This BLT Pasta Salad is perfect for all the summer BBQs and potlucks. It has the classic flavors of a BLT with juicy tomatoes, crispy bacon, fresh spinach, and a creamy dressing but served up pasta salad-style. Learn my best tips for making a creamy pasta salad and how to make it ahead!
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I first made this BLT pasta salad way back in 2009 when this ye olde blog was just a few months old and since then it’s been my go-to summer salad. It’s a crowd-pleaser with its classic BLT sandwich flavors and goes with pretty much any main dish served up at BBQs, cookouts, and potlucks.
And back then it was sort of a revelation because, up until that point, I’d never made a homemade pasta salad I liked. They were either too dry or too gloppy or too runny. I remember I’d recently seen an episode on Food Network – the name of the show escapes me now – during which the pasta was cooked and then chilled before it was mixed with the creamy dressing.
On the show, the host was making some sort of pasta salad-egg salad concoction and it was that one simple pasta preparation step that inspired this BLT pasta salad. Since then, I’ve never looked back and I always chill my cooked pasta. The result is a pasta salad that’s not too dry or too runny. It works every time.
So, seeing as summer is upon us, I gave this almost 12-year old post a makeover with a few more tips and tricks and new (much-improved) photos to showcase this favorite summer salad. The BLT pasta salad recipe, however, is still the same.
- Rotini pasta – or any short pasta like penne, farfalle, or bow tie pasta.
- Diced red onion
- Chopped fresh baby spinach
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
- Fresh thyme leaves
- Finely chopped fresh parsley
- Lemon juice and zest
- Kosher salt
Tips for Making BLT Pasta Salad
I like to use rotini pasta for this salad because its corkscrew shape is a great vehicle for the creamy dressing.
I like to boil the pasta first following the package directions, drain it really well, and then spread it out in an even layer on a baking sheet. Next, I pop it in the refrigerator to chill.
This chilling step is critical because if you toss warm pasta with a creamy mayo-based dressing the heat from the pasta will break down the dressing making it runny and not so nice. The warm pasta will also absorb a lot of the dressing so, when it’s time to serve it, the pasta salad will be dry instead of creamy. Runny or dry BLT pasta salad = sad face.
I prefer thick-cut bacon for this pasta salad. While the pasta is boiling I cook the bacon strips, drain them of their excess grease on a paper towel, and, once they’ve cooled, chop them into generous bite-sized pieces. I like to see the bigger pieces of bacon in the salad rather than finely chopping it.
I love using cherry tomatoes in this BLT pasta salad because they’re sweeter than other types of tomatoes. They’re also perfectly sized when they’ve been sliced in half. I’ve also used grape tomatoes which are similar.
Along with the fresh tomatoes, the salad has diced onion and chopped fresh spinach all of which can be prepped while the pasta is chilling.
Once I’ve cooked the bacon and while the pasta is chilling I like to make the salad dressing.
How to Assemble the Salad
If you’re planning to serve the salad the same day you make it you can toss it all together once the pasta is chilled.
- Place the chilled pasta in a large bowl. Add sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped spinach, diced onion and toss to combine.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss again until the pasta and other ingredients are evenly coated.
At this point, you can serve the salad. I don’t really love icy cold pasta salads and prefer them a little cooler than room temperature. The pasta will be plenty cold at this point, so it’s nice to just toss and serve it. That said, there are times when I’ve needed to make it ahead and I do things a little differently when that is the case.
Also, since this is a mayo-based pasta salad, you don’t want it sitting out at room temperature for hours on end, but you won’t have that problem because this salad tends to disappear fast.
How to Make It Ahead
The steps in preparing all of the ingredients are the same, but instead of tossing it all together and popping it in the fridge I do the following:
- Instead of slicing the tomatoes and tossing them with the salad I leave them out. Tomatoes don’t do well in the refrigerator – they’re texture can change and turn sort of mealy – and so I keep them out and only toss them with the salad when I’m ready to serve it. That said, a few hours in the fridge will not do too much damage, but if you’re making the salad a day in advance I recommend keeping them out until you’re ready to serve.
- Same goes for the bacon. I’m happy to cook it ahead of time, chop it, and then store it separately in the fridge. It will lose some of its crispiness, but it will be a whole lot crispier if you keep it out of the salad until you’re ready to serve it.
- You can toss the pasta with the spinach and onion. As far as the dressing goes, I add about 3/4 of it to the pasta reserving the rest until I’m ready to serve it. The pasta will absorb some when you refrigerate it, so tossing it with the reserved dressing right before serving will revive its creamy texture.
I hope you enjoy this easy pasta salad!
More Summer Salads
- Orzo Pasta Salad | This orzo pasta salad with broccoli, bell pepper, red onion, and chickpeas is a great summer side dish. It’s tossed in a lemony mustard vinaigrette making it a fresh and light summer side dish for grilled steak, chicken, or seafood. Make it ahead to let all the flavors marry together and serve it cold or at room temperature.
- Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad | Pasta, smoked cheddar, peas, bacoon, and homemade ranch dressing make this salad a must-make for summer.
- Greek Tortellin Salad | This easy salad is loaded with fresh Mediterranean flavors like Kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumber, and feta cheese along with a tangy vinaigrette.
- Italian Pasta Salad | This one has a tangy homemade dressing and all the Italian-inspired ingredients like pepperoni, olives, mozzarella cheese and rotini pasta.
- Classic Macaroni Salad – recipe from the Southern Bite
A fun twist on a traditional BLT this salad has a creamy mayo dressing, crispy bacon, and sweet cherry tomatoes. Be sure to read the recipe notes for tips and make-ahead recommendations!
For the Salad
- 12 ounces rotini pasta
- 1/4 cup red onion, diced
- 8 ounces bacon slices
- 4 cups chopped fresh spinach
- 10 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
For the Dressing
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- Juice from half of a lemon, plus 1 teaspoon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Cook and chill the pasta: Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Spread the pasta out in a single layer on a large baking pan. Stick the pan in the refrigerator to chill the pasta while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- Cook the bacon: While the pasta is chilling cook the bacon until crispy. Remove from the pan and let the slices drain on a paper towel. Once the bacon is cool enough to handle, chop it into bite-sized pieces.
- Make the dressing: Combine the mayo with the thyme, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl.
- Assemble the salad: Add the chilled pasta to a large bowl. Add the onion, chopped spinach, half of the chopped bacon and cherry tomatoes and toss to combine. Add the dressing and toss everything together until everything is coated evenly in the dressing. Top with the rest of the chopped bacon and serve.
Tips for Making the Salad: It’s important to chill the pasta first because if you toss warm pasta with the dressing the dressing will breakdown, which means your pasta salad will be runny. Warm pasta also tends to absorb more of the dressing so, when it’s time to serve it, your pasta salad will be dry. So, don’t skip the chilling step 🙂
How to Make the Salad Ahead
- Combine the chilled pasta, spinach, onion and 3/4 of the dressing and cover it with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge. The pasta will absorb some of the dressing while it sits, so reserve some to toss with the salad when you’re ready to serve it.
- Store the cooked bacon in a separate container in the fridge.
- Tomatoes don’t do well in the refrigerator, so I recommend that you wait to slice them until you are ready to serve the salad.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Side Dishes
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 1/6 of recipe
- Calories: 636
- Sugar: 3.8g
- Sodium: 796.2mg
- Fat: 43.5g
- Saturated Fat: 9.5g
- Trans Fat: 0.1g
- Carbohydrates: 46.8g
- Fiber: 3g
- Protein: 13.7g
- Cholesterol: 40.4mg
Keywords: BLT pasta salad, pasta salad with bacon, creamy pasta salad
Post updated from the archives. First published in September 2009.