AUTHENTIC King Ranch Chicken Casserole

King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a cozy, comfort food classic with melty layers of chicken, tortillas, and cheese. And this authentic, from-scratch version features a simple homemade sauce with NO canned condensed soups!

King Ranch Chicken Casserole with text overlay.


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If you're a fan of this recipe, you'll also LOVE King Ranch Chicken Soup! And if you enjoy chicken casseroles in general, this Chicken Enchilada Casserole is also great!

If you happen to be from and/or reside in the great state of Texas, odds are you already know and love the wonder that is King Ranch Chicken Casserole. 🙂

If you happen to reside in another state but you've had it before, well, lucky you!

And if you've never had it before, now's your chance to change that, no matter where you live! Because the cheesy, scrumptious recipe that I'm sharing today is what I consider to be one of the best ever comfort food recipes.

Close-up of King Ranch Chicken Casserole in baking dish.

The History

Founded in 1853 in south Texas, the King Ranch remains one of the largest ranches in the world. And while the 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!

I like to think of this dish as the one that (in part) won me the heart of my husband. You see, this recipe was the main course of the first dinner that I ever cooked for him. I believe I served it with a high-brow side dish of canned ranch-style beans and Frozen Margarita Pie for dessert.

To this day, my hubby will tell you that when I cooked him that first meal of King Ranch Casserole, 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! 😉

Serving of King Ranch Chicken Casserole on plate with beans.

Authentic and From-Scratch

I adapted this King Ranch Chicken recipe from my childhood friend/college roommate's mom's recipe...and I consider that recipe to be pretty darn authentic since she is a multi-generational native Texan!

That being said, since college, I'd always made this recipe 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 always turned out dee-li-cious.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole close-up on plate.

NO Canned Soups

However, when I had kids of my own, I stopped buying condensed 'Cream of X' soups in favor of making my own simple sauces, from béchamel to cheese sauce.

Why do I love from-scratch sauces so much???

  • They're quick and easy to whip up.
  • They don't include any weird ingredients or icky preservatives.
  • They allow me to control the sodium and the seasonings.

So it only made sense to replace the canned soups in traditional King Ranch Chicken Casserole with an easy homemade sauce instead!

Bite of King Ranch Chicken on fork.


So what does it take to make the aforementioned from-scratch sauce?

And what else goes into this King Ranch Chicken Casserole recipe?

Aerial view of ingredients to make King Ranch Chicken Casserole.

For the Sauce

In a matter of minutes, a few simple 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... 😉

  • Butter. Salted or unsalted will work.
  • Garlic. Freshly minced. Use extra, if you like.
  • Flour. I've successfully made this sauce with all-purpose white flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and even my favorite gluten-free flour blend.
  • Milk. I typically use whole milk, but a lower fat milk or even non-dairy milk (such as unsweetened almond milk) would work as well.
  • Chicken broth. Or chicken stock. Use low-sodium if you'd like more control over the ultimate saltiness of your recipe.
  • Spices. Specifically, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
King Ranch Chicken Casserole on plate with cilantro garnish.

For the King Ranch Casserole

In addition to the homemade sauce, you'll also need:

  • Chicken. King Ranch Chicken starts with (surprise!!!) chicken, which you may cook in the oven, the slow cooker, or poach in some simmering water on the stove. Or you can take the shortcut of shredding a trusty rotisserie's up to you! For the casserole pictured in this post, 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.
  • Corn tortillas. You'll want to quarter your tortillas. And yes, I do recommend corn tortillas over flour tortillas. As in most enchilada-type recipes, flour tortillas would get rather gummy in a soupy casserole like this.
  • Grated cheese. Cheddar, Colby Jack, or a Mexican blend all work beautifully, depending on your preference. You could also opt to use Monterey Jack or, for extra kick, pepper jack.
  • Additional chicken broth. To keep the casserole moist.
  • Rotel. AKA, diced tomatoes and green chiles. 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!
  • Fresh minced jalapeños. Optional, for garnish, if you're a fan of a little heat.
Aerial view of King Ranch Chicken Casserole in baking dish and on plate.

How to Make King Ranch Chicken Casserole

It really is a super easy recipe. Here's the scoop!

After you've cooked and shredded your chicken...

Make the Homemade Sauce:

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.
  2. Add garlic and saute for a minute until fragrant.
  3. Stir in flour and whisk continuously.
Starting homemade sauce in pot with butter and garlic.
Adding flour to make from-scratch sauce.
Whisking together butter and flour.
  1. Slowly and gradually whisk in the milk, and then the chicken broth.
  2. Increase the heat and stir continuously until the sauce is thickened.
Blending milk into sauce for King Ranch Chicken.
Adding broth.
  1. Remove from the heat.
  2. Stir in the spices and set aside.
Aerial view of finished homemade sauce for King Ranch Casserole.
Adding spices.
Homemade sauce ready to use in King Ranch Chicken.

Assemble the Casserole:

  1. Spread half of the shredded chicken in the bottom of a greased baking dish.
  2. Layer with half of the sauce.
First layer of chicken.
First layer of sauce.
  1. Arrange half of the corn tortillas on top.
  2. Sprinkle with half of the shredded cheese, and then drizzle with half of the chicken broth.
Layer of corn tortillas on top.
Shredded cheddar on top of corn tortillas.
  1. Repeat the layers one more time!
Second layer of chicken.
Next layer of homemade sauce.
Layer of corn tortillas on King Ranch Casserole.
More cheese and broth.
  1. Top the whole caboodle with Rotel and minced jalapeños, if using.
Rotel sprinkled on top of cheese.
Final garnish of minced jalapeños.
  1. Bake until hot and bubbly. And that's it!
King Ranch Chicken recipe fresh out of the oven.

Gluten-Free Version

As I mentioned above in the "Ingredients" section, it's a snap to make King Ranch Casserole gluten-free by simply using a gluten-free flour blend in the homemade sauce. Easy peasy!

Enjoying Your King Ranch Chicken

I particularly love this recipe for the way the tortillas 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...King Ranch Chicken Casserole is ultimate. Comfort. Food.

Adults love it.

Kids love it.

Even persnickety toddlers can't wait to get their little mitts on it...

Toddler eyeing King Ranch Casserole.

So thank you to my childhood friend's mama for first 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.

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 marriage proposals down the road. 🙂

More Comfort Food Classics

Serving of King Ranch Chicken Casserole on plate with beans.

BEST King Ranch Chicken Casserole

King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a cozy, comfort food classic with melty layers of chicken, tortillas, and cheese...and this authentic, from-scratch version features a simple homemade sauce with NO canned condensed soup!
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 469kcal
Print Pin Rate


  • 4 cups shredded or chopped cooked 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 (2 cups) grated cheddar OR Colby Jack cheese
  • 1 (10-ounce) can Rotel (diced tomatoes & green chiles), drained
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds & membranes removed and finely diced (optional)


  • Adjust rack to center position of oven. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • 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.
  • 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 ½ cup of the remaining chicken broth, including corners and edges. Repeat layers of chicken, sauce, tortillas, cheese, and final ½ cup broth. Evenly sprinkle Rotel and diced jalapeños (if using) over top of the casserole.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.



  • You may use leftover chicken or cook it fresh by poaching, baking, grilling, cooking in the slow cooker, etc. I typically cook 3 to 4 (depending on size) frozen chicken breasts (totaling about 1 ½ pounds) for this recipe. Alternatively, a rotisserie chicken torn into chunks yields about 4 cups.
  • All-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, or whole wheat pastry flour all work for the sauce. Or, to make this recipe gluten-free, you may substitute gluten-free baking mix in place of regular flour.
  • You can use regular whole milk or an unsweetened non-dairy milk (such as almond milk) in the sauce.
  • 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.


Calories: 469kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 374mg | Potassium: 478mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 810IU | Vitamin C: 5.6mg | Calcium: 333mg | Iron: 2.5mg
Made this recipe? I'd love to see on IG!Mention @FiveHeartHome or tag #FiveHeartHome!

Post originally published on September 28, 2014, and updated on October 22, 2019, and February 3, 2022.

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4.87 from 38 votes (17 ratings without comment)

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    1. You can assemble your King Ranch Casserole as directed, but allow it to cool completely if any of the components (like the sauce or the chicken) are still warm. Then cover tightly (I used a double-layer of foil) and freeze unbaked for up to three months. Completely thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking as directed.

  1. 1 star
    I've been making King Ranch Chicken Casserole for at least 40 years using canned soup, so I was very interested in using the home made "sauce" instead. I'm sorry to say the home made "sauce" didn't save this casserole from being probably the worst King Ranch Chicken Casserole I've ever made. The "sauce" itself was flavorful, but this whole recipe simply did not work. Maybe the "sauce" can be used in some other mexican style recipe, such as a tortilla soup to make it creamy. Since the typical King Ranch Chicken Casserole uses almost the exact other ingredients, I can only guess that this recipe didn't work due to the application of the other ingredients (for example, topping the casserole with the rotel tomatoes instead of mixing it into the casserole itself).

    1. Sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy this, Ann. This recipe is adapted from one that's at least 40 years as well, and the only change I made was substituting my homemade sauce for the canned soup. The recipe is assembled and layered in what I thought was a pretty common method for making King Ranch Casserole. I don't think the Rotel on top would affect the outcome...

  2. 4 stars
    Very good! Easy to halve given that the sauce is homemade. (We’re a family of two.) I doubled the seasonings and used canned chicken. The only thing I would do differently is layer some of the Ro-tel and jalapeño in the middle.

  3. Your white sauce makes all the difference! I dislike the flavor of the canned soups in King Ranch Casserole. Wonderful flavor.
    I added chopped onion sauted in olive oil.

  4. 5 stars
    This is an excellent almost-from-scratch recipe that doesn't call for canned soups. Very easy and it comes together quickly. I made it for dinner last night using a rotisserie chicken. Served it with a green salad and applesauce. Delicious! The family loved it.

  5. 5 stars
    This was so good! I followed the recipe exactly. I was afraid it would be too liquidy as it baked, but it turned out perfect. Love it with the homemade sauce! So good and not difficult at all! I have to admit, I might add corn and bell peppers next time. Highly recommend!

  6. 5 stars
    I made this casserole to bring to a potluck. I made it the day before and reheated it in a low oven. It was a hit with everyone. A couple of notes:
    I dialed the quantity to 12 servings and followed the recipe exactly using poached chicken breast. When I made the white sauce, with the recommended seasoning quantities, it had very little flavor. I adjusted the seasonings bit by bit until I liked the flavor. It could have been an issue with the ingredient calculator. I also couldn't find any rotelle, so used some canned peppers and chopped fresh tomatoes and made my own, and it worked out well. Aside from the seasoning issue, which I will adjust on my print-out, this worked very well and was delicious. Perfect for a potluck or larger crowd.

  7. Hi! I grew up in Texas and this was my Mom’s go to party recipe! I am excited to try yours. She never used soup in hers either! What type of beans are pictured for side dish. Any other side dish ideas to serve with this! Thank you! Brings back memories!

    1. 5 stars
      I want to make this version of the King Ranch casserole tonight. Looking forward to making without the condensed soups 🙂 The charro beans look amazing. Unfortunately, I do not have time to make the bean recipe today but cannot wait to try in the future! I am so glad I came across your site today.

      1. 5 stars
        I made this the first time when having friends from Texas over for dinner. It was a huge hit! We served it with cowboy salad and tortilla chips. It's so delicious when scooped onto a tortilla chip! I will make this again and again. Thank you for the recipe!