Savor this easy macaroni salad recipe, featuring noodles, veggies, and a creamy, tangy dressing bursting with flavor. This classic side dish recipe is guaranteed to become a staple at BBQs or potlucks all season long!
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Classic Macaroni Salad
This macaroni salad recipe is one of my top things to bring to a BBQ. It’s easy, quick and has so much flavor. Some of my other favorites for any summertime gathering are broccoli salad and ramen noodle salad.
Tasty, filling and simple macaroni salad is a classic side dish staple at any potluck, party or cookout during the summer. It’s one of those pasta salad recipes that you can almost always bet someone will bring and is definitely a crowd pleaser.
Ingredients for Macaroni Salad
These staple ingredients are a must for the best macaroni salad as well as the dressing. It’s super easy to make, has great flavor and perfectly creamy with a little bit of tang.
Find the full printable recipe with specific measurements below.
- Elbow macaroni: Elbow noodles are what makes macaroni salad what it is. Although any short pasta works!
- Red onion: Adds both color and taste. Feel free to use any milder onion if you wish like white onions or green onions.
- Celery: Adds the best crunch.
- Bell pepper: I love sweet red bell pepper but green bell pepper can be used instead or in addition.
- Mayo: Duke’s, Hellman’s or your favorite brand of mayonnaise works for the dressing.
- Sour cream: Just a small amount makes this the creamiest dressing, if you would like Greek yogurt could be used!
- White vinegar: Any white vinegar works to add tangy as well as apple cider vinegar.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar will dissolve the best in the dressing and add a slightly sweet taste to balance the tangy.
- Sweet pickle relish: My special ingredients that adds that special touch!
- Dijon mustard: I love the tang of Dijon mustard, but yellow mustard can be used.
- Salt and pepper: For taste.
- Fresh herbs: Fresh parsley or fresh dill add a pop of color and fresh taste as garnish.
There are many variations of macaroni salads, feel free to go beyond my staple recipe and include any of the following additions.
- Bacon: Adding the additional bacon to macaroni salad adds such great smoky and savory flavor!
- Ham: If you have leftover ham from Easter or other holidays it’s the perfect way to use it up!
- Shredded or cubed cheese: Just a 1/2 cup can elevate this to cheese lover status.
- Hard boiled eggs: Just two hard boiled eggs that are mashed can add additional creamy texture. While you are at it make some deviled eggs for the potluck, too!
- Veggies: Add in more veggies, such as grated carrots or peas.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
- Cook noodles. Cook the elbow noodles according to directions, then drain under cold water.
- Whisk together dressing. While noodles are cooking, whisk together the dressing ingredients then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Combine: Place noodles, bell pepper, celery, onion and bacon in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over and toss until combined. T
- Chill then serve: I like to chill the pasta salad at least an hour before serving. When ready to serve, stir again and top with fresh parsley or dill if desired.
Expert Tips for the Best Macaroni Salad
- Al dente pasta in salted water: Cooking pasta only until al dente in salted water ensures that your salad does not contain mushy noodles which affect the texture and the salt adds another layer of flavor.
- Rinse pasta with cold water: Shocking your pasta with cold water immediately when it is done cooking not only stops it from cooking longer but rinses off the excess starch to your pasta doesn’t stick or turn gummy.
- Use the dressing generously: The pasta will soak up the dressing as it sits. I like to make more than needed that way I can freshen up the salad right before serving. You could also add half the dressing before refrigerating and the other half before serving.
- Chilled salad: Chilling the pasta salad at least an hour gives time for the flavors to combine and meld together for the best taste.
Make Ahead and Storage
This recipe can easily be made ahead of time. I love to make it the day before and let the flavors marinate together in the fridge overnight. However is using bacon I leave it while chilling overnight. I’ll add it in right before serving so that it stays nice and crisp.
To store leftovers, it will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 to 5 days in an airtight container. After serving, just make sure you immediately put it back in the fridge to chill. The mayonnaise base can spoil quickly if left out. I prefer to eat within the first few days of making.
When stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator macaroni salad can last up to 5 days. This salad is great for making in advance as it tastes better when chilled for at least an hour! When serving it at a cookout be mindful of how long it sits out at room temperature or in the heat as the mayo-based dressing can spoil quickly.
While technically this might be possible, I don’t recommend it as the mayo based dressing can separate and change texture when thawed. The fresh crunchy veggies in the pasta salad will not be the same either.
It’s important to make sure your macaroni salad stays moist. No one wants a dry salad where the macaroni has absorbed the mayonnaise dressing! If you’re making it ahead of time, I’d recommend making a little more dressing to have on hand. That way, you can add some in the next day before serving. The extra dressing will keep it moist and delicious!
This classic pasta salad is traditionally served in the spring and summer as a side dish recipe. Since you serve it chilled, it’s a refreshing cold salad when the temps are warm just like coleslaw or watermelon!
Don’t let that stop you from serving this crowd-pleasing dish all year long though! It would also be great at fall game day parties or any winter holiday.
More Easy Pasta Salad Recipes
Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe
- 8 ounces uncooked elbow noodles
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 3-4 Tablespoons white vinegar , or cider vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt , plus more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper , plus more to taste
- Chopped fresh parsley or dill, optional
- 1 red bell pepper , chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped celery
- ¼ cup minced red onion
- Cook the elbow noodles according to package directions. Drain under cold water.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, relish, mustard, salt, and pepper. Mix in freshly chopped herbs, if desired.
- In a large bowl, add the noodles, bell pepper, celery, and onion. Drizzle the dressing over the top and toss until well combined. Chill until ready to serve.
- 6 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 1/2 cup shredded or cubed cheese
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, mashed
- Add in more veggies, such as grated carrots or peas
Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.
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