Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep/Total Time: 30 min.
You'll swear off the stuff from the deli case after making this macaroni salad recipe. It's a light, creamy version of the picnic classic.

Updated: Jul. 19, 2024

This macaroni salad recipe is a must-have family favorite. Everyone has expectations for how macaroni salad should look and taste, and with a dressing that’s tangy and slightly sweet, this recipe hits all the right notes. Bring this cold salad to cookouts, picnics and other get-togethers. It’s also a delicious late-night snack.

For the best flavor, choose fresh ingredients and good-quality mayonnaise. Follow our tips below to cook the macaroni to the perfect level of doneness, too.

Ingredients for Macaroni Salad

  • Elbow macaroni: The curved shape and hollow center of this noodle hold onto the dressing. The recipe calls for two cups of dry elbow noodles, about eight ounces or half of a one-pound box.
  • Fat-free mayonnaise: Use a fat-free mayo for a lighter salad. If you prefer, use regular mayonnaise or one made with olive oil or avocado.
  • Sweet pickle relish: You only need two tablespoons of this sweet-tangy relish. It gives this salad better-than-the-deli flavor.
  • Sugar: Macaroni salad has a light sweetness thanks in part to a pinch of sugar stirred into the dressing.
  • Chopped vegetables: Our recipe includes chopped celery, carrot and onion for crunch and savory flavor.
  • Hard-boiled egg: Cook and chop a hard-boiled egg to sprinkle over the salad just before serving.
  • Seasonings: The sweet flavor of macaroni salad is kept in check by a blend of salt, pepper and ground mustard. A dash of paprika is the finishing touch on top.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the macaroni

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and follow the package directions to cook the pasta. Two to three minutes before the end of the cooking time, test a piece of macaroni—it should be al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately begin rinsing it in cold water—continue rinsing until the macaroni is cool to the touch. Drain well and pour the cooled pasta into a large bowl.

Step 2: Make the dressing

In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, sweet relish, sugar, ground mustard, salt and pepper.

Editor’s Tip: If you like cold salads extra saucy, make a double batch of dressing.

Step 3: Assemble the salad

Add the chopped celery, carrot and onion to the macaroni and stir together. Then, add in the dressing. Stir the salad with a large spoon to thoroughly coat the macaroni and vegetables with the dressing.

Step 4: Garnish and serve

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl. Sprinkle chopped hard-boiled egg over the top, followed by a generous sprinkle of paprika. You can serve the salad right away or cover and refrigerate it to serve later.

Recipe Variations

  • Try other pasta shapes: While elbow macaroni is traditional, other small pasta shapes work well. Try rotini, small shells, ditalini, bow ties (farfalle) or mini penne.
  • Put eggs in the salad: Instead of using one egg to garnish, hard-boil and chop four or five eggs, then stir them into the salad.
  • Add more veggies: Sub in diced red or green pepper, diced cucumbers, tiny broccoli florets or halved cherry tomatoes.
  • Cut back the sugar: The sugar in this recipe can be reduced or omitted; the mayonnaise will still be light and sweet.
  • Kick up the heat: Stir spicy brown or Dijon mustard into the salad. Add a sprinkle of cayenne pepper to the dressing. Instead of regular paprika, use hot Hungarian paprika.
  • Use yogurt or sour cream: Add tang to the dressing by replacing half of the mayonnaise with plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.

How long does macaroni salad last?

Leftover macaroni salad will have the best texture and flavor when enjoyed within three to five days. Store the salad in a sealed container or tightly covered bowl in the refrigerator.

Can you make macaroni salad ahead of time?

Yes! This is a delicious make-ahead potluck dish—you can fully cook and assemble our easy macaroni salad in advance. Store the prepared salad in the fridge in a tightly covered bowl or container, and stir well before serving.

For a fresher-tasting salad, prepare the ingredients in advance, then wait to mix them until the day of the picnic or potluck. Dice the veggies and keep them refrigerated in a sealed container up to one week ahead of time. The pasta can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated for up to five days. The same goes for the hard-boiled egg, whether peeled or in the shell.

Should you rinse macaroni in cold water?

Yes, this is an important step for cold pasta salads for a couple of reasons. First, rinsing macaroni in cold water stops the cooking process, so the noodles keep their al dente firmness and don’t become mushy. When rinsed in cold water, the macaroni cools down to the perfect temperature to add the mayonnaise-based sauce. Rinsing also helps remove excess starch from the macaroni so that the dressing smoothly coats the pasta without the texture turning sticky.

How can you avoid dry macaroni salad?

When made ahead of time or when leftovers are stored, it’s natural for the pasta to absorb some of the moisture. This can make the macaroni salad seem dry. To fix it, just stir a little extra mayonnaise into the salad before serving. You can also add a splash of dill or sweet pickle juice to moisten the salad and add flavor.

What can you serve with macaroni salad?

This salad is a classic side dish for everything from burgers to hot dogs to grilled sausages. Macaroni salad is also an easy dish to make as a contribution to potlucks and community suppers, or for an old-fashioned luncheon party.

For summer dinners at home, serve macaroni salad alongside fried chicken or sloppy joes. This cold side is tasty with cold cuts and sandwiches, too.

Watch how to Make Classic Macaroni Salad

Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

Prep Time 30 min
Yield 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup fat-free mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 hard-boiled large egg, chopped
  • Dash paprika

Directions

  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water. Cool completely.
  2. For dressing, in a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, pickle relish, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine the macaroni, celery, carrot and onion. Add dressing and toss gently to coat.
  3. Refrigerate until serving. Garnish with egg and paprika.

Nutrition Facts

3/4 cup: 115 calories, 2g fat (0 saturated fat), 27mg cholesterol, 362mg sodium, 21g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 2g fiber), 4g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 1-1/2 starch.

This classic macaroni salad recipe is a refreshingly light take on an all-time favorite. It's perfect for a fast weeknight dinner or a festive weekend barbecue. —Dorothy Bayes, Sardis, Ohio
Recipe Creator