This Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad is loaded with bacon, tomatoes, and chicken, covered in a creamy buttermilk ranch dressing. Add croutons, and it tastes just like a chicken club sandwich! Prep ahead directions included!
When I think ‘make-ahead pasta salads’, I don’t immediately think chicken club sandwiches. But hear me out: the chicken club sandwich also has all the components that make a good pasta salad. Protein, veggies, creamy dressing, a crunchy element (hello croutons!). It’s all there!
Again, chicken club does not seem very make-ahead friendly at first, I know. But in this case, all you have to do to keep away any soggy/wilty leftovers is add the croutons and lettuce as you serve, no sooner. Or, just skip them altogether and the salad is still a bomb bacon tomato pasta masterpiece.
What is a chicken club?
A chicken club is not a poultry meeting group – it’s a sandwich made with cooked chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, all on toasty pieces of white bread, usually three pieces, and cut into triangles.
It originates somewhere from New York in the late 1800’s, though it’s a bit contested exactly where it was first served. The name is most likely short for ‘clubhouse sandwich’. More info on the origins of the club sandwich here!
I’m an all around sandwich lover, but I usually gravitate towards a crispy chicken or turkey melt sandwich, rather than a chicken club. But at this point, I would rather have this pasta salad than the sandwich itself! If you love a good chicken club, I’m certain you’ll love this recipe!
Total Time: 40 minutes + rest time
Prep: Make-Ahead Friendly
What are the ingredients in this Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad?
The ingredients in this pasta salad are no surprise if you’ve ever had a chicken club sandwich. We’re adding two kind of tomatoes to amp up the flavor, plus the classic ingredients like bacon, lettuce, and toasty bread. Here’s everything you need to make this pasta salad:
- corkscrew pasta – Use either fusilli or rotini pasta with that classic corkscrew shape that holds sauces really well! Bowtie or farfalle shape would also work if necessary.
- cooked bacon – A high quality bacon gives the best taste in this recipe. I get my packs of bacon from ButcherBox – they usually have 8-9 strips of bacon each. You can cook the bacon on the stovetop as the recipe indicates or follow my instructions for how to cook bacon in the oven.
- white wine vinegar & extra virgin olive oil – Just a small amount of mild white wine vinegar and EVOO will do the trick for the base of the pasta salad.
- sun-dried tomatoes – To accompany the fresh tomatoes, adding some sun-dried tomatoes brings that burst of sweet-tart flavor to really enhance the tomato goodness!
- cooked chicken – Cooked diced chicken breasts works best. You want pieces that are small so you can fit other ingredients on your fork as well! Feel free to use rotisserie chicken, just be sure to chop it up into small pieces. I personally love to poach the chicken and then use the same water for cooking the pasta. So much flavor!
- grape tomatoes – You’ll want to quarter your grape (or cherry) tomatoes so they’re small enough to fit on your fork with other ingredients as well. This is a great use of your summer cherry tomato harvest!
- fresh ground black pepper & kosher salt – Since we’ve got so many basic but awesome ingredients (tomatoes, chicken, pasta), we have to season well with my favorite salt and pepper to really bring out the flavors!
- lettuce – Use your favorite leafy lettuce here, whatever you would put on a club sandwich! I have lots of romaine growing in my yard, so that’s what I used.
- croutons – My very favorite croutons can be made in the air fryer in less than 15 minutes! Get the recipe for air fryer croutons here. Store-bought will also work in a pinch!
- buttermilk, mayonnaise & chives – These three ingredients make up the most simple yet delicious ranch sauce you’ve ever encountered. It’s the best with fresh chives, but dried or lightly dried will also work if needed.
How do you make this Chicken Club Pasta Salad?
Start this pasta salad off by cooking the bacon (as well as the chicken, if not already cooked). My go-to method for cooking bacon is using the oven for a hands-off method, but another perfectly good method is to cook bacon in a pan on the stovetop until crispy.
Either way you cook it, make sure your bacon is nice and crispy so it holds up well in the pasta salad. Drain the cooked bacon on paper towels and pat dry to remove even more grease.
While the bacon is cooking, start heating the water for the pasta. Be sure to salt the water well once it’s boiling, and then cook the pasta for about 2 minutes longer than al dente. Cooking the pasta slightly past done helps it absorb the dressing better as it firms up.
Next, grab your large pasta serving bowl and add the white wine vinegar and olive oil. Whisk these together real quick, then toss in the sun dried tomatoes and half of the bacon, along with a big pinch of salt, and mix it together.
By now, the pasta should be done cooking. After draining, add the cooked pasta directly to the bowl with the ingredients you’ve already mixed together. Stir in the pasta until everything is well coated in the oil and vinegar. Combined with the sun-dried tomatoes and bacon, this helps infuse tons of flavor into the hot pasta!
While the pasta is coming down to room temperature in its flavor bath, it’s time to whip up the three ingredient buttermilk dressing. Combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise and chives in a bowl until it’s totally creamy and no mayo lumps remain.
Final step is to put it all together! Bring back the bowl of dressed pasta. Add the diced chicken, fresh grape tomatoes, reserved bacon, and then the dressing. Stir it up and you’ve got a creamy and delicious pasta salad that makes a whole meal!
But let’s go one step further with the chicken club theme. If you’ve got some croutons and shredded lettuce, add those to the pasta salad, but only JUST before serving! These additions seriously level up the pasta salad, but don’t store well with the rest of the recipe.
If you’re making this pasta salad ahead of time, store the croutons and lettuce separately. This prevents them from getting soggy and wilty during storage!
How to make croutons for this recipe:
There are lots of ways to make croutons, but my favorite way is using the air fryer. I have a full guide on How to Make Croutons in the Air Fryer – seriously the best croutons ever. You can also use store-bought croutons for a quicker option!
How to cook chicken for this recipe:
Since you can use any leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken you have on hand, there are tons of ways to cook chicken for this recipe. One method is to poach the chicken, with the instructions shared in the notes section of the recipe card.
You can also used baked chicken breasts, pressure cooked chicken breasts, grilled chicken, or chicken tenders. Check out my post on How to Cook Chicken For Meal Prep if you’re looking for chicken breast cooking ideas!
How to cook bacon for this recipe:
The bacon can be cooked in any method you see fit, as long as it gets nice and crispy. The recipe includes instructions on a simple stovetop cooking method. You can also cook the bacon in the oven.
Can I use rotisserie chicken instead of chicken breasts?
Yes, feel free to use any cooked chicken you have on hand, or meat pulled from a rotisserie chicken. You’ll need about 2 cups of diced or roughly chopped meat.
Best tips for this Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad:
Here are my best tips for making this Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad:
- Dice your chicken into small bite-sized pieces. You want it small enough to fit on your fork with a little bit of every other ingredient as well! If you’re using rotisserie chicken, roughly chop it up a little bit as well.
- Use high-quality bacon and chicken for the best flavors. I would suggest not using any alternatives like bacon bits. You want the real thing with the most flavor!
- Cook the pasta about 2 minutes past al dente. This helps it absorb the flavors better as it cools and firms up.
What should you serve with this Chicken Club Pasta Salad?
The best thing to serve with this pasta salad is to go all-in and include some shredded romaine or baby gem lettuce, as well as some croutons for the toasty bread crunch that comes with a chicken club sandwich.
Add even more than one handful of lettuce to turn it into a salad based meal. Or serve the pasta salad on toast instead of using croutons!
How do you meal prep this Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad?
This recipe was written with make-ahead friendliness in mind! Follow the directions for a wonderful pasta salad that will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.
Here are even more ideas on how to meal prep or make portions of this recipe ahead of time at your house:
- Complete ingredient prep: Cook your bacon, chicken and croutons a day ahead of time to save a few moments when you’re making the complete recipe.
- Enjoy now & later: Prepare all the ingredients and make the recipe as written. Portion your pasta, croutons and lettuce into your serving bowl and mix it up right before eating. Otherwise, continue storing croutons and lettuce separately. Store leftover pasta salad in a container with lid and use up with 3 days.
Is this recipe freezer-friendly?
No, this is not a freezer-friendly recipe.
How to store Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad:
Store leftover pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days for best quality.
Be sure to store croutons and shredded lettuce separately, with the croutons on the counter in a container with lid and the lettuce in a silicone bag with paper towel in the fridge.
This Make-Ahead Chicken Club Pasta Salad is loaded with bacon, tomatoes, and chicken, covered in a creamy buttermilk ranch dressing. Add homemade croutons, and it tastes just like a chicken club sandwich! Prep ahead directions included!
For the pasta salad:
- 10 ounces fusilli or rotini pasta
- kosher salt (for pasta water)
- 1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon (from approx. 8 strips), divided
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2/3 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, lightly drained
- 2 cups diced cooked chicken (from approx. 2 large breasts)
- 10 ounces grape tomatoes, quartered
- fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 large handful shredded baby gem or romaine lettuce (optional)
- 1 cup air fryer croutons (optional)
For the buttermilk dressing:
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup chopped chives (fresh preferred, or use ~2 tablespoons dried)
- Cook the bacon: Unless you’re using pre-prepped bacon, cook the bacon in a cold pan with a small splash of oil (unless your bacon is quite fatty) set over a medium high heat until crispy. Drain on kitchen towels, and then cut with kitchen scissors or slice into large pieces. You can also cook the bacon in the oven, if preferred.
- Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water for 2 minutes longer than the package instructions – you want the pasta to be slightly past done as it will firm up as it cools and absorbs the dressing.
- Dress the pasta: In the bottom of a large bowl, whisk together the white wine vinegar and the olive oil. Season with 1/2 tsp of salt and stir in the sliced sun-dried tomatoes and half of the cooked bacon. Drain the pasta and stir it, still hot, into the dressing. Leave to cool to room temperature so it has a chance to absorb all the flavors from the bowl.
- Make the dressing: Whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise and chives until smooth. If you’re serving the pasta salad right away, only use 1/2 cup buttermilk, but if you plan to refrigerate it, use the full 3/4 cup. The pasta will start to absorb the dressing after about an hour in the fridge, so using extra will stop the pasta salad from drying out.
- Assemble the salad: Stir the diced chicken, grape tomatoes and reserved bacon into the pasta, followed by the buttermilk dressing. If making ahead, store the lettuce and croutons separately from the pasta salad, so they don’t get soggy and wilted.
- Serve & store: This pasta salad is delicious on it’s own, but to level it up, stir in the optional shredded lettuce and croutons just before serving. Store leftovers covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. Store prepared croutons in a closed container on the counter.
- Cooking chicken: If you are cooking chicken specifically for this recipe, gently poach the chicken breasts in a pan of boiling, salted water set over a medium heat for 20-25 minutes until just cooked through. Reserve the chicken-infused cooking water and use it to cook the pasta for another layer of flavor.
- Nutrition information estimated with My Fitness Pal.
- Serving Size: ~2 cups
- Calories: 514
- Fat: 24g
- Carbohydrates: 48g
- Protein: 30g
Recipe developed by Rachel Phipps.