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 310 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 310 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. Really quick, easy and very tasty. I’ve made a lot macaroni salads over the last 45 years and this one, was one of the ones on the top of the list. 1 change, I did not add sugar to the dressing, perfection without the added sugar. Macaroni salads are so versatile, love this version.
    Lots of great recipes Holly.5 stars

  2. Delicious! I had to make double the recipe. My suggestion: If making the 16 oz of pasta, try using 1.5 the amount on the diced add-ins. you can always add more of any ingredient. As for the dressing, simply doubled the amounts – delicious.5 stars

  3. I made this macaroni salad today to go with my leftover salmon patties. It is delicious and so easy to make. I will save your recipe for my permanent file. I will never buy grocery store macaroni salad again. I made a half recipe for myself. But, I know it will just get better as the ingrédients marinâte in the refrigerator. It would have taken me longer to drive to the store, find the ingrédients and pay for them than it took to actually make this. Anyway, it’s great that these are all basically pantry ingrédients. I would serve this for company if I was having a barbecue or even a baked ham. Thanks SO MUCH!!5 stars

  4. The BEST macaroni salad EVER!!!! I cut the sugar in half and used extra creamy avocado mayonnaise!!! Made it for a party had to times it up by 4. HUGE HIT!!!! FIVE STARS❤❤❤5 stars

  5. 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!

      1. My household isn’t keen on relish, would you just omit or is there a substitute you would suggest?

      2. You can omit it and while it will slightly change the flavor, it will still be delicious!

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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

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

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

  11. 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

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

  13. 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

  14. 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.

    2. I used apple cider vinegar; white vinegar is too strong for my taste. Also, I mixed the dressing apart, added it to the pasta and then added the diced add-ins.

  15. 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