Normally I’d say, “never be the person who shows up to a barbecue with a salad”, but I make a definite exception for this delicious pasta salad.
Packed full of flavor and tossed in a homemade garlic vinaigrette – your guests will be going back for seconds! It only takes a few minutes to whip up and will keep in the fridge for three to four days.
The best pasta salad for your next barbecue
Pasta salad recipes can be found dating back to the 1950s, and it’s one of those dishes that everyone puts their own unique twist on.
Not to be confused with Macaroni Salad, which is dressed in a creamy, mayonnaise-based dressing, pasta salad is a simple combination of cooked pasta, vegetables, cheese, and optional meat dressed in a vinaigrette.
I firmly believe that the key to a great pasta salad is in the dressing, which is why I choose to make mine from scratch instead of grabbing a bottle of store-bought salad dressing.
I like being able to adjust the ingredients to really create the perfect flavor to pair with my main dish.
The best pasta to use
You can use whatever pasta you have on hand, but I always try to go for something with a lot of nooks and crannies in it.
I’m a big fan of using rotini in my pasta salad because the twisty, little noodles fill up with dressing and ensure you get a punch of flavor in every bite.
1. Rotini – in my mind, this is the ultimate choice when it comes to pasta salad. The little spiral shape and increased surface area allow plenty of dressing to stick to every bite!
2. Farfalle – also known as “bow-tie” pasta, farfalle is another great option for pasta salad. While it doesn’t have as much surface area as rotini, the folds serve the same purpose when it comes to the pasta-to-dressing ratio. Plus, it looks super cute!
3. Orzo – while it’s not the most common choice for pasta salad, it definitely deserves a place on the list for certain recipes. Orzo is very short and similar in shape to rice, so a pasta salad made with orzo makes a great side dish.
4. Tortellini – this one is for my cheese lovers. Tortellini can really kick your pasta salad up a notch. It has the folds and crevices that will hold plenty of dressing, plus you get a nice, cheesy surprise right in the middle!
How to make pasta salad
When I say this recipe is quick and easy, I mean it. You don’t need to be a classically trained chef to create a beautiful and flavorful pasta salad.
1. Cook the pasta
Whatever pasta you decide to use, it’s important to cook until it’s al dente (firm when bitten). Pasta absorbs liquid rapidly, and you don’t want your pasta salad to end up as a bowl of mush. This is especially important if you plan to store it in the fridge for a couple of days before serving.
Follow the instructions on your pasta packet for this step, as the exact times will vary depending on the brand.
Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and drizzle with a little olive oil to stop it from sticking together, and let it sit for a bit to come closer to room temperature. This will prevent the hot pasta from “cooking” any of your vegetables or compromising the integrity of your dressing.
2. Prep the vinaigrette
While you let your pasta cool off, it’s a perfect time to make the dressing. This garlic Dijon vinaigrette is a showstopper, and the flavor will blow your mind. It’s great for green salads and pasta salads and even works as a tasty marinade for chicken or lamb.
This recipe originally called for two tbsp of ground pepper, which I’ve since revised down to one tbsp. Feel free to experiment to see how peppery you like it.
To mix the dressing, I like to use an immersion blender. If you don’t own one, you don’t know what you’re missing, and I highly recommend adding one to your kitchen arsenal.
They’re great for soups, dressings, and just about anything you need to puree or emulsify. I use the Cuisinart QuikPrep. I’ve had it for nearly a decade, and it still works just as well as the day I got it.
You can use a small bowl or jar to mix your dressing. I like to use my Cambro Camwear Measuring Cup. It lets me measure ingredients right on the side of the container, so I don’t have to dirty multiple measuring cups.
3. Chop your ingredients
The possibilities are endless, and you can use whatever veggies, cheeses, and meat that you want. Some people like to add cubed cheddar or feta, while I opt for small balls of fresh mozzarella. Some recipes will add salami or pepperoni, but I like to double up on veggies instead.
4. Mix everything together
Once your dressing is prepped and your ingredients are chopped, your pasta should have cooled down a bit.
Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, add the chopped ingredients, then pour the dressing all over. Give it a good mix and ensure that everything is well-combined and coated in that tasty dressing.
After it’s mixed up, just cover and store it in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour to let it get nice and cool.
You can keep it in the fridge for three to four days without issue, making it a great side dish to prep.
What to serve pasta salad with
Pasta salad can be eaten on its own as a meal in itself or alongside your favorite barbecue meat. Here are some great recipes that pair wonderfully with this quick and tasty pasta salad:
- Smoked Chicken Thighs
- Grilled Chicken Kabobs
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Pistachio Crust
- Smoked Pork Belly
- Competition-style Pulled Pork
The Best Pasta Salad For BBQ
- 16 oz Rotini pasta
- olive oil to drizzle
- 1½ cups grape tomatoes halved
- 1 small cucumber halved and chopped
- 1 can black olives
- ½ cup red onion diced
- ½ cup green onions chopped
- 1½ cups fresh mozzarella balls
Garlic Dijon Vinaigrette
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp parmesan cheese grated
- 1 tbsp black pepper Coursly ground. You can use 1/2 a tbsp if you don't like things too peppery.
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
- Drain pasta, drizzle with a little olive oil and give it a stir to coat then let it come to room temperature.
- When cool, add to a large bowl with the remaining salad ingredients.
- Pour the dressing over and mix until everything is well coated.
- Place in the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes before serving.
- Can be served immediately or stored covered in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Garlic Dijon Vinaigrette
- Combine all the dressing ingredients in small bowl or measuring cup. Mix with an immersion blender until well-combined.