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.

serving macaroni salad with a spoon

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

This classic macaronis salad recipe is a simple side that’s tasty, filling, and budget-friendly. It goes with everything from burgers to fried chicken.

  • 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.
Ingredients for Creamy Macaroni Salad on a pan

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)

  • 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.

What to Add to Macaroni Salad

Ingredients in macaroni salad include elbows (or ditalini), a creamy dressing, and some add ins. For the best macaroni salad, vary the flavor, texture, and color of the add-ins based on your preferences.

  • Fresh & Crisp – 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, or extra pickle relish.
macaroni salad ingredients in a glass bowl

Macaroni Salad Dressing

This macaroni salad dressing is a very simple mayonnaise-based dressing and takes just a couple of minutes to prepare.

  • Mayonnaise (or dressing) is the base of this dressing recipe. To lighten up the dressing you can substitute half of the mayonnaise for Greek yogurt.
  • White vinegar or cider vinegar add tang. Swap for dill pickle juice if you’d like.
  • Sweet pickle relish and a pinch of sugar add sweetness to balance the vinegar. Sugar substitutes work well in this recipe or swap sugar for a splash of sweet pickle juice.
  • Seasoning is simple, 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.

macaroni salad ingredients in a bowl

How to Make Macaroni Salad

As easy as 1,2,3…

  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.
Jump to Recipe

Make Macaroni Salad Ahead of Time!

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 it at least an hour ahead of time or up to 24 hours before serving. 

Before serving, give it a stir and then garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh herbs if you’d like.

a bowl of macaroni salad

Tips for Perfection

  • Elbows can be swapped for any short pasta. Try ditalini, small shells, or wagon wheels.
  • Ensure add-ins are diced about the size of the macaroni.
  • 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 the 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.

More BBQ Favorites

What are your favorite add-ins? Leave a comment and rating below!

serving macaroni salad with a spoon
5 from 103 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
Or to leave a comment, click here!

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.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 6 servings

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 

  • 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 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 any short pasta. Try ditalini, small shells, or wagon wheels.
  • 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.
  • Ensure add-ins are diced about the size of the macaroni.
5 from 103 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
Or to leave a comment, click here!

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

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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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Comments

  1. Love your recipes!! Can’t wait to try this one! If I want to double it – would you double all the ingredients & the double the dressing?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Cyndi, if you are doubling I would double all of the ingredients, including the dressing. The basic ratio for a macaroni salad is 1/2 lb elbow macaroni, about 2 cups of add-ins, and 1 cup of dressing so I would keep to this ratio. I can’t wait for you to try it!

  2. I’m starving! Nice to see some “home made”recipes!
    Not sauce/dressing from a jar! Love all these salad recipes

  3. I can’t tell you the number of recipes I have found (and used repeatedly) from the Spend with Pennies webpage. They are always tasty, easy to follow, and use staple ingredients most people have in their kitchens every day. This macaroni salad recipe is no different. I followed the dressing part of the recipe as written. I love the flexibility of the add ins section. I used some leftover ham I pulled out of my freezer, frozen peas, celery, and shredded carrots. It honestly was one of the best pasta salads I have made in a long time. Keep the great recipes coming!5 stars

  4. I have to say this is the best tasting macaroni salad I’ve tasted. My husband is a very fussy eater and he absolutely loves it. I’ve made it several times now. And it’s also, a hit with my family and friends. I make it for ger togethers, etc. It has a perfect balance of all flavors.5 stars

    1. A serving is approximately one cup. For accurate nutritional information we recommend using a nutrition app like MyFitnessPal and inputting the ingredients and brands that you used in the recipe.

  5. This is one of the best pasta salads I have made. I will definitely be making it again. Thank you for sharing. ❤️5 stars

  6. Delicious!!! A perfect balance of ingredients, as is.
    I was craving some Mac salad and this recipe hit the spot!5 stars

  7. This was so good! I made it for a cookout we had and it was a big hit. I followed the recipe exactly as written, and it was perfect. At first it seems like there was way too much dressing but after sitting for a few hours in the fridge it was perfect. Thanks for sharing another great recipe. This is definitely a keeper!5 stars

  8. Made this with Grilled burgers. Was a big hit. Already had all the ingredients in the fridge5 stars

  9. This reminds me of the macaroni salad that my aunt use to bring to our family reunions. Although I reduced the sugar to 1 T and vinegar to 2 T, it was very delicious. I even caught my husband eating an additional spoonful of the bowl. Needless to same, it is a keeper5 stars

  10. Too much vinegar. I tried balancing it by adding more sugar but the pasta seemed to absorb the vinegar and it just did not work. I usually have no trouble with Spend With Pennies recipes but this one was disappointing.

    1. I am sorry to hear that Jane! This recipe is usually a reader favorite. Be sure to combine the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl before tossing it with the pasta to ensure the vinegar melds with the dressing flavors instead of being directly absorbed into the noodles.

  11. Excellent base recipe! Made this for Easter and it was a hit. I’ll cut back on the sugar next time, but otherwise CLASSIC and AMAZING taste! I’m happy I stumbled upon your recipe. Thank you!5 stars