Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

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.

macaroni salad in a large white bowl with two serving spoons

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.

Pair this easy Macaroni Salad recipe alongside other picnic favorites like Southern Potato SaladBaked Macaroni and Cheese, and Tuna Pasta Salad.

Macaroni Salad Ingredients

  • 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 eggsWe 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.
macaroni salad ingredients

How to Make the Best Macaroni Salad

Be sure to check the recipe card below for full ingredients & instructions.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
cooked macaroni in a colander
macaroni, peas, celery onions pickle relish in a bowl
macaroni salad with mayo and mustard
macaroni salad in a white bowl with metal spoons

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:

FAQs

How long can Macaroni Salad sit out?

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.

macaroni salad served into a small white bowl

Variations

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.

Storage Instructions

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.

Expert Tips

  • 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.
serving of macaroni salad in a bowl with a fork

More Picnic Friendly Sides

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Best Macaroni Salad

The Best Macaroni Salad is a classic summer side dish with mayo, celery, sweet pickles, onions, peas, hard boiled eggs and a hint of mustard.
Prep Time 12 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Total Time 24 mins
Course Picnic, Potluck, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 390kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni ½ box
  • 4 tablespoons  sweet pickle relish
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 cup frozen peas cooked and cooled
  • 4 hard cooked eggs chopped
  • 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

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.

Nutrition

Calories: 390kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 9gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 643mgPotassium: 181mgFiber: 3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 769IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 33mgIron: 1mg
Keyword macaroni salad

Kristin Maxwell

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.

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Comments

  1. This is such an easy recipe. It reminds me of my Grandma May’s recipe, that I had lost. Love, love this recipe. I’ll be making it more often in the future. Very tasty! Thank you!

  2. I followed the recipe and it was very bland and tasteless. Was very disappointed in it. I can say I’ll won’t be making it again.

  3. I have made this recipe several times, my husband even loves it and he doesn’t normally like macaroni salad , our families all time favorite, I do splash a little apple cider vinegar over the noodles after I rinse them, just something I like to do!
    We have had it with several different add-ins, anyway you make it it is delicious!

  4. My go to Macaroni salad recipe from now on! This was a big hit, very flavorful. Next time I will only use two tsp of sweet relish to cut down on the sweetness, just personal preference though. thanks for this tasty recipe….

  5. For frozen peas, you can also thaw them with running cold water in a colander, drain then add to the salad!
    They give a sweet, crisp crunch to the salad! This is a great recipe!

  6. this is SO delicious, and it never disappoints at family functions. There are never any leftovers, no matter how much we make. The sweet pickle relish really sends it over the top, but we don’t use mustard in ours….not with the sweet pickle relish, but that’s just us.

  7. Would the amount of mayo or mustard need to be changed if I were to add tomatoes, ham cubes and cheese cubes?

    1. Yes, but you could play around and adjust that. If you’re adding more mustard, I would do so just a tiny bit at a time because it can get overpowering really quick.

  8. Hi. You can change up the relish to sandwich spread instead, just a couple of teaspoons should do it. Also add some multi-colored vegetable peppers to your salad. Delicious. Give it a try.

    1. Sorry it should have been multi-colored. Tablet keeps wanting to change words on me. Oh. For us that are allergic to pepper spices add Clubhouse Italian Seasoning with red lid only contains dehydrated vegetable peppers instead. Black lid contains pepper spices. Also for any recipe that asks for paprika, exchange for turmeric instead.

  9. Delicious!! I wasn’t in the mood for a cold pasta salad, but don’t have a ton of fresh veggies or block cheese. I came across this recipe, and I had everything. Sweet relish was something w bought on accident, but it really stands out in this recipe. My new go to!!

  10. Mine turned out fabulous! I splashed the macaroni with a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar while it was in the strainer, it was yummy! Thanks for posting ?

  11. Kristen, I have to make this macaroni salad for approximately 100 people. How much of the ingredients should I use?

  12. Sounds yummy cant wait to try it out. Have been wanting this recipe for a long time! Thanks-pam

  13. Excellent..just excellent. Not overpowering with the mayo. I added a pinch more salt. My family favorite..

  14. This is the BEST pasta/pea salad I have ever made. It is not overpowering with pickle or mustard . We added more black pepper but that is just us. I also used Hellman”s avocado oil mayo. I panicked when I wasn’t finding the recipe again, but I’d shared it and got it again. Making it now. Thank You !!

  15. This is absolutely outstanding – just the way my mother in law used to make it (except for the peas). The family loved this and asked for it again. Thanks for a recipe that’s a keeper!

  16. This was easy to make and tasted great. I normally don’t like most pasta salads. The amounts of each ingredient I used were not exactly what was listed. I was making a larger batch and used more red onion, celery, and peas than would have been proportional. I also added a fair amount of black pepper and a bit more of salt. It was great the next day after a longer refrigeration to bring out all the flavors. I also used Hellman’s Avocado oil mayo.

  17. How do you combine the eggs in with it just smoosh them and mix into the mixture or what? Or is it just what you put ontop?

    1. Yes, the flavor is a little different and you’ll want to make sure to drain them really well first.

  18. Do you have to cook your peas. Can I just get a frozen bag and let them thaw out that way there’d be more crunchy not so ot softer?
    Have you tried it that way without cooking? Thx

  19. Hi do you thaw the frozen peas before putting them into the salad mixture? Wont the peas be to hard if put in frozen?

    1. Prepared mustard is the kind you find in the condiment aisle and put on hot dogs and such. The word “prepared” differentiates it from the ground spice.

  20. Made this salad and it was killer! I was out of eggs so I eliminated them and they weren’t missed at all. I’ll definitely make this one again!

  21. Hi, this sounds delicious and I want to make it for my daughter’s birthday party on Sunday. What type I mustard do you use? Yellow, brown or a grey poupon type?

  22. I definitely have to try this recipe.
    This is kind of embarrassing but I’ve never made macaroni salad before, I personally am not a fan of red onions, do you think it’s okay to substitute it with shallots?

    1. You could definitely replace the onions with shallots, or another type of onion. You could even leave them out altogether if you prefer.

  23. I made this last night. I let it get nice and cold overnight and today while I was working. I came home and had some. It is absolutely amazing. I got a bowl of it. Filled me up like a meal. So delicious! Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe!

  24. Absolutely the Best Macaroni Salad recipe I have ever used! Thank you so much for sharing! I will keep this one and share with my family!

  25. I made this “in a pinch” when I did not have quite enough potato salad and coleslaw for my hubby and his poker pals. They loved it! In fact, the macaroni salad was all gone, while the others went virtually untouched. And they ALL said they loved the peas in it–they really made it special. This will be my go-to macaroni salad from now on! Perfection!

  26. My family loved the Macaroni salad! Can’t wait to try lots of your recipes! They all sound so good! I will be using this site a lot more! Thank you!

  27. Pretty close to the way I make my macaroni salad. The difference is, I like peas, but not in my macaroni salad. I only use green onion in mine and mostly the green part and some of the white part, chopped very fine, very little mustard. I use about half a dozen eggs in mine, sweet pickle relish, salt and pepper and mayonnaise. Sometimes I like tuna fish in my macaroni salad too.

  28. Grew up with this type of salad. Mom added a can of tuna fish…OMG, so good. Never had it with eggs, gonna try that (noodles boiling and eggs are peeled)

  29. forget the peas, add some pimentos or sweet red pepper and a few chopped olives, and use celery heart…add juice of 1 lime, delete salt…. salt mac water instead

  30. Very good recipe. Glad I chose this one. My families Mac salad has tuna and client didn’t want tuna. They loved it!! Keeper!

  31. I tried this today. It tastes great!

    I didn’t have peas so I added corn. And black beans. I used whole wheat shell pasta instead of macaroni. I had a little less pasta. I put in only about half a cup mayo and that was more than enough for the dish. Also our relish was *eww* and I threw it out. So I put a little bit of maple syrup in the dish for sweetener. It was all very good and now I want some more! I think I will add some dill, though. It needs a little bit of a bright flavor. Or chopped baby pickles would be great.

  32. Hello! I am planning to make this tomorrow but I’m wondering if you measure out 2 cups uncooked noodles or 2 cups cooked noodles? And do you think I could use miracle whip and stead of mayonnaise? Thanks in advance for your answers!

    1. It’s 2 cups uncooked…about 4 cups cooked. If you are a fan of Miracle Whip, sure, you could use it. It would definitely make the salad sweeter.

  33. I made this for a family bbq, I ran out of macaroni noodles, so I used Cellentani noodles instead….awsome!

  34. Hi there, Kristin. I am going to try your recipe for BEST EVER CLASSIC MACARONI SALAD this week for a BBQ I am having on Saturday. I look forward to tasting it.

  35. Great salad, a keeper! I only had horseradish mustard, so I used 1/2 tsp of ground mustard and it worked wonderfully! This will be a staple for cookouts.

  36. This is a basic but great side dish tha t is easy to make. It is really good and complements summer meals as a good standby !

  37. Hi kristin. I made the macaroni salad without peas, (i didn’t have any) and its very tasty. My question is, does it call for real mayo, or miracle whip. I think it would be wonderful with real mayo. Thanks. Carol

  38. SO good. The classic you remember. I added black pepper and omitted sweet relish, since that is a little closer to how we made it growing up–delicious!

    I also recommend mixing the mayo & mustard together first, but you can skip that step if you don’t want the extra bowl. I also found that I wanted to add about another teaspoon of mustard for tang, but I bet if you included the relish you wouldn’t need it.

  39. I so agree with you. I am not a fan of peas either but they are a must for Tuna Pasta Salad. I am going to make yours tonight. Can’t wait. Thanks!

      1. I think that only works if you’re using fresh shelled ones, but I’d love to know if you can just defrost frozen peas and get the same effect!

        1. I used the steam bag peas and only cooked them half the time called for, and Immediately dumped and cooled them in a big strainer…. I did not rinse as I didn’t want to get them wet….. mine were perfectly sweet and “pop in your mouth” tender! This recipe was the best I’ve ever had! I even had “Gramma” ask who made it! Had to print this out for her too! I also added black pepper…… ? Enjoy !!!

  40. I made this but added sour cream and scallions instead of onions. I also added some milk so it wouldn’t dry out. It was a big hit!

    1. Yes with the sour cream you’d need to extra milk. With the mayo it won’t dry out but you can always add extra if you need it.

  41. this was the best thing I’ve ever eaten!!!!! I’m usually not fan of macaroni salad but this was amazing!!! thank you so much!!!!

  42. I know it’s still winter, but this weekend of 2/19/2017 was like SPRING! I’m not kidding. Almost 70 degrees and sunshine, not to mention a three-day weekend because of President’s Day. So, we cooked out on Sunday. It was a gorgeous day! I made one of my favorite burgers, Original Ranch Cheeseburgers, topped them with lettuce and tomato, and served this salad to go along with it. I love the simplicity of this salad. It truly is a classic. The only thing I added was freshly ground black pepper to taste. Perfection!

    1. It’s definitely a true classic! How lucky you were to have such gorgeous weather – we’ve just been getting rain here in Southern California!!

  43. Found this recipe on Pintrest. Really good pasta. I’m always looking for a good pasta salad to try and this is on my keeper list. Would not change anything. Thanks!