This is the only Macaroni Salad recipe you will ever need! The secret to the best macaroni salad is a perfectly sweet and tangy dressing, not overcooking the macaroni, and chopping the veggies into small pieces so they don’t take over the pasta. Oh, and plenty of hard boiled eggs! They are the best, right? Originally published June 10, 2020.

macaroni salad on a spoon.

Our 3-year-old daughter Valentine came out of her room very late last night. “My bed is not letting me go to sleep.” Nice try, kid. I can’t really empathize; my bed lets me go to sleep before I’m even in it sometimes.

Eric and I went to the drive-in movie theater last weekend. There are only like 300 drive-ins running in the US, isn’t that crazy? It’s only a 3 minute drive from our house so we take the kids all the time. And it’s easy to social distance! (Although I heard that real movie theaters are allowed to open up this week in CA!! So exciting! Can you tell we are movie people?) 

Anyway, there are no new movies of course, so the drive in is showing all these old movies from when we were kids. The Mummy, Transformers, School of Rock. So much fun to see them on the big screen again! Eric usually sets up the back of our minivan with blankets and pillows so we can lay down and relax, and I fall asleep every time. Every. Time. See Valentine? I don’t even need a bed to go to sleep, the back of a car will do for me. I think I’m getting old!

This is the last week of school for my kids! Hooray! Just like when they actually attend school in person, we’re all mostly checked out at this point. Sorry, teach. But really is there anything better than being a kid on the last day of school? It’s the best!

I feel so lucky that my kids are young and they didn’t miss out on anything important because of Covid-19. I mean don’t get me wrong, they missed out on school, and school is important (kinda;) but at least they weren’t graduating, right? My brother’s step-daughter is a graduating senior this year. Just like the last day of school is the best, the last few months of senior year are a total party! Such a bummer to miss out.

And to top it off, they were driving through her graduation ceremony, and 4 cars away from the front where she was supposed to get her diploma, they ran out of gas!! ha! Way to make a weird situation even weirder!

close of up macaroni salad on a spoon

Why this is the best Macaroni Salad ever

Because it has basically everything you could want in a macaroni salad recipe: perfectly cooked pasta, crumbled eggs, and fresh, crunchy veggies all smothered in a creamy and oh-so-flavorful dressing infused with fresh herbs and lemon. 

I mean, does it get any better than that? Oh, yes…yes it does. This recipe takes just 30 minutes to prep.

Serve it as a side dish at your next BBQ or as a light lunch. You really can’t go wrong!

best macaroni salad recipe in a bowl with a serving spoon.

Best Macaroni Salad recipe ingredients

The full recipe can be found in the recipe card below!

  • Dry elbow macaroni
  • Salt
  • Eggs
  • Mayo
  • Granulated sugar
  • Yellow mustard
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Seasonings (kosher salt, black pepper, celery seed, and cayenne pepper)
  • Sweet pickle relish
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Chopped pimientos
  • Veggies (carrots, green bell pepper, celery, red onion, and yellow onion)
  • Fresh dill
  • Chives

How to make the Best Macaroni Salad

Now let’s talk Macaroni Salad! Are you a fan? I usually pick potato salad over macaroni salad, but that was before I discovered the secret to making it amazing: all the add-ins need to be chopped tiny. Now I am totally on team macaroni salad!

finely chopped ingredients in a bowl ready to be mixed, including hard boiled eggs, bell peppers, carrots, celery, pasta, other fresh veggies, and herbs.

I’m serious, for me this is the difference between a horribly crunchy experience and a beautiful, homogenous macaroni experience.

It’s so easy to make. Here’s the line up: shredded carrots, celery chopped tiny, minced red and white onions (although you can just use one or the other if you prefer), green bell pepper, chives, hard boiled eggs, dill, and pimientos. This is the best combination! You can of course substitute whatever veggies you like best. But for me, this is where the magic is at for taste and texture.

The other really important thing to remember with macaroni salad is not to overcook the pasta. You want to cook it until it is just barely al dente. The pasta is going to sit in the dressing for a few hours and will continue absorbing liquid. We want it to absorb some of that dressing instead of being waterlogged!

And of course, we can’t forget the dressing. This is mayonnaise at it’s finest my friends. Add in some mustard, apple cider vinegar,  pickle relish, and fresh lemon juice, and you will be in love!

I hope that gatherings loosen up in your area so that you can bring this macaroni salad to a BBQ sometime soon! Or be like me: make it and eat it for lunch every day for days on end. No regrets. Macaroni salad forever!!

macaroni salad shot from overhead closeup.

What goes well with Macaroni Salad?

Macaroni salad is such a classic summer dish! It’s perfect for BBQs, potlucks, or just to keep in the fridge for an easy and fresh lunch or side dish with dinner (or, if it’s been one of THOSE days, FOR dinner) any day of the week.

I love to serve it as a side dish next to BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork or Black Bean Burgers with Sriracha Mayonnaise.
Looking for great recipes to serve alongside this macaroni salad? Check out more of my summer BBQ recipes!

macaroni salad with chopped hard boiled eggs in a bowl.

How to store Macaroni Salad

Leftover macaroni salad will last in a container in the fridge for 4-5 days. Since it’s served cold, you can just pull it out any time you’re hungry and dig in! If you’re classy like me, just grab a fork and get a bite straight from the container every time you pass the fridge.

Is it OK to make macaroni salad the day before?

Absolutely! In fact, it’s better that way. As the ingredients hang out together, the pasta and veggies soak up the awesome flavor from the dressing, making it taste even better! 

moist macaroni salad in a clear mixing bowl with serving spoon

Best Macaroni Salad FAQs

Do you put eggs in macaroni salad?

Oh yeah. Eggs are optional, but I love the flavor and texture they add to macaroni salad. They also give it a boost of protein so it’s a little more filling.

Do you rinse pasta for macaroni salad?

I don’t, but you do you. Rinsing the pasta first removes the excess starch from the noodles and cools it down quickly, which can help prevent it from becoming mushy or sticking together.
I usually just drizzle the pasta with a little oil and stir it around. Both methods help you avoid one big sad Clump o’ Noodles.

How do you keep macaroni salad from drying out?

Macaroni salad can taste dry when the pasta absorbs the dressing, which happens naturally as it sits in the fridge. This salad’s perfect proportion of creamy mayonnaise dressing keeps it nice and moist. If you like, you can save a little bit of the dressing and add it to the rest right before serving to freshen it up a bit.
It also helps to drizzle the pasta with oil after it’s cooked. The oil acts as a barrier between the pasta and the dressing which prevents too much of the dressing from getting absorbed.

Do you let pasta cool before making pasta salad?

You can, but there’s really no need to cool it past warm. Feel free to assemble everything, then let the pasta salad chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

best macaroni salad ever in a bowl with a serving spoon on a white and gold tea towel.

More summer side dishes you are going to love!

Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram

logo

Best Macaroni Salad

4.73 from 11 votes
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Chilling Time: 2 hrs
Total: 2 hrs 40 mins
Servings: 12
This is the only Macaroni Salad recipe you will ever need! The secret to the best macaroni salad is a perfectly sweet and tangy dressing, not overcooking the macaroni, and chopping the veggies into small pieces so they don’t take over the pasta. Oh, and plenty of hard boiled eggs! They are the best, right?

Ingredients

To boil

  • 3 & 1/2 cups dry elbow macaroni*
  • 1 tablespoon salt, for the boiling water
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled

For the dressing

  • 1 & 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 tablespoon or more to taste sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

To assemble

  • 1 (4-oz) jar pimientos, drained
  • 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped very small
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped very small
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, chopped small
  • 2 tablespoons yellow onion, chopped small
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • a little more mayonnaise, for after chilling

Instructions

  • Bring about 10 cups of water to a boil in a large pot set over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and 3 and 1/2 cups dry elbow macaroni. Boil for about 7-9 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Try not to overcook it. Nobody wants mushy macaroni! When it is al dente, drain immediately and return to the pot. Drizzle with a bit of oil and stir so that the pasta doesn’t stick to itself.
  • If you have a steamer, steam 4 eggs over boiling water set over high heat for 11 minutes. (Don’t put the eggs in the basket until the water is boiling.) Cool in an ice bath. If you don’t have a steamer, cover eggs with 1 inch of cold water and bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let sit with the lid on for about 12 minutes, then put in ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cool, peel the eggs and chop roughly.
  • Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a large bowl, add 1 and 1/2 cups mayonnaise, 1/3 cup white sugar, 3 tablespoons yellow mustard, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon celery seed, 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (this adds great flavor and not much heat, if you are nervous just add a pinch), 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish, and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Whisk it all together.
  • Now prep your veggies. The reason this is my favorite macaroni salad is because there are no giant chunks in it. Make yours according to your preference, but I always prefer smaller pieces of veggies that blend into the salad rather than sticking out. Drain the pimientos. Shred 2-3 carrots. Chop up half a green bell pepper, 2 stalks of celery, and mince 2 tablespoons each red and yellow onion. Chop up 1-2 tablespoons dill and a tablespoon of chives.
  • Add the pimientos, shredded carrot, green bell pepper, celery, red onion, yellow onion, dill, chives, cooked pasta, and chopped eggs to the bowl with the dressing.
  • Stir it all together and taste it. Add more salt, pepper, or other seasonings to taste.
  • Let the macaroni salad chill for 2-4 hours until cold. Get it out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for about a half hour before serving, to take the chill off. Just before serving, stir a spoonful of mayonnaise in to make it extra creamy!
  • This recipe can me made 24 or even 48 hours in advance! When serving, be prepared with a bit of mayonnaise and maybe an extra squeeze of lemon just before serving, to loosen it up and brighten the flavor a bit. 
  • This macaroni salad will keep in the fridge for about 1 week.

Notes

*4 cups of dry elbow macaroni is 1 pound. I like to use a little less than a pound, but your salad is still going to turn out great if you use the full pound. No one wants a random half cup of dry pasta in their pantry! (I measured my macaroni from bulk packaging, so didn’t have that issue.) 

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 399kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 13g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 66mg | Sodium: 1240mg | Potassium: 207mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 2123IU | Vitamin C: 14mg | Calcium: 31mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Calories: 399
Keyword: macaroni salad, pasta, pasta salad, Salad
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

Categorized as , , ,

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

You May Also Like…

Comments

  1. Wow this was a surprise win! I did not use as much sugar as it called for (about half) and doubled the vinegar and lemon juice. I did not like the dressing AT ALL when I tasted it on its own and was prepared for a failed recipe. I let it set overnight and it’s absolutely AMAZING the next day. Wow! Love the crunch of the vegetables and the fresh herbs make it delicious! This is a winner!

  2. I tried this macaroni salad recipe today. Yes it is pretty darn wonderful. Takes macaroni salad to a whole new level.

  3. This Pasta salad is my new favorite. When my kids are coming over and I say I am making some kind of salad I always hear please make that delicious pasta salad. It has been such a hit with everyone that has had it. Thank you for sharing the recipe and letting all of your readers share in the deliciousness.

    1. I’m so happy you love it as much as we do Nancy! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a positive review!

  4. Delicious macaroni salad. I used what I had in the refrigerator. I used Miracle Whip to which I added the lemon juice, celery seed, and mustard. I did not have a jar of pimentos, so I used a red bell pepper, chopped finely, instead of the green bell pepper. Everything else was the same. I will make this ecipe again!

  5. The recipe for your sauce sounds like my mother’s potato salad.   Our son once asked for the recipe — not a recipe, but her formula.   Little bit of this & that — then taste, taste, taste.   However, the “magic” ingredient is horseradish.   Can’t give an exact amount — just depends on the amount of salad.   Gives it a real tang.   I also use it on deviled eggs.   Give it a try.   

    1. Ooh horseradish!! What a great idea. I love that flavor. I will try it next time! Thanks for the suggestion Ann! Thanks for commenting!

  6. I always make the same old macaroni salad but saw yours the other day and thought, “GEEZ THAT LOOKS GOOD!” Tried it last night and it was DELICIOUS. My husband liked it so much that he had it for breakfast this morning! Regretfully I didn’t have any pimentos or fresh dill on hand, but I did grate up some cheddar and threw that in. You’re right, the dressing is magic – no more plain mayo for me! I’ve been getting your emails for some time now, and really enjoy your recipes. Keep up the great work!

    1. Macaroni salad for breakfast! Haha I love it! I would eat this for breakfast too! So glad the recipe was a hit Cathy, thank you for the review. And thank you so much for subscribing and reading along! I love hearing from you!

  7. So here’s a little bit of a backstory about me. I’ve had to be gluten free for 14 years now and in all that time, I have NEVER been able to make a macaroni salad that reminds me of a good old fashioned creamy deli mac salad. Not being able to have macaroni salad anymore was so upsetting. But every time I tried to make one on my own, it always failed. It never came out creamy, the pasta always dried out even before the end of the day making any leftovers pretty terrible and it just never tasted right. So many recipes, so many fails.

    But this recipe??? AMAZING!!! I am so beyond thrilled that I found this recipe because it is seriously the only one I will ever use again!! So I used a gluten free brown rice pasta and instead of carrots, I added some cucumbers. It came out sooooo good!!! I made a double batch, rinsed and chilled the pasta a little before mixing everything in, did NOT add any extra mayo or lemon juice before serving and let me tell you… I made this on Saturday and it is now Monday night and it’s STILL CREAMY AND DELICIOUS!! I swear this is like a magic dressing! And the pasta is just starting to taste a little blahhh so tomorrow will be probably be the last day we eat it but the fact that gluten free pasta lasted this long and the salad is still freaking creamy is a miracle. Thank you sooo much for this recipe! I can’t wait to make this mac salad again and again! 😁

    1. HOORAY! Macaroni salad success! Isn’t it the best when you find the right recipe for you!? Love it. I’m so glad the recipe stayed nice and creamy for you! Mayonnaise is where it’s at, right? ;) And thanks for the info on making it gluten free, I’m sure that will be helpful for so many people! Thanks for the review Nicole!

  8. I loooved this recipe!  It brought me back to my grandma making this on Fourth of July 🇺🇸.  I used brown rice pasta and it was fantastic.  I also up’s the veggies but made sure to shred the carrot extra small, and dice veggies small. My whole family ate this.  Thanks!

    1. Love your twists Shelly! Great idea to use brown rice pasta! My grandma is gluten free so I will have to remember that. So happy to hear that the salad was a hit with the whole family!! Thanks for commenting with a review!

  9. I made this last night. A little nervous because I use dill pickle in my macaroni salad but wanted to try your sweet version. It was delicious!! Tangy sweet but not too sweet. Love the combination of veggies. I like cutting mine small too so this recipe was a great fit. I’ll be using this at our next large bbq on the 4th. It’s sure to be a hit!

    1. I’m so happy to hear you tried and loved the recipe Cathy! I considered using dill relish for this recipe but in the end decided on sweet. I think they would both tastes delicious. I think a few finely chopped dill pickles would be a great addition too. Enjoy making this again for the 4th, and thank you so much for reviewing!

  10. Oh we have to have a bbq when I come in Aug. I might actually be willing to try this! Haha I cannot do the big chunks of vegetables, so this sounds great. The only other one I actually like is Amber’s. We will have to make lots of treats! Also, definitely need to go to the drive in while we are there. I’m so excited!

    1. I’m so excited you’re coming too Misty! Let’s definitely BBQ and make Macaroni salad! Bring on the side dishes!

  11. This looks good and I will give it a try this weekend. It is hot. Do you rinse the pasta? I find when I make macaroni salad it gets a bit dry after it’s been refrigerated. Any tips?

    1. Hi Brenda! Great question! I did not rinse my pasta. But if you are worried that it is going to overcook and get mushy, (even after you drain it it will keep cooking) then rinse for sure, to stop the cooking process. Also if you are in a hurry to eat your macaroni salad and want it to cool faster, rinsing is a good idea. Usually recipes say not to rinse pasta because when you are serving it hot, rinsing makes warm sauce much harder to stick. But for pasta salad it doesn’t matter, your mayonnaise based dressing is going to stick just fine :) As for macaroni salad getting dry after refrigerating, I’ve had the same experience. That’s why I put in the extra step of adding a scoop of mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon just before serving. If you are really worried about it, another good idea would be to reserve about 1/3 of the dressing, refrigerate it separately, and stir it in last minute. I literally just thought of this idea and am totally trying it next time I make this!

  12. A problem I have with a lot of recipes these days is that (don’t get me wrong, I love most of your recipes) there seems to be a penchant for making everything sweet. Having said that, if I make this recipe, I will leave out the sugar and use dill pickle relish. Other than the sweet, it looks like a great recipe. Thanks!

    1. Oh Paul I used to be on your side. Even just a couple years ago I would have thought it was weird if someone added sugar to their macaroni salad. But I’ve seen the light!!! Haha! I add sugar to my potato salad too, it’s the secret ingredient. Well either way even if you leave out the sugar, I bet you will love this macaroni salad! Let me know how it goes!

  13. Let’s make this for the 4th Karen! We can make it a day ahead can’t we? I’m so excited!

    And, for the record, I’m like Valentine. My bed frequently doesn’t let me sleep. The couch lets me sleep. The passenger car seat lets me sleep. Sometimes even my office chair lets me sleep. But, often, . . . my bed does not let me sleep. I totally get it, Val.

    1. Yes you can totally make it a day ahead! I added that to the recipe, thanks for asking. And yes of course let’s make it for the 4th of July!! Is it even a BBQ without macaroni salad!? And I’m sorry about your rude bed Kris. Maybe your office chair needs to teach your bed a lesson. haha!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.