Cowboy Pasta Salad

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Assuming you haven’t made some variation of this dish already, you’ll just have to trust us when we say that it is GOOD. Definitely not your typical pasta salad, this cowboy version’s got a lot of unusual flavors that don’t typically come to the salad party, including (but not limited to): smokiness from the barbecue sauce and cumin, heat from the red pepper flakes, worcestershire and hot sauces, and brown mustard to really open up those nasal passages. This is not your average macaroni salad. Instead, it’s got some great Tex-Mex elements that beef it up, pun intended, and turn this into a full meal, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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So apart from the kick that the dressing brings to this dish, it’s chock-full of macaroni, ground beef, bacon, corn, black beans and tomatoes, then pumped up with lots of cheddar cheese. You might be a little hesitant at first about all the ingredients that go into this bad boy, but stick with us for a minute and watch it all come together. This salad packs a punch – it’s got the perfect amount of kick to it, which you can tone down if you’ve got sensitive eaters – and it makes for a perfect summer lunch or dinner, as a side dish or the main course.

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We could seriously go through numerous bowls of this stuff, so it requires some self-restraint if you want to make sure you still have room for dessert (which you should know by now is also a top priority), but we promise you it’s all worth it. Every bite is filled to the brim with ingredients and flavor, and we could be happy as clams to eat this all summer long. Once you try it you’ll feel the same way!
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Cowboy Salad

30 minutes to prepare serves 8


  • Salad:
  • 1 pound pasta shells or macaroni, cooked according to package instructions and tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled, plus extra for garnish, optional
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 (15.25 oz.) can whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15.25 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, halved
  • 1/3 cup green onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Dressing:
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce, and set aside until ready to use.
  2. Cook beef in a large pan or skillet over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Season with cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Once beef is cooked, drain fat, then transfer to a large bowl and add cooked pasta and bacon, corn, black beans, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, green onion and cilantro.
  4. Pour dressing over salad mixture and toss to combine, sprinkle reserved bacon over the top before serving.

Recipe adapted from Belly Full