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Food Hacks

Avoid Serving Dry Pasta Salad At Your Next BBQ With This Easy Trick

Learn how to make it tender and delicious every time.


At a BBQ, I’m always picking pasta salad over the potato or macaroni kind. The reason? It’s got zingy dressing and is packed with in-season tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. But I’d turn away the salad if the noodles were tough and undercooked — it makes the dish dry! To ensure this never happens to me, I researched how to make pasta salad; serving a disappointing side is now a thing of the past. Here’s how to do it.

Why is my pasta salad so dry?

When this happens, it puts a damper on a delicious BBQ spread — and it all boils down to the noodles’ cook time. It’s a universal rule that pasta should be cooked one to two minutes less than the package’s instructions, until it’s “al dente” (Italian for “to the tooth”).

This gives pasta a tender yet slightly firm chew, which is ideal if you’re serving it hot. But pasta salad calls for overcooking noodles, and Cook’s Illustrated senior editor Annie Petito explains why.

“As pasta cools (whether in the refrigerator or under cold water), it goes through a process called retrogradation, in which the water in the pasta becomes bound up in starch crystals, making the pasta firm and dry,” she writes. A longer pasta cooking time therefore ensures the noodles don’t become hard as the dish cools down.

How do I cook tender pasta for this salad?

Petito used fusilli when testing this hack, because the dressing clings onto its corkscrew shape for extra flavor. Plus, it’s short and easy to grab with a fork.

“I made retrogradation work to my advantage by boiling the fusilli about three minutes past al dente [according to the package’s instructions] and then running it under lots of cold water [once drained],” she explains. “As the pasta cooled, it went from almost mushy to just right.”

This boiling trick resulted in Petito’s perfect dish, in all it’s carb and veggie-loaded glory. With perfectly tender noodles, you too can be one step closer to your dream pasta salad.

Plus, check out these 45 pasta salad recipes that will make your dish the envy of the cookout!

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