An incredible classic Macaroni Salad with creamy mayonnaise based dressing tossed with your favorite vegetables. This easy make ahead side dish is perfect for picnics, barbecues and potlucks! Get the secrets that make it better than the rest!
Macaroni is a staple at every summer gathering from Memorial Day and 4th of July to Labor Day and beyond! It’s the perfect summer side dish because it’s quick, easy, versatile, flavorful and you can even make it ahead! Not to mention that it’s always a crowd pleaser!
It’s so easy to make Macaroni Salad from scratch. This classic recipe is easy to mix up using what you have on hand. Skip the box mix and make your own fresh and flavorful side dish in minutes!
It’s creamy and with my simple tricks, absolutely perfect every time! A tender, flavorful bite with crisp veggies that doesn’t stick together or worse – is a soggy mess. You’ll be proud to bring this dish to your next get together!
Macaroni Salad Ingredients
The options and variations are endless! These are basic macaroni salad ingredients
- Elbow Macaroni – Use elbow macaroni for classic macaroni salad or your favorite noodle.
- Vegetables – Red onion, bell peppers, celery, peas, grated carrots, or the vegetables of your choice.
- Mayonnaise Based Macaroni Salad Dressing – This creamy summer side dish is made with a mayonnaise based dressing using vinegar (white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar or apple cider vinegar) or sweet pickle juice (like gherkens) with real mayonnaise and mustard (I use dijon for added flavor and texture).
- Seasoning – Salt and pepper to taste or use 1/4 teaspoon each.
- Hard Boiled Egg
- Bacon – Toss with fresh cooked bacon or use real bacon pieces for an easy short cut.
- Chicken – Make my easy baked chicken breast and cube or shred to toss or use a rotisserie chicken.
- Tuna – Add up to 3 cans, strained.
- Ham – Toss thick chunks of ham in. Have your deli make a large slice of ham and cube.
- Sweet Pickles – Add a dose of sweet pickle juice to thin the dressing and chopped sweet gherkins. Simply substitute for vinegar.
- Sugar – Add up to a half cup of sugar if you prefer a sweet macaroni salad.
How to Make Macaroni Salad from Scratch in Just 4 Easy Steps
- Prep – Wash and chop ingredients.
- Prepare Macaroni – Boil until al dente, strain and run cold water over the top to shock the pasta.
- Make the Dressing – Combine in a mixing bowl or sealable jar.
- Toss and Refrigerate – Allow all the flavors to meld.
Tips to Make the Best Macaroni Salad
Prepare Pasta Al Dente – Pasta should be cooked, but firm. This prevents it from getting gummy, soggy or falling apart. If you throw a noodle against the wall and it sticks, it’s prepared al dente. Taste test a noodle to ensure it has a firm bite.
Shock Pasta – Shocking the pasta with cold water prevents the pasta from continuing to cook so that noodles don’t become soggy or fall apart.
Marinate – For the best macaroni salad, refrigerate with dressing. This makes it incredibly flavorful because the dressing infuses with the noodles and all the flavors meld. Just before serving, salt and pepper to taste.
Scaling up, down or substituting? You’ll love this printable Measurement Conversion Chart!
- Get your vegetables on a salad bar to save prep time!
- Use a store-bought salad dressing.
Frequently Asked Questions
The key is to prepare pasta properly. If you undercook, the sauce won’t cling to the pasta and if you overcook, it will become soggy. The pasta will continue to absorb liquid (even when chilled). Reserve a little dressing and toss to refresh to pasta salad just before serving.
There are three easy ways to slow absorption of mayonnaise. Refrigerate macaroni and dressing before tossing, toss macaroni with a tablespoon of olive oil or reserve a couple tablespoons of starchy pasta water and add to the dressing to slow absorption.
- Prepare Pasta
- Make Dressing
- Toss and refrigerate up to 24 hours in advance.
How to Store
- At Room Temperature – Keep pasta salad cold for picnics and barbecues by placing the bowl in a larger bowl of ice. You can also freeze your serving bowl ahead of time. Since it is a mayonnaise based dish, it can only be at room temperature for a maximum of two hours.
- Refrigerate – Refrigerate covered for 3-5 days. Reserve a little extra dressing to refresh and toss.
- Freeze – Freeze in an airtight container up to 3 months (for best fresh flavor). Refrigerate to thaw and serve.
- Gluten Free – Make it gluten free using gluten free macaroni.
- Dairy Free – Make it dairy free using an alternative pasta salad dressing.
- Nut Free
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More Pasta Salad Recipes
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni uncooked
- 1 large red onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery about ¼ cup, chopped
- ½ green bell pepper chopped
- ½ red bell pepper chopped
- ½ cup peas frozen
- 1 cup mayonnaise do not substitute
- ⅛ cup vinegar apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard or mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring salty water to a boil. Prepare macaroni al dente (just until fork tender). Strain and run cold water over the pasta to shock it.
- Pour macaroni into a large bowl. Stir or gently toss with vegetables, optional herbs and dressing (reserve ¼ cup and refrigerate). Allow to refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Toss with reserved dressing just before serving and salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold.