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.

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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!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Omg! I am standing at the counter eating this right off the mixing spoon! This is delicious! I too am a huge fan of small chop! It makes all the difference! And then there is the fresh dill!! Thank you for this great recipe!

    1. I’m so glad you are enjoying a good counter-eating session Christine! Everybody needs one every now and then! It means good food :) So happy you are loving the recipe and are a small chop believer. Thanks for taking the time to rate and comment! you’re the best 💕

  2. 5 stars
    I am over 60 years old and had never made macaroni salad ever! Well, I apparently picked the best recipe for my first go at it, because it was delicious! Why did I wait so long?! Probably because it took me over half of the day to prep and make the salad. My first impression was, I understand why most people buy it at the grocery store, I was exhausted (I have medical issues, so was par for the course…)! But then I tasted it – heavenly! The time it took to chop everything and to chop it tiny really paid off. An explosion of taste and crunch!! My husband, who I am lucky to get a grunt of approval from on anything, actually verbally said it was “excellent”! So, thank you for the best macaroni salad I have ever made (I know, the only, ha, ha), but it is also the only macaroni salad recipe I cannot wait to make again, and again! Thanks!!

    1. I’m so glad it was worth all the chopping Brenda! There is something magical that happens when you make it in your own kitchen, right?? So glad your efforts paid off 🖤 Thanks so much for coming back to comment and review. That means so much to me!

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