Recipes » Salad Recipes » Classic Macaroni Salad

Classic Macaroni Salad

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Classic Macaroni Salad is a fast and easy family favorite. Its tart flavors and creamy, crunchy texture make it a great side dish for any menu!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Finished macaroni salad in a white serving bowl.

This Classic Macaroni Salad recipe is a fast and easy family favorite. Its tart flavors and creamy, crunchy texture make it the perfect side dish for brightening up almost any menu!

You may think of Classic Macaroni Salad as a summer barbecue or picnic recipe, but this is something we serve year-round at our house. Sure, it’s great with almost anything from the grill, but it’s also perfect alongside some southern fried chicken or slow cooker barbecue ribs!

Finished macaroni salad in a white serving bowl.

And even though everyone seems to have a macaroni salad recipe of their own that has been handed down through generations, this one is my favorite. It’s full of raw, crunchy vegetables with a counterpoint of chewy macaroni pasta and a creamy dressing that ties it all together. This is a really classic American recipe.

I may be building high expectations here, but I think you’ll agree that this is the perfect macaroni salad recipe! It’s easy to make and quick, too. Your hands-on time is only about half an hour.

💗 Why You’ll Love This Recipe


  • The hands-on time is just about half an hour. (It does require some time in the fridge to chill, but doesn’t need your attention for that!)
  • It’s easily doubled. No matter how much macaroni salad you need, you can alter the recipe to make enough.
  • It can serve as a side dish or main dish. Add some protein (tuna or chicken are both great!) and make a main course salad of it.

🥘 About The Ingredients


Ingredients needed to make classic macaroni salad.

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  • Elbow MacaroniThe classic choice for macaroni salad. Other pasta choices are included in the “Variations” section below.
  • Celery, Green and Red Bell Pepper, and Red OnionThese are finely diced and add lovely crunch and texture to the salad.
  • Hard Boiled Eggs – Two chopped hard boiled eggs provide protein.
  • Mayonnaise – The classic base of the dressing. I always use Duke’s brand mayonnaise.
  • Dijon Mustard, Red Wine Vinegar, and Dill Pickle Juice – Combined with the mayonnaise, these add tartness and acid for maximum flavor.
  • Granulated White SugarJust a touch to balance the other flavors but not so much that would make the dressing noticeably sweet.
  • Salt and Black Pepper – I use Morton’s Kosher Salt in my recipes unless otherwise stated.

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

🔪 How To Make Classic Macaroni Salad


  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Rinse the pasta in cold water and leave it to cool and drain well.
  2. While the pasta is draining and cooling, chop the veggies and the hardboiled eggs.
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the cooled, drained pasta, veggies, and eggs. Gently stir to combine all the ingredients.
  2. In a smaller bowl, mix the remaining ingredients for the dressing.
  3. Pour the dressing over the pasta and veggies. Toss it to combine.
  4. Cover the salad bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Don’t skip this part as it needs the resting time for the flavors to mellow and blend.

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🔀 Recipe Variations


  • Although elbow macaroni is the classic choice for this salad, other shapes make a fun and interesting presentation. Try any medium pasta such as shells, farfalle (bow-tie), and rotini (corkscrew).
  • For a decidedly southern macaroni salad, add a small jar of well-drained diced pimiento and about two tablespoons of sweet pickle relish.
  • Try adding herbs such as chopped fresh parsley, dill, or basil.
  • Vary the veggies. Add one or more of finely diced carrot, cucumber, green onion, or olives. Blanched broccoli florets are also great!
  • Make this recipe into a main course salad by replacing the hard boiled eggs with another protein. Diced ham, rotisserie chicken, tuna, shrimp, and crumbled cooked bacon are all delicious additions.
  • Vary the mayonnaise. Try avocado or chipotle mayo for a different flavor profile.
  • Substitute plain Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise.
Finished macaroni salad in a white serving bowl.

🍚 Storage Information


Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, leftovers will stay fresh for 5 days.

🌞 Make It Ahead


Macaroni salad is a good choice for making ahead, especially since it needs to chill before serving. Make it as much as three days in advance of serving.

💡 Cook’s Tips


  • It’s important to remember for food safety concerns that any recipe with mayonnaise as a base cannot be left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Out of red wine vinegar? Use white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
  • Speaking of vinegar, its taste is not at all prominent in the finished salad. It simply provides a bit of tartness to balance the other ingredients.
  • If the red onion seems too strong, rinse it briefly under cold water and then let it drain. The cold water mellows the flavor of the onion.
  • Follow the package directions for cooking time of the pasta you choose being careful not to overcook it.

🍽 Serving Suggestions


This salad is just as welcome at the barbecue as it is at the weeknight dinner table. It’s a perfect complement to marinated pork loin, ribeye steaks, or roast chicken.

❓ Questions


Why does my macaroni salad always dry out?

If you’ve experienced dry macaroni salad, there could be a couple of culprits. First, make sure that the storage container is airtight and well sealed. Second, remember that pasta is starchy and will absorb liquids so slightly undercooked pasta will continue to absorb moisture from the other ingredients in the salad.

How can I fix dry macaroni salad?

If you find your salad is dry after being stored for a couple of days, try adding warm water a tablespoon at a time and mixing well after each spoonful.

My pasta absorbed all the dressing! What did I do wrong?

This often happens if the dressing is added to hot macaroni. Be sure to rinse the pasta well with cold water and let it drain and cool completely before proceeding with the recipe.

🧾 More Recipes You’ll Like


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📖 Recipe

Finished macaroni salad in a white serving bowl.

Classic Macaroni Salad

Classic Macaroni Salad is a fast and easy family favorite. Its tart flavors and creamy, crunchy texture make it a great side dish for any menu!
5 from 2 votes
Print It Rate It Save
Course: Main Dishes, Salads, Side Dishes
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 228kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 4 ribs celery finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper finely diced
  • ½ cup red onion finely diced
  • 2 hard boiled eggs chopped

Dressing

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon dill pickle juice more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Rinse the pasta in cold water and leave it to cool and drain well.
  • While the pasta is draining and cooling, chop the veggies and the hardboiled eggs.
  • In a large mixing bowl, add the cooled, drained pasta, veggies, and eggs. Gently stir to combine all the ingredients.
  • In a smaller bowl, mix the remaining ingredients for the dressing.
  • Pour the dressing over the pasta and veggies. Toss it to combine.
  • Cover the salad bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Don’t skip this part as it needs the resting time for the flavors to mellow and blend.
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Notes

  • Leftovers will keep for 5 days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Macaroni salad is a good choice for making ahead, especially since it needs to chill before serving. It may be made as much as three days in advance of serving.
  • It’s important to remember for food safety concerns that any recipe with mayonnaise as a base cannot be left out at room temperature for more than two hours.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 228kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.02g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 188mg | Potassium: 151mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 404IU | Vitamin C: 21mg | Calcium: 18mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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Recipe Rating




One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    Such a great salad to take to large gathering; whether, church, family or neighborhood party. Nice salad to have on a hot summer day to go with sandwiches.
    I do add grated carrot along with finely diced up ham.