Crack Chicken Penne Recipe

Crack Chicken Penne is a culinary sensation that has captivated the taste buds of many. This dish is a harmonious blend of creamy, cheesy goodness, combined with the savory punch of bacon and the tender textures of chicken, all mixed with perfectly cooked penne pasta. The term “Crack Chicken” comes from the dish’s addictive quality, attributed to its irresistible combination of flavors that keeps you coming back for more. Its name, albeit playful, hints at the intense satisfaction it delivers, making it a standout dish in the realm of comfort foods.

The popularity of Crack Chicken Penne lies in its versatility and ease of preparation, making it a favorite among home cooks and professional chefs alike. It can be adapted to suit various tastes and dietary needs, ensuring its place at dinner tables across different cultures and cuisines. The dish’s ability to be both a quick weeknight meal and a crowd-pleaser at gatherings contributes to its widespread appeal.

The Recipe’s Origin and Popularity

The origins of Crack Chicken Penne are somewhat nebulous, with no single creator laying claim. However, it is a dish that epitomizes the fusion of American comfort food elements with the convenience of one-pot cooking. Its roots can be traced back to the growing trend of hearty, flavorful meals that can be prepared with minimal fuss and maximum taste.

The widespread appeal of Crack Chicken Penne can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, its core ingredients are staples in many households, making it accessible to a wide audience. Secondly, the dish’s rich and creamy texture, combined with the savory depth of bacon and ranch flavors, creates a comforting and satisfying eating experience. Lastly, its adaptability means it can be enjoyed by those following specific dietary guidelines, further broadening its appeal.

Ingredients Overview

At the heart of Crack Chicken Penne are a few key ingredients that come together to create its signature taste:

  • Bacon: Adds a smoky, savory depth that is irreplaceable.
  • Chicken: The protein of choice, providing substance and texture.
  • Ranch Seasoning Mix: Infuses the dish with herbs and spices that elevate the flavor profile.
  • Penne Pasta: The perfect carrier for the sauce, its tubular shape holds onto the creamy sauce beautifully.
  • Chicken Broth: Adds moisture and enriches the overall taste of the dish.
  • Cream Cheese: The base of the sauce, offering a creamy, tangy backdrop.
  • Cheddar Cheese: Introduces a sharp, cheesy element that melts into the sauce for added richness.
  • Parsley: A fresh garnish that adds a pop of color and a hint of freshness.

For those with dietary restrictions, there are numerous substitutions and variations available. Gluten-free penne can replace traditional pasta for those avoiding gluten, while plant-based alternatives to cream and cheddar cheese can be used to make the dish vegan or dairy-free. The versatility of Crack Chicken Penne allows it to be customized to meet a wide range of dietary needs without compromising on flavor.

Step-by-Step Cooking Instructions

Preparing the Ingredients

Begin by gathering all your ingredients. Measure out the ranch seasoning mix, chop the bacon into small pieces, cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks, grate the cheddar cheese, and finely chop the parsley for garnish. Having everything prepped and ready to go makes the cooking process smoother and faster.

Cooking Process

  1. Cooking the Bacon: In a large skillet or Dutch oven, cook the chopped bacon over medium heat until it’s crispy. This usually takes about 5-7 minutes. Once done, remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Leave about one tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan for cooking the chicken.
  2. Searing the Chicken and Adding the Ranch: Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken pieces to the pan with the remaining bacon fat. Sear the chicken until it starts to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle the ranch seasoning mix over the chicken, stirring well to ensure each piece is evenly coated.
  3. Adding the Pasta and Cooking: Add the uncooked penne pasta to the pan along with the chicken broth. Stir to combine, making sure the pasta is submerged in the liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Making the Sauce: With the pasta cooked, stir in the cream cheese until it’s fully melted and incorporated into the pasta, creating a creamy sauce. Add the cooked bacon back into the pan along with half of the grated cheddar cheese, stirring until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.
  5. Finishing the Dish: Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the top of the pasta and cover the pan for a few minutes until the cheese has melted. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

Instant Pot and Slow Cooker Variations

  • Instant Pot: Follow the same preparation steps, then cook everything on high pressure for 8 minutes, followed by a quick release. Stir in the cheeses until melted.
  • Slow Cooker: Combine all ingredients except the pasta and cheese in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Add cooked pasta and cheese at the end, stirring until the cheese is melted.

Expert Tips for Perfect Crack Chicken Penne

  • For the Chicken and Pasta: Searing the chicken in bacon fat adds depth to the flavor. Be careful not to overcook the pasta; check it a few minutes before the suggested cooking time.
  • Making the Dish Spicy: Add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes or diced jalapeños with the ranch seasoning for a spicy kick.
  • Freezing and Reheating: This dish freezes well. Cool it completely before transferring to a freezer-safe container. Reheat in the oven or microwave, adding a splash of chicken broth if it seems dry.

Nutritional Information

Crack Chicken Penne is a rich and hearty dish, with a single serving providing a substantial amount of calories, protein, and fats, making it an indulgent comfort food option. On average, a serving contains approximately 600-700 calories, with 30-40 grams of protein and 25-35 grams of fat. The dish also provides about 50-60 grams of carbohydrates, primarily from the penne pasta, and a moderate amount of dietary fiber from the pasta and parsley garnish. It’s important to note that variations in the recipe, such as the type of cheese or pasta used, can affect these nutritional values.

Pairing Suggestions

Crack Chicken Penne pairs beautifully with lighter sides to balance its richness. A crisp green salad dressed with a vinaigrette offers a refreshing contrast, while steamed green beans or roasted asparagus can add a nutritious and colorful side. For drinks, consider serving with a glass of Chardonnay or a light-bodied Pinot Noir, which can complement the creamy sauce nicely. For a non-alcoholic option, a sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon or a light iced tea can refresh the palate between bites of this decadent dish.


Can I use a different type of pasta?

  • Absolutely! While penne is traditional for its ability to hold sauce well, other pasta shapes like fusilli, farfalle, or rigatoni can also work well in this recipe. The key is to choose a pasta that can capture the sauce and cheese, enhancing the overall flavor of the dish.

Is it possible to make Crack Chicken Penne gluten-free?

  • Yes, making this dish gluten-free is quite straightforward. Simply substitute the regular penne pasta with your favorite gluten-free pasta. There are many excellent gluten-free pasta options available that are made from rice, corn, or quinoa flour. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time according to the pasta’s package instructions, as gluten-free pasta can have different cooking times.

Can Crack Chicken Penne be made vegetarian?

  • To make a vegetarian version of Crack Chicken Penne, you can substitute the chicken with a plant-based protein, such as tofu or a meat substitute, and use vegetarian bacon or skip it altogether. For the ranch seasoning, ensure it’s vegetarian-friendly, as some mixes may contain animal-derived ingredients. With these substitutions, you can enjoy a delicious vegetarian version of this comforting dish.

Crack Chicken Penne is more than just a meal; it’s a comfort food that brings people together. Its creamy, cheesy goodness, combined with the savory flavors of bacon and ranch, makes it a dish that’s hard to resist. Whether you’re cooking for a busy weeknight dinner or a casual gathering with friends, this dish is sure to impress.

Crack Chicken Penne Recipe

Crack Chicken Penne is a creamy, cheesy pasta dish that combines the savory flavors of chicken, bacon, and ranch seasoning for a comforting and satisfying meal. Perfect for busy weeknights, this one-pot wonder is loved by both adults and children alike. Its versatility allows for various dietary adaptations, making it a go-to recipe for any occasion.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 700 kcal


  • Large skillet or Dutch oven
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Cutting board and knife


  • 4 slices of bacon chopped
  • 1 pound chicken breast cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 packet about 2 tablespoons ranch seasoning mix
  • 8 ounces penne pasta
  • cups chicken broth
  • 4 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 tablespoon parsley chopped (for garnish)


  • In a large skillet or Dutch oven, cook the chopped bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon and set aside, leaving about 1 tablespoon of fat in the pan.
  • Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sear until they start to brown. Sprinkle the ranch seasoning over the chicken, stirring to coat evenly.
  • Add the penne and chicken broth to the pan, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
  • Stir in the cream cheese until melted and smooth. Add the cooked bacon and 1½ cups of cheddar cheese, stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is creamy.
  • Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the top, cover for a few minutes until melted. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.


  • Substitutions: Gluten-free pasta can be used for a gluten-free version. For a vegetarian option, substitute chicken with a plant-based protein and omit bacon or use a vegetarian alternative.
  • Making Ahead: This dish can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat on the stove or in the microwave, adding a little broth or water if necessary to loosen the sauce.
  • Freezing: Freeze in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat as above.
Keyword Bacon Ranch Chicken, Crack Chicken Penne, Creamy Pasta, One-Pot Meal