This quick and easy strawberry pretzel salad is a classic holiday side dish. This recipe uses fresh strawberries and is made up of three delicious layers: a pretzel crust, a cream cheese filling, and a strawberry jello topping!
This old fashioned strawberry pretzel salad is one of my favorite holiday side dishes . . . along with creamy corn casserole, instant pot mashed potatoes, and crockpot vegetarian stuffing, of course. 😉
This side dish is not one I typically was served growing up, but once I met Trevor and was introduced to HIS family’s traditions – they have this at every Thanksgiving and Christmas gathering – I quickly fell head over heels for this easy strawberry pretzel salad.
If you are making this for anyone that hasn’t had it before, I’ll be honest… you might get some looks. When I introduced a few of my friends to this recipe, I described it as a strawberry jello cheesecake-esque dish with a pretzel crust, they weren’t too sure about it – let’s be real, this recipe sounds SO bizarre – but after one bite, they were hooked.
I KNOW this is a classic for many of you and you may have your way of making it, but give this one a try because I put a few twists on it to make the best strawberry pretzel salad.
What’s in Strawberry Pretzel Salad?
The ingredient list to strawberry pretzel salad is pretty short. Short = Easy! A salty pretzel crust, tangy cream cheese filling, and sweet strawberry topping. Who knew such a bizarre combination could be SO delicious?!
- Pretzel crust
- brown sugar
- crushed pretzels
- Cream cheese filling
- powdered sugar
- cream cheese
- vanilla extract
- cool whip
- Strawberry jello topping
- fresh strawberries
- strawberry jello
- boiling water
How to make strawberry jello pretzel salad with fresh strawberries
- Pretzel Crust – Start with the bottom layer which is a crushed pretzel crust. The pretzel crust is super quick and easy to make and it contrasts beautifully with the middle and top layer, which are both pretty sweet. Stir together butter, sugar, and crushed pretzels. Spread evenly in your baking pan. Bake and cool.
- Cream Cheese Filling – The middle layer is a cream cheese filling. It’s so fluffy and a little tangy, which works really well with the sweet strawberries. Beat together powdered sugar, cream cheese, and vanilla extract using a hand mixer. Beat in cool whip. Spread evenly over cooled crust then top with sliced strawberries. Chill.
- Strawberry Jello – The top and final layer is the strawberry layer. I suggest using fresh strawberries instead of frozen (which you’ll typically see in other recipes), because the flavor and texture is SO much better. The fresh strawberries are then topped with strawberry jello which gives a one-two strawberry punch. Dissolve a package of strawberry jello in boiling water, then cool before pouring it over the chilled middle layer. Place in the fridge until the mixture has set.
This recipe does require a little bit of patience as each layer cools, but the “hands on” cook time is super quick and easy.
And the results are totally worth it!
Strawberry Pretzel Salad FAQ
- Do I have to use pretzels? Salted pretzels work best because the other two layers are pretty sweet, but if you’re not a fan of pretzels, you can use equal parts graham cracker crumbs.
- Can I make this gluten free? Absolutely! Use gluten free pretzels to make this recipe gluten free.
- Is there a substitute I can use for the Cool Whip? I would not recommend substituting anything else in place of Cool Whip. In some recipes you can get away with using homemade whipped cream, but whipped cream doesn’t hold it’s shape as well as cool whip. This would make for a less stable and potentially runny middle layer. If you don’t like the taste of cool whip, I promise you, you don’t taste it in this dish, because the other flavors are so strong.
- Can I use frozen strawberries? You can use frozen strawberries, but fresh strawberries provide a better flavor and texture. If you absolutely must use frozen, you’ll need 24 oz of frozen strawberries that have been thawed, then drained of excess liquid.
- Can I use a different kind of fruit? Raspberries would be a delicious variation on this classic recipe. Just be sure to match the jello flavor to whatever fruit you use. (Let me know in the comments below if you’ve successfully tried another fruit!)
- Can you make it in advance? This is best made 1-2 days in advanced since you need to chill each layer before moving onto the next one. The pretzel crust will get soggy over time, but it should last up to a week.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad Tips & Tricks
- Make a parchment paper sling (see video for visuals). This makes it easy to lift the entire salad out of the 9×13 inch pan. It’s easier to cut and serve out of the baking dish.
- Use salted pretzels. Plain pretzels won’t give you the flavor contrast with the rest of the sweet dish, so be sure your pretzels are salted!
- Use a food processor to crush your pretzels. Large pretzel pieces end up getting chewy and soggy.
- Sift the powdered sugar If you don’t, the cream cheese filling may have lumps.
- Use room temperature cream cheese Room temperature cream cheese whips together better than cold cream cheese.
- Cool, then chill each layer throughly in the fridge before moving onto the next one to create three distinct layers. If you pour the cream cheese mixture onto a hot crust, the cream cheese will melt and become gloppy. If you pour hot jello over a room temperature cream cheese filling, the cream cheese will separate and the two layers will mix together. You want each layer to be separate and distinct.
- Cover the pretzel crust completely with the cream cheese layer. This creates a barrier between the crust and jello mixture, ensuring that the pretzel crust remains crunchy and not soggy. Be sure to go all the way to the sides of the dish.
- Place fresh strawberries evenly on top of the cream cheese layer and then pour on the jello. Many recipes call for stirring the strawberries into the jello and pouring that on top of the cream cheese layer. This makes a mess and the strawberries end up in uneven amounts in the dish.
- Cool the jello completely before pouring it onto the cream cheese layer. Pouring hot jello onto the cream cheese layer makes the cream cheese separate. It makes for a clumpy texture and doesn’t look neat and tidy!
- Use a sharp serrated knife for cutting and clean the knife between each cut to make the layers look perfect.
Other Pretzel Salad Recipes You Might Enjoy
A classic recipe with a few twists to take it up a notch, I just know you’re going to love my strawberry pretzel salad as much as I do!
Fair warning: the crunchy, salty crust with the fluffy, tangy cream cheese filling, and sweet strawberry topping is more than just a little addicting. 😉
What other classic recipes should I re-make? Show Me the Yummy!
Easy Strawberry Pretzel Salad
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter melted (1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cups)
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 cups crushed pretzel sticks crushed in food processor for best results*
Cream Cheese Filling
- 1 cup powdered sugar sifted
- 1 (8 oz) block cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 (8 oz) tub cool whip thawed in the fridge
- 1 pint strawberries sliced
Strawberry Jello Topping
- 1 (6 oz) package strawberry jello mix
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- Whipped cream if desired
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray, then make a parchment paper sling and place into greased pan.** Set aside.
- In a medium sized bowl, stir together melted butter, sugar, and crushed pretzels.
- Press firmly in the bottom of the pan.
- Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cool completely before topping with the cream cheese filling.
Cream Cheese Filling
- In a large bowl, beat together sifted powdered sugar, cream cheese, and vanilla until well combined.
- Beat in cool whip.
- Spread evenly onto the completely cooled pretzel crust.
- Top evenly with sliced strawberries.
- Chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes while you make and cool the top layer.
Strawberry Jello Topping
- Place jello mix into a large bowl, then pour hot water over.
- Stir until completely dissolved then cool at room temperature for 30-60 minutes while your middle layer is chilling.
- Pour over the chilled middle layer.
- Cover with saran wrap, then store in the refrigerator until the jello has set, at least a few hours.
- Use the parchment paper sling to remove the salad from the pan, then cut into pieces.
- Top with whipped cream, if desired, and serve!
*Note: Nutritional information is estimated and varies based on products used.