enough, try adding a tablespoon at a time of hot water or olive oil until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Working with less time? Make this recipe using pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, any leftover chicken you have in your fridge, or use my instant pot shredded chicken recipe.


  • Add more protein. Make your chicken salad even more filling by adding in crumbled hard-boiled egg or even chickpeas.
  • Add more veggies. This recipe is already pretty darn healthy, but you can give it a little more nutrition by stirring in diced celery, tomato or sun dried tomato, diced cucumber, shredded carrot, diced mushroom, you name it.
  • Make it creamy. Prefer a creamy chicken salad? Try stirring in a spoonful of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt.
half of a piece of toast topped with pesto chicken salad being lifted off of a plate.

Serving Suggestions

As you likely already know, there are tons of different ways you can serve classic chicken salad. This recipe for chicken salad is no different!

Here are just some ways you can enjoy it:

  • Pile it on a sandwich. This is, of course, the classic way to enjoy chicken salad. Just spread it onto a slice of your favorite bread topped with baby spinach and avocado if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Wrap it up. Wrap it up into your favorite gluten-free tortilla or check out our post about making lettuce wraps.
  • Dollop it on a salad. Serve it over a bed of classic romaine lettuce, spinach, or baby kale.
  • Stuff it into an avocado or cucumber. Scoop the pit out of an avocado or hollow the seeds out of a cucumber and fill one or the other with some chicken salad. If you’re using cucumber, I recommend a traditional cucumber, which is larger than European or greenhouse cucumbers.
  • Scoop it up with chips or crackers. There are lots of gluten-free brands. You could also use seed-based, or cheese crackers if you’re enjoying a low-carb snack.
  • Shovel it into your mouth with a spoon. It really is that good!
overhead of a bowl of chicken salad next to a fork.

How to Store

Leftover pesto chicken salad can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Can You Freeze Chicken Salad?

Yes! This chicken salad can easily be frozen. Simply let it cool completely, then store it in a freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to 3 months.

When you’re ready to serve, simply let it thaw completely in the fridge first.

Watch the video:

Like this chicken salad recipe, check out these others:

Pin this recipe to save it for later!

Pin it!
overhead of a bowl of chicken salad next to a small bowl of pesto.

Pesto Chicken Salad

A fresh take on a classic lunch staple: a mayo free chicken salad, partly made in the slow cooker, and mixed together with fresh pesto made with basil, spinach and cashews. Perfect for meal prep!
Servings 6
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours


For chicken:

  • 1-1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1 small onion diced
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

For Spinach Pesto:

  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews or nut of choice
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese grated (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup pine nuts


  • Place chicken in the insert of a slow cooker. Pour broth over the chicken. If the broth doesn’t cover all of the chicken, add more. Add in garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.
  • Remove the chicken and either dice it, or shred it with two forks. Let cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile make pesto: Add basil, spinach, cashews, parmesan cheese (if using), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper to a food processor or a high speed blender. Process until pesto is smooth. If needed, add in a tablespoon of hot water or olive oil more as needed to make a smooth pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • Combine the diced chicken, the pesto and the pine nuts and serve on a sandwich, over a bed of lettuce or in a wrap.


This recipe was updated with new photos in 2020.


Calories: 353kcalCarbohydrates: 6gProtein: 36.6gFat: 20.2gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 488mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1.3g
Course: Lunch
Author: Lexi

You May Also Like

Secrets to Quick Dinners
Get my practical tips & advice for a healthier life dropped right into your inbox!
newsletter collage

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating


  1. This recipe sounds amazing but my family prefers chicken thighs, would you alter the recipe if you were using thighs or still use 1.5 lbs for 3hrs?

  2. Is this a recipe that could be freezer friendly? Could I make it and then put it in the freezer and prepare it in the crockpot later?

  3. Made this tonight for our lunch for the rest of the week! Soooooo good!! Love that your recipes are so simple and tasty!!

  4. Oh yum! This looks deelish and sounds so easy to make! We’ve never seen a recipe like this before so we’ll have to give it a go, thanks 🙂

  5. Hi Lexi,
    I just came across your blog. I started eating clean one week ago today. 🙂 I decided to do so for all the same reasons you did – but I’m hoping for a nice side benefit of -50 lbs 🙂 Wish me luck!

    I’m looking forward to trying your recipes and I’m starting with your crock-pot pesto chicken salad.

    Everything looks amazing! Thanks for sharing your passion with the world!

  6. Hey found you through facebook and I like your website a lot. I like your recipes too and I just wanted to say keep up the good work!

  7. This looks amazing – I would have never thought to just use crockpot shredded chicken and pesto. Such a great staple to have on hand all week!