Macaroni Salad

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Classic Macaroni Salad — This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe

Macaroni salad is easy, fast, and has been a family favorite pasta recipe for decades.

Tender elbow macaroni is tossed in a very creamy tangy mayonnaise and sour cream based dressing.

Along with the al dente cooked pasta, there are a variety of add ins, including bell peppers, red onions, carrots, celery, and I like to add some cubed ham for protein. The various add ins provide a bit of texture and light crunch for a bit of texture diversity in every bite.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Macaroni pasta salad is a very flexible recipe (more on that in the FAQ section below) but you can mix-and-match ingredients based on what you have on hand and enjoy.

It’s one of those true classic pasta salad recipes that I remember being served at almost every graduation party, picnic, potluck, or summer season holiday or event from Memorial Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day weekend festivities.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Macaroni Salad Ingredients

To make this traditional macaroni salad recipe, you’ll need the following easy to find and very common fridge and pantry ingredients including the following:

Pasta Salad

  • Dry elbow macaroni pasta
  • Cubed ham, optional but recommended
  • Red onion
  • Carrots
  • Ribs celery
  • Green onion
  • Fresh dill or fresh parsley, for garnishing
Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Dressing for Macaroni Salad

  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Vinegar (white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar)
  • Dijon mustard
  • Granulated sugar or light brown sugar
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Note: All ingredients amounts are listed in the recipe card section when you keep scrolling down.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

What’s the Best Mayonnaise for Macaroni Salad Dressing?

Classic macaroni salad is known to have a really creamy mayonnaise dressing, and plenty of it.

Hellman’s Mayonnaise actually has a classic recipe for macaroni salad that’s been around forever. You may have even seen it on the back of a jar of mayo years (or decades) ago!

For this reason, I recommend using real mayonnaise like Hellman’s Mayonnaise or Duke’s Real Mayonnaise, and not something like Miracle Whip or another type of “mayo”.

I also recommend using full fat mayonnaise and not a lite product.

Did You Know?

Depending on your geographical location in the United States, Hellman’s Mayonnaise also goes by Best Foods on the West Coast. It’s the same mayo, different name.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

How to Make Macaroni Salad

Making ham and macaroni salad is a cinch with minimal prep time and total time!

Follow these basic and straightforward steps:

Step 1: Boil the pasta according to package directions making sure to use salted water. While the pasta is boiling, mix up the dressing portion of the pasta salad.

Step 2: Stir together all dressing ingredients.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Step 3: Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and place it into a large bowl.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Step 4: Add all the remaining pasta salad ingredients to the bowl.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Step 5: Pour the dressing over the top and toss well to combine.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Step 6: Make sure to taste the pasta salad and if it needs a teaspoon more of anything, add it.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Step 7: Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to chill before garnishing with extra dill and serving.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

How to Make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

You may be wondering what the difference is between classic macaroni salad and Hawaiian macaroni salad? Good question!

It’s a bit debatable on the internet but with Hawaiian macaroni salad, small diced or cubed pineapple tidbits are commonly included, as is the addition of ham, which I also include in my classic version.

It appears that the name ‘Hawaiian macaroni salad’ has more to do with this being a popular side dish in Hawaii rather than an actual variation in the ingredients.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Serving Suggestions for Classic Macaroni Salad

This is the best macaroni salad recipe and is a perfect side dish for casual summer gatherings like a backyard bbq, picnics, and potlucks.

Hello Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, tailgating parties, and more!

If you’re serving this at an event or even as a side dish for family dinner, here are some of my other favorite sides and casual nibbles that will pair well with this classic pasta salad recipe:

  • Bacon Potato Salad – This no mayo Potato Salad with Bacon is ready in just 30 minutes! It’s a vinegar potato salad the whole family will love!
  • German Potato Salad – A classic potato salad made with tender red potatoes, bacon, onions, and a tangy vinegar dressing! This no-mayo potato salad is a family favorite side dish that’s perfect for parties, picnics, and potlucks!
  • Borracho “Drunken” Baked Beans – These “drunken beans” are simmered with a can of BEER and can be made in your SLOW COOKER OR INSTANT POT! The bacon, sausage or chorizo, jalapenos, tomato, onion, garlic, herbs, and beer make these the BEST beans ever! 
  • Bourbon Maple Slow Cooker Baked Beans — The BEST baked beans ever! The flavors of bourbon, maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, and BBQ sauce intensify and concentrate over time, and the resulting beans have incredible depth of flavor. Sweet with a bit of heat, robust yet smooth, and extremely satisfying!
  • Grilled Corn and Avocado Salad – An EASY and HEALTHY salad that’s ready in 10 minutes and you won’t be able to stop eating it! Juicy corn, creamy avocado, cilantro, and fresh lime juice is a FIESTA in your mouth!
  • Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad – An EASY corn salad with black beans, zucchini, red onions, cilantro, lime juice, and more!
Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Make-Ahead Instructions

I recommend prepping this creamy elbow macaroni salad at least 1 to 2 hours in advance and chilling it well in the fridge before serving it.

You can make it ahead of time, up to about 24 hours in advance, and leave it chilling until you’re ready to serve it.

Storing Leftover Classic Macaroni Salad

Extra macaroni salad will keep airtight in the fridge for about 4 days.

This is not a recipe that I recommend freezing, unfortunately.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Tips for Making Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad is a very flexible recipe

If you have a red bell pepper, orange or yellow bell peppers on hand rather than green, use it instead.

Frozen peas (1/2 cup) are also tasty and common in macaroni salad.

Another common add in is sweet pickle relish in the dressing (2 to 3 tablespoons), diced gherkin pickles or sweet pickles in the pasta salad portion (1/4 cup or as desired), or a couple tablespoons sweet pickle juice. Speaking of pickles, if you’re a pickle person, make sure to try this fantastic Dill Pickle Pasta Salad.

Tuna macaroni salad is also a popular variation. If you want to add tuna to create tuna pasta salad, I suggest adding two or three 5-ounce cans of well-drained, water-packed, albacore tuna along with all the other ingredients.

Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

The dressing will be absorbed as the macaroni salad chills

One thing that pasta is known for is absorbing any type of liquid or sauce in its presence as it sits. Ever wonder why your Chicken Noodle Soup leftovers seem to have less broth after it sits in the fridge? Because the noodles keep soaking up the broth.

In this case, the macaroni noodles will continue to absorb the creamy mayo dressing. This is why I don’t recommend cutting back on the mayo or sour cream until you make the recipe at least once, as written.

Macaroni Salad FAQs

is it possible to use another pasta shape?

Classic macaroni pasta salad is of course made with elbow macaroni. However, other small shaped pasta such as rotini, ziti, ditali, bowtie, wheels, or small shells will all work fine.

Can I add cheese to Macaroni salad?

By all means, if you are a cheese fan like I am, some small cubed or diced cheddar cheese or Colby cheese would be a great addition. Add about 3/4 to 1 cup, see how it looks, and decide if you think it needs more.Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

Are hard boiled eggs found in classic macaroni salad?

It seems that some people add hard boiled eggs to their classic macaroni salad with mayo, and others omit them. I did not use them in my recipe today.

However, if you’d like to add hard boiled eggs, go for it. I suggest 2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped quite finely.

Also, if you’re a pasta salad + hard boiled eggs fan, you need to try my Amish Pasta Salad recipe. It’s creamy and will be right up your alley.

The dressing will absorb as the macaroni salad chills!

One thing that pasta is known for is absorbing any type of liquid or sauce in its presence as it sits. Ever wonder why your Chicken Noodle Soup leftovers seem to have less broth after it sits in the fridge? Because the noodles keep soaking up the broth.

In this case, the macaroni noodles will continue to absorb the creamy mayo dressing. This is why I don’t recommend cutting back on the mayo or sour cream until you make the recipe at least once, as written. Classic Macaroni Salad - This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if you want to get ahead and serve it at your next casual get together, backyard barbecue, picnic, potluck, or weeknight family dinner! Everyone always wants seconds!

What if I don’t like mayo?

If you don’t like mayo, I hate to say it but this may not be the pasta salad recipe for you. Macaroni salad with mayonnaise dressing is simply the way this classic pasta salad recipe is made.

However, if you don’t want it quite as creamy and prefer a dryer macaroni salad, you can reduce the mayo and/or the sour cream by 1/4 cup each.

Do i have to use sour cream in the macaroni salad dressing?

I like to add a bit of sour cream to the dressing to add a slightly different flavor than mayo provides, however if you want to reduce the sour cream to 1/4 cup rather than 1/2 cup, that should be okay.

I don’t know if I would skip it entirely because your pasta salad could wind up overly dry – see two questions above about the dressing absorbing.

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5 from 4 votes

Classic Macaroni Salad

By Averie Sunshine
This fast and easy pasta salad recipe with tender elbow macaroni, bell peppers, carrots, celery, ham, and a super creamy dressing is a family FAVORITE! You can make it up to a day in advance if desired.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chill Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Servings: 8
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Ingredients  

Pasta Salad

  • 1 pound dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup cubed ham, optional but recommended
  • ½ cup red onion, diced finely
  • ½ cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 ribs celery, diced finely
  • ¼ cup green onion, diced into thin rings
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, plus more for garnishing if desired
  • Fresh parsley, optional for garnishing

Dressing

  • 1 cup real mayonnaise*
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar or light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste if desired
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste if desired

Instructions 

  • Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted water to al dente. When finished, drain, and rinse under cold water. While the pasta is boiling, mix up the dressing.
  • Dressing – To a large bowl, add all the dressing ingredients, whisk to combine; set aside.
  • Pasta Salad – Place drained and rinsed pasta in a large mixing bowl, add all the other pasta salad ingredients, pour the dressing over it, and toss very well to combine.
  • Taste and make any necessary flavor adjustments such as additional salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc.
  • Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or a lid, and place in the fridge to chill for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving. Tips – I don't recommend reducing the quantity of mayo or sour cream in the recipe because even though the pasta salad will look pretty saucy and 'juicy', lots of it will absorb into the pasta as it sits in the fridge and chills.
  • Before serving, stir the pasta salad well, and if desired garnish with dill and/or parsley, to taste. Pasta salad can be made up to 24 hours in advance. It will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 4 to 5 days. I don't recommend freezing this recipe.

Notes

* I recommend using real mayonnaise like Hellman’s Mayonnaise or Duke’s Real Mayonnaise, and not something like Miracle Whip or another type of “mayo”. I recommend using full-fat mayo and nothing labeled as lite or reduced fat for best results.
Note that in the western part of the United States, Hellman's Mayonnaise goes by Best Foods Mayonnaise – it is the same product, just with different names.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 351kcal, Carbohydrates: 27g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 24g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 18g, Cholesterol: 27mg, Sodium: 676mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 7g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Mediterranean Lemon Chicken Pasta Salad - This chicken pasta salad is loaded with flavor, ready in minutes, and showcases Mediterranean-inspired ingredients! It’s perfect for summer potlucks and barbecues (no mayo!) and feeds a crowd. Or make it as an EASY family dinner with planned leftovers!

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A white bowl filled with Mandarin Orange Chicken Pasta Salad

About the Author

Welcome to AverieCooks! Here you’ll find fast and easy recipes that taste amazing and are geared for real life. Nothing fussy or complicated, just awesome tasting dishes everyone loves!

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Please note: I have only made the recipe as written, and cannot give advice or predict what will happen if you change something. If you have a question regarding changing, altering, or making substitutions to the recipe, please check out the FAQ page for more info.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This dressing is super!! My macaroni absorbed quite a bit of it while chilling, though, and I was hoping for more dressing, so I might increase the dressing next time. I halved this recipe for a weeknight supper with some baked chicken legs and it was delicious. My kids were hesitant to try some but they eventually warmed up to it. I also didn’t have dill or parsley and it was fine, and I have to avoid fresh onions, so I used onion powder, but it was still really good. Thank you!

  2. 5 stars
    This dressing is super!! My macaroni absorbed quite a bit of it while chilling, though, and I was hoping for more dressing, so I might increase the dressing next time. I halved this recipe for a weeknight supper with some baked chicken legs and it was delicious. My kids were hesitant to try some but they eventually warmed up to it. I also didn’t have dill or parsley and it was fine, and I have to avoid fresh onions, so I used onion powder, but it was still really good. Thank you!

    1. I am glad it worked out well for you. The amount of dressing absorbed can be related to the pasta – some brands absorb more than others or exactly how long you cooked it, and so forth. You can always 1.5x the dressing portion of the recipe for next time as you said.