This quick and easy dinner idea is great for all year round. Cheesy chicken bacon ranch casserole is full of pasta and even kids love it!
Easy Chicken Casserole Recipe
I don’t know if there’s anything better than pasta and sauce. It’s such a quick and easy dinner, and I’ll tell you a secret: I didn’t even cook the chicken. I used the chicken I had leftover in my freezer. I cook up my own Tender Slow Cooker Whole Chicken, let everything cool, shred it and then use a Food Saver so I can store it in the freezer. It’s the only way to keep it super fresh so I can pull out cooked meat at any time. Just watch for a sale on whole chickens at the grocery store and grab a few. It’s seriously such a time saver!
Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole Ingredients
This chicken bacon ranch casserole is a hearty dinner recipe everyone will love! For this cheesy chicken casserole, you’ll need shell pasta, butter, flour, garlic, heavy cream, ranch dressing, pre-cooked shredded chicken, shredded cheese, cooked bacon, salt, and pepper.
This is a fairly flexible recipe. You can use any shredded cheese you have on hand, can substitute shredded turkey for the chicken, use turkey bacon instead of regular bacon, and so forth. This is one of those awesome clean out the fridge recipes!
How to Make Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole
This a layered casserole with four main components: the ranch cream sauce, the shredded cheese, the chicken, and the pasta. Here’s how to make this easy chicken casserole:
- Prepare the ranch cream sauce (detailed instructions on how to make a cream sauce in the section below).
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions.
- Butter a 9×13-inch casserole dish and assemble the chicken ranch casserole.
- Bake the chicken bacon ranch casserole until the cheese is melted and bubbling around the edges.
How to Make a Cream Sauce
We get a lot of readers writing in that they feel overwhelmed with the idea of making a cream sauce. But don’t worry, we’ll help you out! Cream sauce is one of the easiest things you can learn to make. Once you know the basics, you can create anything you want.
Start off with a little butter (olive is ok if you absolutely must, but butter is best), then add in your flavorings. Garlic is a must for this chicken ranch casserole, and you can go as light or as heavy as you want. Onions are another great addition and if you’re keeping it a white sauce, throw in a dash or two of nutmeg. Sounds crazy, but it really enriches the sauce.
Alright, whisk everything together and add in an equal amount of flour. So, if you used 2 tablespoons of butter go ahead and start with 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of flour and whisk for 30-60 seconds. This will cook out the flour taste.
Immediately add your liquid while continuously whisking. This is a great chance to bust out your ranch dressing — we used chili lime flavor and it is awesome, but there’s also classic and cucumber basil if you want to try something less spicy).
Can You Use Milk in a Cream Sauce?
In place of the heavy cream, you can use any milk, cream, or half and half (or a combination of them). Heavy cream will make a thicker, more flavorful sauce, but we use milk all the time to be a little healthier.
Whisk everything while you season with salt and pepper and the mixture should start to come to a boil. Turn it down as we don’t want to scorch it and let it simmer until it’s to a desired thickness.
Can I Use Another Type of Pasta?
Of course! Any short, sturdy pasta will work. I don’t recommend using a long, thin pasta for this chicken ranch casserole since it won’t hold up to the thick cream sauce or the shredded chicken. But something like penne or farfalle pasta will work instead of pasta shells.
Is There a Ranch Substitute I Can Use?
If you can’t find ranch dressing where you live or you’ve run out, you can make your own homemade ranch dressing instead. But besides making your own dressing, I’m not aware of a ranch substitute you can use in this cheesy chicken casserole. The ranch is a key ingredient!
Tips for Making Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole
When cooking the pasta shells, make sure to salt the water before adding the dry pasta to it. You want the pasta itself to have some flavor, otherwise this chicken ranch casserole will taste a bit flat.
You also need to make sure to drain the pasta very well before adding it to the casserole. If there’s too much water left on the pasta, it’ll thin out the ranch cream sauce, which isn’t what you want.
Just before serving this chicken bacon ranch casserole, we like to sprinkle some fresh parsley on top for a pop of flavor. You can use other herbs as well (pretty much any fresh herb will complement the ranch flavor).
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Cheesy Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole
- 8 Ounces Small Shells Pasta
- 2 Tablespoons Butter unsalted
- 2 Tablespoons Flour
- 1 Clove Garlic Minced
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream *see note
- 1/4 Cup Chipotle Lime Ranch or any flavor
- 2 Cups Cooked and Shredded Chicken
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 Cup Mozzarella shredded
- 1 Cup Cheddar Cheese shredded
- 3 Sliced Bacon cooked and chopped
- Parsley for garnish
For the Pan
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
- 1 Clove of garlic
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat a small pot over medium heat. Add the butter and whisk in the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking the mixture for 30-60 seconds to cook out the flour.
- While continuing to whisk, pour in the heavy cream.
- Add the ranch and season with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, or to taste.
- Cook until the sauce begins to simmer and thicken, about 2-5 minutes. If it's not simmering and thickening just turn up the heat a little until it does. Do not boil or scorch.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.
- Remove sauce from the heat.
- Drain the pasta.
- Mix the two cheeses together.
- In a casserole dish or 9x13" pan, rub the butter and clove of garlic everywhere. Add half the pasta and top with half of the chicken. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
- Pour half of the sauce over the top and sprinkle with half of the cheeses.
- Repeat with the last half of the ingredients and top with bacon at the end.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and the cheeses are melted.
- Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve!