A macaroni salad recipe is something we all need in our back pockets. If you’re looking for a dish to make for a cookout, potluck, picnic, or summer get-together, you can’t go wrong with classic macaroni salad with creamy mayo dressing.
This is one of those recipes where everyone has their own version, and this is mine. I like a macaroni salad without eggs, so I use diced cheddar cheese instead, then to keep things simple, I use relish rather than chopping up a pickle, which amps up the slight sweetness of the dressing. (Don’t worry, it’s not too sweet—it’s balanced out by the acidity of the vinegar.) To add some texture, I throw in some chopped celery.
An Old-Fashioned Pasta Salad Everyone Will Love
For years, I would buy a pint of classic macaroni salad at the grocery store as a side for burgers, hot dogs, or fried chicken, but I never actually made it myself. What was I thinking?! It’s a cinch to make this macaroni salad recipe and when you make it yourself, it’s not sitting for who-knows-how-long, getting soggy.
The creamy macaroni salad dressing is probably my favorite part. It’s tangy, sweet, and there’s just enough of it to coat all of the elbow macaroni. This is always key when it comes to making the best homemade macaroni salad—you don’t want it too dry, but you don’t want your pasta salad to be swimming in dressing either!
(Want something a little lighter? Try my Spaghetti Salad!)
Ingredients + Variations
- Mayonnaise – Your favorite brand and variety is fine!
- White vinegar – White vinegar adds an irresistibly tangy flavor. If you have apple cider vinegar on hand, you can swap that in instead.
- Sugar – Sugar balances the acidity of the white vinegar.
- Kosher salt – Pro-tip: Kosher salt has larger crystals than regular salt, so if you need to use table salt instead, use half the amount.
- Ground black pepper
- Celery – Crispy celery enhances the texture of the salad. Other possible add-ins include diced bell peppers, shredded carrots, peas, and minced red onions.
- Sweet relish – Dill pickles and gherkins can be used instead, but I like making the recipe with sweet relish because it saves me some chopping!
- Cheddar cheese – I love the unexpected addition of little cubes of diced cheddar, but you can substitute hard-boiled eggs, cubed ham, or bacon if you like. Or, go all out and do a little bit of everything! Shredded cheese will work in a pinch, but the diced cheddar adds another layer of texture that really stands out, while shredded cheese tends to play second fiddle to the dressing.
- Elbow macaroni – If you’re a rebel at heart, try making this macaroni salad recipe with rotini or shells instead of elbow macaroni.
How to Make Homemade Macaroni Salad
1. Cook the Macaroni
Boil the macaroni in salted water until it’s al dente. This is important! If you cook the pasta beyond al dente, it will get mushy in the dressing. Rinse in cold water and drain well.
2. Make the Creamy Dressing
In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper, celery, sweet relish, and cheddar. Stir it until all of the ingredients are incorporated.
3. Add the Macaroni
Fold the macaroni into the dressing mixture and stir to coat.
Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Let it chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
What else is there to say? It’s time to dig in and enjoy! We love classic macaroni salad as a side dish for backyard barbecues and potlucks.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 stalk celery finely chopped
- 2 tbsp sweet relish
- 8 oz cheddar cheese diced
- 1 pound elbow macaroni cooked al dente and drained
- Boil the macaroni in salted water until it’s al dente. Rinse in cold water and drain well.
- In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper, celery, sweet relish, and cheddar. Stir it until all of the ingredients are incorporated.
- Fold the macaroni into the dressing mixture and stir to coat.
- Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Let it chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
The best fix for too much mayo in macaroni salad is adding more ingredients to balance the amount of dressing—macaroni is the obvious choice, but you could also do hard-boiled eggs, additional cheese, and veggies. Alternatively, you can remove about a cup of the salad, rinse it under cool water to remove the dressing, then drain it well and stir it back into the salad.
Homemade macaroni salad is made for BBQ food—chicken, burgers, hot dogs, brats, and pulled pork are great for pairing with it.
Yes, rinse the pasta in cold water. This quickly brings down the temperature to halt the cooking process, keeping your pasta from getting mushy in the salad.