Beyond Ranch: Spice Up Your Salad Bar with Homemade Dressings

Homemade Salad Dressing for Large Groups

We’ve all seen it before: a child or camper surfs the salad bar and creates a mealtime masterpiece of lettuce, croutons, and bacon bits before smothering it with ranch dressing. It may not be the most healthy salad anymore, but give ‘em a break - I mean, there is lettuce somewhere under that mound of croutons.

So far, so good. They’re eating vegetables and perhaps even liking it - double win! But as many kitchen managers can tell you, salad dressing is actually pretty expensive...and mysterious. What kind of ranch exactly was this dressing lassoed on? A dude ranch? A buttermilk ranch? And how can ‘buttermilk ranch’ not contain any milk ingredients? (Hint: it’s probably not buttermilk). And those bacon bits? Two ingredients: soy and liquid smoke. Again - not a scientist, but since when was smoke a liquid?

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes an unrecognizable ingredient is just one we usually call by a common name - like calling table salt ‘sodium chloride’. At times, we just don’t have the time to decipher these secret codes and count on the good folks making our food to know what they’re doing. Other times, however, you can avoid less-than-desirable ingredients sneaking into your menu by starting from scratch - you know just what you’re putting in.

Let’s return to the salad bar musketeer we discussed above. Why don’t we give him something other than boring old ‘buttermilk’ ranch and get our whisks dirty? Below are four recipes designed with simplicity and salad in mind. We’ll start with mayo - yes, you can make mayo, and you might never go back. Then we’ll move on to two mayo-based favorites and one vinaigrette.

If you love these recipes, and want to try more like it, check out the 3 Week Summer Camp Menu we’ve put together at CampHackerTV. Unlike the CampHacker Menu (purchase here), which has all recipes in 100 serving quantities, the dressing recipes below are in quantities for 25 people, as you might serve as part of a salad bar.


(Or Mayonnaise for all you saucy sticklers)

This is my mom’s recipe from her time as a cook at a hunt camp. I should probably credit her with all my recipes as she taught me all I know (I got her good looks, too, if you were wondering).


  • 3 C vinegar
  • 3 C water
  • 3 C sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp mustard powder
  • 6 eggs


  1. Gradually bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly. Once a hearty boil is achieved, remove from heat.
  2. Keep covered in fridge, keeps well.

Note: This is a sweeter mayo; feel free to mess around with the ingredients but you do need enough sugar to balance the tang and help it thicken. Also, don’t be discouraged if you burn your first (or second) batch, I did! Believe in yourself - you are a mayo master.

Creamy Poppyseed Dressing


  • 2 C mayo
  • 1 C vinegar
  • 1/2 C sugar (1 C if using store-bought mayo)
  • ~1C Water
  • 1 C Poppy seeds


  1. Whisk together mayo, vinegar, and sugar until smooth. Slowly add water until desired consistency is reached.
  2. Stir in poppy seeds, allow to rest at least 1 hour before serving.
  3. Keep covered in fridge, keeps well but requires stirring before serving.

Creamy Chive and Roasted Garlic Dressing


  • 2 C mayo
  • 1/2 C vinegar
  • 1/4 C sugar (1/2 C if using store-bought mayo)
  • ~1C Water
  • 2/3 C very finely chopped fresh chives
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Note: Fresh chives make this recipe, but in a salad emergency, use 1/2 C dried chives.


  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Make a deep tinfoil nest for your garlic cloves, and nestle your garlic in there; add the olive oil.
  3. Pinch the tinfoil shut and bake until the garlic is totally soft and light brown. This is just for 6 lil’ ol’ garlic cloves, so if you don’t want to run a big industrial oven for such a small amount, feel free to pop them in the oven while another savory treat is already baking.
  4. In the bottom of a large bowl, mash your roasted garlic, then mix thoroughly into the mayo.
  5. Whisk in the vinegar and sugar until smooth. Slowly add water until desired consistency is reached.
  6. Stir in your chives. Let sit at least one hour before serving.
  7. Keepcovered in fridge. This recipe only keeps a few days as the fresh chives start to lose their colour.

 Honey-Sesame Vinaigrette

 My all-time favorite dressing, totally mind-blowing on a spinach salad.


  • 1 C rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 C sesame oil
  • 3/4 C honey
  • 1/4 C soy sauce
  • 1/2 C sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 Tbsp ground dried ginger
  • 1/2 Tsp black pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients, let sit at least 30 minutes before serving.
  2. Keep covered in fridge. Best used within a few days.

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