This classic macaroni salad recipe has been a family favorite for gatherings for many years.

With tender elbow macaroni, a creamy dressing and a handful of add-ins, I love how easy it comes together.

Potluck perfect, it’s an easy favorite for almost any occasion.

bowl of Creamy Macaroni Salad with a wooden spoon

Macaroni Salad Ingredients

Macaroni noodles hold a special place in my heart beyond just mac and cheese. The this is the best macaroni salad recipe – simple, tasty, and easy to make!

  • Pasta: I love elbow macaroni but any short pasta will work for this recipe.
  • Red onion: Onion adds flavor, ensure it is finely diced so it doesn’t overpower the other flavors. For a milder flavor either soak the diced onion in cold water or use green onion in place.
  • Add-Ins: Celery, red bell pepper, and shredded carrots add freshness and crunch.
Ingredients for Creamy Macaroni Salad on a pan

Dressing for Macaroni Salad

  • Mayonnaise: Mayo is the creamy base of this macaroni salad recipe.
  • Tang: White vinegar or apple cider vinegar add a bright, tangy flavor.
  • Sweetness: A bit of sugar and a spoonful of sweet pickle relish balance the tang from the vinegar.
  • Seasoning: Mustard, salt, & pepper add a subtle flavor. You can also use prepared mustard.

To lighten up the dressing, you can substitute half of the mayo for Greek yogurt.

macaroni salad ingredients in a glass bowl

Variations

  • Dressing: Replace the homemade dressing with prepared coleslaw dressing.
  • Bold – cheese, bacon bits, diced ham, dill pickles
  • Savory – garlic powder, hard boiled eggs
  • Sweet – baby peas, sweet bell peppers, sweet pickles, or extra pickle relish
macaroni salad ingredients in a bowl

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 for a bit in each bite.
  • 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 320 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
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Macaroni Salad

Everyone loves this classic macaroni salad recipe! 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
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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 or Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt & pepper

Instructions 

  • In a large pot, cook the elbow macaroni in salted water according to the instructions on the package. Do not overcook. Drain well and rinse it under cold water to stop cooking.
  • To make the dressing, in a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, relish, mustard, salt and pepper 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 hour 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 320 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 beforehand, making 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 a great dish to serve with pulled pork

Creamy Macaroni Salad with a title
Creamy Macaroni Salad with 2 min dressing and writing
bowl of Creamy Macaroni Salad with a title
plated Creamy Macaroni Salad and close up photo with a title

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About the author

Holly Nilsson is the creator of Spend With Pennies, where she creates easy, comforting recipes made for real life. With a passion for nostalgic flavors and simplified techniques, Holly helps busy home cooks create delicious meals that always work. She is also the author of “Everyday Comfort,” which promises to inspire even more hearty, home-cooked meals.
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Comments

  1. Hi I liked everything but the carrots, just a personal taste and felt like they didn’t belong.However still a wonderful salad.
    Thank-you Holly.
    please don’t be offended4 stars

    1. Glad you enjoyed the mac salad overall Sami! The great thing is that it’s an easy salad to swap in your own favorites. Happy cooking!

  2. I have made this multiple times and it is always a hit! I am making it again this weekend for my sons surprise 30th birthday party because this is his favorite macaroni salad. It is such a hit with my family I double or triple the recipe so they can take some home. Delicious!5 stars