Looking for a cool meal on a hot day that’s sure to fill you up? Cowboy pasta salad certainly does the trick! Filled with ground beef, cheese cubes, bacon, beans, corn, and a flavorful homemade dressing, you definitely won’t walk away hungry.

Pasta salad is one of those dishes we always fall back on. Recipes like cilantro ranch pasta salad, spicy Thai pasta salad, and (of course) classic Italian pasta salad have been our go-to’s! While we love these recipes, we’ve been experimenting with much heartier options. Introducing: cowboy pasta salad. It’s simply bursting with meat, cheese, beans, and vegetables. Boy, is it filling! There won’t be any complaints about feeling hungry when you serve this up. Half of its flavorful goodness comes from the delicious homemade dressing. It’s our secret ingredient! Remember, pasta salad is only as good as the dressing you put on it. Our homemade cowboy dressing is made with salsa verde, lime juice, and plenty of smoky spices and seasonings. The salsa allows you to really play around with the heat level — so if you like it hot, make sure to use spicy salsa. The choice is yours!


Not all pasta is created equally, especially when it comes to pasta salad. Follow these tips for the best results:

  • You can use whatever type of pasta you like, although we recommend that you stay away from spaghetti-like noodles. Our favorites include fusilli, rotini, or elbow macaroni.
  • You should also make sure to cook your pasta al dente so that it doesn’t become soggy.
  • Make sure to rinse the pasta in cold water to cool it down — and to stop the cooking process.

Ground Meat Options:

We use ground beef in our cowboy pasta recipe, but you can feel free to replace it with ground turkey or chicken instead. 

Spice Level:

One of the great things about this cowboy pasta is that you can really play around with the spice level. If you like a bit of heat, load up on a hot salsa verde and chili powder for the dressing. You can also add sliced jalapeños on top. If you don’t like spicy foods, use mild salsa and omit the chili powder and peppers. 

Vegetarian Options:

You can easily make this dish vegetarian friendly! Simply replace the ground beef with your favorite plant-based meat crumble — there are so many brands to choose from these days that look and taste similar to ground beef! You could also create tofu crumbles. Don’t forget to skip the bacon for a meat-free take on this meal.

Can’t Find Smoked Paprika? No Problem!

We love the added smokiness this seasoning brings to our cowboy pasta salad. If you can’t find any at your local supermarket, you can use a dash of liquid smoke to get the same smoky flavor. 

Troubleshooting: How Do You Keep Cowboy Pasta Salad From Absorbing The Dressing?

When your pasta absorbs too much dressing it can become mushy. You can prevent this by making sure to cook and drain your pasta properly. Cook it to al dente, then rinse with cold water before adding in the other ingredients. You can also coat the noodles in a bit of olive oil to create a light barrier between the pasta and the dressing. 

Make-Ahead Instructions

This salad can easily be made ahead. You can make the dressing 1-2 days before you plan to use it. You can also prepare the pasta and ground meat the night before you serve your cowboy pasta — just be sure to store them separately. Then, when you’re ready to eat, all that’s left to do is chop up the cheese and tomatoes and put the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl!

Storage Instructions

You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. They will keep for 2-3 days. Any longer and the dish may take on a funny texture.

If you like this recipe, you may be interested in these other delicious pasta salad recipes: