Sweet & Savory Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is the epitome of the old saying, “It is whatever you make of it.” As long as it involves some kind of chicken and a mixture of other ingredients, it can probably be classified as chicken salad, but all chicken salads are definitely not created equal.

I’ve always preferred a sweet chicken salad with a bit of crunch to it. What I’ve found over time is that grapes add the sweetness I like, while thinly chopped almonds supply the proper crunch. Many folks add celery to chicken salad, which gives you a kind of crunch, but it also alters the flavor to produce a certain “bite” that I’m not always fond of.

After a little experimenting in the kitchen to get just the right mixture, here’s the #FoodieScore chicken salad recipe we have come to love. Sometimes we’ve used can chicken, which works extremely well for simplicity or in a pinch, but we’ve discovered that the freshness of leftover rotisserie-style chicken is even more flavorful and hearty. We’re also fond of boneless chicken breasts that have been boiled, shredded by hand and then incorporated into chicken salad.

This chicken salad recipe, which will serve about 4, is delicious in on simple white bread, on fresh, lightly toasted croissants, or as more of a dip on a plate with your favorite crackers or chips. Enjoy!

Ingredients (Just blend together well)

1 ½ cups (or 12.5 ounces) shredded chicken

1/2 cup Duke’s mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped red grapes (any color is fine, but red can add a nice pop visually)

1 tablespoon chopped almonds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Foodie Travels: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, Ala.

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For nearly 95 years, the legend of Bob Gibson’s delicious barbecue and his unique white barbecue sauce have spread across North Alabama. Despite that near-century tradition, however, most casual diners even in other parts of the South know little if any about “Big” Bob Gibson or the white sauce.

When I lived in North Alabama I had the opportunity to sample barbecue across the region—and Big Bob Gibson’s two restaurants in Decatur became my measuring stick for BBQ chicken perfection and, in my mind, the de facto original home of white sauce. (If this is your introduction to white sauce, think of it as a peppery ranch dressing-type condiment with an extra “kick” to it.

Gibson’s restaurants, still operated by his family, offer a full menu of pork, ribs, brisket, sides and other fixings, but it’s the chicken doused in that white sauce that keeps my mind coming back. So it’s fortunate you can also order bottles of the white sauce and have them shipped to your home, which is exactly what my wife Molly did this past Christmas. I couldn’t wait to open the concoction, dunk a few freshly grilled chicken breasts in it and serve them alongside a feast of Southern food favorites.

Obviously there’s nothing quite like visiting Big Bob Gibson’s two establishments in Decatur, but thanks to the restaurant and American parcel services, I can recreate the next-closest thing at home. The sauce even comes with a recipe for Grilled Chicken Breasts using the white sauce. You just coat chicken breasts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, cook with your desired method and then bathe the chicken in a bowl of white sauce. In my experience, you’ll need about half a sauce bottle for two large chicken breasts.

If you’ve visited Big Bob Gibson’s in person and you taste the sauce on your own grilled chicken at home, it’s almost like you’re instantly transported to North Alabama. And in the vast barbecue world there might be no tastier place to be.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, 1715 6th Ave. SE or 2520 Danville Road SW, Decatur, Alabama

Our Search for the Best Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Time-Out Biscuit

In a happening university town in central North Carolina, we discovered a dynamite chicken-cheese biscuit we just can’t stop thinking about. Each bite of this biscuit delivers a combination of soft and buttery bread, plump and seasoned chicken, and melty cheese. It’s a huge sandwich for one equally huge appetite, or for several friends to share.

You can get your hands on the “Chicken n’ Cheddar” for $5.49 on the “Oversized Biscuit Sandwiches” menu at Time-Out, a 24/7 diner on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. But that’s just our trouble: We can’t make a regular three-hour, one-way drive from our home in western North Carolina to get our mitts and mouths on this Southern specialty. So we decided to do the next best thing and explore the available chicken biscuits at fast food restaurants in our town, asking each to add cheese to the order.

We developed a grading scale of 1 (lowest possible) to 5 (highest possible) in the categories of Chicken, Cheese, Biscuit, Overall Freshness and Price, for a total of 25 possible points. Based on the delicious Time-Out biscuit, we laid out desirable criteria for each category. To get a perfect score in each category, a chicken-cheese biscuit needed to meet every demand with the same zeal as Time-Out’s Chicken n’ Cheddar.

With the chicken, we wanted seasoning, size and cooking perfection. The cheese needed to be melty, plentiful and flavorful. In each biscuit, we sought a crunchy outside and soft inside. Ultimate freshness meant a hot biscuit sandwich that wasn’t too hard or crumbly. And price, well that’s obvious. We’re a couple of foodies always on the search for a great meal and a great deal. So we didn’t want to pay too much for any one sandwich, and we ordered the cheapest possible chicken-cheese biscuit available on each menu.

It’s important to note that we surveyed Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, Hardees and McDonalds in this search because those are the common fast food establishments in our town that serve a chicken biscuit we could buy. This search did not include local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, which are our normal preference for any kind of meal.

Without further ado, here are our findings. We hope you enjoy, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences with chicken-cheese biscuits in the comments or via social media @FoodieScore on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Foodie Travels: Carolina BBQ, Spartanburg, S.C.

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I’ve savored barbecue from corner to corner of North Carolina, but South Carolina is a different story. I realized recently that I couldn’t name even one prime barbecue restaurant in South Carolina that I could recommend to a BBQ-loving friend. So, of course, we had to change that.

Earlier this year we came across Carolina BBQ—perhaps the most common name for a barbecue restaurant in either of the Carolinas (seriously, there’s one almost everywhere it seems)—and I added it to my #FoodieScore scouting list for the state of South Carolina. (We receive a lot of “you have to eat here” recommendations, and each one goes on a list that changes almost daily. Thank you for your great suggestions!) Luckily, Carolina BBQ is in Spartanburg, which is about a 90-minute roundtrip from our home in Shelby, N.C. And it just so happens to also carry Southern Living magazine’s endorsement as the best barbecue in the state of South Carolina.

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Normally, I’d classify barbecue restaurants into two categories, legendary dives and modern Q shacks. Carolina BBQ is almost a solid hybrid of the two. From the outside of the place, you almost get the sense you’re about to venture into a decades-old kingdom of delicious meats and sides. When you walk in the door, it feels like a new-age take on the old lunch counter experience, with bar-and-stool and booth seating available.

Then you hit the menu, and you continue to toe the line of old school and new school. Carolina BBQ plates a hearty assortment of Carolinas BBQ favorites. We’re talking pulled pork (always my first meat choice at a Carolinas BBQ establishment, and theirs was a nice mix of meaty and seasoned), sliced pork and half chicken, the stuff you read on the menu of an iconic barbecue spot. But keep reading because there’s also St. Louis ribs, beef brisket and smoked turkey, and that’s just the meat.

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The side dish lineup is strong, including creamy, thick, hearty mac & cheese, the biggest fried squash you’ve seen in your life, creamy and crunchy coleslaw, and quite possibly the best Brunswick stew I’ve ever eaten. For folks not familiar, Brunswick stew is a thick soup that usually contains lima or butter beans, vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and corn, along with shredded meat and spices for flavor. A cup of Brunswick stew is the perfect warmup on a cold day, and I’ve eaten my share of it from my days living in Eastern North Carolina. Carolina BBQ’s stew will also delight folks who are more familiar with the term “chili” or “chili beans” due to its warmth, richness and spice kick.

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Of course, a restaurant’s barbecue sauce of choice is always a heady question, and that’s one place Carolina BBQ functions as more of a modern Q shack. There’s no one sauce to rule them all. You get three on the table. When I think of South Carolina barbecue as shared by the traveling experts, I think of a mustard sauce, and Carolina BBQ’s is a good one, with a solid influence of mustard but almost a smoky-sweet side to it as well. There’s also a “mild” sauce that, to me, had more of a kick to it. And finally there’s a Cheerwine sauce that tastes more like Cheerwine than any Cheerwine BBQ sauce you’ve ever had in your life. If you love Cheerwine, you have to try it first, especially if you’re not already drinking the soda by the same name, so you can tell the difference. The sauce is a ringer for the taste of the North Carolina-based soda that celebrates 100 years in 2017. I had to sample all three sauces in separate areas of my plate, and I couldn’t pick a clear favorite. They’re all good.

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My pork plate came with two sides AND four hushpuppies (so did my wife Molly’s savory smoked turkey plate, of which there was so much that she took half home), so we had plenty to eat without dessert. But how could we resist either the deep-fried brownie bites or homemade banana pudding? We went with the banana pudding, which is unlike most you’ll find in our part of the South. The pudding is sweet, light and almost airy, not heavy at all, filled with fresh banana slices, and all on top of a crunchy pecan sandie-like cookie base. When you dig in with your spoon, dip all the way to the bottom to get a solid crunchy bite of that cookie as you scoop up through the pudding, the bananas and the whipped cream. For someone who likes to get creative in the kitchen, the Carolina BBQ banana pudding is a delightful new take on the classic Southern dessert.

Carolina BBQ offers both the classics as you’ve come to love them and favorites with new twists—and we loved both angles—so I might have to create a new “hybrid” category to describe similar barbecue restaurants. One thing’s for sure: This Spartanburg Q shop has plenty of choices for you, and they’ll all come at an affordable price. We savored two plates, two drinks and dessert for $23. Not bad at all for a filling Saturday dinner!

Carolina BBQ, 7115 Lone Oak Road, Spartanburg, S.C.

Foodie Travels: HenDough, Hendersonville, N.C.

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If you enjoy locally sourced food that’s served in creative ways at an affordable price inside a welcoming house (and who wouldn’t?!), then you’ll love HenDough, a phenomenal-yet-simple culinary experience in downtown Hendersonville.

We recently discovered HenDough—located inside a beautiful two-story house with bright, modern accents—during a visit to nearby Flat Rock to explore the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. Just check out what we ordered for a weekend brunch:

Fried Chicken Biscuit

Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit

Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon

Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

Nutella Crunch Donut

Lemon Blueberry Donut

16-Ounce Locally Roasted Coffee

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We enjoyed every part of our feast and, since we were so full, we actually took both donuts and half of each biscuit with us to enjoy later, as well as a second cup of coffee.

The biscuits were HUGE, buttery and wonderfully crumbly. The plump fried chicken was tender, perfectly breaded and had just the right amount of meat inside and crunch outside. The thick bacon crunched with a glorious seasoned flavor, paired with warm and filling egg and cheese.

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HenDough’s side options give you a tough choice. We went with our top two, and we loved the creative use of sweet potatoes in potato salad with crunchy bacon and a mustard-mayo-tasting sauce, as well as the rich and cheesy mac.

Dynamite Roasting coffee, from nearby Black Mountain, is featured at HenDough in a serve-yourself setup. On the day we visited, choices included HenDough, Ethiopian, Mexican and decaf blends, and you can add whole milk, half and half, syrup, sugar and other ingredients at the counter. Dynamite is just one of many local outfits that partner with HenDough, including farms, bakeries, creameries and more.

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This Foodie Travels find is definitely worth your time and money—each person can eat for about $10, as we did, even adding a doughnut to a biscuit and side. There’s a pretty good parking lot out back. And it’s in a great location to pair with a hike, downtown shopping or other adventure before or after you eat.

 

HenDough Chicken & Donuts

532 Kanuga Road, Hendersonville, N.C.