~ All the great flavors of buffalo chicken dip, in a satisfying tortellini pasta salad! It’s perfect as a main dish salad, or as a hearty side for picnics, cookouts, tailgating and potlucks, and it’s sure to win raves every time you make it! Plus, it’s easy to prep ahead and can even be served without the chicken for a vegetarian option! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Make Ahead • Vegetarian Option •
This pasta salad is a surefire people-pleaser. I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
First, there’s the obvious reason that it has pretty much everything going for it:
- the beloved, ever-popular flavors of buffalo chicken dip (kinda like in our beloved Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip or our to-die-for Buffalo Chicken Dip Grilled Cheese Sandwiches) …
- combined into a hearty pasta salad …
- with a satisfying mix of pillowy tortellini and crunchy accents!
Plus there’s a fab, make-ahead, hostess-pleasing bonus for you – it can be entirely prepped even a day ahead of time! Just stir the dressing in at the last moment, and you’re good to go!
Mmmmhmmm … yeah … people-pleaser.
But, my conviction that you’ll love this recipe goes way beyond the obvious.
The first time I ever threw this salad together (just because I thought it sounded like a good idea, something I’d certainly want to eat), was for a soccer picnic during a big weekend tournament. We all thought a little tailgate party would add to the fun for our boys (and for us, the hungry, road-weary spectators).
But, as all soccer moms know … soccer plans are made specifically just so they can be changed (usually multiple times, right up to the very last minute, so you have no hope of staying organized or on schedule).
And so, our perfectly conceived idea of an evening tailgate turned into a breakfast buffet (after a heartbreaking loss, nonetheless). But most parents had already made dinner foods and desserts for what was supposed to be an evening picnic … m’kay. Well, we cobbled it all together as best we could. Some wise and thoughtful soul scavenged huge amounts of coffee, along with bagels and muffins to add to the mix … and we just went with it. ‘Cause that’s what you do during soccer season.
I really didn’t have a lot of hope for the buffalo chicken salad I’d been so excited about the night before. Who would want to eat buffalo chicken first thing in the morning?
Well, I gotta tell ya … apparently lots of people!
I was delighted (and shocked) at how many people sidled up to me, raving and asking for the recipe. Ok, then!
Even if our soccer boys didn’t score quite enough that morning, my Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad racked up the bonus points like crazy.
Gretchen and I immediately slated the recipe to share with you come summertime.
If people scarf this down and beg for the recipe after eating it for breakfast during a post-defeat depression … well, friends … all I can say is … make this!
It’ll be the hit of any picnic, cookout or party!
And, because it’s super easy and can be made way ahead, you’ll be totally chillax and able to enjoy the fun, free of last-minute cooking duty!
Oh … and since this is THK, you know you can feel good about serving it, too!
Just like with our Easy Italian Pasta Salad, we found simple tweaks to update even pasta salads to healthier status.
In this particular recipe, instead of a bottled buffalo ranch salad dressing, we’ve healthified this delicious version to use a just-as-yummy dressing made from real ingredients, including superstar Greek yogurt.
And, we’ve worked in extra veggies, too! Buffalo wings are typically served with carrot sticks and celery on the side, so those veggies are the perfect flavor complement, and they add a terrific crunchy counterpoint.
Add in lean chicken breast and flavor-packed but reduced-fat cheeses, and this is a far more nutritious salad than anyone will ever even notice (as they plow through their second helping!).
Oh, and for the vegetarian crowd? This is still outrageously delicious without the chicken. Buffalo chicken without the chicken? Yep – this salad’s got it all! (Psssst … and if you love the whole Buffalo Chicken vibe but need more vegetarian inspiration, be sure to try our LOADED Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings too … or scroll through our collection of Vegan Pasta Salad recipes!)
See … I told ya! A real people-pleaser!
Whether you’re serving tired soccer parents, health-minded picnic-goers, or just your hungry family … this is your new go-to pasta salad for practically any occasion!
Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
The great flavors of buffalo chicken dip, in a yummy tortellini pasta salad! Easy to prep ahead, and perfect as a main dish, or a hearty side!
• Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Make Ahead • Vegetarian Option •
- 19 ounces cheese tortellini, cooked according to package directions, then rinsed and cooled (see note)
- 3 cups cubed, cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast (see note)
- 2/3 cup diced, reduced-fat, sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup nonfat milk
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot) (see note)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles, if desired (see note)
- additional hot sauce, if desired
- In a large bowl, combine tortellini, chicken, cheddar cheese, carrots, celery, and onion.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt, milk, hot sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt, and sugar.
- Just prior to serving, dress pasta salad with all but about 1/4 cup of dressing, reserving 1/4 cup to offer alongside the salad or to cover and refrigerate for moistening leftovers later (see note).
- Toss salad to mix and coat thoroughly with dressing, being careful not to damage the tender tortellini.
- Serve with blue cheese and extra hot sauce alongside, if desired.
Tortellini: We used Rosetto brand in testing this recipe. We typically recommend whole-grain pasta whenever possible, but the whole-wheat tortellini available in our local stores is notably higher in fat, and we always try to balance our preference for whole-grain foods against fat content and other nutritional issues. Choose the healthiest tortellini you can find. There is a definite difference in the fat content of various brands, so read the labels carefully. We encourage you to choose higher-fiber, low-fat, organic or all-natural products whenever it’s feasible.
Chicken: Nearly any boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work in this recipe, as long as they’re not overly flavorful from spices or marinades. We recommend simply cooking a couple of extra chicken breasts whenever you’re making chicken, so you have extra cooked chicken for this recipe without any extra work. A store-bought rotisserie chicken is another easy option, although in order to yield approximately 3 cups of meat for this recipe, you'll most likely need to use the dark meat as well as the breast meat.
Hot sauce: We've tested this recipe with up to 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of hot sauce, and many of our taste testers loved it with that much heat. However, we feel it's more broadly appealing with just 2 tablespoons of hot sauce, which is why we suggest simply offering additional hot sauce on the side. If your family or picnic-goers love spicy flavors, though, then feel free to use 3 or even 4 tablespoons of hot sauce instead of just 2.
Blue cheese: Just like with buffalo hot wings, blue cheese is outstanding with this salad, and we absolutely recommend sprinkling a little on top. However, since some people don't care for the flavor of blue cheese, to make this salad more broadly appealing, we suggest serving a small dish of reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles on the side, so people can add as much or as little as they wish.
Reserved dressing: If you like your pasta salad heavily dressed, you may certainly choose to mix all of the dressing in at once. However, we prefer to reserve about 1/4 cup of the dressing to offer on the side, for those who like more dressing. Alternately, if you know there will be leftovers, it's nice to have that extra dressing to add into the salad when serving it again later. Like most pasta salads, this salad tends to soak up the dressing and will be a bit dried out by the second day. We love having a little extra dressing to revitalize any leftovers.
Make-ahead tip: You can toss the tortellini with the chicken, veggies and cheese, and then refrigerate the mixture, covered, for up to a day in advance of serving. Similarly, you can whisk together the dressing up to a day ahead and refrigerate it, separately from the tortellini mixture. We don't recommend dressing this pasta salad until right before serving, however, so that the pasta doesn't absorb too much of the dressing while it sits, ending up a bit dry at serving time.
Vegetarian option: This salad is also delicious without the chicken.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 19 servings Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 144Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 32mgSodium: 339mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 13g
Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.
20 thoughts on “Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad”
Shelley, Thank for contributing this recipe to my Craft & Food Roundups post. I have featured it in my latest post “17 Amazing Picnic Side Dishes”. Come check it out and feel free to share with your friends!! Thanks, Nichi http://www.mandatorymooch.com/2018/06/17-amazing-picnic-side-dishes.html
Hi Nichi! I’m honored that you selected this recipe to be included – thank you so very much! It really is such a fun summer recipe, and a deliciously healthy combination of two faves (buffalo chicken + pasta salad) – I sure hope your readers love it as much as my family does! I’ll definitely check out your post, and make sure to share it, too! Have a wonderful week! ~Shelley
You two are amazing! I’ve tried several of your recipes and have never been disappointed. I love to cook and i really like providing healthy but fun food for my three kids who are in university now and you have become my “go to” site when I’m looking for something new. I don’t (didn’t) tend to try new recipes unless I’ve eaten them somewhere, but I’ve started to now that I’ve found you two. Thanks very much!
Oh Trish, I just can’t tell you how much your comment means to us! In moments when we wonder if all the testing, testing and re-testing is worth it … a comment like this makes it seem very worthwhile! Your timing was excellent – just what we needed to hear right now, really! We’re so thrilled to hear that you’ve tried so many of our recipes and that they’ve been consistent and successful for you, and that they’re helping you feed those kids more nutritious foods – that’s EXACTLY what we were hoping to achieve when we started THK, and it means the world to us to know that we’ve helped someone do just that. Thank you, thank you! Please stay in touch and let us know how other recipes are working for you. Have a lovely week! 😀 ~Shelley
So chunky and tasty looking salad. Absoutely loving the colours, too!
Julie & Alesah
Gourmet Getaways xx
Hi guys! Thanks so much for popping by from the other side of the world! 😀 And thanks so much for your sweet comment! This really is a pretty pasta salad – it looks so tempting on a picnic buffet! Be sure to tuck this recipe away for when it’s picnic season there! ~Shelley
Hey, quick question. Do you dice the cheese instead of shredding it for a particular reason? Wondering if shredded cheese would distribute as well as diced…
Hi Sue! Gretchen and I have actually debated this! But yes – we actually do specifically prefer the cheese to be diced in this pasta salad, because it’s a more noticeable component of the salad that way and doesn’t just get lost the way shreds would. You actually bite into the soft, pleasing texture of small cheese cubes. It’s a great part of the overall mix of textures. But by all means – you know we always encourage our readers to adapt and punt if needed! – and if all you have on hand is pre-shredded cheese, then go ahead and use that! Good luck … and Happy, Happy Fourth of July! 😀 ~ Shelley
A great summer recipe! I like preparing ahead to avoid the inevitable last minute hurry!
Oh my goodness, I totally agree! I love throwing parties, but not the last minute, stressful rush – I want to be able to relax and enjoy the party, too! This Buffalo Chicken Salad is a perfect solution! I’m so excited for you to try it! Enjoy! 😀 ~Shelley