The aim of the present study was to examine the association between dietary patterns and insulin resistance in Chinese adults without known diabetes. Study subjects were 1070 Chinese adults aged 18 years and above in Jiangsu Province who participated in the 2006 wave of the China Health and Nutrition Survey. Usual dietary intake was assessed by using a validated FFQ. Dietary patterns were identified by factor analysis using a principal component analysis method. Insulin resistance was defined as the highest quartile of the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) scores. We derived four dietary patterns in our population by factor analysis: the Western, High-wheat, Traditional and Hedonic pattern. After adjusted for potential confounders, the Western pattern was significantly associated with greater odds for insulin resistance (P for trend = 0·009), while a significant negative association was found between the Hedonic pattern and insulin resistance (P for trend = 0·035). Compared with the lowest quartile of the Western pattern, the highest quartile had higher odds of insulin resistance (adjusted OR 1·89, 95 % CI 1·12, 3·19). There was a 42 % decrease in the odds after adjustment for all covariates in the highest quartile of the Hedonic pattern, compared with the lowest quartile (adjusted OR 0·58, 95 % CI 0·34, 0·99). HOMA-IR levels as a continuous variable also increased across the quartiles of the Western pattern and decreased across the quartiles of the Hedonic pattern. In conclusion, dietary patterns were significantly associated with insulin resistance in Chinese adults without known diabetes.