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Chicken Pasta Salad

This Chicken Pasta Salad has marinaded chicken that’s seared in bacon drippings for ultimate flavor. It’s then tossed with rotini pasta, crispy bacon, tomatoes, bell peppers, and shredded cheese. Dressing options include Italian, Greek, Caesar, Ranch, and more!

A glass bowl filled with Chicken Pasta Salad with bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and peppers.

Chicken Pasta Salad

My absolute favorite thing about this Chicken Pasta Salad recipe is that it has everything you could want in a meal, but works perfectly as a side dish as well. We love keeping a bowl of this in the fridge to pull out and munch on throughout the day during the summer, and it’s always a huge hit at BBQ’s!

Get this: The chicken is marinaded first, and then seared in bacon drippings to form a golden outer crust, which makes it super flavorful. 

And throughout that flavorful pasta are bites of crispy bacon along with juicy tomatoes, bell peppers, and cheddar cheese. (And there are tons of add-on ideas, more on that below.)

Bonus: You can use any kind of salad dressing for this. I use Italian, but Ranch, Caesar, or Greek dressing works well too.

How to Make It

See recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.

Fry the bacon slowly over low heat until crispy on each side.  Set aside and chop once cooled. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon drippings.

Meanwhile, marinade the chicken in your dressing of choice for 20 minutes at room temperature. Sear in bacon reserved drippings to form a golden crust on each side. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Crispy bacon in a skillet next to a plate with diced seared chicken.

Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain and drizzle with a little olive oil, let cool. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with 1/4 cup dressing. Add the chicken and toss with another 1/4 cup dressing.

A glass bowl with rotini pasta next to a bowl with pasta and chicken.

Add the tomatoes and bell peppers, and toss with 1/4 cup dressing. Add 1/2 of the cheese, and 1/2 of the bacon and toss to combine. Top with remaining bacon and cheese. Serve immediately or chill for up to 6 hours prior to serving. See below for a longer make-ahead method.

Chicken Pasta Salad before and after being mixed together.

Make Ahead Method

  • This pasta salad can be assembled up to 12 hours ahead of time, although I would wait on adding the cheese until just before serving.
  • Note: The pasta will absorb a lot of the dressing during storage, so you’ll need to add up to 1/2 cup additional dressing prior to serving.

Pro Tips

  • Optional Additions to this salad include: Avocado, hard boiled eggs, English cucumbers, pepperoni, red onions, chives, spinach, feta, and even grapes!
  • Bacon: I use Oscar Mayer Thick Cut Bacon. High quality makes a big difference.
  • Dressing: I use Olive Garden Italian Salad Dressing. I also have a homemade version! You can also make this with Ranch, Caesar, or Greek dressing.
  • For a Creamier Italian Dressing: Combine 1/4 cup mayo with 1 cup of Italian dressing for the pasta.
  • Cheese: I use Cabot Two State Farmers’ Shredded Cheddar Cheese, the cheese holds up really well in this salad.
  • Veggies: I slice the tomatoes and put them middle-side-down on paper towels to absorb excess juice. I also lay the diced bell peppers on paper towels to remove excess moisture. (We don’t want a watery salad.)
  • Chicken: Rotisserie or leftover chicken can be used as a shortcut if needed!
  • Be sure to try my Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad and my Greek Pasta Salad recipes next!

Tips for the Pasta:

  • Be sure to use a timer when you boil your pasta to ensure that you don’t overcook it. I like to cook it for 30 seconds less than al dente, as it cools gradually, during which time it finishes cooking. 
  • Salt the pasta water well to ensure that the pasta itself has plenty of flavor. I use 2 tbsp. kosher salt.
  • Don’t rinse your pasta with cool water after it’s drained. Drizzle it with a little olive oil and let it cool on parchment paper or a tray on the counter. The starch on the pasta helps it cling onto the dressing.
  • Other pasta options include farfalle and penne.

Storage

  • Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

Chicken Pasta Salad in a glass bowl with chicken, bacon, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cheese.

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Chicken Pasta Salad in a glass bowl with bacon, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cheese.

Chicken Pasta Salad

5 from 1 rating
This Chicken Pasta Salad has the most flavorful marinaded chicken that’s seared in bacon drippings for ultimate flavor. It’s tossed in a flavorful pasta with crispy bacon, tomatoes, bell peppers, and shredded cheese.

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 1 ½ lbs.
  • 1 ½ cups Italian salad dressing, divided. See notes
  • 6 strips thick-cut bacon, high quality
  • 1 lb. rotini pasta
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 bell pepper, diced. I use ½ red, ½ green.
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Instructions

Marinade the Chicken

  • Cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create 2 thinner slices. Cover with saran wrap and use the textured side of a meat mallet to pound it to ½ inch thick. Pat completely dry.
  • Sprinkle lightly with salt/pepper. Place ½ cup of the salad dressing in a gallon freezer bag and add the chicken. Remove excess air from the bag and seal. Let it marinade at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Measure out Ingredients/Cook Bacon and Pasta

  • Meanwhile, cook the bacon slowly over low heat until crispy on each side. Tilt the pan occasionally and collect drippings with a spoon and set them aside. You’ll want to reserve 2 tablespoons total. Set cooked bacon on a paper towel lined plate and chop once cooled.
  • While the bacon cooks, measure out remaining ingredients and begin boiling salted pasta water. Once a boil is reached, cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. (Set a timer to avoid overcooking.) Drain once cooked and spread it out on a tray or on parchment paper to let it cool. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat and let it cool for 5 minutes.

Sear the Chicken

  • Heat reserved bacon drippings (or 2 tbsp. olive oil if needed), in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken in batches for 4-5 minutes per side, until a golden crust has developed. Set aside and let it rest for 10 minutes, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Assemble the Salad

  • Add the cooled pasta to a large bowl. Add ¼ cup salad dressing and toss to coat evenly. Add the chicken and another ¼ cup dressing, toss to coat. Add the cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and ¼ cup dressing. Add ½ of the bacon and ½ of the cheese and toss to combine.
  • Transfer to a clean bowl prior to serving if desired. Top with remaining bacon and cheese.
  • Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 6 hours prior to serving. (Note: You will have an extra 1/4 cup of dressing, which you can choose to use only if preferred.) See notes about a longer make-ahead method.

Notes

Pro Tips
  • Optional Additions to this salad include: Avocado, hard boiled eggs, English cucumbers, pepperoni, red onions, chives, spinach, feta, and even grapes!
  • Bacon: I use Oscar Mayer Thick Cut Bacon. High quality makes a big difference.
  • Dressing: I use Olive Garden Italian Salad Dressing. I also have a homemade version. You can also make this with Ranch, Caesar, or Greek dressing.
  • For a Creamier Italian Dressing: Combine 1/4 cup mayo with 1 cup of Italian dressing for the pasta.
  • Cheese: I use Cabot Two State Farmers’ Shredded Cheddar Cheese, the cheese holds up really well in this salad.
  • Veggies: I slice the tomatoes and put them middle-side-down on paper towels to absorb excess juice. I also lay the diced bell peppers on paper towels to remove excess moisture. (We don't want a watery salad.)
  • Chicken: Rotisserie or leftover chicken can be used as a shortcut if needed!
  • Be sure to try my Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad and my Greek Pasta Salad recipes next!

Make Ahead Method
  • This pasta salad can be assembled up to 12 hours ahead of time, although I would wait on adding the cheese until just before serving.
  • Note: The pasta will absorb a lot of the dressing during storage, so you'll need to add up to 1/2 cup additional dressing prior to serving.

Storage
  • Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

The Nutritional information shared is an estimate and is per serving. There are 12 servings in this recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 399kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 22g, Fat: 19g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 58mg, Sodium: 545mg, Potassium: 469mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 632IU, Vitamin C: 22mg, Calcium: 87mg, Iron: 1mg
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2 comments on “Chicken Pasta Salad”

  1. I made the pasta BLT salad last week. That was delicious. So was this one. I did add the leftover mini pepperoni and black olives to this one. I love all your recipes. Thank you. You have made my dinners easier to make and I love having the leftovers for lunch 

    • I am so happy that you enjoyed this pasta salad Dawn, and I absolutely love that you added mini pepperoni, that works so well with the other flavors in this recipe, nicely done!!! -Stephanie

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