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King Ranch Chicken Casserole

King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a cozy, comfort food classic with melty layers of chicken, tortillas, and cheese. And this from-scratch version features a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed soup!

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

I think it’s probably time to confess that I’ve been holding out on y’all. It’s true. After all, it’s taken me 1 year, 3 months, and 29 days of blogging to share with you one of my all-time favorite recipes. But today the wait is over…I present to you comforting, classic, King Ranch Chicken Casserole!

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

Many (if not most) of you have probably heard of the King Ranch. Founded in 1853 in south Texas, it remains one of the largest ranches in the world. And while the King Ranch has a fascinating and storied history, King Ranch Chicken Casserole seems to be a tribute in name only, with no record of it being historically connected to the actual cattle ranch in any way. Nevertheless, this is a cozy, gooey, cheesy casserole whose appeal is as vast as the state of Texas!

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com I’ve mentioned before that my mom is from Germany, and while she cooked plenty of American — and even Texan — fare while I was growing up, King Ranch Chicken Casserole never made it on the menu. My first time trying this delicacy was in college, when my roommate’s mom would occasionally visit on the weekends and cook it for our household of poor, starving, college students. It quickly became a favorite, so I jotted down the recipe on an index card way back then and I’ve been making it ever since.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com I like to think of this dish as the one that (in part) won me the heart of my husband. You see, this was the main course of the first dinner that I ever cooked for him. I believe I served it with a high-brow side of canned ranch-style beans and frozen margarita pie for dessert. To this day, my hubby will tell you that when I cooked that first meal for him, he just knew he had to marry me. So it goes without saying that this has been a regular recipe in our dinner rotation for all of our years of wedded bliss!

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

Now y’all know that I like to put my own spin on recipes by replacing canned/packaged ingredients with fresh wherever possible. That wasn’t always the case, mind you. I’ve been making this recipe for years using the standard can of Cream of Chicken soup plus can of Cream of Mushroom soup. And let me tell you…using those cans, it has always turned out dee-li-cious. But several years ago, I stopped buying condensed ‘Cream of X’ soups in favor of making my own simple sauces, from bรฉchamel to cheese sauce. I love from-scratch sauces like these because they’re quick to whip up, don’t include any weird ingredients or icky preservatives, and allow me to control the sodium and seasonings.

The sauce used in this casserole calls for butter, garlic, flour, milk, chicken broth, and spices. After just a few minutes, these ingredients transform into a thick and creamy sauce that puts canned soup to shame. And I promise that it’s so easy! So step away from the can opener, friends… ๐Ÿ˜‰

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

King Ranch Chicken Casserole starts with (surprise!!!) chicken, which you may cook in the oven, the slow cooker, in some simmering water on the stove, or take the shortcut of using a trusty rotisserie chicken…it’s up to you! For the casserole pictured here, I tossed some frozen chicken breasts in the crock pot, seasoned them well, and let them do their thing until they were tender to the point of falling apart.

Spread half of your shredded chicken in the bottom of the dish, layer with half of your sauce and quartered corn tortillas, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar. Repeat the layers once more and then top the whole caboodle with diced tomatoes and green chiles (and jalapeรฑos, if you’re a fan of a little heat). I’ve been known to use fresh tomatoes when they’re in season, but Rotel is more readily available year-round, so I suppose I need to take back what I said earlier. Feel free to get the can opener back out!King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

And that’s it! Pop your baking dish in the oven and bake until hot and bubbly. The tortillas will soften into the sauce, causing the scrumptious layers to practically meld together. You can garnish with fresh cilantro, sour cream, salsa, and/or diced avocado if you like, or you can just enjoy the steamy simplicity of chicken, tortillas, and cheese without any adornments. Any way you slice it, I’m telling you…this is ultimate. Comfort. Food. Adults love it. Kids love it. Even persnickety toddlers can’t wait to get their little mitts on it…

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

So thank you to my former roomie’s mom for introducing me to this recipe. Thank you to my significant other for liking it enough to marry me. And thank YOU for bringing joy to your family by adding these ingredients to your grocery list and making it for dinner this week! I promise…King Ranch Chicken Casserole will be an instant keeper in your recipe file.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole ~ a comfort food classic layered with chicken, tortillas, cheese, and a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed 'cream of X' soup | FiveHeartHome.com

One last warning, though…if you happen to be single, be sure to wield the power of this casserole with great care. After all, this is a recipe that’s entirely capable of eliciting you a marriage proposal somewhere down the road. ๐Ÿ˜‰

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a cozy, comfort food classic with melty layers of chicken, tortillas, and cheese. And this from-scratch version features a simple homemade sauce in place of condensed soup!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked, shredded chicken
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 12 corn tortillas, quartered
  • 8 ounces grated cheddar or Colby Jack cheese
  • 1 (10-ounce) can Rotel, drained
  • 1 jalapeรฑo, seeds & membranes removed and finely diced, optional

Instructions

  1. Adjust rack to center position of oven. Preheat oven to 350ยฐF. Lightly spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Make the white sauce by melting butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic to the pot and saute until fragrant and light golden brown, about 1 minute. Stir in the flour and whisk continuously for 1 minute. Slowly and gradually whisk in milk and 1 cup chicken stock. Increase heat to medium and stir continuously for several minutes until sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove pot from the heat and stir in cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
  3. Evenly scatter half of the shredded chicken in the bottom of the baking dish. Dollop half of the sauce on top of the chicken and use the back of a spoon to spread it in an even layer. Arrange half of the corn tortilla quarters on top, overlapping slightly and tearing in half to fill in any gaps, if necessary. Sprinkle half of the grated cheese on top. Drizzle the entire surface with 1/2 cup of the remaining chicken broth, including corners and edges. Repeat layers of chicken, sauce, tortillas, cheese, and final 1/2 cup broth. Evenly sprinkle Rotel and diced jalapeรฑos (if using) over top of the casserole.
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Notes

You may use leftover chicken or cook it fresh by poaching, baking, grilling, cooking in the slow cooker, etc. I typically cook 4 (medium-sized) frozen chicken breasts for this recipe. Alternatively, a rotisserie chicken torn into chunks yields about 4 cups.

If you can't find Rotel, you may use a regular can of diced tomatoes plus a small (4-ounce) can of diced green chiles in its place. Or you can use an equivalent amount of fresh diced tomatoes and green chiles.

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And see all of our recipes <<< HERE!

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Comments

  1. Thank you for all the lovely recipes.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      You’re very welcome, as always, Liz! Hope you enjoy this one, and hope you’re having a wonderful week! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I’ve heard of King Ranch Chicken many times, but I don’t recall tasting it. Now I can, because I don’t do canned soups, but you’ve taken care of that issue! Muchas gracias!

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      You’re welcome, Julia! It’s a staple at our house, and I like it even better ever since I started swapping out the canned soups for homemade sauce. I hope you enjoy it, too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Holy cow, Samantha, this looks AMAZING! I am a huge fan of casseroles of any kind and the fact that this is your fave makes me super excited to try it ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Thank you so much, Amy! It is amazing, in a simple, cheesy, total comfort food kind of way. ๐Ÿ™‚ Let me know what you think when you try it!

  4. Debbie Caraballo says:

    This is the first dish I ever made for my hubby, the very first time we met in person! (After 5 yrs of talking online, and on the phone!). He just loved it, and the Texas un-Sheet Cake I made for dessert. I’ve made the sauces instead of using cream soups a couple of times, and I really loved the results- I think it would be awesome in this casserole. Thanks for sharing it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      So glad I’m not the only one to discover that KRC casserole is the way to a man’s heart, Deb — ha! Definitely give it a try with the homemade sauce sometime…makes it even better! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you’re having a fabulous week!

  5. When I read King Ranch in the title of the recipe, I was on my horse racing toward the chuck wagon. But then just as quick I was relating as a starving college student. However THE bestest part of the whole blog
    was this being the first meal you fixed your husband and his reaction to that. I am a #1 romantic. I loved the story! Very very sweet. Thank you for sharing.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      You are too sweet, Carol. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments and I also appreciate the fact that you actually read all of my rambling! ๐Ÿ˜‰ This recipe will always be special to me…I’m glad I had a chance to share the story and that you enjoyed it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. This is going on my meal plan next week!!! Looks delicious!

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      I’m so glad you’re going to give this recipe a try, Kalyn, and I hope it’s a big hit! ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy Saturday!

  7. Mmm. This looks delicious and perfect for a chilly day! Thanks for sharing! Pinning
    -Michelle @TheGraciousWife.com

  8. I make something very similar & we love it. I will have to give yours a whirl.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      I bet your version is yummy, too, Meghan…it’s hard to go wrong with chicken, tortillas, and cheese, right?! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope you enjoy this one if you give it a try. Have a great rest of the weekend!

  9. You have the most amazing pictures! I just wanted to jump through my screen and devour this recipe! Pinning for later!

    ~Meaghan

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      You are too sweet, Meaghan! Your comment made me blush and I really appreciate the pin. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope your week is off to a great start!

  10. I haven’t had this since I left college (Gig ‘Em!)… Looks like I’m going to take a trip down memory lane this week and make it for the family. Thanks for sharing!

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Gig ’em right back at you, Erin! I guess King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a College Station staple and I didn’t even realize it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope it’s as good as you remember it to be (or better!) when you have a chance to try this version. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful week!

  11. This casserole looks yummy. Anything with Rotel is for me! Pinned.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Thanks so much, Kathi, for the comment and the pin! And I’m with you…there’s not much that Rotel can’t make better. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope you enjoy this if you have a chance to try it!

  12. YUUUUMMMMMMMMEEEE! I use to make this so often when we were first married, and haven’t made it in a long time. Thanks so much for sharing with us at Weekend Potluck. Pinning this one…too. =)

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Marsha, and I appreciate the pin! Isn’t it funny how as time passes, we forget to make some of our old standby recipes? I have some past favorites that I need to revisit as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks, as always, for hosting Weekend Potluck…I always love joining y’all! Hope your week is off to a fabulous start!

  13. This sounds awesome! I was wondering if this could be a freezer meal?

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Hi Roxanne! I’ve made this many times as a freezer meal. I typically freeze it after layering everything together (unbaked), then thaw in the refrigerator and bake as directed. Hope you enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Thank you! I want to prep it now for the week. Thinking I’ll assemble it, refrigerate it and then cook it tomorrow or tuesday. Think it’ll work this way too? Or will it dry out?

        • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

          Hi Tara! That should work just fine. I’ve assembled it ahead of time and refrigerated until baking before. It shouldn’t dry out but the tortillas might get softer than if you had baked it right away, so I’d recommend baking it sooner than later (if possible). Even if the texture is slightly affected, it will still taste good either way! ๐Ÿ™‚ I would take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for a bit before baking, though. Hope you enjoy!

  14. Thanks for the king ranch chicken recipe. It’s hard to find ones without cream-of-crap soup init

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Ha, Summer…that made me laugh! I’ve never before heard that nickname for condensed cream soup but I have to agree that it’s rather fitting… ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope you enjoy this from-scratch version if you have a chance to try it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. This looks delicious – thank you! Pinning it now.

  16. I’ve been making this recipe for many, many years using the soup. I use onions in the recipe also and it is very tasty. I have made it for friends for so many years. Everyone who has ever had it, loves it.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      King Ranch Chicken Casserole is such a crowd pleaser, isn’t it, Jean? And there are so many different variations of the recipe…but I have yet to meet one that I didn’t like. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope you enjoy this spin on it if you have a chance to try it. Have a wonderful weekend!

  17. Just fixed this and my husband LOVES it. Thank you so much!!!!!!!!

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      I’m so happy to hear that, Kay! It seems this recipe is universally popular amongst husbands. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for taking the time to let me know that it was a hit at your house…have a wonderful week!

  18. this looks fabulous. I am trying for dinner tonight. My question is the beans with it, what are they? Do you have a recipe for those? Yum!

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Yes, Michelle…those beans are on the site as well! They are called Slow Cooker Charro Beans, which you can search for in the “Looking for Something?” box in the right sidebar. Of course, if you’re making beans for dinner tonight, a crock pot recipe probably won’t help you much. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m sure you could adapt it to the stovetop or even use canned pinto beans with similar herbs and spices added. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the King Ranch Chicken Casserole! ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. I’ve made this twice and it is wonderful! Love the sauce! Definitely a keeper! Thanks for a great recipe.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      I’m so happy to hear it, Nicolee! This is definitely one of my family’s favorite dinners. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for taking the time to let me know, and hope you have a great week!

  20. Suzanne W. says:

    Hi, Samantha.

    I made your King Ranch Chicken Casserole for dinner tonight. My oldest son stopped by for dinner to join the three of us, my younger son and husband and I after work. All I can say is โ€œOh my goodnessโ€ this casserole is wonderful. You can imagine with three hungry men there were not a lot of leftovers. They cleaned the pan! I did add Chipotle chili powder in lieu of regular chili powder and increased by 1 extra teaspoon. It added depth and an underlying smoke smoldering taste.
    I wanted to try this recipe because it does not call for canned soup as many of the pinned King Ranch Chicken Casseroles call for. I have eliminated all canned soup from my cooking and all processed foods cooking only with ingredients that I recognize!
    I will be searching your site for more of these type recipes! Just wanted to say โ€œthanksโ€ for the post and wanted to send a shout out to tell you how much we loved our dinner tonight. Added a crisp salad and Bushโ€™s Cocina Latina beans. Wonderful! ๏Š
    Suzanne W.
    Littleton, CO

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Hi Suzanne! Thanks so much for your thoughtful and thorough comment! It makes my day to hear that people are enjoying my recipes. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love your suggestion of using chipotle chili powder in this casserole…I’ll definitely have to try that sometime! And I’m with you on cooking with real food ingredients…aside from a few treats that I’ve posted, most of my recipes call for minimally processed ingredients (and when I use a store-bought prepared ingredient — such as canned biscuits, for example — I personally buy a natural/organic variety). Anyway, I’m so glad that this was a hit with your family and I hope y’all equally enjoy any other recipes you decide to try from the site. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you’re having a great week!

  21. I had the king ranch chicken casserole a few years back and it was ok, didn’t ask for the recipe because of the canned soup used. When I saw the recipe here I knew I had to make it. Well it was a smash hit…delicious. I took pictures and I sent it to my friends and family and they wanted to know what it was. I sent them to your website Sam so you’ll be getting more visitors. I love your recipes and I made a bunch of them already, especially the crockpot ones. Thank you for all these yummy recipes, they are my to go to one’s most of the time.

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Thanks so much for sharing that, Simona…your comment made my night! I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed this King Ranch Chicken Casserole, and I appreciate you sharing my blog with your friends and family. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you find some other recipes to try from the site that are met with equal success! Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

  22. Thank you for the recipe and for making it without the cream of X soup. Can’t wait to try it.

  23. Hi Samantha!

    Iโ€™d love to include your chicken casserole in a casserole round up Iโ€™m doing for Parade Magazine.

    If youโ€™re fine with that, could I use one of your gorgeous photos with a link back to your original post (http://www.fivehearthome.com/2014/09/28/king-ranch-chicken-casserole/)?

    Thanks so much!
    felicia

    • Samantha at Five Heart Home Samantha at Five Heart Home says:

      Hi Felicia! You are more than welcome to include this recipe in your Parade Magazine round-up…what an honor! Feel free to grab a photo and use the link, or let me know if you need me to e-mail you a photo. Thanks so much, and hope you have a great weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

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