This macaroni salad recipe is a classic side dish for good reason.

Tender elbow macaroni is mixed with a handful of add-ins and tossed in a super easy 2-minute dressing.

Perfect for potlucks, picnics, or BBQs – it’s fast to make and best made ahead of time.

bowl of Classic Macaroni Salad

An Easy Make-Ahead Side Dish

Macaroni noodles hold a special place in my heart from mac and cheese or topped with rouladen gravy, and of course in a macaroni salad. 

  • You can (and should) prepare macaroni salad ahead of time for the best flavor.
  • It’s budget-friendly and you likely have the ingredients on hand.
  • It’s super fast to put together and versatile (see notes below).
  • It’s so versatile; use any short pasta and change up the add-ins.
Ingredients for Creamy Macaroni Salad on a pan

Macaroni Salad Ingredients

The best macaroni salad recipes are simple, tasty, and budget-friendly!

Pasta – I use elbow macaroni but any small pasta will work.

Add-ins – I keep this relatively simple but feel free to try any of the variations below to create your own macaroni salad recipe! I like to add celery, shredded carrot, red bell peppers, and red onion.

Variations

  • Fresh – fresh parsley or fresh dill
  • Bold – cheese, bacon bits, diced ham, dill pickles,
  • Savory – garlic powder, boiled eggs
  • Sweet – baby peas, sweet bell peppers, sweet pickles, or extra pickle relish
macaroni salad ingredients in a glass bowl

Quick Macaroni Salad Dressing

This macaroni salad dressing really fast to make. You can also swap it for your favorite creamy dressing or coleslaw dressing.

  • mayonnaise as the base
  • vinegar (white or cider vinegar) for tang
  • sweet pickle relish and a pinch of sugar or sweet pickle juice
  • prepared or Dijon mustard, salt & pepper for flavor
  • To lighten up the dressing, you can substitute half of the mayo for Greek yogurt.
macaroni salad ingredients in a bowl

The basic ratio for macaroni salad: (full recipe below)

  • ½ 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, so be generous when adding dressing.

How to Make Macaroni Salad

  1. Cook Pasta: Boil, drain, and cool the macaroni per the recipe below.
  2. Prepare Add-Ins: While the macaroni is boiling, chop the veggies or add-ins.
  3. Mix & Chill: Mix the dressing ingredients and toss with the macaroni and add-ins.
a bowl of macaroni salad

Prep Macaroni Salad Ahead

This macaroni salad recipe is best when chilled for an hour or two before serving. This allows the flavors to blend and the dressing to thicken and soak into the pasta. It can be made up to 24 hours before serving. 

Since the dressing soaks in, dress it generously. Before serving, stir it and then garnish it with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh herbs if you’d like.

Tips for The Best Macaroni Salad

  • Elbows can be swapped for ditalini, small shells, or wagon wheels.
  • Dice the add-ins about the size of the macaroni.
  • Rinse the pasta after draining to stop it from cooking.
  • Mix the dressing directly in the salad bowl and then add the other ingredients, one less dish to wash!
  • Store leftovers in the fridge in a covered container for up to 4 days.

More Easy Sides

Did your family love this macaroni salad? Leave a comment and rating below!

serving macaroni salad with a spoon
5 from 304 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
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Classic Creamy Macaroni Salad

This classic macaroni salad is creamy & flavorful! Elbow macaroni and a handful of add-ins in a simple homemade dressing.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Author Holly Nilsson

Ingredients  

  • 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

Dressing

  • 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

Instructions 

  • In a large pot, cook the elbow macaroni according to the instructions on the package. Do not overcook. Drain well and rinse it under cold water to stop cooking.
  • While the pasta is cooking, combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well.
  • In a large bowl, add the cooled macaroni, the dressing, celery, carrots, red pepper, and onion. Mix well. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.
  • Refrigerate the macaroni salad for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Notes

*You will need 2 to 2 ½ cups of add-ins. Use the list above for a basic macaroni salad or change them to your liking. Other favorite add-ins include pickles, olives, ham, sweet peas, and cheddar cheese.
  • Elbows can be swapped for ditalini, small shells, or wagon wheels.
  • Dice the add-ins about the size of the macaroni.
  • Rinse the pasta after draining to stop it from cooking.
  • Mix the dressing directly in the salad bowl and then add the other ingredients, one less dish to wash!
  • Store leftovers in the fridge in a covered container for up to 4 days.
5 from 304 votes

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.

Course Pasta, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Can you freeze macaroni salad?

Sadly, it does not freeze well.

How long is macaroni salad good for?

Macaroni salad is best made ahead of time, which makes it party perfect. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. 

What to eat with macaroni salad?

We love to serve macaroni salad as a side for anything off the grill! Bbq chicken, hot dogs, or hamburgers are great options. It’s also is a great dish to serve with pulled pork.

close up of Classic Macaroni Salad with a title
plated Classic Macaroni Salad with a wooden spoon and writing
bowl of Classic Macaroni Salad with writing
plated Classic Macaroni Salad and close up photo with a title

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About the author

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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Comments

  1. I have not made this yet, but I wanted to tell you that when I am recipe hunting I use yours most of the time and they always turn out a 5. So thank you.5 stars

  2. The most delicious macaroni salad. It must be the addition of the apple cider vinegar. It must sit before enjoying. I make this all the time.5 stars

  3. Perfect recipe but I found it better for my taste by reducing the vinegar by half and adding 1/4 cup of sour cream. Will make again! Tysm for the recipe

  4. Oh course this is good! again and agains Holly’s Speed with Pennies recipes always impress my family and myself! thank you. I just added pepper onion relish instead of sweet pickles! excellent!5 stars

  5. just made this Mac salad. husband did prep and mixing components. of course, he had to sample, he loved it. no need for any alteration. thanks !5 stars

  6. It is creamy, however it’s got a tang to it. If it’s possible to say a type of sweet and sour. overall it’s a good recipe and I’ll use it again but I will add half the vinegar.4 stars

  7. just made it and already taste great, I left out the vinegar and added a little more of the relish and mayo. Great base recipe you can play with. thank you 5 stars

  8. Great recipe !
    We did not have sweet pickle relish, so I left it out . We added sliced green olives , about half a jar . We made one and a half times the dressing and added more mustard and only 1 tablespoon sugar , as the macaroni salad I had as a child was more mustardy . Delicious !
    Thank you !5 stars

  9. I made this for a potluck cookout for my daughter’s tennis team. The triple batch was almost gone. Highly recommend this recipe! I used honey in place of cane sugar to the level of sweetness we like which turned out great. It’s best made the night before and let the noodles marinate in the dressing.5 stars

  10. This recipe is delicious! I left out the sugar in the dressing and didn’t miss it. It was a hit at my potluck, and I will be making this again.5 stars