Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad is quick, easy, make ahead friendly and guaranteed to be a hit at every potluck, barbecue and pool party!

Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad is the creamy pasta salad of your dreams loaded with tender pasta, loads of salty bacon, petite peas, sweet bell peppers and bite size cheddar enveloped in the showstopping homemade sour-cream laced ranch dressing.  This Pasta Bacon Ranch Salad is always a crowd pleaser at potlucks, picnics and parties and is a quick chop and throw together recipe that is portable, make ahead friendly, easy to double/triple, tastes fabulous chilled or room temperature and goes with practically everything!

Pasta salad recipes aren’t only a hit at gatherings, they make the best sides to practically every meal!  Try out these favorites:  Italian Tortellini SaladGreek Pasta Salad, Mexican Pasta Salad, Orzo Pasta Salad, Cowboy Pasta Salad, Pesto Pasta Salad and Creamy Bacon Pea Pasta Salad. 

HOW TO MAKE bacon ranch pasta salad VIDEo

top view of making bacon ranch pasta salad by tossing tomatoes, peas, bacon, ranch, bell peppers and pasta together in a bowl
a bowl of pasta bacon ranch salad with peas, bacon and ranch with sour cream

Ingredients for Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad 

Pasta Bacon Ranch Salad is made with easy-to-find ingredients. Just pick up some fresh herbs, tomatoes and bell peppers and likely have the other ingredients stocked. To make the pasta salad, you’ll need the following: 

FOR THE PASTA SALAD

  • Pasta: I used rotini pasta, but any short and sturdy pasta shape will work. 
  • Tomatoes: Use ripe cherry tomatoes for the best texture and sweetness. 
  • Bell peppers:  Choose between yellow or orange bell peppers for their crunchy sweetness. I don’t recommend green bell peppers here because they are more earthy than sweet.
  • Peas: Use petite frozen peas; please NEVER use mature peas – they are mushy! 
  • Cheese: Use quality sharp cheddar cheese for this recipe. You can cube it yourself or ask the butcher to slice it and then slice it the other direction yourself to create the cubes.
  • Bacon: The more the better! Please use thick cut bacon so the bacon doesn’t get lost and retains its meaty texture when enveloped in the dressing. You can cook the bacon chopped or in slices on the stovetop or bake it in the oven.

FOR THE DRESSING

  • Mayonnaise: This is the creamy base of the dressing and binds all of the ingredients together. Even if you don’t like mayo, I don’t suggest skipping because it prevents the dressing ingredients from separating – and your dressing will not taste like mayo! Please use real mayonnaise and not Miracle Whip. 
  • Sour cream: This adds a delightful tanginess to the dressing and makes it much lighter than using all mayonnaise. 
  • Olive oil:  A splash of olive oil helps thin the dressing while preventing the pasta from soaking up too much of the dressing and becoming dry.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Just a tablespoon enlivens the flavors but won’t make your salad too tangy. 
  • Dijon mustardAnother tablespoon of Dijon cuts through the richness of the dressing with a subtle depth of flavor without making the ranch dressing taste even remotely like mustard. 
  • Fresh herbs: The most important part!  A combination of parsley, dill, chives creates that classic ranch flavor.  You may substitute with dried herbs if needed. You will need roughly one third the amount.
  • Seasonings: Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper are also crucial for the homemade ranch seasoning.
top view showing ingredients for pasta bacon ranch salad:  pasta, tomatoes, peas, bell peppers, cheese and homemade ranch dressing

Ingredient Substitutions 

  • Mayonnaise: Use avocado-based mayo or vegan mayo for a healthier spin.  
  • Sour cream: Fat-free sour cream can be used but remember, fat equals creaminess and flavor so adjust your expectations accordingly.   You may also substitute with plain Greek yogurt.
  • Vinegar: I prefer apple cider vinegar for its mellow, fruity flavor but if you only have white vinegar, I suggest starting with a little less and adding more to taste if needed. You can also use lemon juice.
  • Tomatoes: Grape tomatoes will work as well, however, cherry tomatoes are inherently sweeter than grape, so aim for cherry if you can.  You can also chop up a few Roma tomatoes but make sure to seed them first.
  • Cheese: Use your favorite or mix and match! Try Gouda, Colby, Pepper Jack, White cheddar, Havarti, feta, Parmesan or blue cheese. You can also shred the cheese instead of cubing it.  
  • Mustard: If you don’t have Dijon mustard, swap it for any mustard such as regular yellow mustard, spicy brown mustard, French, whole grain, etc.
  • Bacon: Turkey bacon, vegan bacon or even salami may be used.

How to Make Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

This Pasta Bacon Ranch Salad is incredibly easy to prepare! The pasta is boiled while you whisk together the homemade ranch and chop a handful of veggies. Let’s take a closer look at how to make it (full recipe measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Make the homemade ranch dressing. Whisk together the ingredients and store in the fridge until ready to use. 
showing how to make bacon ranch pasta salad recipe by whisking all of the homemade ranch salad dressing ingredients together in a mixing bowl
  • Step 2: Cook the pasta until al dente. Check the pasta a couple minutes before the box says to make sure you don’t overcook it.
  • Step 3: Chop the veggies. I recommend doing this while the pasta boils. There isn’t a lot to chop, so the process is speedy! 
  • Step 4: Assemble the pasta salad. Toss together the chopped veggies, cooked pasta, and half of the ranch dressing. Don’t add the bacon just yet! 
showing how to make bacon ranch pasta salad recipe by adding pasta, tomatoes, peas, bell peppers and cubed cheese to a bowl
  • Step 5: Chill the pasta salad.  Store the salad in the refrigerator for an hour or so, or until ready to serve so the ingredients have time to meld.   
showing how to make bacon ranch pasta salad by tossing the pasta salad with half of the dressing before refrigerating
  • Step 6:  Dig in! When ready to serve, toss the pasta salad with the remaining ranch dressing as well as the cooked and crumbled bacon. Waiting to add the bacon until you’re ready to serve keeps it crisp.
a collage showing how to make bacon ranch pasta salad by adding remaining dressing and bacon and stirring to combine when ready to serve
showing how to make bacon ranch pasta salad by tossing the homemade ranch dressing with the salad
  • Use tortellini:  These cheesy stuffed pasta pillows are one of my favorite pastas in salads. You can use any type of cheese tortellini, even sausage tortellini would be yummy!  Make sure you use fresh, refrigerated tortellini and not dried tortellini on the shelf.
  • Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free medium pasta. 
  • Add olives: Add a handful of black olives if they are your thing for a salty, delectable tanginess.
  • Add pickled jalapenos:  For a spicy, tangy kick!  Start with just a little and stir in more to taste – you don’t want to ruin your entire pasta salad by making it too spicy!
  • Load up on veggies: I kept this Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad simple, but you’re welcome to add in any extra veggies you have lying around or swap in your favorites. Ranch dressing pairs well with pretty much any vegetable! 
  • Add protein: You can easily transform this Pasta Bacon Ranch Salad into a main dish by adding a protein. Toss in some leftover rotisserie chicken, lemon basil chicken, pesto chicken, leftover chopped pork tenderloin, ham etc. If adding additional protein, reduce the salt in the recipe and add salt to taste.
  • Omit the mayo: If you really can’t stomach mayonnaise, use a vegan mayo, all sour cream, or full-fat plain Greek yogurt instead.
  • Make it dairy-free: Omit the cheese and swap the sour cream for your favorite dairy-free/vegan sour cream substitute. You may also swap the sour cream for additional mayonnaise but it won’t taste as light. Mayonnaise is dairy-free but not vegan as it is made with egg yolks, vinegar, and seasonings.
  • Make it vegetarian: Use vegan bacon.
  • Make it vegan: For vegan or plant-based, omit the cheese or use dairy-free cheese, use vegan mayo like Vegainase, vegan sour cream or yogurt, and vegan bacon. 
up close of pasta ranch bacon salad showing how creamy it is

Pasta Salad Faqs

What’s the Best Pasta for Pasta Salad? 

If you want to substitute the rotini for another pasta, no problem! You’ll need 16 oz. (1 pound) of pasta. As a rule of thumb, medium pastas work best for pasta salad. Think: 
·        Fusill
·        Bowties/Farfalle
·        Penne
·        Macaroni
·        Gemelli
·        Large shells

Why Did My Pasta Salad Separate? 

Pasta salad can separate if the dressing was added when the pasta was still warm or wet. If the pasta is warm, the mayonnaise can break and separate. If the pasta is wet, the water will separate from the dressing. Both of these problems can be avoided by only adding the dressing to the pasta once completely chilled.

Should I Rinse Pasta for Pasta Salad? 

Yes, rinse the pasta under cold tap water to prevent it from cooking further and to cool it down quickly. Let the pasta drain well before tossing with olive oil and proceeding with the recipe. 

Do I Have to Toss the Pasta in Olive Oil? 

I highly recommend doing so; the olive oil keeps the pasta from sticking to itself and tearing when added to the pasta salad. You’ll need to use about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. 

Is pasta salad better warm or cold?

Pasta Salad is best served at room temperature, but don’t let it sit out more than two hours. If pasta salad is served straight from the refrigerator, you will taste the chill of subdued flavors and a congealed dressing. Instead, pasta salad served at room temperature allows the flavors and dressing for a more appealing texture and shining flavors.

Should I salt the water for pasta salad?


Yes, you should always salt your pasta water, whether making pasta salad or a warmed pasta dish. Salting the water is the one chance you have to penetrate the pasta and enhance the subtle pasta flavor – you can taste the difference.  Use 1 tablespoon salt for 6 quarts of water when cooking one pound of pasta.

Why does my pasta salad get dry?

If you add all of the dressing to the pasta salad and then chill it in the refrigerator, then the pasta will soak it right up and the pasta salad will be dry. Instead, reserve half of the dressing and toss it with the pasta right before serving. If your pasta salad still seems dry, add a drizzle of olive oil, toss to combine then add additional oil as needed.

How do you keep pasta from sticking together for pasta salad?

First, use enough pasta water when cooking the pasta. Fill a large pot with a very generous amount of water, typically 6 quarts of water for 1 pound of pasta; this is typically three-quarters full.  Pasta needs enough water to cook evenly and to move around so it doesn’t clump. Second, toss the cooked, drained pasta in a couple tablespoons of oil before adding the dressing.

Do you rinse pasta for pasta salad?

Yes, after the pasta has been cooked to al dente, rinse it in cold water until the pasta reaches room temperature. This 1) stops the pasta from cooking and becoming mushy and 2) keeps the pasta loose for the salad by rinsing off the excess starch which can cause it to become gummy and clump together.

up close of pasta ranch bacon salad showing how creamy it is

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up close of pasta ranch bacon salad showing how creamy it is

Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad is the creamy pasta salad of your dreams loaded with tender pasta, loads of salty bacon, petite peas, sweet bell peppers and bite size cheddar enveloped in the showstopping homemade sour-cream laced ranch dressing.  This Pasta Bacon Ranch Salad is always a crowd pleaser at potlucks, picnics and parties and is a quick chop and throw together recipe that is portable, make ahead friendly, easy to double/triple, tastes fabulous chilled or room temperature and goes with practically everything!
Servings: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 12 mins

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Ingredients

PASTA SALAD

  • 16 oz. rotini
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, cubed small
  • 8 oz. thick cut bacon, cooked and chopped

DRESSING

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill (or 2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (or 1 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tsp EACH salt, onion powder, garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH pepper, paprika

Instructions

  • Whisk together all of the Dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions just until al dente. (You can chop your salad ingredients while the pasta is cooking.) Drain, rinse with cold water then toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
  • Add the pasta, peas, tomatoes, bell peppers and cheese to a large bowl; don’t add the bacon.
  • Pour half of the dressing over the pasta salad and toss to combine (or all of the dressing if serving immediately). Refrigerate pasta salad and remaining dressing separately until ready to use (best served the same day).
  • When ready to serve, add bacon and toss with remaining dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dig in!

Video

Notes

  • Make it your own!  Feel free to swap in your favorite ingredients such as olives, pickled jalapenos, or other vegetables.  You can even use tortellini for the pasta! See the post for lots of ideas.
  • Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free medium pasta. 
  • Make it dairy-free: Omit the cheese and swap the sour cream for your favorite dairy-free/vegan sour cream substitute. You may also swap the sour cream for additional mayonnaise but it won’t taste as light. Mayonnaise is dairy-free but not vegan as it is made with egg yolks, vinegar, and seasonings.
  • Make it vegetarian: Use vegan bacon.
  • Make it vegan: For vegan or plant-based, omit the cheese or use dairy-free cheese, use vegan mayo like Vegainase, vegan sour cream or yogurt, and vegan bacon. 

Storage

Cover leftover pasta salad with plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. The longer the pasta salad is refrigerated, the drier it can become. If your leftovers taste too dry, then toss with a drizzle of olive oil. You may also want to perk up the salad with seasonings to taste.

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4 Comments

  1. Joanne says

    I’m excited to try this recipe! Quick question, how much of a prepared ranch seasoning would I use? I didn’t see this in the post, so if I missed my apologies!

    • Jen says

      Hi Joanne, I have experimented with prepared ranch, but I think one (1 oz.) packet dry ranch dressing seasoning mix (2 tablespoons) would be about right. Enjoy!

      • Joanne says

        THIS IS AMAZING!!! I brought it camping and everyone loved it! Next time I will bring twice as much!

        • Jen says

          YAY! Thanks so much Joanne, I’m thrilled it was a huge hit!

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