This traditional 7 layer salad recipe has been in our family for decades, and there’s a reason it is still one of our all time favorite salads! This classic layered pea salad is perfect for potlucks or as an easy make-ahead meal. Crisp lettuce and veggies, creamy dressing, zesty cheese and savory bacon combine to make magic in a bowl!
The Best Overnight Layered Pea Salad
I’m going to lead off with the most important step of this entire 7-layer pea salad recipe…
You have to make it the day before you want to serve and eat it. My hand-written recipe card says 24 hours.
Plan ahead my friends!
That being said, this salad is so yummy that it is worth the wait!
The ingredients for pea salad are easy-to-find, and many are probably already in your refrigerator. In a clear glass bowl, it is gorgeous.
But the best part? It’s delicious. These simple ingredients come together and make magic in that bowl.
I’ll discuss the science of this down in the FAQs.
What is Pea Salad?
This recipe was simply known as “Pea Salad” in our family. And when mom said she was making pea salad, this was the salad she meant.
You might also know it by similar names such as 7 layer pea salad, overnight 7 layer salad, or even make ahead layer salad. No matter what you call it, this pea salad recipe is a classic for a reason!
This traditional overnight salad was something my mom made for special occasions such as cookouts or large family gatherings. I started doing the same when I was a young wife and mom in the 80’s and 90’s.
This pea salad has stood the test of time; we’ve been making it for 40+ years and is still a family favorite.
Like most of the recipes from my mom (Stacey’s Granny), I have a few lines jotted down on a recipe card. My original recipe only has the ingredients listed in the order you should put them in the bowl.
Despite lack of measures, I’ve always made it by putting in enough of each ingredient so that it looks “right.”
For you my reader, I’ve measured and tried to get a good estimate of how much of any one thing you need. You can adjust for your own personal taste or that of your family.
Related: Be sure to try our Creamy Bacon Tomato Pasta Salad too! It’s my Aunt Fanny’s recipe and it’s been a family favorite for over 30 years!
7 Layer Salad Ingredients
- Lettuce — Chopped iceberg was probably the classic choice. Chopped romaine is my favorite for this, followed by iceberg. These crunchy lettuces stand up to sitting in the fridge overnight.
- Onion — ½ cup chopped medium sweet yellow onion (I love the crunch of sweet onions)
- Green Pepper — 1 small pepper or half of a large one; chopped
- 1 bag of frozen peas — DO NOT COOK
- Mayonnaise — Use the real stuff!!
- Bacon — Cook, cool, and crumble ahead of time
- Hard boiled eggs — chopped
- Grated cheese — Cheddar and parmesan cheese are our traditional choices
How to Make Pea Salad: Step by Step Photo Directions
Get your cooked items going: hard boiled eggs and bacon.
Cook your bacon and hard boil your eggs. I like to cook my bacon in the oven—it only takes 20 minutes and it’s easy to clean up.
The first layer is your chopped lettuce. I like to do it by slicing iceberg or romaine. I like that shredded texture as opposed to chopped.
Add your chopped onions and green pepper. I like a fairly small size pieces. Chop by hand. I think a food processor would chop them too fine.
Then add a layer of frozen peas and spread out even.
My favorite part is the mayonnaise layer! Don’t skimp here, you want to completely cover the peas with a hearty layer of mayo-goodness.
Don’t worry if some peas show through as long as they have some mayonnaise over them. In this recipe, I used somewhere between 1 ½ cups and 2 cups. At that point, even though the peas could still be seen, it seemed like plenty.
Peel and chop your six boiled eggs and spread them carefully over the mayonnaise.
Follow the egg layer with a layer of cheese. My recipe calls for grated cheddar. You cannot go wrong with that!
My mom (The original Granny) loves grated parmesan. They are both great but I give cheddar the edge on this one. Unless I’m making it for Granny, then it’s parmesan all the way!
For this recipe, I used both! Best of both worlds.
Finally, we get to the ingredient that makes everything better— the bacon. That bacon that you prepared and cooled is ready to be crumbled and added as the grand finale.
In my original recipe, Granny adds bacon before the cheese and has the cheese on top. I tried putting bacon on top.
Note on salt and pepper. This could be controversial but I don’t add salt and pepper to the salad ahead of time. The bacon and cheese both provide salt and I prefer to add the pepper after I have the salad on my plate or in my bowl.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil and put the entire thing in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it the next day.
Have a large serving spoon ready so you can scoop out all the layers at one go!
How to Make 7 Layer Salad – FAQS and Tips
These are commonly asked questions about making 7 layer salad:
Why are there no tomatoes or green onions?
My mom didn’t put those in her pea salad. While I personally enjoy tomatoes and green onions in their proper place, I don’t use them in this pea salad.
If you love the idea of putting them in—go for it! Add them down with the other veggies.
Can I use baby spinach instead of lettuce?
I think chopped baby spinach would be delicious with another chopped lettuce such as iceberg or romaine. Not everyone loves the taste or texture of spinach, so, if you are making for a potluck, I’d just use a little or not use any.
Can I use red, orange, or yellow peppers instead of green peppers?
Of course! I don’t, because as you may have figured out, I like my pea salad to only be made with the ingredients my mom made it with. However, in this salad, they provide just the right taste.
What if I have everything except the eggs and bacon. Can I make ahead and add them later?
Yes. Make the salad up to the mayo point and cover it up. You can add the rest the next day. The 24 hours allows the peas to thaw and other mysterious magical things to happen in that bowl. I don’t see any problem with adding the toppings the day of serving.
Can I defrost the peas and eat it the same day?
You could but I don’t think it would taste as good. If you just throw it together, the flavors will not have had time to marry.
“Marry” in food-terms means that the ingredients need time for the overall flavor to develop, for the flavors to balance each other, and in simplest terms the recipe will taste significant better after sitting for a period of time.
This pea salad tastes better the longer it sits, which is why we recommend making it a day in advance and allowing plenty of time to chill overnight in the fridge.
This layered pea salad sounds great. But I don’t like peas.
Try it anyway. I’m not a fan of peas myself and never fix or eat cooked peas. However, in this salad they are transformed into something delicious. I can’t explain it but it’s true.
The bacon loses its crunch overnight. Can you add it later?
You could. I don’t know how that would affect the above-mentioned marrying that goes on overnight. If you want to try, add half the bacon when you make it and top with other bacon when you serve.
Layered Pea Salad Recipe (Printable Copy)
World's Best 7 Layer Salad Recipe
- clear plastic or glass bowl
Traditional Pea Salad Ingredients
- 8 oz romaine or iceberg lettuce chopped
- 1/2 green pepper chopped
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 1 bag frozen peas Do not thaw or cook
- 1 1/2 Cup Mayonaise Use real mayonnaise
- 6 hard boiled eggs peeled and chopped
- 8 oz cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 pound bacon cooked and crumbled
- Layer your ingredients in a bowl in this order: Chopped lettuce, chopped green peppers, chopped sweet onion, contents of one bag of frozen peas, mayonnaise, hard boiled eggs, cheese, and bacon.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap or foil.
- Refrigerate for at least 18 hours before serving.
Be sure to pin our Pea Salad with Bacon on Pinterest:
You might also like:
The Best Homemade Potato Salad
Shredded Iceberg Lettuce Salad
OMG, I swear every family has “their version” of what is “7-Layer Salad,” and it’s all so personal!!! You have come closest to my MIL’s dressing, however, and that is key! She was a true mayo-lady and not a Miracle Whip girl, so I’m grateful for that, at least!!! lol She used green onion, not straight onion. On occasion we got broccoli or cauliflower. But it was the pea layer, topped by the sauce, topped by the cheese; she typically reserved the bacon until day-of-serving, so as not to get it soft… but it’s engrained in my memory: I never ate a raw bell pepper I even tolerated until her 7 layer salad!!! Good memories… the best!!!
This is the only version I knew growing up and is still my favorite. I’m with you on the bell pepper experience! Sara