Did you grow up eating Broccoli Salad? This classic recipe was at pretty much every BBQ and potluck I ever went to growing up. There’s lot’s to love with this best Broccoli Salad from the sweet-tart cranberries to the salty savory bacon, and crunch of sunflower seeds all combined together with a creamy dressing. This salad keeps well for days in the fridge, so we like to make it for meal prep to have during the work week. It pairs well with simple main dishes from the grill, or even a roast chicken for Sunday dinner.
Broccoli Salad was one of those classic recipes I grew up eating all the time. It was everywhere, kind of like 7 layer salad. My mom made it often, and so did all of my friend’s moms. It was also at pretty much any kind of get-together I can remember from birthday parties to backyard bbq’s.
But somehow over the years, I haven’t been seeing it around as much. So today I thought I’d share my best recipe for this classic that really does need to make a comeback! This recipe is how my mom used to make it to the best of my recollection. I don’t think she even had a recipe for this salad, it was just one of those classics you made from memory.
Ingredients for this best Broccoli Salad recipe
- Broccoli – I like to use both the tops (florets) and the stems in this recipe so there’s no waste. If you peel the stems with a vegetable peeler, the inside is tender, sweet, and perfect chopped up in this fresh salad. Broccoli salad is made with fresh broccoli, so frozen doesn’t work in this case.
- Bacon – Use whatever bacon you like the best. I’ve used everything from classic bacon to uncured peppered bacon, and you cannot go wrong! Be sure to check the labels to see if it works for you if you have dietary issues. Our local health food store has several brands of bacon now without any sugar or preservatives which has been so nice.
- Red Onion – is classic in broccoli salad. You could use other types of onion, but really red onion is best here and adds a lot of savory flavor.
- Cranberries or Raisins – I know raisins used to be the most used in the classic version of this recipe. But dried cranberries are so much better. Try looking for fruit juice-sweetened dried cranberries. They’re not as overly sweet and are perfect here.
- Sunflower Seeds – I like to buy the already roasted lightly salted sunflower seeds to keep things nice and easy. You can also use toasted slivered or sliced almonds.
- Dressing – I like to use a mixture of homemade or avocado mayo from the store with fresh lemon juice. You don’t want to use bottled lemon juice here because this dressing is so simple, that freshness becomes extra important. If you don’t like mayo, see my options below. You can also use apple cider vinegar in the dressing, but I recommend the freshness of the lemon juice overall.
Let’s make this recipe step by step
Step 1: Start by cooking the bacon to make bacon bits. I like to bake mine in the oven on a parchment-lined baking sheet. There’s virtually no cleanup and it’s the easiest way to cook bacon I’ve ever tried.
It also cooks evenly which is super nice for a salad. You can crispy it up to your liking with no soft bits in your salad!
Step 2: Once the bacon has been drained and cooled, chop it up into small bacon bits.
Step 3: Prep the other ingredients by mincing up the onion and roughly chopping the cranberries.
Step 4: Prep the broccoli by cutting up the tops into small bite-sized pieces.
To use the stem, peel away the tough outer layers, then chop into small bite-sized pieces.
Step 5: Stir together the dressing in a small bowl. Add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl except the sunflower seeds. Mix the broccoli mixture together with the dressing.
Then add the sunflower seeds if you’re serving it right away. Or keep them separate until you’re ready to serve the salad.
Note: in some areas, it’s traditional to add grated sharp cheddar cheese, so feel free to mix some in if desired. We love adding some crumbled feta cheese sometimes!
Ways to serve this
- Any simple grilled or roasted meat like chicken, steak, or pork chops.
- Serve this salad with Best Baked Chicken Breasts, Roast Chicken and Vegetables, Slow Cooker Pork Roast, or Slow Cooker Pot Roast.
- It’s also great with my Bacon Wrapped Ranch Chicken, Pork Sirloin Roast, or Pizza Chicken.
- We also love this salad with pasta dishes like my Gluten Free Mac and Cheese, Best Gluten Free Lasagna, or Garlic Parmesan Pasta.
Greek yogurt makes a great substitute for mayonnaise in broccoli salad. For dairy-free options, I have several dressing options listed below including my avocado dressing which is creamy and fresh.
First I like to cut off the stem, from there, you cut up the broccoli top into small bite-sized broccoli florets. To use the stem, use a vegetable peeler to peel away all the tough outer layers, then dice it up into bite-sized pieces.
- To store – This salad keeps well for up to 4 days in the fridge. It’s nice to keep the sunflower seeds separate so they stay nice and crunchy.
- Make ahead – You can also store the salad ingredients separately from the dressing and mix together about 30 minutes before serving to let the flavors develop.
How to make Broccoli Salad without mayo
- Use your favorite plain Greek yogurt in place of some or all of the mayo. I find the best results are to replace just half of the mayo with yogurt so it’s still perfectly creamy. However, broccoli salad is still super good, just a touch lighter with a yogurt-only dressing.
- Try my Healthy Broccoli Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing. This is a no-mayo version that’s super creamy and way too good. The only downside to this recipe is the avocado dressing doesn’t keep as long in the fridge.
- Use a vinaigrette dressing in place of the classic creamy one. Try my Lemon Vinaigrette, 2-Ingredient Balsamic, or White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Any of these options will work perfectly here.
- If you detest mayo, (I didn’t used to be a huge fan) try making my homemade mayo recipe that you’ll find with my Curried Chicken Salad recipe. Both Tyler and I weren’t exactly crazy about mayo before I started making it from scratch. It takes just minutes in the blender and tastes amazing!
Dietary Options & Substitutions
- Dairy-free & Paleo – use all mayo and no Greek yogurt, or my creamy avocado dressing mentioned above. Also any of the vinaigrettes listed above work as well.
- Whole30 – make sure your bacon is Whole30 compliant and the cranberries are fruit juice sweetened. I buy mine at Natural Grocers, but if you can’t find them or want to avoid dried fruit, try chopped apples instead. Also use my creamy avocado dressing, lemon vinaigrette, or all Whole30-compliant mayo with no yogurt for the dressing.
Try these 3 fun variations on broccoli salad
- Healthy Broccoli Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
- Thai Mango Broccoli Salad with Sweet Chili Dressing
- Mexican Style Broccoli Salad
I really hope you enjoy this classic Broccoli Salad, it’s so perfect for everything from lunches to backyard BBQs. And if you do get a chance to make it, I hope you’ll leave me a comment/rating below. I always love hearing from you here! Also for lots more salad recipes, head over to the recipe index.
Best Broccoli Salad (Classic Recipe)
- 8 ounces bacon - 6-8 strips
- 2 heads broccoli - 1 1/2 pounds, about 5-6 cups chopped
- 1/4 cup minced red onion
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries - roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup roasted sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise of choice - I use this mayo recipe
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt - or dairy free yogurt of choice
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp sea salt - or to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper - or to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay out the strips of bacon evenly on the baking sheet and bake until crispy, 10-15 minutes. Drain the bacon and let cool.
- Place the chopped broccoli into a large mixing bowl along with the onion, cranberries, and sunflower seeds. Keep the sunflower seeds separate only if you’re not serving this right away.
- Mix together the ingredients for the dressing and finely chop the bacon. Add the dressing and bacon to the salad and toss to combine.
- Season to taste and serve immediately. I find this salad tastes even better if it has 15 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge first for the flavors to develop after it’s been mixed.
- Refrigerate and serve within 4 days, but it tastes best within the first 2 days.