Macaroni Salad is a ‘must make‘ for summer barbecues and picnics. This easy classic recipe is full of colorful vegetables, soft elbow pasta in a creamy, tangy sauce everyone loves!
Macaroni Salad and summer go hand in hand.
It’s an easy chilled salad recipe bursting with beautiful colors and fantastic flavor.
It goes with any main dish and can be made ahead (it’s actually BETTER made ahead)!
This classic Macaroni Salad recipe will be a summer staple!
What is Macaroni Salad?
If by chance you escaped your childhood without ever trying Macaroni Salad, it’s a chilled pasta salad with elbow pasta, vegetables in a creamy mayonnaise sauce.
It’s one of those recipes most of use grew up with our Mom’s or Grandmother’s version being ‘the right way’ to make it.
Every recipe offers a little change to make it unique and special.
This chilled salad recipe is classic salad recipe for summer grill parties, picnics and outings.
Simple, wholesome, fresh macaroni salad ingredients make this recipe a family favorite:
- Elbow macaroni (regular or gluten-free)
- Celery stalks
- Yellow bell pepper
- Orange bell pepper
- Grape tomatoes
- Red onion
For the dressing:
- Sour cream
- Apple cider vinegar
- Granulated sugar
- Dry mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
Macaroni (Elbow Pasta) – Regular or Gluten-Free
This macaroni salad recipe can be made with traditional elbow pasta or gluten-free pasta.
My recommendation for gluten-free pasta is Tinkyada. It holds it’s shape and has good flavor.
Some gluten-free pastas fall apart easily after cooking and would not be a good choice for a macaroni salad.
If you can’t find orange or yellow bell peppers feel free to substitute what you can find.
Don’t love tomatoes? Though the sweet grape tomatoes add color and delicious flavor, feel free to leave them out.
OR swap in a vegetable you love instead!.
How to Make Macaroni Salad – Step-by-Step
STEP 1: Cook the macaroni pasta per package instructions, drain and allow to cool (photo 1).
STEP 2: Combine the dressing ingredients: mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sour cream, dry mustard, granulated sugar (photos 2-6). Mix well (photo 7).
STEP 3: Remove the onions from the vinegar.
STEP 4: Combine the pasta and vegetables in a large bowl (photo 8). Add 3/4’s of the dressing (photo 9) and mix well (photo 10). Chill in the refrigerator (along with the remaining 1/4 of the dressing not yet mixed into the macaroni salad) until ready to serve.
STEP 5: When ready to serve the salad, toss the remaining dressing (photos 11) and serve (photo 12).
Pro Tips for Making Macaroni Salad
Allow the cooked macaroni to fully cool
Otherwise it will absorb the dressing leaving dry macaroni salad.
Better Made Ahead
This recipe is one that tastes even better if it’s allowed to sit after it is made.
If possible make it in the morning and serve it later in the day; or even the day before serving.
If you can’t do that it will still be delicious but making it ahead allows the dressing and salad ingredients to fully blend.
Change it Up! This salad is very flexible
If you want to change out the vegetables, do it! Try cucumber, broccoli, or other in season vegetables you love.
Try the Dressing on other Salad Recipes
Keep it Chilled!
Salads with mayonnaise require extra care to not allow them to overheat.
When left in the sun or heat, salmonella can develop risking food poisoning.
Do not let Macaroni Salad sit out more than 2 hours.
This Party Dips post has some great tips to keep this salad cold when serving at an outdoor summer gathering.
How to Change up Macaroni Salad
First Macaroni Salad is usually considered a side dish recipe.
You can add some protein and make it a delicious chilled main dish. Easy for summer!
Cubed Chicken, Ham, Shrimp or Tuna – adding protein makes a hearty main dish option.
Hard Boiled Eggs – add chopped hard boiled eggs. Make sure they are cooled before adding them.
Cubed Cheese – small cubes of cheddar cheese or even Pepper Jack cheese add great texture and flavor. You can even buy the cheese already cubed from the store!
Peas – they bring color and a hint of sweetness to the salad. Use frozen, thawed peas!
Different Pasta – though macaroni is the classic pasta used, feel free to change it up and use a different pasta you love!
How to Store Macaroni Salad
Store the prepared salad 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Can I Freeze Macaroni Salad?
It is not recommended to freeze this salad. Enjoy it freshly made instead!
Make it a Meal!
Everything goes with Macaroni Salad making it a great choice for any meal! Here are some ideas:
- Grilled Kabob Recipes
- Grilled Spicy Salt and Pepper Shrimp Skewers
- St. Louis Ribs
- Oven Baked Chicken Breasts with Mexican flavors
- Sweet Tea Roasted Chicken Thighs
- Blue Margarita
More Salad Recipes You’ll Love
- Bite-Size Insalata Caprese
- Grill-Smoked Creamy Potato Salad with Bacon
- Broccoli Sausage Pasta Salad
- Rainbow Summer Quinoa Salad
- Chicken Salad
- Italian Pasta Salad
- Chickpea Salad
Classic Macaroni Salad
- 2 cups Elbow Macaroni regular or gluten-free
- 2 stalks Celery chopped
- 1 Yellow Bell Pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 Orange Bell Pepper seeded and chopped
- 1 cup Grape Tomatoes halved
- ¼ cup Red Onion minced and soaked in apple cider vinegar for 5 minutes
- apple cider vinegar for soaking the onions
For the dressing:
- ½ cup Mayonnaise
- ¼ cup Sour Cream
- 1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Granulated Sugar
- ½ teaspoon Dry Mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions, drain and allow to cool completely.
- In a bowl or measuring cup, add all the dressing ingredients: mayonnaise, sour cream, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, granulated sugar and dry mustard. Stir to combine.
- Drain the red onion of the vinegar.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooled macaroni pasta with the vegetables. Pour 3/4ths of the dressing over and stir to combine (reserve the remaining 1/4 of the dressing). Refrigerate the salad and the remaining dressing (separately) until ready to serve.
- Before serving toss with the rest of the dressing into the macaroni salad to freshen it up. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.
• Be sure to allow your pasta to cool all the way or it will soak up the dressing leaving you with dry macaroni salad.
• I will often use up whatever vegetables on hand in my refrigerator, cucumber, broccoli etc.
• The dressing is good on broccoli salad and coleslaw as well.