Macaroni Salad is a classic pasta salad with mayo, celery, pickle relish, onions, peas, hard boiled eggs, and just a hint of mustard. This Best Macaroni Salad recipe is the perfect side dish for summer and always a hit at parties, BBQs, and picnics.
I’ve learned over the years that sometimes you just don’t mess with a classic. And that’s what this recipe is – a simple, classic Macaroni Salad. It’s been in our family for 50 years and we haven’t changed a thing.
It’s super easy to make and so delicious with tender pasta, vegetables, eggs, and sweet pickles, tossed with a simple, creamy mayo-based macaroni salad dressing. It has the perfect amount of seasoning and just enough mayo to keep it moist without being overwhelming.
Elbow macaroni – We swear by Creamette brand. Make sure to grab the regular size and not the large elbows. Small shells or the tiny ditalini work too.
Sweet pickle relish – make sure you get the sweet kind and not dill. Although dill pickles would be a fine addition, we prefer the little bit of sweetness.
Celery – because you gotta have some crunch!
Onion – just a little and diced really fine.
Peas – Ok, this is where things get a little dicey. Not everyone likes peas, myself included, but they really pop (pun intended!) in this pasta salad.
Mayonnaise – This mac salad is mayo-based, but it’s not so heavy with the stuff that it’s all you can taste. It’s what makes this salad so creamy and delicious.
Mustard – for a little bit of tang. I use regular yellow mustard (it’s a classic) or dijon mustard.
Hard boiled eggs – We always have hard boiled eggs in our fridge because my husband eats them almost every day. Make them yourself using that easy recipe or buy a package at the store.
How to Make the Best Macaroni Salad
Get a detailed list of ingredients & instructions in the recipe card below.
Cook the pasta, and cook it right. Boil macaroni in a large pot of salted water, following the directions on the package. Drain and rinse in a colander with cold water and cool to at least room temperature, or chill in the fridge. *Note: For cold pasta salads, you want to always rinse your pasta. Not only does this cool it off and stop the cooking process, it helps to rinse the extra starches and keeps the noodles from sticking together.
Toss the veggies and eggs. While the pasta is cooking toss together the chopped celery, diced onion, pickle relish, peas, and chopped hard boiled eggs in a large bowl. Once the macaroni is cool, stir that in too.
Add the dressing. Using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, stir in mayonnaise and mustard. The recipe calls for 1 cup of mayo, but you may need more or want to use less, depending on your personal preference. Season with salt to taste.
What Goes with Macaroni Salad?
This classic pasta salad is often served with grilled meats, fried chicken, or fish and is a backyard barbecue staple. These recipes would pair fabulously:
Because of the mayonnaise in this recipe, it is best kept refrigerated. It can be left out for up to two hours in the shade before it would need to be discarded or refrigerated. If left out in the sun, it will spoil faster.
Do I have to add peas?
You do not have to add the peas to this salad. They do add a nice texture, but you can customize with other vegetables, like bell peppers, tomatoes, or olives.
Should you rinse pasta for pasta salad?
Yes, because as pasta cooks, it releases starch into the water. Some of that starch clings to the pasta, and makes it stick together after it’s been drained. Rinses the macaroni rinses away a lot of the excess starch so it won’t stick together. Cold water also helps to stop the cooking process so it won’t get mushy.
You can customize your salad any way you like. These are some of the more popular mix-ins and swaps.
Bell pepper – Add some color and crunch with chopped red bell pepper or salty black olives.
Onions – Depending on your preferences, you can use white onion, red onion, or even green onion. There are slight flavor differences but the goal is to add flavor and a slight bite.
The dressing – This is a family recipe that we have not changed in 50 years. Until now when I added a small bit of mustard. You can omit the mustard if you prefer, or add more. For a lower-calorie dressing, swap half of the mayo for light sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.
Seasonings – We just use salt and sometimes a little pepper, but you could add celery salt or some garlic or onion powder.
Pickle juice or vinegar – For a more tangy dressing, add a couple tablespoons of pickle juice or red wine vinegar.
Proteins – You can make this pasta salad into a main dish by adding things like canned tuna, ham, chicken, or turkey.
Fresh herbs – While it’s not super common to include herbs in this kind of salad, a little fresh parsley, dill or chives would brighten things up.
How to Store Leftovers: Store salad in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days. If the salad seems dry, add a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise to moisten it before serving.
Rinse the pasta – Make sure to rinse the pasta after draining it. You want your macaroni to be al dente and not get mushy. Plus it helps keep your noodles from sticking together.
Don’t like mayonnaise? Instead of mayo you could use sour cream or Greek yogurt. It definitely won’t have the same taste or texture but it’s close enough to still taste good.
Cook macaroni following directions on the package. Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. Cool to at least room temperature, or in the fridge.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine celery, onion, relish, eggs and peas.
Stir in cooked macaroni.
Stir in mustard and mayonnaise and blend thoroughly. Taste and add salt as desired.
Store in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days. If salad seems dry, add a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise to moisten.
How to Store Leftovers: Store macaroni salad in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days. If the salad seems dry, add a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise to moisten it before serving.
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Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.