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 312 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 312 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. I saw your # of serving and nutritional information; my question is are the nutritional information per serving or per batch?

  2. this recipe is SO GOOD. I almost ate the whole bowl just standing at the counter. definitely making this again5 stars

  3. Excellent!! Followed your directions exactly. You mentioned pickle juice could be substituted for vinegar, and I took that suggestion. I’m a big fan of your pickle pasta salad and now I have another pasta salad to choose from. Highly recommend both!! Great site – I visit often.5 stars

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Karen, I am so glad you are enjoying the recipes!

  4. I followed this recipe for the July Cooking Challenge. I used rotini pasta and added peas. It was creamy and delicious! Perfect dish for a hot summer day! :)5 stars

  5. Very good basic recipe. I had fresh tarragon and parsley in my garden so I left out the pickle relish and added the herbs for a more savory version. Such a versatile recipe you could change it up to suit your menu.5 stars

  6. I made this Creamy Macaroni Salad for the first time tonight, as a side to hot Italian sausage on a bun. I have made other pasta salads before, but never have I made a basic Macaroni Salad. This was simple, easy to follow, I had all the ingredients, and it was a huge success! The flavours in the dressing were complimentary to each other, the additions to the macaroni (I used matchstick carrots, diced cucumber and green pepper, and red onion) added a nice crunch and overall, it was a success. This is on the menu rotation now! Thanks, Holly!5 stars

  7. What is SWEET PICKLE RELISH please?
    Is is bought if made?
    Fantastic recipes every week! Thank you.

    1. You can find sweet pickle relish at almost any US/Canadian grocery story near the ketchup. It will be labelled “sweet relish”, you can also get it online here or see what the packages look like.

  8. The best recipe! So quick and easy. I didn’t add the sweet relish , I added some four cheese and followed the rest of the recipe! Even better the next day!5 stars

  9. Made this today. Way too hot to cook. Loved your dressing recipe. Forgot to put in sugar, but didn’t need it.
    Will be making this on the regular5 stars

  10. This is the ONLY mac salad I make! Have tried many recipes but this is by
    far THE BEST! Have been asked for the many times! THANK YOU!

  11. Unable to find “Sweet pickle relish” in Australia, is there another substitute or is it called something else here.5 stars

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

    2. My lady was from Aussie land, and we went three times for a month each in the 90’s. I am sure that I saw Sweet Gherkins on the grocery shelf, along with all the other pickles. All you have to do is dice them. Remember my mom with a knife in one hand and the pickle in the other, a bowl in her lap, making cross cuts and then slicing.

  12. Great and fast recipe.
    I did cut the sugar in half since I don’t like my salads to be to sweet. this was perfect.
    I will keep this recipe to make again.
    Thank you5 stars

  13. made this for my son and grandkids. they all liked it, but said that it was way too sweet. I had to agree with them.
    I will make this again but with just atouch of sugar. I didn’t add the sweet relish, I ‘m the only one that likes it.5 stars

  14. I made 6 lbs of this as written for a party of 30 people and it was gone in 2 hours. Gone! So simple, classic and delicious! Thank you for sharing.