Some salads are just expected at every gathering and this classic macaroni salad is one of them.
Elbow macaroni is mixed with a handful of add-ins and then tossed in a super easy (and extra creamy) tangy dressing.
We love it for potlucks, picnics, or with almost anything from the bbq since it’s fast to make and best made ahead of time.
For some reason, macaroni noodles just hold a special place in my heart. I’ll eat them any way, I can’t get enough mac and cheese and my Mom always served elbows with rouladen gravy. In this salad, they’re the perfect addition to a plate of bbq chicken!
An Easy Make Ahead Side
- You can (and should) make macaroni salad ahead of time for the best flavor.
- You’ll likely have the ingredients on hand for this recipe and if not, swap in what you do have! (see notes below)
- It’s super fast to put together.
- There are no special ingredients required for the dressing (and it only takes about 2 minutes).
- Use any short pasta or add-ins to make it your own.
Mix & Match Macaroni Salad Ingredients
Ingredients in this easy macaroni salad recipe are versatile based on what you have on hand.
The basic ratio for macaroni salad: (full recipe below)
- 1/2 lb elbow macaroni (or any short pasta)
- about 2 cups add-ins
- 1 cup dressing
Of course, you can add more or less of any of these ingredients to your liking. Keep in mind that some of the dressing will soak into the pasta as it chills in the fridge.
The best macaroni salad recipe is one that is filled with your favorite add-ins! Try any of the following:
- Fresh celery, shredded carrots, red bell peppers, fresh parsley or fresh dill
- Salty Try adding cheese, bacon, ham, sliced olives, or even capers.
- Savory Green or red onions, dill pickles, garlic powder, boiled eggs, chopped or shredded cheddar.
- Sweet Baby peas, pineapple, sweet bell peppers, sweet pickles.
Macaroni Salad Dressing
This macaroni salad dressing is a very simple mayonnaise-based dressing and takes just a couple of minutes to prepare.
- creamy – mayo (or dressing)
- sweet – sweet pickle relish, sugar (or swap sugar for a splash of sweet pickle juice)
- tangy – white vinegar or cider vinegar (swap for dill pickle juice if you’d like)
- seasoning – a touch of prepared or dijon mustard, salt & pepper to taste
It’s sweet, tangy, and zesty; similar to a dressing similar found in potato salad or coleslaw. You can swap out your favorite creamy dressing in this recipe, bottled coleslaw dressing is a great option too.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
As easy as 1,2,3…
- Boil, drain, and cool the macaroni.
- Chop While the macaroni is boiling, chop the veggies or add ins.
- Mix the dressing ingredients and toss with the macaroni and add ins.
This recipe is best left to chill for an hour or two before serving to allow the flavors to blend and the dressing to soak into the pasta.
Macaroni salad can (and should) be made ahead of time for the flavors to blend. Make up to 24 hours ahead of time. Before serving, give it a stir and then garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh herbs if you’d like.
Tips for Perfection
- Elbows can be swapped for any short pasta.
- Ensure add-ins are diced fairly small.
- Rinsing the pasta after draining stops it from cooking and ensures it isn’t mushy or sticky.
- Mix the dressing directly in the salad bowl and then add the other ingredients, one less dish to wash!
- Dress the salad generously as the pasta will soak up some of sauce as it sits.
Make-Ahead & Leftovers
Macaroni salad is best made ahead of time which makes it party perfect. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days. Sadly, it does not freeze well.
What are your favorite add-ins? Leave a comment and rating below!
Classic Creamy Macaroni Salad
This classic macaroni salad is creamy & flavorful with elbow macaroni and a handful of add-ins in a simple homemade dressing.
Cook elbow macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
Add macaroni, dressing, and remaining ingredients to a large bowl.
Mix well to combine and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
- Rinsing the pasta after draining stops it from cooking so it doesn’t get mushy and keeps it from being sticky.
- The dressing can be swapped for a bottled dressing of your choice or even coleslaw dressing.
- Dress the salad generously as the pasta will soak up some of the dressing as it sits.
Calories: 432, Carbohydrates: 37g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 29g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 17g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 16mg, Sodium: 408mg, Potassium: 214mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 9g, Vitamin A: 2332IU, Vitamin C: 18mg, Calcium: 25mg, Iron: 1mg
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.)
Course Pasta, Salad, Side Dish