World’s Best Macaroni Salad

The best Macaroni Salad recipe, in my opinion, is simple but well-seasoned (never bland) with a perfectly creamy dressing and just the right ratio of crunchy ingredients to soft macaroni noodles. It should be moist and not dry out, but shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve got a mouthful of mayo, either.

I’ve given this a lot of thought (and have given this easy recipe a lot of testing!) to ensure you have a perfect macaroni salad at your next BBQ (or whenever you need a quick side dish).

Whether you’re a fan of traditional macaroni salad or looking to try something new, this recipe is a must-try. Plus, it’s easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time, making it a perfect addition to any potluck or party. (If you’re looking for more summery picnic salad recipes, be sure to make one of these israeli couscous recipes and this amazing potato salad with egg, too.)

Creamy, tangy, and loaded with crunchy veggies, this classic macaroni salad is sure your new favorite homemade recipe!

  • It’s the perfect side dish for any occasion! Whether it’s a backyard BBQ, a potluck, or a picnic in the park, this macaroni salad is always a crowd-pleaser.
  • The dressing is creamy, tangy, and full of flavor! With a mixture of mayonnaise, grated onion, and rice vinegar, it’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
  • The veggies add a refreshing crunch. With finely chopped celery and grated carrot, this macaroni salad is not only delicious but also healthy and satisfying.
  • It’s so easy to make. With just a few simple ingredients, you can whip up this macaroni salad in no time. Plus, it can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • It’s versatile. You can easily customize this recipe to suit your taste preferences. Add in some microwave boiled egg, diced ham, bacon bits, or even some chopped pickles for an extra burst of flavor.

Gather the Ingredients to make the Best Macaroni Salad Ever

To make the Best Macaroni Salad, you’ll need a few simple ingredients that come together to create a classic, crowd-pleasing side dish.

  • Macaroni noodles: Elbow macaroni noodles specifically. We aren’t making a choose-any-shape pasta salad here. Something about the macaroni shape is just non-negotiable for a classic macaroni salad. It holds the dressing perfectly and has such a satisfying squish. These form the base of the salad, providing a satisfyingly chewy texture and a neutral backdrop for the other flavors to shine.
  • Salt: Used to flavor the pasta water, which helps to season the macaroni and ensure the salad isn’t bland. It’s important for both the macaroni salad dressing and the pasta cooking water.
  • Mayonnaise: The creamy dressing that coats the macaroni and brings all the ingredients together. Use a good-quality mayo for the best results.
  • Grated onion: Adds a punch of savory flavor to the dressing, without being too overpowering. Grating it and whisking it into the sauce makes for perfect onion flavour distribution
  • Rice vinegar: The tangy, slightly sweet vinegar used to balance out the richness of the mayo and add a bright note to the dressing. I love rice vinegar for this because it is flavourful but not as acidic as other vinegars. Feel free to substitute, though.
  • Celery: Provides a refreshing crunch and a mild, vegetal flavor that complements the other ingredients.
  • Carrot: Adds a touch of sweetness and color to the salad, as well as some extra nutrients.
  • Black pepper: A simple seasoning that adds a bit of spice and depth to the salad, without overwhelming the other flavors.

Beyond these main components, the add-ins come down to personal preference. I love some grated carrot, as a Hawaiian macaroni salad (a.k.a. “Mac Salad”) includes, but also some celery, like the one from my childhood.

Feel free to add finely-chopped sweet pickles, dill pickles, red bell peppers, red onion, cheddar cheese, garlic powder or minced garlic, minced fresh parsley or other fresh herbs, boiled eggs, bacon or whatever you fancy, just keep the proportions about the same as the add-ins mentioned in the ingredient list.

To make a lighter version with more protein, you could substitute up to half of the mayo with greek yogurt.

How to make the Best Macaroni Salad: Step-by-Step Directions for Preparing the Recipe

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare the Best Macaroni Salad recipe, including instructions fpr prepping the macaroni, making the dressing, and assembling the dish.

Prep the Macaroni:

  • Fill a large pot with 3 litres/quarts water plus 2 tbsp kosher salt and bring to a boil.
  • Add macaroni and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes or according to package directions.
  • Strain into a colander and run cold water overtop until cool.
  • Let drain a few minutes to get rid of any water.

Make the Macaroni Salad Dressing:

  • Stir together 1 cup of the mayonnaise, grated onion, and vinegar to make the dressing.

Assemble the Salad:

  • Add fully-drained macaroni to a large bowl. Pour dressing over macaroni.
  • Add carrot and celery; stir to fully combine.
  • Taste and add more salt if needed.
  • Sprinkle black pepper on top.
  • Serve immediately or chill for up to 3 days. If making it ahead, add more mayo just before serving, ¼ cup at a time, to return the macaroni salad to the perfect creaminess.

Make Ahead and Storage Instructions

If you can resist devouring the entire bowl of this delicious macaroni salad in one sitting, I’ve got you covered with these tips for making it ahead and storing it for later. Here are my top tips for keeping your salad fresh and tasty:

  • Refrigerate promptly: As soon as you’re done serving, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate promptly.
  • Add more mayo before serving: If the macaroni salad seems a little dry after chilling, stir in a bit more mayo just before serving to bring it back to its creamy goodness.
  • How long can it be left out at a picnic? Don’t leave any salads (especially mayo-based salads) unrefrigerated for more than 4 hours for food safety.
  • Eat within 3 days: While this salad keeps well in the fridge, it’s best to consume it within 3 days to maintain optimal freshness and flavor.

FAQs

Do you put egg in macaroni Salad?

Yes, some recipes for macaroni salad include hard-boiled eggs as an ingredient. However, it is not a necessary ingredient, and some people choose to omit it.

How Do I Make a Macaroni Salad That Doesn’t Dry?

The key is to adjust the amount of mayo depending on when you will be serving it. A range for mayonnaise is given in the recipe because the macaroni continues to absorb moisture as it sits. 1 cup of mayo is perfect if serving right away. More needs to be added if you’re making it ahead, even by an hour. Just before serving, stir in another 1/4 cup of mayonnaise. If it still looks drier than you like, go ahead and add another 1/4 cup.

What’s the difference between macaroni salad and pasta salad?

Macaroni salad is a specific type of pasta salad that typically includes cooked macaroni noodles, a creamy dressing, and various mix-ins like vegetables and seasonings. Pasta salad, on the other hand, is a broader category of cold pasta dishes that can include a variety of pasta shapes, dressings (creamy, vinaigrette, or oil-based), and mix-ins (such as meats, cheeses, vegetables, and herbs). While macaroni salad is a specific type of pasta salad, pasta salad can refer to many different types of pasta-based dishes that are served cold.

Don’t Make these 4 Macaroni Salad Mistakes

The reason sometimes homemade macaroni salads are sometimes bland is because of one of things:

1. Not enough salt was used in the boiling water. The salt in the water should be treated as an actual ingredient in this recipe. Making sure the water is salty enough ensures the macaroni is seasoned through (even after rinsing in cold water) and the salad will not be bland.

2. The noodles weren’t sufficiently drained. Let the macaroni drain completely in a colander to ensure the sauce isn’t diluted with water.

3. Finally, maybe it goes without saying but in case you’re a freestyle cook like so many are: don’t use too much macaroni. It’s tempting to throw in the whole 1-lb box, but it expands significantly and for the right ratio of sauce to noodles, use the 8 oz indicated.

4. The salad was not served right away and dried out. See above tip for making a macaroni salad that doesn’t dry!

If you want to fix a macaroni salad after making one of these mistakes, add pinches of salt to taste. For more flavor beyond the classic, you could add a spoonful or couple teaspoons of dijon mustard to the dressing or swap pickle juice for the vinegar.

How to Serve It

  • Serve your Best Macaroni Salad as a side dish with your favorite grilled meats or fish.
  • Pair it with a sandwich for a tasty and satisfying lunch.
  • Add some protein, like diced ham or cooked shrimp, to turn it into a complete meal.
  • Use it as a topping for a bed of greens for a lighter option.
  • Bring it to a potluck or picnic and watch it disappear!
  • Serve it alongside some fresh fruit for a refreshing summer meal.
  • Enjoy it as a midnight snack, straight out of the fridge (we won’t tell!).

More Favourite Summer Salad Recipes

The best macaroni salad recipe, is simple and well-seasoned with a perfectly creamy dressing and just the right ratio of crunchy ingredients to soft macaroni noodles

World’s Best Macaroni Salad – A Perfectly Creamy and Delicious Classic Recipe

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings 8 as a side dish
Dinner
American
Keyword Macaroni Salad, Macaroni Salad with Mayonnaise

Ingredients
 
 

  • 8 oz uncooked macaroni noodles
  • Salt see notes
  • 1 to 1½ cups mayonnaise divided use – see notes
  • ¼ cup grated onion
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar see notes on substitutions
  • ½ cup celery finely chopped
  • ½ cup carrot peeled and grated
  • ground black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Fill a large pot with 3 litres/quarts water plus 2 tbsp kosher salt and bring to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes or according to package directions.  Strain into a colander and run cold water overtop until cool. Let drain a few minutes to get rid of any water.
  • Stir together 1 cup of the mayonnaise, grated onion and vinegar to make the dressing.
  • Add fully-drained macaroni to a large bowl. Pour dressing over macaroni. Add carrot and celery; stir to fully combine. Taste and add more salt if needed. Sprinkle black pepper on top.
  • Serve immediately or chill for up to 3 days. If making it ahead, add more mayo just before serving, ¼ cup at a time, to return the macaroni salad to the perfect creaminess.

Video

Notes

1. The salt in the water should be treated as an actual ingredient in this recipe. Making sure the water is salty enough ensures a tasty macaroni salad.
2. The range for mayonnaise is because the macaroni continues to absorb moisture as it sits. For a perfectly-dressed, moist macaroni salad, 1 cup is perfect if serving right away. More needs to be added if you’re making it ahead, even by an hour.
3. You may substitute white wine vinegar, white vinegar, lemon juice, or even sweet pickle juice, but reduce the amount to 2 tablespoons and add the 3rd tablespoon to taste. Rice vinegar has lower acidity so it’ll be more acidic if you substitute the same amount (but maybe you like it more tangy! Add more as desired). I don’t recommend apple cider vinegar, which has a distinct strong flavour.
Macaroni salad can be made then covered and chilled in the fridge for 3 days before serving. Don’t leave it unrefrigerated for more than 4 hours for food safety.

Nutrition

Calories: 402kcalCarbohydrates: 23gProtein: 4gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 19gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 18mgSodium: 283mgPotassium: 122mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 1412IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 16mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Macaroni Salad, Macaroni Salad with Mayonnaise

Last Updated on November 9, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

5 3 votes
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Katherine
9 months ago

5 stars
This really is the perfect classic macaroni salad!

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