Traditional Macaroni Salad Recipe

Side dishes for summer potlucks don’t get better that this creamy Macaroni Salad recipe! With a tangy dressing and finely chopped veggies, it’s the perfect cold salad for any occasion.

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There are two types of people in this world: those that prefer a dry macaroni salad and those who like a wet and juicy one.

Hubby, he is the dry kind. In fact, he likes to let his sit for a night so the pasta soaks up some of the mayonnaise mix.

You’ll love this Creamy Macaroni Salad Recipe

This is his recipe for classic macaroni salad and while it can be used for any BBQ, potluck or cookout, his is typically made for use in one dish: the garbage plate. 

The Garbage Plate, deemed New York’s unhealthiest dish, uses macaroni salad as its base. The added Hot Sauce adds plenty of juice to the dish, which is the main reason I think he prefers a dry macaroni salad.

But regardless of whether you plan on eating this as part of a garbage plate or at a potluck, I can tell you his recipe does result in one yummy classic macaroni salad. (And I’m not just saying that because he’s my hubby!)

I’ve taken this classic Macaroni Salad to many potlucks, BBQs, with a homemade burger or a hot dog and cookouts. It is, after all a classic – is it really a summer cookout without one?!

While it seems every family has their own version of the perfect classic macaroni salad, I can say that my friends have requested I bring this….and there’s rarely any left to bring home!

spoon in bowl of macaroni salad

Classic Macaroni Salad ingredients

The ingredient list is quite simple and also verstile, so feel free to use different volumes.

  • Elbow macaroni – It wouldn’t be macaroni salad without macaroni pasta, right? I suppose you could use any shaped pasta, but a tubular pasta is best; it holds all of that creamy goodness inside.
  • Mayonnaise – Traditional macaroni salad dressing is made with mayonnaise. However, see the variations section below for other options if you’re not partial to mayo.
  • Salt and pepper – The seasonings for this creamy macaroni salad are really quite simple. Some fine sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper will do wonders though.
  • Paprika – I like to add just a touch of paprika. Not only for flavor, but the color is beautiful. For a smokier flavor, try smoked paprika.
  • Carrot, celery and onion – Make sure these are all finely chopped. Fresh vegetables like these provide a nice crunch and also a little flavor to your creamy mac salad.
close up of bowl of macaroni salad

How to make the Best Macaroni Salad

  1. Cook pasta. Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain well and set aside to cool. You can even place it to in the refrigerator or run it under cold water.
  2. Make dressing. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, fine sea salt, ground black pepper and paprika.
  3. Add in veggies. Add carrot, celery and white onion, stirring well.
  4. Combine. Finally add cooled pasta and give it a good stir to combine.
  5. Chill. Cover and refrigerate the macaroni salad for a few hours or up to one day. I like it even better the next day. Make sure to serve chilled.
collage of how to make macaroni salad

Mac Salad tips & variations

  • Veggies – Instead of carrots, celery and white onion, try adding your favorites. Red onion, green onions, red bell pepper, black olives or even green pepper are all great options. Adding some crunchy veggies can make all the difference.
  • Add ins – If you’d like to add a little more oomph to this easy macaroni salad recipe, try adding things like dill pickles, sweet pickles, cheddar cheese or chopped egg.
  • Creamy dressing – Instead of using regular mayo, there are several other options. You could use any combination of sour cream, Greek yogurt, Miracle Whip, or a little milk.
  • Tangy dressing – To take the tang factor up a notch, try adding some Dijon mustard, white vinegar, pickle juice, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
  • Flavor – I like to keep my macaroni salad simple, but feel free to add fresh herbs like dill, or even throw in some garlic powder or onion powder for extra flavor.

How do I keep Macaroni from absorbing mayonnaise?

It is impossible to keep the pasta from absorbing some mayo, but you can make a double batch of the dressing and add more to leftovers to revive it. Or wait until you are ready to serve before adding the mayo-based dressing.

bowl of macaroni salad

How to store the Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

Macaroni salad needs to be kept refrigerated either covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container. Stir well before serving leftovers. You can also save it for later summer parties by freezing it.

How long does Macaroni Salad last in the refrigerator?

Leftover macaroni salad stays good for up to 5 days. However, like many foods, it is best enjoyed within 1-2 days of preparing.

What to serve with this Traditional Macaroni Salad Recipe

Macaroni salad is such a verstile dish and can be served with nearly anything. The most common foods are BBQ dishes like hamburgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken. I also like serving mine with pulled pork.

collage of macaroni salad for pinterest

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overhead shot of bowl of macaroni salad for pinterest
spoon in bowl of macaroni salad

Best Macaroni Salad

4.45 from 56 votes
If you’ve ever wondered how to make macaroni salad, this Classic Macaroni Salad recipe is the answer! Great for BBQs, potlucks, cookouts and, of course, garbage plates!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Refrigeration: 1 hour
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 8




  • Cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain well and set aside to cool. You can even place it to in the refrigerator.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, salt, ground black pepper and paprika. Fold in the carrot, celery and white onion.
  • Fold in the cooled pasta and toss to combine. Do not overmix.
  • Cover and refrigerate for a 1-24 hours. Serve chilled.
  • If you’ve tried this recipe, make sure to come back and let us know how you liked it! 


Calories: 108 kcal, Carbohydrates: 21 g, Protein: 3 g, Sodium: 160 mg, Potassium: 107 mg, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Vitamin A: 1425 IU, Vitamin C: 1.1 mg, Calcium: 11 mg, Iron: 0.4 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 108
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: macaroni salad recipe
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

4.45 from 56 votes (42 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating

Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    This classic macaroni salad recipe was just what I was looking for. It was the perfect side for our family cook out. Loved the recipe!

  2. 5 stars
    Oh yum! Such a delicious and comforting classic. I love how easy this macaroni salad comes together and the flavors sound incredible.

  3. 5 stars
    It doesn’t get better than this classic macaroni salad recipe. Perfect for those summer cookouts and holidays too.

  4. 5 stars
    There’s a deli nearby that had amazing mac salad and i have not a recipe that comes close. This recipe blows it out of the water. Thank you!

  5. 5 stars
    Finally a macaroni salad that is similar to my Grandma’s. The only missing ingredient is a splash of sweet pickle juice. I’ll be making this weekend. Thank you for posting!

  6. If I make this Friday and it’s for Saturday evening, what’s the best way to cover it? Aluminum foil? Also, since it won’t be a creamy the following day and maybe a little hardened should I add more mayo and give it a mix before event?
    Thank you! 🙂

    1. Hi Vanessa- You can use aluminum foil or plastic wrap. I would add a tablespoon or two of mayo the next day to freshen it up.

  7. 5 stars
    Sounds like the perfect salad for bbqs! I make one similar but add tuna in it for a main dish. i’ve never heard of the garbage can but wow that’s some dish!