This classic macaroni salad recipe is ultra creamy and tangy. It’s guaranteed to be devoured at all your summer BBQs, parties, and potlucks! It has taken more years than I care to share to create the best macaroni salad, but we’ve nailed it and now we can teach you how to make it!
Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe
Macaroni salad is one of those classic side dishes that most people will just go buy at the deli. And let’s be honest, store-bought macaroni salad just isn’t that good more often than not. But there’s no reason to buy it at the store when creamy macaroni salad is so simple to make at home!
Next time you are invited to a summer BBQ with friends, volunteer to bring this homemade macaroni salad. Make this and thank me later!
So don’t go to the deli for your macaroni salad, just whip up this simple classic macaroni salad recipe!
Homemade Macaroni Salad Ingredients
Here’s what you’ll need to make this simple macaroni salad recipe:
- Macaroni pasta
- Red onion
- Bell peppers
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Granulated sugar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Dijon mustard
Can I Use a Mayonnaise Substitute?
I’ve heard that some folks out there don’t like mayo in their creamy pasta salads. You can partially substitute the mayo, but do not omit it completely. It is what keeps the salad nice and creamy. You can use plain Greek yogurt or sour cream to substitute half of the mayo.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
Let’s break down how to make a simple macaroni salad at home. My girls love making this for our family, if that’s any indication of how easy this recipe is!
- Heat a pot of water over medium high heat and add a teaspoon or two of kosher salt.
- Once the water is boiling, toss in the pasta and cook it PAST al dente.
- Drain the pasta immediately. (You can even run some cold water over it to stop the cooking process.)
- Cool the pasta in the fridge while you finish preparing the veggies and macaroni salad dressing.
- Mix the veggies, cooled pasta, and dressing together in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 hours before serving.
Additional Add-Ins for Macaroni Salad
For our macaroni salad recipe, we like to keep it super simple and include the following add-ins:
- Red onion
- Green bell peppers
- Red bell peppers
However, you can add any number of things depending on what flavors and textures you like. Here are some possibilities:
- Pineapple (adding ham and pineapple gives it a nice Hawaiian flavor)
- Pickles (sweet or dill)
- Cheese (cubed)
- Hard boiled eggs
- Tuna (ewwww, but do what floats your boat!)
- Carrots (shredded)
How to Keep Macaroni Salad From Drying Out
The key to keeping macaroni salad from drying out is the pasta. If you don’t cook it enough, the pasta won’t grab on to the dressing and will dry out. If you overcook the pasta, it will be completely soggy and gross. Cook the pasta just right, and your macaroni salad will stay perfectly creamy.
How Much Macaroni Salad for a Crowd?
It’s always hard to gauge how much macaroni salad to make for big crowd. A good rule of thumb is to go with 1/2 cup per person. That covers for the people who go crazy for it and those who don’t have any.
Can Macaroni Salad Be Prepped in Advance?
Yes, I actually think it tastes the best if you make it the day before and let it refrigerate overnight. It can be made up to two days before. Just be sure to give it a good stir before serving.
How Long Can Macaroni Salad Sit Out?
Macaroni salad is often served at hot summer BBQs, but you need to be careful about how long it sits out. Bacteria starts to grow quite rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Macaroni salad that has been sitting out at room temperature for more than 2 hours should be thrown away.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Last?
Macaroni salad will keep up to 5 days in the fridge in an airtight container.
Can Macaroni Salad Be Frozen?
Any salad that contains mayonnaise should not be frozen. Mayonnaise does not freeze and thaw well. It separates and becomes oily.
What to Serve with Macaroni Salad
This macaroni salad recipe goes with just about everything, but we love it with all our favorite summer dishes:
Then of course you’ll want to serve it along side our grilled corn on the cob and best baked beans with a heaping bowl of homemade berries and cream ice cream for dessert!
Tips for the Best Macaroni Salad
Be sure to generously salt the water you’ll be cooking the macaroni in. The pasta itself needs to have some flavor, otherwise your macaroni salad may taste a little bland.
For the creamiest pasta salad, we recommend using full-fat mayo in this recipe. A lower fat version may be substituted if desired, though.
Feel free to play around with the macaroni salad dressing ingredients to suit your own preferences. We like a sweet-yet-tangy dressing, but add more or less sugar to your liking.
More PASTA SALAD RECIPES:
How to Make Macaroni Salad
- 12 ounces Macaroni Pasta
- 1/4 Red Onion, , minced
- 1/2 Green Bell Pepper, , minced
- 1/2 Red Bell Pepper, , minced
- 1/2 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
- 1 Cups Mayonnaise
- 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard, (or yellow mustard)
- Heat a pot of water over medium high heat with a teaspoon or two of kosher salt.
- Once boiling, add the pasta and cook PAST al dente. See blog post above for tips.
- Drain and completely cool the pasta in the fridge.
- In a bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients, do not scrape the sweetened condensed milk out, just dump it.
- In a large bowl, mix together the veggies and dressing. Add the cooled pasta and toss to coat.
- Set in the fridge for up to 3 hours, covered with plastic wrap. Stir before serving and adding additional seasoning if needed.
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The best!!! My go to recipe for any gathering!!
Yesssssss! Thanks, Laura!
This is not your regular macaroni salad. It is delicious. Loved it!
Yay! Thank you so much Kathy!
Could I warm it up??? It’s delicious tasty and healthy..thank you
Hi Cynthia! I wouldn’t recommend it. When mayonnaise gets warm, it separates and would not be very good.
Is the 12 oz of macaroni dry or cooked?
Is that 12 oz of cooked or uncooked macaroni?
Made this a week ago – followed the recipe to a “T”. At first taste, I thought it was too sweet. The next day, after the flavors had an opportunity to blend together, I was blown away by its deliciousness! Making it again today!
Hi Cathy! Thank you so much for the feedback! I actually love it the second day more too. There’s something about all those flavors melding together over a few hours that takes it over the top!
My family absolutely loved this! Followed the instructions exactly and it was perfect!! Family favorite now!!
Thank you so much!!
Looks so yummy!! What brand are those noodles? They look so long and yummy.
Hi Hilary! I don’t have a clue to be honest! I like DaVinci brand when I can find it, but Kroger brand does the job too!
Lynette M Rasmussen
I like macaroni salad so I was excited to try this recipe. The dressing has a strong taste and over powered the pasta and other ingredients. If I make it again, I will use less dressing. I felt like the pasta was swimming in dressing.
Hi Lynette! The pasta to dressing ratio is crucial! The pasta definitely shouldn’t be swimming in dressing! I’m sorry this didn’t turn out as expected. You can definitely alter it to your liking next time.
I do not know how to cook. I am a beginner. This recipe is the best macaroni salad I’ve ever had! I didn’t use all the dressing, I mixed it in to my taste. I’m so grateful you put this recipe on here! My family is going to love it! I add more red onion, celery, egg only because that’s how I remember it being made as a kid!
Thank you so much Stephanie! So glad you enjoyed it!
Keith L. Alston
After comparing recipes, I am very eager to try this. Never thought about using sweetened condensed milk. Well, we’re going to try it today. I was looking for a change of pace to go with glazed ribs. This might be another go to option. Thanks
Hey Keith! How was it? Sounds like a delicious meal!
So how was it. I’m questioning the whole sweetened condensed milk thing myself, but so intrigued by it that I’m going to try it.
So did you like the condensed milk in the recipe? I’ve never used it before so not quite sure…
Wow!! Thank you for posting this recipe. At first, I was nervous about the sweetened condensed milk but honestly once chilled the flavors all blend wonderfully together! I did, however, substitute regular sugar for Monkfruit sweetener (1:1 ratio) as it does not spike your insulin. Could not tell a difference at all. In fact, I made this for a graduation party I was hosting and everyone LOVED it! Alot of my friends asked for the recipe too. Oh, the best part…all the kiddos loved it too! Thanks again for this yummy recipe ❤
People are always worried about the sweetened condensed milk, but it is exactly what macaroni salad needs!! So glad you enjoyed it! And we love monkfruit sweetener! What a great idea! Thank you for taking time to leave us a comment!
Delicious recipe.. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much!
I’m a 76 year old grandmother who has been cooking for a half century. My secret ingredient for keeping macaroni salad moist without adding extra mayo is finely chopped zucchini. You won’t even know it’s in there. Cut a zucchini in half and chop in a food processor or by hand very fine.
I love that idea! Thanks for the tip!