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This comforting and hearty King Ranch Chicken casserole features layers of corn tortillas, cheese, and a creamy chicken mixture loaded with bell peppers, tomatoes, and green chiles! Perfect for potlucks or family get-togethers!
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What is King Ranch Chicken?
This classic Southern casserole recipe started in Texas! This classic casserole has earned a spot in most people’s hearts thanks to its easy recipe, comforting nature, and ability to feed the masses.
Although its namesake is the King Ranch, the largest ranch in all of Texas, there’s no history linking the cheesy, creamy casserole to the ranch itself. In fact, there’s no written history of where the casserole DID come from. But Texans happily claim it as their comfort food mascot.
Table of Contents
- Chicken: this recipe uses cooked and shredded chicken; you can make this yourself ahead of time or grab a rotisserie chicken and shred it to save time. If you want to make your own, you can use my method here in this Shredded Mexican Chicken, where the chicken is seared and poached. This method creates a perfectly tender and moist chicken. Just skip the seasoning mixture.
- Tortillas: corn tortillas are the best for this recipe; the texture of the corn blends in with the casserole. The tortillas can be swapped for tortilla chips if you prefer.
- Diced Tomatoes with Green Chiles: any brand will work; Rotel is a popular brand. Store brands will work just as well. If you cannot find either, you can always use a can of diced tomatoes and a can of diced green chiles.
- Cheese: This recipe uses Monterey Jack cheese, a classic Tex-Mex cheese. Feel free to substitute with any cheese of your choice that melts well.
- Jalapeño: this dish has a very mild heat; if you are concerned about the heat amount, you can substitute the jalapeño with a green bell pepper or leave it out altogether.
How to Make (step-by-step)
To get started, let’s talk about the traditional way of making this casserole dish. You combine leftover chicken with cream of mushroom soup and Rotel and layer the mixture with tortillas.
We’re going to make this without the cream of mushroom soup.
So let’s talk about how to make this King Ranch Casserole without canned soup!
- Sauté veggies: In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add the onion and bell peppers. Cook until the veggies are tender. Add in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir to coat the veggies in the seasonings.
- Create roux: Sprinkle the flour into the skillet. Stir to coat the veggies in the flour until it becomes a thick paste. Cook the mixture for a few minutes to thoroughly cook the flour. Pour in the broth and stir. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring and let simmer while stirring for about 2-3 minutes until thick.
- Add the diced tomatoes with green chiles and sour cream to the sauce. Stir to combine.
- Add the shredded chicken to the sauce and stir, coating the chicken entirely in the sauce.
- Briefly fry the corn tortillas in a small amount of oil. Not enough to make them crispy, just enough to soften and heat briefly. Frying brings out the tortillas’ corn flavoring and helps keep some texture when baked in the dish. Quick frying is the same method that I use when making enchiladas.
- Layer the casserole: tortillas, chicken mixture, cheese, and repeat. The casserole ends with a layer of tortillas topped with cheese on the very top. Bake the casserole until bubbly and warmed throughout.
- Use corn tortillas. The flavor and texture are perfect for casseroles!
- Fry the tortillas briefly before layering. I use the same method to make enchiladas. Quick frying in a small amount of oil in a cast iron skillet helps bring out the flavor of the tortilla. It helps them hold up more against the casserole liquid, so they’re not mush.
- Use leftover or rotisserie chicken. Having shredded chicken on hand makes this recipe come together quick and easy!
How to Cook using a Slow Cooker
You can make this casserole recipe in a slow cooker! To do that, follow the instructions through step 6. Instead of layering the casserole in a dish, put the layers into your slow cooker. You can also make it easier to dish and serve by cutting the tortillas into smaller bite-size pieces, about one and 1/2-inch squares.
Set this to low and let heat for about 1-2 hours. Heat the casserole thoroughly and wait for the tortillas to soften.
- Cornbread: serve this casserole with a side of Buttermilk Cornbread or spice it up with some Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread.
- Vegetables: roasted vegetables are a healthy side dish for most meals. This dish will pair nicely with some roasted Mexican vegetables, Grilled Mexican Street Corn, Tex Mex Roasted Potatoes.
- Salad: a cold, crisp salad topped with some homemade ranch dressing, blue cheese dressing, or avocado ranch dressing are all favorites. Or serve a fun Classic Wedge Salad.
- Beans: a classic Tex-Mex side dish, beans are always a standby. Try our Borracho Beans, Charro Beans or Authentic Refried Beans with this cheesy casserole.
Freezing and Storage
- Make Ahead: This meal is perfect for preparing ahead of time to quickly and efficiently serve dinner, especially on busy nights. First, prepare the casserole, wrap it tightly, and refrigerate it for one day before baking. Then, let the dish rest at room temp for 30 mins before baking.
- Freezing: For best results, freeze the casserole wrapped in plastic wrap and foil for up to 3 months. Then, thaw it overnight in the fridge before letting it come to room temperature for 30 minutes and baking according to the recipe instructions.
- Storage: Keep leftover casserole fresh by storing it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or freezing it for up to 3 months.
More Texas Classic Recipes
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup yellow onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 1¾ cup chicken broth
- 1 (10 ounce) diced tomatoes with green chiles drained
- 1½ cup sour cream
- 2 lbs chicken cooked and shredded
- 4 cups monterey jack cheese shredded
- 18 corn tortillas yellow or white
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- cilantro chopped
- sour cream
- Preheat oven to 350℉ degrees. Spray 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat melt the butter. Once melted add the onion, and bell peppers. Allow to cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned.
- Add in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt, and black pepper. Stir to coat the veggies in the seasonings.
- Sprinkle the flour into the skillet. Stir to coat the veggies in the flour, will end up with a thick paste. Cook briefly for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour in the broth and stir. Bring mixture to a boil while stirring and let simmer while stirring for about 2-3 minutes until thick. Remove from heat, allow to cool for about 2 minutes and stir in the diced tomatoes with green chiles and the sour cream. Stir to combine. Add the shredded chicken and stir until mixed. Set aside.
- Pour the avocado oil into a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Once the oil is heated carefully lay the tortillas in the oil in batches. Cook until just lightly fried, they should be flexible still and not crispy. Remove from oil and place onto a plate lined with paper towels to catch the remaining oil.
- Once all tortillas are cooked layer 6 tortillas on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer the tortillas to cover as much of the dish as possible. Top with half of the chicken mixture then one third of the cheese. Repeat by layering 6 more tortillas, the remaining half of the chicken mixture, and one third of the cheese. Top with the remaining tortillas and the rest of the cheese.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven allow to cool for several minutes then serve warm. Can serve with additional sour cream and fresh cilantro.
- Flour: recipe uses all purpose flour, use gluten free options as needed.
- Chicken: use cooked, shredded chicken. This can be made ahead of time or use a rotisserie chicken.
- Jalapeño: gives a mild heat, can be substituted with green bell pepper if needed or omitted completely.
- Monterey Jack Cheese: can be substituted with cheddar or other nicely melting cheese.
- Make Ahead: prepare the casserole according to directions, instead of baking, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Bake according to directions, increase time as needed to have warmed throughout.
- Freezing: Prepare the dish according to the recipe. Allow to cool to room temperature. Wrap tightly in two layers of foil and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw, remove to the refrigerator overnight. Allow dish to warm at room temperature for 30 minutes before reheating.
- Reheating: Cover dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, remove foil then continue baking the casserole for 15-30 more minutes, or until heated through.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe first published August 28, 2019. Updated November 1, 2022 with new images and information. Recipe is unchanged.
Photography by the talented @KJandCompany.co