Creamy, tangy, and a little sweet, this macaroni salad is the cold side dish your cookout/potluck needs this summer! It’s a great base recipe to tweak until it’s just right for you and your tastes!
This is one of my Cookout recipes I know you’ll want to keep on hand!
Macaroni salads are such an iconic summer food… in fact, at just about every cookout this summer, you’ll probably see a bowl of some kind of pasta salad.
Everyone loves them, and they’re the ultimate thing to BRING to a cookout, because you can make them up ahead of time.
That being said, some macaroni salads are… well… pretty boring! A handful of vegetables, mushy/flavorless pasta, and some dressing that tastes like plain mayonnaise… sound familiar?
But not this recipe! I’ve called this a classic macaroni salad, and while I consider it a great base recipe, there’s nothing basic about it when it comes to flavor.
The pasta is perfectly cooked, the dressing is creamy and tangy, with just the right sweetness level, and there’s plenty of crunch and texture.
Your cookout or summer potluck deserves to have a big bowl of this!
How to make macaroni salad?
This is just an overview; the full ingredients and directions are in the recipe card toward the bottom of this post.
- Boil pasta. For this recipe, al dente is what you’re looking for. Drain and rinse.
- Make dressing. No fancy tools needed, just a whisk or a fork/spoon.
- Combine. Combine the pasta, add-ins, and dressing. Cover and chill.
For this recipe only real mayonnaise will do. Miracle Whip and other spreads have other additives and flavors and just won’t taste right in this salad. For maximum creaminess, I highly recommend using full-fat mayo. Hellmann’s, Best Foods, and Dukes are the mayo brands I regularly use.
Variations of this recipe
- Other pasta – while elbow macaroni pasta is the traditional pasta used, you can make this salad with just about any short-cut of pasta (such as farfalle, rotini, etc).
- Pickles – if you don’t like sweet pickles, you can substitute them for baby dill pickles, and use the dill pickle juice in the dressing.
- Sour cream – feel free to add some sour cream to the dressing if you prefer the tang. I would do 1 1/3 cups mayonnaise, and 2/3 cup sour cream, but the proportions are up to you.
- Thinner dressing – if you’d prefer a thinner dressing, add up to 1/2 cup of whole milk.
- Veggies/stir-ins – any color bell pepper can be used, or you could try a diced jalapeño or poblano pepper. Feel free to play around with adding other veggies or even diced protein, such as ham.
It may seem wrong, since for a hot pasta dish you never want to rinse the cooked pasta. But because this recipe is a cold salad, you want to cool down the pasta, and stop the cooking process, and the best way to do that is to rinse it.
Since this recipe contains mayo and/or other dairy, for food safety reasons, once it’s been out for 2 hours, you should toss it. When properly refrigerated and kept in an airtight container, it should last about 3-4 days.
Making macaroni salad ahead of time
Macaroni salad is an amazing potluck recipe because it’s actually supposed to be made ahead of time!
Once you mix it all together, it’s best to refrigerate it for at least 1-2 hours, but honestly, if you can make it a day ahead of time, it will have the best flavor and texture.
Before serving, give it a stir to redistribute the dressing.
Leftover macaroni salad should be refrigerated in an airtight container and consumed within 3-4 days.
I love these mixing bowls for two main reasons: the non-slip bottoms make mixing easier, and the airtight lids mean you don’t have to transfer the contents to another container to refrigerate!
Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @the_chunky_chef on Facebook and Instagram!
- 1 lb. dried elbow macaroni
- 1 cup diced red bell pepper from approximately 1 pepper
- 1/2 cup diced celery from approximately 2 stalks
- 1/2 cup diced sweet pickles or gherkins
- 3 large hard-boiled eggs diced
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- 2 cups mayonnaise full fat is recommended
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp sweet pickle juice from the jar
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add some salt (amount not included in the recipe – it's up to you).
- Add dried pasta to boiling water, following package directions for al dente.
- Drain, then rinse well with cold water. Let pasta sit in the colander to continue draining.
- In a large mixing bowl, add dressing ingredients, then whisk or stir well to combine.
- In the same mixing bowl, add cooled and drained pasta, bell pepper, celery, pickles, eggs, and onion. Stir well to get everything well combined.
- Cover mixing bowl tightly, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours, 2+ is best though.
- Before serving, stir salad to redistribute the dressing, then serve cold.
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- I’ve estimated this recipe serves 8, but feel free to divide it into as many servings as you’d like.
The Chunky Chef is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.