Background Neoadjuvant chemoradiation (CRT) is an accepted treatment for locally advanced esophageal carcinoma. A survival benefit has not been definitively established, and there is concern that chemoradiation may increase postoperative morbidity and mortality. Methods A retrospective review was made of 138 patients treated for esophageal carcinoma between January 1999 and December 2009. Fifty-four patients who underwent CRT followed by esophagectomy were compared with 84 patients who underwent esophagectomy alone. Results The chemoradiation and esophagectomy alone cohorts were well matched on all preoperative variables. There was a higher percentage of Ivor Lewis procedures in the esophagectomy alone cohort (82.0%) compared with the CRT cohort (59.3%; p = 0.006). Thirty-five percent of the CRT group underwent transhiatal esophagectomy. Thirty-day mortality was 6.0% (5 of 84) in the esophagectomy alone cohort compared with 1.9% (1 of 54) in the CRT cohort ( p = 0.5). Similarly, mean intensive care unit stay (4.7 versus 6.5 days; p = 0.5), ventilator time (2.4 versus 4.2 days; p = 0.5), and length of stay (13.5 versus 17 days; p = 0.2) did not differ significantly between the groups. The overall major complication rates were similar in the CRT and esophagectomy alone cohorts: 57.4% versus 56% ( p = 0.98). Multivariate analysis determined that coronary artery disease ( p = 0.01; odds ratio 3.5) and transthoracic esophagectomy ( p = 0.05; odds ratio 1.4) were predictive of development of postoperative complications. Only cervical anastomotic location ( p = 0.04; odds ratio 3.0) was predictive of anastomotic leak on multivariate analysis. Conclusions Neoadjuvant chemoradiation does not appear to increase postoperative morbidity or mortality after esophagectomy. Major postoperative complications are associated with the transthoracic approach and preoperative coronary artery disease.