Macaroni Salad

Creamy, crunchy and flavorful cold Macaroni Salad is an easy and foolproof side dish perfect for BBQ’s and get togethers. Included are tips and secrets to making an irresistible classic creamy pasta salad that is sure to become a family favorite recipe.

This creamy Macaroni Salad is a delicious recipe for family get togethers or summer potlucks when served with Dry Rubbed Ribs and Dry Rubbed Wings alongside Red Potato Salad. Of course what is a special summer dinner without desserts such as Apple Sauce Spice Cake, Cherry Crisp or Apple Crisp.

Pasta Salad with Mayo in a blue serving bowl.

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Mac Salad in a blue bowl sitting on a brown wooden table.

Ingredients Needed

  • Elbow Macaroni Noodles– These noodles are the classic shape for Macaroni Salad. However, Ditalini pasta, wagon wheels or shells can be a fun substitution.
  • Mayonnaise– I adore Chosen Foods Avocado Mayo because not only does it taste wonderful, it is made with quality ingredients. (For the best price check your local Costco.)
  • Pickle Juice (from dill pickles)– Normally white vinegar is used for acidity. However, pickle juice is mostly vinegar with the addition of garlic and dill. Using it is just another way to add more flavor.
  • Dijon Mustard– Yellow mustard may be used in a pinch.
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Smoked Paprika– Adds an irresistible smokey quality.
  • Onion and Garlic Powder– Not only do these add an additional layer of flavor, they also amplify the savory qualities of this salad.
  • Cayenne Pepper– Brings a very mild spice to the salad. If serving young children or anyone who is sensitive to heat, simply eliminate this ingredient. This addittion of this spice is a personal preference.
  • Veggies– Dill pickles, red onion (or sweet Visalia), celery and red bell pepper finely diced add in crunch, sweetness and color. In other words, the veggies make the Macaroni Salad interesting and fun to eat.

Tips for Making the Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

Things to do when making Macaroni Salad

  • Make the Macaroni Salad dressing with the diced veggies. Mix well and let sit in the refrigerator while cooking the pasta or for at least 20 minutes. Letting the dressing sit in the refrigerator for a short bit allows all the flavors to marry.
  • Cook the pasta to al dente which means “to the tooth”. In other words, the noodles will be soft and yet slightly chewy. Since the pasta will continue to cook while it cools, it will have the perfect doneness by the time the dressing is added.
  • Once the pasta is mixed well with the dressing, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to overnight. Right before serving add another 1/2-1 cup of mayo and stir well. This will give the Macaroni Salad the perfect creaminess.

What not to do when making Mac Salad

  • Do not skip the crunchy veggies. When diced well they add flavor, crunch and sweetness.
  • Similarly to the tip above, don’t skip the spices with the exception of the cayenne pepper. The spices are the key to achieving the depth of flavor that makes this pasta salad so irresistible. (Eliminate the cayenne pepper when serving children or anyone who is sensitive to spice.)
  • Cool the cooked pasta to room temperature as seen in the video below. It is extremely import to not rinse the pasta with cold water, but rather cool the noodles by occasionally stirring while they sit at room temperature. Rinsing removes too much starch from the surface of the pasta and the starchy surface allows the dressing to cling to the noodles.
  • Do not add the dressing to the pasta until it has mostly cooled and is tacky enough that it sticks to your finger when touched. If the dressing is added while the pasta is still hot it will turn the mixture into an oily sloppy mess.

Up close photo of the noodles of Best Macaroni Salad.

How to Make Macaroni Salad {with Video Tutorial}

  1. Finely dice the onion, celery, pickles and bell pepper. Place into a large mixing bowl.
  2. To the mixing bowl add 1 cup of mayonnaise (the rest will be added later) and the remaining ingredients for the dressing. Stir well, cover and refrigerate.
  3. To a large pot of boiling water cook noodles to al dente following package directions (see Tips section directly above). Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Let the pasta cool to room temperature by stirring occasionally. You will know the noodles are ready for the dressing when they are tacky to the touch and no longer steaming (see video for more details).
  4. Pour dressing over the top of the room temperature noodles. Stir well, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to overnight.
  5. Before serving add an additional 1/2-1 cup of mayonnaise. Stir well and enjoy!

Freshly made Homemade Macaroni Salad in a white pasta bowl.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will Macaroni Salad last?

When stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator this Macaroni Salad will remain fresh for 3 days. However, it is still edible up to 5 days later, just not as fresh.

What is the difference between Classic Macaroni Salad and the Amish and Hawaiian versions?

This recipe leans towards classic Macaroni Salad. However, everybody has varying degrees of the ingredients they enjoy in their Mac Salad. The Hawaiian version is very concrete in that it only has a few ingredients of macaroni, carrot, mayo and salt and pepper. The Amish version has similar veggies as this recipe, but with the addittion of sweet pickle relish (or sweet pickles) and hard boiled eggs.

Should the macaroni pasta be rinsed after cooking?

No, no and no. Not trying to be dramatic, however rinsing removes too much starch from the surface and the starchy surface allows the dressing to cling to the noodles. In other words, your pasta will be incredibly flavorful because it is holding onto the dressing.

Why is additional mayonnaise added just before serving?

While the salad refrigerates it absorbs the dressing. The addittion of the extra mayonnaise gives the salad the creaminess that Macaroni Salad is loved for.

How far in advance should I make this recipe?

When making for a party or potluck, it is best to make the day before the event and then add the extra mayo just before serving. This salad is wonderful when served the next day after preparing it.

Can this salad be frozen?

No, it is highly recommended not to freeze this salad.

More Delicious Salad Recipes for Summer Parties

Summer Pasta Salad

Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Dill Pickle Pasta Salad

Blueberry Basil Chopped Veggie Salad

Simple Coleslaw

Healthy Broccoli Salad

Caprese Pasta Salad

Up close photo of the noodles of Best Macaroni Salad.

Macaroni Salad

Creamy, crunchy and flavorful cold Macaroni Salad is an easy and foolproof side dish perfect for BBQ’s and get togethers.
5 from 8 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Mac Salad, Macaroni Salad, Pasta Salad with Mayo
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 343kcal
Author: Heather

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces macaroni noodles
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion See note #1 below
  • 3/4 cup diced dill pickles See note #2 below
  • 1 cup thinly diced celery *about 3-4 stalks
  • 3/4 cup diced red bell pepper

Macaroni Salad Dressing

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise See note #3 below
  • 1/4 cup pickle juice See note #4 below
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper *optional

Instructions

  • Dice the onion, celery, pickles and bell pepper. Add to a large bowl.
  • To the veggie bowl add 1 cup mayonnaise and the remaining salad dressing ingredients. Stir well and refrigerate. See note #5 below
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente following the directions on the package. See note #6 below
    Drain the pasta well and transfer to a large bowl. Let the pasta cool to room temperature by stirring occasionally. You will know the noodles are ready for the dressing when they are tacky to the touch. See note #7 below
  • Pour dressing over the top of the noodles and stir well. Cover an refrigerate for 1 hourly or up to 24 hours.
  • Just before serving remove the salad from the refrigerator and stir well. Add in an additional 1/2-1 cup of mayonnaise (depending on preferred creaminess that is desired.)
    Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Notes

Recipe Notes
Note #1- Sweet Visalia onion or white onion may be substituted. 
Note #2- Using the pre-sliced Kosher dill pickles used for hamburgers shortens the dicing time. 
Note #3- Use only 1 cup of mayonnaise when making the dressing. An additional 1/2-1 cup of mayonnaise is added after the salad has been made and chilled. The additional mayo is what gives the salad its beautiful creaminess. 
Note #4-Pickle juice contains dill and garlic, adding extra flavor into the salad. However, white vinegar or apple cider vinegar may be used as a substitution. 
Note #5- Let the dressing sit in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes while cooking the pasta. This will allow the flavors in the dressing to marry.
Note #6- Al dente means "to the tooth". In other words, cook the pasta until it is soft and yet slightly chewy. As the pasta cools it will continue to cook, making it the perfect texture for the salad. 
Note #7- You will know the pasta is ready for the dressing when it stops steaming and when you touch them, the noodles stick to your finger.
It is very important to not add the dressing when the noodles are hot because the heat will turn the mayonnaise into an oily sloppy mess.
Also, it is important to not rinse the cooked noodles. Rinsing washes away too much starch from the surface of the pasta and the starch allows the dressing to cling to the noodles. 

Nutrition

Calories: 343kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 13g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 749mg | Potassium: 166mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 539IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @thefedupfoodie or tag #thefedupfoodie!

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19 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Wow, I tried out your macaroni salad recipe and it was absolutely fantastic! My family loved it so much that I had to make a second batch right away. The combination of flavors was just perfect.

  2. 5 stars
    I have some very picky eaters who can’t handle raw onion so I eliminated that from the recipe and added chopped cucumbers. We absolutely loved this salad. It very flavorful and fun to eat. Thank you!

    1. Love the idea of adding cucumbers. Thank you so much for taking the time to make the salad and coming back to rate it.

  3. 5 stars
    I have to say, as someone who’s still learning their way around the kitchen, I was blown away by how amazing your macaroni salad turned out! The combination of flavors was just perfect, and it’s definitely inspired me to keep experimenting and trying new recipes.

    1. That is wonderful to hear. You just made my heart so happy. Please let me know if there is anything I can support you with along the way.

  4. I made this version of macaroni salad today and my Family loved it! It was just perfect and if I do say so myself, the best side dish of all of them for dinner. Thank you for sharing! 🤗🤤

    1. Michele you made my day!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to not only make the salad but also coming back to share such a sweet comment.

    1. Hi Bridget. Yes, this macaroni salad can absolutely be made the night before. Just stir and add a bit more mayonnaise to freshen it up before serving.

  5. I totally agree with everyone! From the combination of flavors even when changing an item to suit each family, this is just a good recipe. Changed my macaroni salad from ordinary to EXTRAordinary! Thank you.

  6. 5 stars
    I made this for a very picky father in law. I omitted the celery and bell pepper, used Minced onion and added shredded cheese and frozen peas. Everyone loved it. It was gone in 2 days!

    1. That is wonderful to hear!! Thank you so much Amy for taking a chance on the recipe and for taking the time to come back and comment.

  7. Made a triple batch for a big family party. Huge hit. Cayenne gives it extra. Was told can’t show up at family Super Bowl party next week unless I bring another batch😉

    1. That made my day!!! Thank you so much for giving the recipe a try and fro taking the time to come back and comment. Have a wonderful Super Bowl party!!

  8. 5 stars
    My entire life I have hated pasta salad but had a craving for it tonight and happened upon this recipe and wow I found a good one! I’m making this all the time now.

    1. That is so wonderful to hear! Thank you so much Jess for not only giving it a try but also coming back to comment and rate the recipe. You made my day!

  9. 5 stars
    We loved this! I added chopped boiled eggs, omitted celery and added celery seed, and omitted onion. I did the sauce mixture exactly how you recommended and it turned out great.

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