Macaroni Salad

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Classic Macaroni Ham 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!

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.

Macaroni pasta salad is a very flexible recipe but you can mix-and-match ingredients based on what you have on hand and enjoy.

It’s one of those 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.

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

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.

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:

  1. Boil the pasta according to package directions making sure to use salted water.
  2. While the pasta is boiling, mix up the dressing portion of the pasta salad.
  3. Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and place it into a large bowl. Add all the remaining pasta salad ingredients to the bowl.
  4. Pour the dressing over the top and toss well to combine.
  5. 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!

Recipe Variations

This is a super flexible recipe that can be tailored to suit your personal preferences. Here are some ingredients you can add to the macaroni salad with ham:

  • Add up to 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • Add 2 to 3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish to the dressing
  • Add 1/4 cup diced gherkin pickles or sweet pickles to the pasta salad
  • Add two or three 5-ounce cans of well-drained, water-packed, albacore tuna
  • Add 2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped quite finely
  • Add 3/4 to 1 cup cheese (I suggest cubed cheddar cheese or Colby cheese)
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!

Recipe FAQs

Can I use a different pasta shape?

Classic ham macaroni 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.

What’s the Best Mayonnaise for Macaroni Salad Dressing?

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.

Can I Substitute the Mayonnaise?

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 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.

Can Macaroni salad be made in advance?

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.

Storage Instructions

Extra macaroni salad will keep airtight in the fridge for about 4 days. This is not a recipe that I recommend freezing, unfortunately.

What to Serve with Macaroni Ham 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!

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5 from 5 votes

Classic Macaroni Ham 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 you want to get ahead!
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 all work)
  • 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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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.

Recipe Rating




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.