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.
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.
Ingredients in Classic Macaroni Salad
To make this easy macaroni pasta salad recipe, you’ll need the following easy to find and very common fridge and pantry ingredients including the following:
- Dry elbow macaroni pasta
- Cubed ham, optional but recommended
- Red onion
- Ribs celery
- Green onion
- Fresh dill or fresh parsley, for garnishing
- Sour cream
- Vinegar (white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar)
- Dijon mustard
- Granulated sugar or light brown sugar
- Garlic powder
- Black pepper
Note: All ingredients amounts are listed in the recipe card section when you keep scrolling down.
Cream Macaroni Salad Dressing with Mayonnaise
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!
I also recommend using full fat mayonnaise and not a lite product.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
Making 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.
Step 3: Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and place it into a large bowl.
Step 4: Add all the remaining pasta salad ingredients to the bowl.
Step 5: Pour the dressing over the top and toss well to combine.
Step 6: Make sure to taste the pasta salad and if it needs a teaspoon more of anything, add it.
Step 7: Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to chill before garnishing with extra dill and serving.
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.
Serving Suggestions for Easy 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.
I recommend prepping this easy 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.
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 that will pair well with this classic pasta salad recipe:
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.
The Best Macaroni Salad Tips and FAQs
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1 hour 30 minutes
1 hour 55 minutes
- 1 pound dry elbow macaroni
- 1 cup cubed ham, optional but recommended
- 1/2 cup red onion, diced finely
- 1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 ribs celery, diced finely
- 1/4 cup green onion, diced into thin rings
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill, plus more for garnishing if desired
- Fresh parsley, optional for garnishing
- 1 cup real mayonnaise*
- 1/4 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
- 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.
* 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.
Amount Per Serving:
Calories: 351Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 27mgSodium: 676mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 2gSugar: 7gProtein: 8g
More Easy Pasta Salad Recipes:
The Best Pasta Salad Recipes – There’s something for everyone in this collection of FAST and EASY pasta salad recipes!! Whether you need something to bring to a potluck or picnic, or are in need of a no-fuss weeknight meal the whole family will enjoy, these recipes have you covered!!
Amish Pasta Salad — A family-favorite classic pasta salad recipe with al dente pasta, bell peppers, celery, red onions, and hard-boiled eggs tossed in a creamy tangy-sweet dressing! Perfect for picnics, potlucks, backyard parties, and events! Everyone will go back for a second helping of this comforting side salad!
Dill Pickle Pasta Salad — Calling all pickle fans, you’re going to love this creamy pasta salad with crunchy dill pickles in every bite! Along with cubes of cheese and crumbled bacon, this pasta salad will be the star of your next picnic, potluck, barbecue, or summer holiday! FAST, EASY, and IRRESISTIBLE!
BLT Pasta Salad – EASY, ready in 15 minutes, feeds a crowd, and PERFECT for potlucks and parties!! Creamy ranch dressing perfectly coats the pasta and BACON! Guaranteed family FAVORITE!!
Taco Pasta Salad – Easy, ready in 20 minutes, and loaded with great Mexican-inspired ingredients including corn, black beans, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, and more! Perfect for picnics, parties, and potlucks!
Italian Chicken Pasta Salad – Easy, ready in 20 minutes, and healthy! Bursting with fresh flavors from juicy tomatoes, cucumber, basil, parmesan, and tender chicken tossed in a tangy lemon vinaigrette!
Ravioli Pasta Salad — Crisp-tender zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, and chickpeas over spinach with cheesy ravioli and a dijon vinaigrette! A healthy yet hearty salad that takes advantage of summer!
Club Sandwich Pasta Salad – All your favorite club sandwich ingredients in an EASY pasta salad!! Turkey, bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese with ranch! Ready in 15 minutes and perfect for potlucks, picnics, and parties!!
Skinny Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing — EASY, ready in 30 minutes, feeds a crowd, and is on the SKINNY side!! Juicy chicken, fresh veggies, and the pasta are tossed in a light and tangy homemade Italian lemon vinaigrette!!
Easy Italian Chicken Pasta Salad — EASY, ready in 30 minutes, perfect for a hassle-free family meal, and makes a big batch so you can have planned leftovers!! A super FLEXIBLE recipe based on what vegetables you have on hand!!
Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad — The BEST version of a chicken Caesar salad because there’s tender pasta, too!! EASY, ready in 20 minutes, makes a big batch, and a guaranteed family FAVORITE!!
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!
Mandarin Orange Chicken Pasta Salad – EASY, ready in 30 minutes, and packed with Asian-inspired flavors!! Juicy sesame chicken, pasta, and lots of healthy vegetables!
Chinese Chicken Pasta Salad — Big juicy chicken chunks and texture galore from the rainbow of crispy veggies! Fast, easy, fresh and healthy!! Great for picnics, potlucks, and easy dinners!!