King Ranch chicken is a cheesy casserole dish full of Tex-Mex flavors, that combines layers of chicken and corn tortillas in a luxurious creamy sauce . Rich and decadent, this king ranch casserole recipe is the ultimate comfort food.
What’s in King Ranch Chicken?
The main ingredients in King Ranch chicken is shredded chicken and corn tortillas enveloped in a cheesy sauce made with green chilies and chopped tomatoes, and seasoned with Tex-Mex spices like chili powder and ground cumin.
This authentic recipe for cheesy King ranch chicken casserole is made from scratch with simple ingredients and doesn’t include canned soup such as cream of mushroom soup or cream of chicken soup. Don’t worry, this great recipe is very easy to make!
What’s King Ranch Chicken Casserole?
Rooted in the lone star state, this hearty dish is a popular Tex-Mex casserole often served for family dinners, potlucks and church suppers. Many believe the original recipe came from King Ranch in Southern Texas, the largest cattle ranch in the US. However, there are no records connecting King Ranch with this casserole recipe.
The difference between this King Ranch chicken recipe and other comforting casseroles is the use of flavorful spices and Rotel tomatoes (or a combination of chopped tomatoes and green peppers) which add flavor and some spiciness to the creamy and cheesy sauce. If you are not a fan of spicy foods, don’t worry! You can adjust the heat level to your taste.
How Does King Ranch Chicken Taste Like?
This easy king ranch chicken casserole recipe is made with layers of tender chicken pieces, peppers and corn tortillas in a creamy, cheesy and flavored with Tex-Mex spices.
Ingredients and Substitutions
This easy casserole recipe is made with simple ingredients found at any grocery store. For the complete list of ingredients and their quantities check the recipe card below.
- Pulled Chicken / Shredded Chicken: Cooked chicken breasts or chicken thighs can be used. For convenience, you can use rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken if that’s what you have.
- Chicken Broth: I prefer using broth instead of water which builds flavor. You can use vegetable broth as well. You can use low-sodium if preferred.
- Tomatoes: You can use diced tomatoes with green chiles such as Rotel or canned diced tomatoes.
- Chopped Green Chiles: Canned green chiles come in mild, medium or hot. Roasted poblano peppers, chopped are also a good option.
- Spices: chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano (Mexican oregano or Italian work well).
- Garlic Cloves: I like using fresh garlic but garlic paste works too. Garlic powder is an option if that’s all you have.
- Bell Peppers: I use red bell peppers and green bell peppers which add vibrant color, a slight crunch and a hint of sweet flavor.
- Butter: Salted or unsalted butter can be used. Butter is used to make the roux which is the basis of the sauce.
- Flour: I use all-purpose flour which is the base of the sauce.
- Cheese: I use a combination of Monterrey Jack cheese and sharp cheddar cheese. Medium or mild cheddar can be used.
- Tortillas: I use corn tortillas. You can use yellow or white corn tortillas.
- Milk: Whole milk makes a creamier sauce than 2% or fat-free milk.
- Sour Cream: Sour cream adds a hint of tanginess and contributes to the richness of the sauce.
- Toppings: (optional) Fresh cilantro, chopped tomatoes, sliced avocados and green onions.
How to Make King Ranch Chicken
- Sauté: In a large skillet, sauté the onion, red and green bell peppers, and jalapeño briefly before adding the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, salt, and black pepper.
- Make a Roux: Add the flour and stir before pouring in the broth and milk. Bring the mixture to a boil while continuing to stir. Once the mixture becomes thick, remove it from the heat and add tomatoes, green chiles, and sour cream.
- Add Chicken: Fold in the shredded chicken. Add the cheeses to a large bowl and mix together.
- Layering: Place warm tortillas in the prepared baking dish sprayed with cooking spray, allowing the edges to overlap. Ensure that they completely cover the bottom of the dish.
- Spoon half of the chicken mixture over top of the tortillas and sprinkle some of the cheese over top of the mixture. Place another layer of tortillas over top.
- Repeat with the rest of the chicken, a portion of the cheese, and the remaining tortillas.
- Then, top the tortillas with the remaining cheese and cover the pan with aluminum foil.
- Bake: Bake for the recommended time before removing the foil and continuing to bake briefly. Garnish and serve.
Make King Ranch Chicken Like A Pro
This recipe is best when made with corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas.
Lightly spray the aluminum foil before covering the chicken to prevent the top layer of cheese from sticking.
Frequently Asked Questions About King Ranch Chicken
What is King Ranch Chicken Made Of?
King Ranch chicken is a layered casserole made with corn tortillas, and tender chicken pieces and a sauce flavored with a combination of cheese in a creamy and slightly spicy sauce. This cheese casserole is the ultimate comfort food.
Why is it called King Ranch chicken?
This Tex-Mex style dish’s background is unclear. However, it is assumed that its name is in some way associated with King Ranch in South Texas in the United States which is one of the largest ranches in the world — it is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
- Mexican Green Chile Rice
- Sweet Potato Corn Bread
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Mexican Street Corn Salad
- Mexican Three Bean Salad
Make Ahead, Storing, Freezing, and Reheating
You can easily make the chicken ahead of time and shred it so that the dish comes together quickly. You can also layer the casserole in the dish and refrigerate or freeze it before baking.
Once the casserole cools to room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap, or transfer it to an airtight container, and refrigerate for 3-4 days.
Wrap the whole casserole tightly with plastic wrap and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
If frozen, allow the casserole to thaw before baking. Otherwise, gently reheat in the oven or microwave briefly.
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King Ranch Chicken
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper chopped
- 1 small green bell pepper chopped
- 1 jalapeno seeded and chopped finely
- 3 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- ¼ – ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ – 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 (10-ounces) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained (such Rotel)
- 1 4.5-ounce can chopped green chiles, undrained
- 1 ½ cups sour cream
- 2 pounds cooked chicken breasts shredded
- 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese shredded (about 2 cups)
- 8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese shredded (about 2 cups)
- 18 6-inch white corn tortillas
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
For serving: sliced avocado, diced tomatoes, sour cream (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly coat a 13×9 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- In a large skillet over medium heat melt the butter. Add the onion, red and green bell peppers, and jalapeno; and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables become tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, salt, and black pepper; cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture; cook, stirring constantly, for about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the broth and milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the tomatoes, green chiles, and sour cream. Stir in the chicken and mix to combine.
- Combine the cheeses in a bowl. Heat the tortillas in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
- Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with 6 tortillas, overlapping slightly, to cover the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the chicken mixture, one-third of the cheese, and 6 more tortillas. Top with the remaining chicken, one-third of the cheese, and remaining 6 tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining one-third cheese. Cover with lightly greased aluminum foil.
- Bake covered for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is lightly browned and melted, 5 to 10 more minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Top with the desired toppings.