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 307 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 307 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 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. Hi Holly,

    This looks delish, and I want to try it for sure.

    Is there any way of adding a metric conversion button to your recipe format for all of us non-imperial people from around the world? Also is there an easier way of saving a recipe without having to log in first, i.e. by being redirected to the login page, and then having to refind the recipe to save it? Sorry, not meant to be a criticism, just perhaps a way of navigating around your site more easily, unless I have missed something :-).

    Cheers,
    John

    1. Thank you so much for your suggestions John, it’s much appreciated! At this time I don’t have the ability to add metric conversions on the site but will keep it in mind for future updates (my cookbook does contain metric for all recipes and variations).

      Your feedback on the recipe save is very helpful and I am going to send it to the development team.

      Thank you for following along and enjoy the recipe!

      1. Hi Holly,

        Thanks for your reply, and thanks for not taking my suggestions as any form of criticism, as that was not my intention.

        For me, and I’m sure thousands of your readers around the world, we need to metricate your recipes first, before knowing what quantities to purchase, and then metricate again for the actual recipe cooking.

        Cheers,
        John

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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