Classic Macaroni Salad

Macaroni Salad with egg, sweet pickles and a creamy dressing is a tasty side dish that’s perfect for summer BBQ’s and potlucks. My best macaroni salad recipe is quick and easy to make with just a few simple ingredients.

What can I serve with macaroni salad? This classic macaroni salad recipe pairs perfectly with Grilled Chicken, Instant Pot Ribs, Turkey Burgers and Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork.

Macaroni salad in a white serving bowl with parsley garnish.

In the summer, it doesn’t get much better than dinner off of the grill and a side of homemade macaroni salad. Complete your menu with another of my favorite side dishes: Italian pasta salad, red potato salad, broccoli salad or berry fruit salad, and you’ll have a meal worthy of any summer cookout!

This macaroni salad is a slight adaptation of my grandma’s recipe. It’s a creamy pasta salad without being overly mayonnaisey. This easy macaroni salad is slightly sweet with a delicious crunch from celery and bell pepper. You are going to love it!

If you know me well, you know that I don’t care for mayonnaise. But I make this macaroni salad recipe with a mayo-based dressing, and I love it. I considered trying to make a macaroni salad without mayo, but I think this one case where you just have to go for it and use the mayo (I used avocado mayo).

With that being said, this isn’t one of those macaroni salads that is smothered in mayo. It has just enough of the dressing to coat the pasta and flavor the salad. If you like a really creamy macaroni salad, go ahead and make 1 1/2 times the amount of dressing called for in the recipe.

This macaroni salad is an easy side dish and it tastes even better on the second day. You can make it a meal by adding chicken, tuna or chickpeas.

Macaroni salad ingredients in a clear bowl.

Macaroni Salad Ingredients

You’ll find that the ingredients vary slightly between different macaroni salad recipes. Here’s what goes in my macaroni salad:

  • Pasta: I use ditalini pasta in my macaroni salad because that’s what my mom and grandma have always used. Any short pasta will work, such as elbow macaroni.
  • Red Bell Pepper: A chopped red bell pepper adds color, flavor and crunch. Any color of bell pepper will work.
  • Celery: You are going to love the crunch that celery brings to this macaroni salad. Chop the celery up finely because small bites of celery are best here.
  • Red Onion: A little bit of red onion is a nice contrast to the sweetness from the pickles and dressing. Chop the onion up really finely because no one wants big bites of onion in their macaroni salad.
  • Sweet Pickles: Sweet pickles are a classic macaroni salad ingredient. Trust me when I say they go perfectly in this salad. If you really don’t like pickles, you can leave them out.
  • Hard Boiled Eggs: I’ve always make my macaroni salad with egg, just like I do with my potato salad. My favorite way to cook the eggs for this recipe is to make Instant Pot hard boiled eggs.
  • Dressing: My homemade macaroni salad dressing is made with mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. I use just enough mayo to coat the pasta without making the salad overly mayonnaisey. If you like a really creamy macaroni salad, try making 1 1/2 times the dressing recipe.

How to Make Macaroni Salad

The steps to making macaroni salad are:  cook and cool the pasta, make the dressing, and mix all of the ingredients together.

How to cook pasta for pasta salad

You want to flavor the pasta for your salad right from the start. You can do this by cooking the pasta in salted water. Be careful to not under-cook or over-cook the pasta. Cook it until it is al dente, which means it is soft but has a very slight bite to it.

Do you rinse macaroni for macaroni salad? After the pasta is cooked you should transfer it to a colander and rinse it under cold water. The cold water rinse stops the cooking process and begins to cool the pasta. Drain the pasta really well and set it aside to finish cooling.

While the pasta cools you can chop the rest of the ingredients for the salad and make the dressing. Be sure to wait until the pasta is completely cool before combining everything together.

Close up of macaroni salad in a white serving bowl.

How do I keep macaroni from absorbing mayonnaise?

To keep the macaroni from absorbing all of the dressing, you’ll want to drain it well and let it cool completely before mixing in the dressing. Stir the pasta every once in a while as it cools to keep it from clumping together.

To speed up the cooling process, you can spread the pasta out in a 9×13-inch baking dish. It will cool faster when it’s spread out in a thin layer. You can also chill the cooked pasta in your refrigerator to help it to cool completely. Wait until it is mostly cool before putting the pasta in your refrigerator so that you don’t heat up your fridge.

How long does macaroni salad last?

Macaroni salad will last for 3 days when you store it in an airtight container in your refrigerator. It tastes best on the second day so I recommend making it ahead!

For food safety, do not leave macaroni salad out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you are serving it outside on a hot day, I wouldn’t even leave it out for that long. This is true for all salads with mayo-based dressings.

Macaroni salad in a white serving bowl with parsley garnish.

Tips for this macaroni salad recipe

  • Let the pasta cool completely before combining it with the other salad ingredients and dressing. Rinsing the pasta under cold water and then stirring it occasionally as it cools will help to keep the pasta from sticking together.
  • My grandpa would always add a little sweet pickle juice from the jar of sweet pickles to his macaroni salad dressing. It’s really tasty, and if you want to try it I recommend replacing half of the apple cider vinegar with the sweet pickle juice.
  • I like to use avocado mayo for a healthier alternative to regular mayonnaise.
  • Instead of the red onion in this recipe, you can use chopped green onion.
  • Garnish your homemade macaroni salad with chopped fresh parsley or paprika.

More favorite salad recipes:

Classic Macaroni Salad

Macaroni Salad with egg, sweet pickles and a creamy dressing is a tasty side dish that's perfect for summer BBQ's and potlucks. My best macaroni salad recipe is quick and easy to make with just a few simple ingredients.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword best, easy, how to make macaroni salad, macaroni salad, macaroni salad recipe, macaroni salad recipes, pasta salad, summer
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time30 mins
Servings 14 servings
Calories 261kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ditalini pasta or elbow pasta
  • 1 red bell pepper chopped
  • 2 ribs celery finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet pickles
  • 3 hard boiled eggs chopped

Macaroni Salad Dressing

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Optional Garnishes

  • chopped fresh parsley
  • paprika

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Transfer the pasta to a colander, rinse it with cold water and drain well. Set pasta aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad ingredients. Stir the pasta occasionally to prevent it from sticking together.
  • In a large bowl, combine the red bell pepper, celery, onion, pickles and hard boiled eggs.
  • To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, Dijon, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk until well combined and smooth.
  • When the pasta is completely cooled, add it to the bowl with the other pasta salad ingredients. Pour on the dressing and stir until everything is well combined.
  • Cover and chill macaroni salad in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. It will keep for up to 3 days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Notes

  • Macaroni salad tastes best on the second day, so it is a perfect make ahead side dish.
  • To cool the pasta more quickly, you can spread it out in a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 261kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 47mg | Sodium: 242mg | Potassium: 136mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 400IU | Vitamin C: 11.5mg | Calcium: 20mg | Iron: 0.6mg
Nutrition information is an estimate.
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