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Cowboy Pasta Salad

Loaded with bold Tex-Mex flavors, this cowboy pasta salad is tangy, spicy, and delicious. It’s the perfect side dish for any cookout!

Tender pasta noodles are tossed with juicy cherry tomatoes, crisp bell peppers, sweet corn, and hearty black beans. But the real kicker is the tangy BBQ ranch dressing that coats every bite. It’s like a little bit of cowboy magic! 

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Enjoy it at summer barbecues, potlucks, or for an easy weeknight meal.

The tender pasta, savory meat, flavorful veggies, and sharp cheddar won’t let you down.

Why You’ll Love This Cowboy Pasta Salad

Flavor Explosion: This cowboy pasta really is a genuine flavor bomb. There’s smoky bacon, spicy beef, tangy sauce, sweet corn, and more. Every bite is a true taste of bliss. 

Packed with Protein: In addition to bacon and beef, this pasta salad also features protein-packed beans.

Easy Prep: The recipe features straightforward steps and common ingredients. It’s simple to prepare, no matter your skill level in the kitchen. 

Seasoned beef with cumin garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in pan.


  • Bowtie Pasta: The fun shape is ideal for holding the dressing and other ingredients. 
  • Lean Ground Beef: Browned and seasoned ground beef adds hearty protein to the salad.
  • Bacon: Only bacon can provide that smoky, salty punch. 
  • Sweet Corn: These tender, sweet kernels add pops of color and fresh flavor to every bite. 
  • Black Beans: They pair well with all the other ingredients, making the recipe almost like a taco salad.
  • Cherry Tomatoes: Slice them in half for juicy freshness.
  • Sharp Cheddar: No pasta salad is complete without cheese! 
  • Green Onion & Fresh Cilantro: They give the salad a vibrant green color.
  • Seasonings: I use a mix of cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Together, they create a savory, smoky, slightly spicy Tex-Mex blend. 
  • Dressing: Make it yourself from mayo, BBQ sauce, spicy brown mustard, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.
Cooked pasta, ground beef, bacon, corn, black beans, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, green onions, and cilantro mixed in a bowl.

How to Make Cowboy Pasta Salad

Making cowboy pasta salad boils down to the following steps: 

1. Cook the pasta. Boil it in salted water until al dente. Then drain, rinse, and drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

2. Cook the beef. Brown the beef in a skillet over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes. Then, drain any excess fat and season well with the seasoning ingredients. Set aside. 

3. Prepare the dressing. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. 

4. Combine. Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Then, pour the dressing over the mixture and toss well. 

5. Chill or serve. I prefer this pasta salad cold, so I refrigerate it after making it. However, you can serve it immediately if you prefer. Garnish with more bacon, onions, and cilantro if desired. Enjoy! 

Cowboy pasta salad mixed with a wooden ladle in a clear bowl.

Tips for the Best Cowboy Pasta Salad

These tips will make your pasta salad shine.

  • Pick the right pasta. I enjoy bowtie pasta for this recipe. If you want something different, that’s fine. Just be sure to pick a shape that will hold the dressing well. 
  • Stay lean and mean Look for 90% lean beef to avoid excess grease. Be sure to drain well before adding the seasonings, too. 
  • Keep things cool. Let the pasta and ground beef cool before mixing them with the other ingredients. Hot pasta (and meat) will absorb too much of the dressing. 
  • Go thick with the bacon. Though not a requirement, it gives the salad a great texture. Regular bacon can become soggy quickly. 
  • Remember to drain! Drain the beans and corn before adding them to the salad. Also, rinse to remove excess starch. 
  • Try fun add-ins. You can customize this pasta salad however you like. Add jalapenos, bell peppers, Rotel, diced avocado, and more. 

Serving Suggestions

This cowboy pasta salad is actually hearty enough for a complete meal on its own. You can also pair it with things like: 

Spoon scooping in a bowl of cowboy pasta salad.

How to Store

Here are a few tips for making ahead and storing cowboy pasta salad: 

To Make Ahead: You shouldn’t make the entire pasta salad ahead of time. It tastes best fresh. However, you can cook the beef and bacon a day in advance. You can also make the dressing up to 2 days beforehand. Just store everything separately in the fridge. Combine when ready to serve. 

To Store: Once the salad is fully assembled, it will only keep for 3 to 4 days. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate it. Keep some salad dressing stored separately to add to the pasta salad when serving it. 

*Note: If possible, store the bacon separately from the salad. Otherwise, it becomes too soggy.

Cowboy Pasta Salad

Course: Side DishCuisine: American


Prep time


Cooking time




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Cowboy pasta salad will be the hit of your next potluck! Packed with ground beef, bacon, bowtie pasta, corn, beans, cheese, and tomatoes, it’s hearty and delicious.


  • For the Salad
  • 1 pound bowtie pasta

  • 1 pound lean ground beef

  • 1 teaspoon cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled

  • 1 can (15-ounce) sweet corn, drained

  • 1 can (15-ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, cubed

  • 1/2 cup green onions, sliced

  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

  • For the Dressing
  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce

  • 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce


  • Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package directions until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drizzle with a little olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the ground beef until browned and no longer pink. (About 6-8 minutes.) Break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Drain excess fat.
  • Season the beef with the cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, BBQ sauce, mustard, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce until smooth.
  • In a very large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, ground beef, bacon, corn, black beans, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, green onions, and cilantro. Pour the dressing over top and toss well to coat everything evenly.
  • Serve immediately or refrigerate for a couple hours to let the flavors meld. Garnish with additional bacon, green onions, and cilantro if desired. Enjoy!


  • Rinsing the cooked pasta under cold water stops the cooking process. It prevents it from getting mushy.
  • Drain the beef well after cooking to avoid a greasy salad.
  • You can make the salad a few hours in advance and refrigerate it to let the flavors develop.

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author avatar
Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

2 thoughts on “Cowboy Pasta Salad”

  1. Can you substitute anything for the mayo? (I can’t eat it) Like sour cream or Greek yogurt? Maybe avocado? Just curious.

    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Amy!
      Plain Greek yogurt would be your best best in terms of texture, since it’s nice and thick.
      But you could blend an avocado in there for added taste and color. Great idea!
      It just won’t be as thick, but that shouldn’t be an issue. You’ll just need to give it a really good mix before serving 🙂


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