Why Does Ranch Taste Better at Restaurants?

This is the secret to everyone's favorite dip right here.

bbq buffalo chicken wings with beer ranch and celery shot top down
Photo: rez-art/Getty Images

Let's be honest, in a world where food choices are both personal and polarizing, we all tend to agree on one simple truth: ranch on everything, amirite?

Ranch dressing, the undisputed king of creamy, herby goodness, is a pleasure we can all get behind. Whether it is perking up our salads, providing a tangy dip for vegetables, or the dunk of choice for everything from wings to pizza, ranch is just a little bit of magic. And while there is nothing at all wrong with that ubiquitous bottle of Hidden Valley in your fridge, we all have to admit, the ranch at restaurants just tastes better. What's up with that?

What Makes Restaurant Ranch So Good?

There are, in fact, a couple of things "up". First and foremost, chances are better at restaurants, that your salad is being tossed with a lot more dressing than you indulge in at home—and as we all know, mo' ranch, mo' better. Many fast-casual places, especially good ones, make their ranch either completely from scratch, or doctor it up instead of using a commercial version straight from the bottle.

While they may have their proprietary versions of homemade ranch, most will include buttermilk, onion or shallot, and garlic, plus herbs like parsley, dill, and chives. Even when a restaurant does start with premade ranch, they will often fold in extra fresh herbs, and maybe even more buttermilk, to lighten and bring in some brighter flavors that can be lost in shelf-stable bottling.

Making ranch from scratch is not particularly complicated, and results in a dressing that is simply head and shoulders above the bottle. Without any of the additives, preservatives, or texturizers, you get a super creamy dressing that coats anything it touches lightly and is never claggy. Scratch ranch relies on fresh herbs and aromatics, which bring bite and those pops of grassy flavor that dried or powdered versions never can, so you get an eating experience that is elevated. Usually, ranch recipes will contain fresh buttermilk, and sometimes sour cream as well, for a tang that is really balanced.

How to Elevate Your Ranch at Home

If you don't have time or inclination to make your dressing from scratch, but you want that elevated restaurant-style ranch, think about zhuzhing up the bottled version with things like finely chopped shallot or scallion, a clove of minced fresh garlic, a splash of buttermilk or dollop of sour cream if you have them around, and certainly at least one fresh herb—chives and parsley are obvious choices that are available year-round.

If you want to bring in some extra freshness, grated cucumber that has been squeezed dry is a terrific addition, as is finely minced radish which can bring both crunch and a peppery bite. And of course, you can always make a flavored ranch by adding in mashed roasted garlic, sriracha (or your favorite hot pepper sauce), barbecue spices, cilantro and lime, and more.

And it goes without saying, that while the ranch experience at restaurants can be superior, even a mediocre ranch is still pretty fantastic. So never hesitate to pull out the bottle or start with the packet. You'll get no complaints where ranch is concerned.

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