Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
This Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad recipe features elbow macaroni and bites of bacon, bell pepper, tomato, and cheddar cheese, all folded together in a creamy, tangy ranch dressing. It’s a potluck side that’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!
Easy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
Summertime picnics and gatherings are easy and tasty with an irresistible Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad!
This cold ranch pasta salad recipe features macaroni noodles dressed in a creamy, flavorful, ranch dressing. And it’s loaded with fresh veggies, salty chopped bacon, and shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
This all adds up to one crazy good dish – our family loves it!
I also want to mention that this is a great recipe to make in advance. I appreciate salads that I can prep the day before an event – and this ranch pasta salad recipe is an easy, delicious choice!
Why You’ll Love This Side Dish
My family loves any dish that includes pasta, ranch, cheese, and bacon. Here’s why you’ll love it, too:
- Great for bbqs. When we’re grilling out at home and toting dishes to picnics, I’m grateful for foolproof pasta salad recipes. This is a favorite variation for our family, alongside my mom’s macaroni salad with ham and cheese, my super simple Hawaiian macaroni salad, and this delicious sun dried tomato pasta salad (our daughters LOVE this salad!).
- The dressing. Ranch dressing is popular, and with good reason. It’s creamy and tangy, with a delicious savory herb combo – the perfect dressing for this salad.
- The mix-ins. Diced tomato, bell pepper, and red onion offer bites of fresh flavor. And there’s cheese and bacon…enough said!
- Can be made in advance. I’ve prepared this bacon pasta salad the day before, and it works great. I like to just prep everything (cook the pasta and bacon, make the dressing, dice the veggies) the day before, put it in the fridge, and then assemble the salad about an hour before serving.
What You’ll Need
Here’s a rundown of everything you’ll need to make this bacon pasta salad.
Scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the exact ingredient amounts.
- Elbow macaroni – You can use your favorite brand and shape of pasta, but I always use elbow macaroni – it just seems like the right choice for a simple salad like this!
- Tomatoes – I like to use Roma tomatoes because they are very “meaty”. It’s also easy to remove their liquid-y interiors, so the salad dressing doesn’t get overly runny/loose.
- Bell pepper – I use green pepper, to add more variety in color, but you can substitute any color of pepper you like.
- Red onion – Red onion gives a pleasant bite to the salad. I like to chop it small, so there aren’t any large, overwhelming bites.
- Bacon – You’ll cook and chop the bacon before adding it to the salad. Sometimes when I’m cooking bacon for other meals, I make double or triple batches and then throw the extras in the freezer – which works great for salads like this!
- Shredded cheese – Sharp cheddar is my family’s #1 choice, but I think a creamy pepper jack would be awesome if you’re looking for a touch of heat!
- Mayonnaise – Use good-quality mayo, such as Hellman’s (do not use anything marked “salad dressing”, such as Miracle Whip, which includes other flavorings).
- Sour cream – I recommend full-fat sour cream for its rich flavor and texture.
- Rice vinegar – I adore the flavor of rice vinegar, and it’s wonderful in this recipe. It’s available in most stores, but you can substitute white vinegar or apple cider vinegar in a pinch.
- Ranch seasoning – My favorite is Hidden Valley “The Original” Ranch Seasoning. You can just buy a single packet for this recipe – although we keep a bulk container in our pantry, to use in a variety of dips and dressings.
- Black pepper – I tend to use a lot of black pepper, daily. It’s really good in this salad – I usually add more than the recipe card states, just depends on who I’m serving it to!
How to Make Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
It doesn’t take long at all to whip up this ranch pasta salad recipe. Here’s how to put it together:
- Cook the macaroni and drain it well. Cook the macaroni according to package instructions, until just al dente. Then transfer it to a colander and run cold water over it until it’s thoroughly cooled. Drain very well.
- Combine the macaroni and mix-ins. Transfer the well-drained macaroni to a large mixing bowl and add the tomato, green pepper, red onion, bacon, and cheddar.
- Make the ranch dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, rice vinegar, ranch seasoning, and black pepper.
- Combine the salad ingredients with the dressing. Pour the dressing over the macaroni mixture and fold to combine. Enjoy immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Tips & Variations
This ranch pasta salad recipe is so easy and so good! Here are a few tips to help you make it perfectly, plus some variations:
- Cool and rinse the macaroni. As noted, you’ll want to run cold water over the cooked pasta. This stops it from cooking further and become soft/mushy, plus washes away extra starches that would make it stick together.
- Chill the salad. Chilling the salad before you serve it helps the flavors meld together and it just tastes so much better when it’s cold!
- Save out some of the dressing. Depending on the specific pasta and kind and quantity of mix-ins, the salad might soak up a lot of the dressing while it chills. So I like to reserve about 1/3 cup of the prepared dressing, then fold that in right before serving. This ensures that luscious creamy quality.
- Use Greek yogurt. While I prefer to make this salad with sour cream – because it’s creamy, rich, and tangy – you can substitute plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream.
- Use different pasta. You can use another pasta shape, I’d just stick to a medium-sized one, like medium shells, bowties, or rotini. We really like cavatappi, too, because it’s super fun – but it is a little larger pasta shape.
- Add more vegetables. You can throw in more veggies if you like. Ideas include diced celery, peas, sweet corn kernels (a favorite during local sweet corn season!), and diced cucumber (I recommend English or Persian cucumbers, with thin skins and little to no seeds).
- Change up the cheese. I use shredded sharp cheddar – but feel free to use diced/cubed cheese, or a different cheese like a medium cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, or a jalapeno cheese if you like.
Bacon ranch pasta side is hearty enough to eat as a main salad. But we most often serve it as a side. It goes with so many dishes, from meats to veggies to a variety of other salads.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to serve this ranch pasta salad recipe:
- Grilled vegetables. A platter of grilled asparagus is a nice veggie accompaniment to this bacon pasta salad. Or make a grilled zucchini salad or grilled vegetable salad.
- Other salads. A green salad is wonderful served with this rich bacon pasta salad. Try my arugula beet salad, cucumber salad, strawberry salad, or my mom’s sweet onion coleslaw recipes to add fresh flavor.
- Pickled things. I’m all about pickles, and this salad was meant for them. Pickled red onions, dill pickles, bread & butter pickles, pickled beets, and my mom’s refrigerator sweet pickles would all be great choices.
- Meat on the grill. Serve this salad with grilled meats like pork chops, easy beer can chicken, grilled chicken skewers, or grilled Hawaiian chicken chili kebabs.
- Burgers. A side of ranch pasta salad would be great with burgers. Make my Juicy Lucy burger lettuce wraps or goat cheese stuffed turkey burgers.
- Seafood on the grill. Seafood on the grill is always a good idea, in my opinion! Serve this salad with grilled chipotle-orange salmon, margarita grilled shrimp, grilled scallops, or sweet and smoky grilled salmon.
- Other sandwiches. When not grilling, think about serving this cold pasta salad with sloppy joes, chopped cheese sandwiches, or pulled pork sandwiches with barbecue sauce.
How to Store Leftovers
Store leftover pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Serve cold, straight from the fridge.
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- 16 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
- 1 cup seeded and diced Roma tomato
- 1 cup diced green bell pepper
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- 10 slices cooked bacon, chopped
- 1 cup thick-shredded sharp cheddar
- ¾ cup good quality mayonnaise, such as Hellman's (do not use "salad dressing" such as Miracle Whip)
- ¼ cup full-fat sour cream
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 packet (1 ounce) Hidden Valley "The Original" Ranch Seasoning, or 3 tablespoons bulk
- 1½ teaspoons ground black pepper
- Cook macaroni according to package instructions, until just al dente. Transfer cooked macaroni to a colander and run cold water over it until thoroughly cooled. Drain VERY well.
- Transfer drained macaroni to a large mixing bowl and add the tomato, green pepper, red onion, bacon, and cheddar. Fold to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, rice vinegar, ranch seasoning, and black pepper.
- Pour the dressing over the macaroni mixture and fold to combine - enjoy immediately, if you like. Otherwise, if you're planning to chill it first, reserve about ⅓ cup of the dressing and store it in a covered container in the fridge. Fold the rest of the dressing into the salad, cover the salad tightly, and refrigerate. When you're ready to eat it, fold the reserved dressing into the salad, then enjoy.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 452Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 55mgSodium: 839mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 17g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.