Classic Macaroni Salad

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Macaroni Salad is a favorite side dish with elbow macaroni and a handful of add-ins tossed a super easy (and extra creamy) dressing.

The dressing takes about 2 minutes to prepare and is great on any kind of pasta salad or even coleslaw!

classic macaroni salad in a bowl

An Easy Make Ahead Side

This simple side is tasty, filling, budget-friendly, and goes with everything from burgers to fried chicken.

  • You can (and should) make macaroni salad ahead of time for the best flavor.
  • Most kitchens have the ingredients on hand for this recipe.
  • 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.

ingredients for macaroni salad on a tray


Ingredients in macaroni salad are versatile based on what you have on hand.

The basic ratio: (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.

Try any of the following add-ins:

  • Fresh celery and shredded carrots for color and crunch.
  • Salty Try adding cheese, bacon, ham, pickles, sliced olives, or even capers.
  • Savory Green or red onions, boiled eggs,
  • Sweet Baby peas, pineapple, sweet bell peppers.

macaroni salad dressing ingredients in a bowl

Macaroni Salad Dressing

This macaroni salad dressing is a very simple mayonnaise based dressing with sugar, relish, vinegar, a touch of mustard, and salt & pepper.

It’s sweet, tangy, and zesty; similar to a dressing similar found in potato salad or coleslaw.

Other dressings you can use:

macaroni salad ingredients in a bowl

How to Make Macaroni Salad

As easy as 1,2,3…

  1. Boil, drain, and cool the macaroni.
  2. Chop While the macaroni is boiling, chop the veggies or add ins.
  3. 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.

serving macaroni salad with a spoon

Tips for Perfection

  • Elbows can be swapped for any short pasta.
  • Rinsing the pasta after draining stops it from cooking so it isn’t mushy or sticky.
  • Swap the dressing for any creamy dressing.
  • Dress the salad generously as the pasta will soak up some of the dressing as it sits.
  • Ensure add-ins are diced fairly small.

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!

macaroni salad with a spoon
4.98 from 44 votes
Review Recipe

Classic Macaroni Salad

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Author Holly Nilsson
This classic macaroni salad is creamy & flavorful with elbow macaroni and a handful of add-ins in a simple homemade dressing.


  • ½ pound elbow macaroni uncooked (approx. 2 cups dry), or any short pasta

Add Ins* (see note)

  • 1 cup celery diced
  • ½ cup carrots shredded
  • ½ cup red pepper diced
  • ¼ cup red onion diced, or green onion


  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt & pepper

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  • 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.

Recipe Notes

*You will need 2 to 2½ cups of add-ins. Use the list above for a basic macaroni salad or change them to your liking. Other favorite additions include pickles, olives, ham, sweet peas, cheddar cheese. Ensure add-ins are diced fairly small.
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.

Nutrition Information

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.)

Keyword best macaroni salad, how to make macaroni salad, macaroni salad, macaroni salad recipe
Course Pasta, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American

More Make-Ahead Sides

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Classic Macaroni Salad before and after mixing in a bowl with a title
About the author


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Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!

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Recipe Rating


  1. This is a very tasty and easy salad to make. I used large macaroni and added red onion, sliced carrots and celery. For the dressing I made as directed except I used 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup mayonnaise. I also reduced apple cider vinegar to 2 Tablespoons.

  2. Wow! Made this yesterday, it was wonderful. The dressing has a nice little tang. Will definitely use this recipe again. Thanks!5 stars

  3. I add a package of tuna fish. I also use halved cherry tomatoes. No relish but def apple cider vinegar.4 stars

  4. Fantastic recipe!! This reminds me of my childhood bbq’s. I use this recipe all the time. Thank you Holly for sharing. All of your recipe’s I have used are always delicious

  5. This is not a classic recipe. I was hoping to find a good macaroni salad recipe here. Why the ham, carrots and especially the peas?

    1. We love this Classic Macaroni Salad Glenn. Feel free to leave out those ingredients if you prefer!

  6. My wife doesn’t like macaroni (no, I don’t understand it either) and I try to avoid too much gluten – so made this with 500g / 1lb waxy baby potatoes, unpeeled, diced quite finely and steamed. Had a few green beans to use up as well so they were chopped small and went in to the steamer with the frozen peas two minutes before taking it all off the heat. All else as the recipe content (except Dijon mustard rather than yellow). Served with fried pork steaks, the results were absolutely excellent; big hit, requests for repeat some time. Leftover salad went with her to work as lunch the following day and her co-trainer is asking for the recipe now.

    Lots of brownie points earned – thanks!5 stars

  7. No sugar, vinegar, carrots, or relish in mine. I use diced spam, diced boiled eggs, diced tomatoes, and cheese. It’s a complete meal serve with saltine carackers yum yum.

  8. I used this Macaroni Salad recipe. It tastes very good I did add extras. I used 2 boiled eggs,I also used shredded mild Cheddar Cheese, it taste Great next I’m gonna put some thinly cut Red Onion in it. That’s gonna make it taste Perfect and I’m not a Big Onion Person. I can’t wait to eat it. It will be Chilling in the Fridge All Day TODAY♥️♥️

  9. Very tasty! I think that Macaroni Salad is a ‘regional’ dish, since the protein in it seems to differ as to the preference of most folks in any certain area. I was brought up on the east coast in New England by the ocean (CT), so our Macaroni Salad always had some sort of a seafood in it….Tuna, Shrimp, Crab, Lobster. Nevertheless, Macaroni Salad is ALWAYS a huge hit with everyone\ at every gathering. I made yours a while ago for a cookout, and it was gobbled up in no time, even though I doubled the recipe! :-)5 stars