Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Delightfully salty-sweet, creamy, and crunchy, strawberry pretzel salad is a staple at picnics, potlucks, and holiday celebrations.

Angled shot of strawberry pretzel salad

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Why This Recipe Works

  • Pulsing the pretzel twists together with sugar in the bowl of a food processor results in a salty-sweet crust with a sandy texture.
  • No-bake cheesecake makes for a creamier, tangier filling than traditional Cool Whip.
  • Making the jello with a syrup from fresh strawberries and lemon juice results in a more fruity, flavorful topping.

If you aren’t familiar with strawberry pretzel salad, you might assume—with horror—that it involves tossing strawberries, pretzels, and greens together with some kind of vinaigrette. But the dish involves neither vegetables or dressing. Instead, it more closely resembles the wiggly jello salads that were all the rage in America during the 1960s. With a base of crushed pretzels, a layer of Cool Whip mixed with cream cheese, and a topping of bright red strawberry jello, strawberry pretzel salad is delightfully salty-sweet, creamy, and crunchy at the same time. Though a slice may remind you of a no-bake cheesecake, it is not typically eaten as a dessert. Rather, the salad is usually served as a side and is a staple at picnics, potlucks, and Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. 

Side angle view of the strawberry pretzel salad

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I didn’t grow up eating strawberry pretzel salad, but I’ve since become a fan. After all, what’s not to love about pretzels, cream cheese, and jello? Inspired by this American classic, I wanted to come up with a from-scratch version that pays homage to the original, while also leaning into the tanginess of cream cheese and the natural sweetness of fresh strawberries. This version skips the Cool Whip and the strawberry jello mix. Instead, it involves making a no-bake cheesecake for the filling and a homemade strawberry syrup for the jello—both of which are good enough to enjoy on their own.

The Pretzel Crust

Coming up with the crust was pretty straightforward. I knew I wanted to blitz the pretzels in a food processor with some granulated sugar until sandy, then toss the crumbs in melted butter. The question was: to bake or not to bake? I could have kept this a 100% no-bake dessert, but toasting the pretzel crust in the oven for just 10 minutes added a depth of flavor the no-bake version simply didn’t have. Though I’m normally an advocate of seasoning everything thoroughly, you’ll notice that I’ve skipped the salt in the crust. Pretzels are well salted already, and I found that any additional salt was not only unnecessary, but excessive.

A Filling Good Enough to Eat On Its Own

No hate on Cool Whip, but I wanted a filling that was more substantial—one good enough to eat on its own. I turned to former Serious Eats editor Stella Parks’ easy no-bake cheesecake, which gets its tart flavor from cream cheese and light texture from whipped cream. It’s a recipe she describes as “embarrassingly simple.” There’s no baking or water bath involved like there would be with a regular cheesecake, and no gelatin required to firm it up; all it involves is beating together cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whipping in some heavy cream until it reaches stiff peaks, then refrigerating until set. Paired with the salty-sweet pretzel crust and fruity jello topping, the filling makes a satisfying strawberry pretzel salad that echoes the best cheesecakes.

Overhead view of strawberries in jello

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

A Fruitier Jello

I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft spot for jello mix. (Besides fruit or the occasional store-bought birthday cake, my grandma only ever made jello for dessert, and it was always the highlight of dinner at her place.) I wanted a more fruit-forward jello topping though, one that tasted like fresh strawberries and wasn’t as one-dimensional as jello from a box. Though you could certainly use your favorite jello mix here, there’s something incredibly satisfying—and delicious—about making your own strawberry syrup and turning it into jello.

To make the syrup, I start by blooming powdered gelatin and simmering fresh strawberries with water, sugar, and lemon juice, which adds brightness and helps to balance the sweetness. Once the fruit has softened, I strain the syrup, whisk in the bloomed gelatin, and allow it to cool to room temperature. You don’t want to rush this part: Pouring warm syrup on top of the filling will melt the cream cheese, resulting in bits of softened dairy floating in the jello. An ice bath isn’t an option for speeding things up, though, as it’d be too cold and would solidify the mixture before it’s even poured onto the cream cheese layer. Only a gradual cooling will do.

The biggest downside to using fresh strawberries for the jello is the color—they simply don't produce a syrup as vivid as artificial boxed strawberry jello. If that pop of color is important to you, you can easily do exactly what the boxed stuff does for its unnaturally bright red hue: whisk in a drop or two of red food coloring. 

Once at room temperature, the syrup is gently layered onto the filling, followed by slices of strawberries, which will then be encased in the jello once it sets. To avoid the precarious process of walking a sloshing not-quite-jello salad to the fridge, I recommend putting the baking dish in the fridge first—then carefully topping with the syrup and strawberries. Chilled and portioned, it’s hard not to marvel at how satisfying each bite is. Jello salads may be dated, but something this good should never go out of style.

Recipe Details

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Prep 30 mins
Cook 30 mins
Chilling Time 4 hrs
Total 5 hrs
Serves 12 to 15

Delightfully salty-sweet, creamy, and crunchy, strawberry pretzel salad is a staple at picnics, potlucks, and holiday celebrations.


  • For the Crust:
  • 7 ounces pretzel twists (200g; about 5 cups)
  • 1/3 cup (2.5 ounces; 67g) granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces; 170g) unsalted butter, melted
  • For the Filling:
  • 16 ounces (454g) plain, full-fat cream cheese
  • 5 1/4 ounces granulated sugar (about 3/4 cup; 150g)
  • 3/4 ounce fresh juice from 1 lemon (about 4 1/2 teaspoons; 20g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use a pinch
  • 1 1/2 cups (340g) heavy cream
  • For the Jello Topping:
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (0.5 ounce; 15g) unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 1/3 cups (550ml) water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup (5.5 ounces; 150g) granulated sugar
  • 3 cups strawberries (about 1 pound; 454g), halved and divided


  1. Adjust oven rack to center and preheat oven to 325ºF (163ºC).

  2. For the Crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together pretzels, granulated sugar, and kosher salt until sandy; there may be some small pretzel chunks, that’s okay. Using a silicone spatula, transfer pretzel mixture to a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Pour the melted butter over the pretzel mixture, tossing to evenly coat the crumbs in butter, spread into an even layer, then compress firmly with a flat-bottomed drinking glass or measuring cup. Keep pressing until the crumbs form a compact, even layer across the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes, until it smells sweet, buttery, and slightly toasted. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.

    Four image collage of making the pretzel crust

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  3. For the Filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. Mix at low speed to form a thick paste, then increase to medium speed until soft and smooth.

    Overhead view of cream in a standmixer

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  4. Scrape bowl and beater with a flexible spatula, then switch to whisk attachment and pour in cream. Mix at low speed to combine, then increase to high and whip until the mixture can hold stiff peaks, 3 to 5 minutes.

    Overhead view of cream added to stand mixer

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  5. Scrape filling into prepared crust and, using an offset spatula, spread into an even layer. Press plastic wrap against the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate while you prepare the jello topping.

    Overhead view of spreading icing on crust

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  6. For the Jello Topping: In a small bowl, bloom the gelatin by whisking it together with 1/3 cup cool water. Set aside. (It will solidify into a gelled disc, that’s okay.)

    Overhead view of blooming gelatin

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  7. In a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, whisk together 2 cups water with the lemon juice and sugar and simmer until dissolved. Reduce heat to low, add 2 cups strawberries to the saucepan, and simmer until the berries soften and the syrup turns red, about 15 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl, discarding or reserving the cooked strawberries for another use, and stir in the gelatin until dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

    Overhead view of strawberry in gelatin

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  8. When the syrup has cooled, remove the plastic wrap from the cream cheese layer. Preferably with the baking dish still in the fridge, pour the syrup over the cream cheese mixture and arrange the remaining halved strawberries, cut side down, so that they are submerged in the jello mixture (adding the liquid strawberry mixture and sliced strawberries with the baking dish in the fridge avoids having to transport it while still liquid, which can cause sloshing and cloud the jello; if that's not possible, you can add the top layer and strawberries out of the fridge, but carry it very carefully to reduce movement). Refrigerate until fully set, about 4 hours.

    Two image collage of pouring strawberry liquid onto cream cheese and strawberries set in liquid in the fridge

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Food processor, 9- by 13-inch baking dish, stand mixer, whisk, small saucepan, fine-mesh sieve


The syrup is a bright shade of red, but if you’d like a more vivid color, feel free to add in a drop or two of red food coloring.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The strawberry pretzel salad can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 3 days in a sealed container or loosely covered with plastic wrap.