Put down that bottle of store-bought Caesar dressing. You won’t be needing it.

Caesar salad is such a classic. Want a crow-pleasing appetizer? Caesar salad. Looking for a light meal? Caesar salad (plus your favorite protein). Just want something quick and easy? Four-ingredient Caesar salad it is. 

While picking up a bottle of store-bought Caesar dressing may work in a pinch, nothing beats a homemade Caesar salad. The fresh lettuce, crunchy croutons, savory dressing, and delicious cheese create the perfect combination that's surprisingly simple to throw together.

What Is In Caesar Salad?

The traditional Caesar salad contains some pretty basic ingredients. Normally, it's romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, croutons, and Caesar dressing. This iconic dressing  is made from lemon juice, egg, garlic, Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies. Even though the tossed salad only has four ingredients, it packs a major flavor punch. 

However, there are some pretty tasty variations of Caesar salad, if you're looking for something different. You might find Caesar salads with chicken, steak, shrimp, or bacon for added protein. Or additional fruits and veggies, like kale, avocado, and tomatoes. 

Some people even like to make Caesar pasta salad, which essentially entails adding cooked noodles to the mix.

Caesar salad with croutons in a wooden salad bowl
Classic Caesar Salad
| Credit: Allrecipes

Where Was Caesar Salad Invented?

Like many famous foods, there are several stories surrounding the origins of Caesar Salad, plenty of people who claim to have created the first one. That said, most stories point back to Tijuana, Mexico, during the Prohibition era. 

Caesar Cardini immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in the 1910s where he opened a restaurant in northern California. But when prohibition was enacted across the U.S., Cardini packed up and moved to Tijuana, where he could escape the new rules of the era and serve alcohol. 

His restaurant, aptly named Caesar's, became a place for Americans to cross the border and enjoy a drink while it was illegal in the U.S. According to Rosa Caradini, Caesar's daughter, her father created the Caesar salad on one holiday when Americans were buzzing around Tijuana: The Fourth of July.

Rosa says on July 4, 1924, her father created the salad by throwing together what little ingredients he had left in his kitchen: lettuce, olive oil, eggs, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and Worcestershire sauce. The salad was originally served as finger food and made directly at the table for added dramatic effect. 

However, another story claims that it wasn't Caesar who created the salad at all, but actually his brother Alex. According to this legend, Alex, an Italian air pilot during World War I, was working at Caesar's restaurant when a group of American airmen came in. Alex wanted to treat the men to a delicious meal, so he decided to make them a finger food salad — using most of the same ingredients as what we know as a Caesar, but with the addition of anchovy filets. This salad became known as the Aviator's Salad, but when it became popular, Caesar changed the name to include his own.

Yet another story claims that it wasn't even a Cardini brother who created the salad, but an employee at Caesar's restaurant. Livio Santini, another Italian immigrant, said that the recipe was her mother's and Caesar claimed it as his own when it became popular. 

Even if we can't all agree on a story, we can likely agree that the Caesar salad originated at Caesar's restaurant in Tijuana, and one famous cookbook author confirms this. Julia Child wrote about her family's luncheon at Caesar's restaurant in her book From Julia Child's Kitchen. In the book, she recounts Caesar himself coming out to create the tossed salad for her and her family.

The salad continued to grow in popularity, and now you can find it at countless restaurants worldwide. 

How to Make Caesar Salad

Believe it or not, creating a Caesar salad from-scratch is actually really easy. All you'll need is romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, croutons, and Caesar dressing. We recommend homemade croutons and dressing, but store-bought is fine in a pinch.

How to Make Homemade Croutons

For homemade croutons, start with crusty bread (day-old bread is even better), and cut it into cubes. Add your bread cubes to a baking sheet and coat them in a mixture of ¼ cup melted butter, ¼ cup olive oil, two cloves of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. 

Toss the bread to evenly coat each cube and bake for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F.

How to Make Homemade Caesar Dressing

Start by making a paste with two cloves of garlic and three to four anchovies. If you absolutely will not use anchovies, you can use capers instead for a similar flavor. 

After you've crushed the anchovies and garlic together to create a paste, add 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, one egg yolk, ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Mix those ingredients together until combined. 

Next, whisk in ⅓ cup of extra-virgin olive oil — whisking is key to fully incorporate the oil into the dressing. Finally, grate in 2 tablespoons of fresh Parmesan cheese and add some cracked pepper. 

Mix the dressing until smooth and emulsified, then set it aside until needed.

How to Assemble Caesar Salad

Chop and wash your romaine lettuce. Make sure the lettuce is completely dry before adding the dressing, or else the dressing will slide right off. This would be a good time to use a salad spinner, or you can simply dry the leaves with paper towels. 

Add your lettuce, croutons, dressing, and some shaved Parmesan cheese to a bowl. Toss the salad to coat it in dressing and serve.

Caesar Salad Recipes to Try

Is your mouth watering yet? Try one of these Caesar salad recipes: