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How to Make Macaroni Salad [+ Video]

8 Reviews

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!

A wooden bowl on a red and white checkered napkin full of creamy macaroni salad.

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
  • Mayonnaise
  • 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.

A wooden bowl on a red and white checkered napkin full of creamy macaroni salad.

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! 

  1. Heat a pot of water over medium high heat and add a teaspoon or two of kosher salt.
  2. Once the water is boiling, toss in the pasta and cook it PAST al dente.
  3. Drain the pasta immediately. (You can even run some cold water over it to stop the cooking process.)
  4. Cool the pasta in the fridge while you finish preparing the veggies and macaroni salad dressing.
  5. 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:

  • Peas
  • Ham
  • 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!)
  • Celery
  • Bacon
  • Carrots (shredded)

A wooden bowl on a red and white checkered napkin full of creamy macaroni salad.

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.

A close up picture of a creamy macaroni salad recipe.

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!

A wooden bowl with a red and white checkered napkin in the background full of creamy macaroni salad.

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:

A wooden bowl on a red and white checkered napkin full of creamy macaroni salad.

How to Make Macaroni Salad

4 from 8 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Chill Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 10 servings
This classic macaroni salad recipe is ultra creamy and tangy. It's guaranteed to be devoured at all your summer BBQs, parties, and potlucks!

Ingredients

  • 24 ounces Macaroni Pasta
  • 1/2  Red Onion , minced
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper , minced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper , minced
  • 1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 Cups Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard (or yellow mustard)

Instructions

  • 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.
Nutrition Facts
How to Make Macaroni Salad
Amount Per Serving (1 g)
Calories 249 Calories from Fat 162
% Daily Value*
Fat 18g28%
Saturated Fat 3g19%
Polyunsaturated Fat 14g
Cholesterol 13mg4%
Sodium 326mg14%
Carbohydrates 20g7%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 12g13%
Protein 3g6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

A wooden bowl on a red and white checkered napkin full of creamy macaroni salad.

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About the authors

Cheney Family

Cade and Carrian have three children and love to spend time together whether it’s vacationing or snuggled up on the couch for a good movie.

And this family especially loves to eat.

They love everything from the keep you fit and healthy to the get out your sweat pants indulgent and everything in between.

But most of all, they love the memories made, shared and treasured and it’s all thanks to a meal shared together with loved ones.

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4 comments

  • Delicious recipe.. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
    • Thank you so much!

      • Reply
  • 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.

    • Reply
    • I love that idea! Thanks for the tip!

      • Reply

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