The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

This isn’t the boring macaroni salad from salad bars; this is the Best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have! Chewy macaroni is tossed with a kitchen sink’s worth of ingredients and a classic tangy dressing. My Grandma made this old-fashioned recipe for decades; you probably will, too.

Cold, hearty salads are a must-have in the summertime, like my popular California Pasta Salad, Chinese Chicken Salad, or a classic Iceberg Wedge with Blue Cheese Dressing. Or if you’re looking for a pasta salad with minimal ingredients, my Hawaiian macaroni salad might be right up your alley!

This isn’t the boring macaroni salad from salad bars; this is the Best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have! Chewy macaroni is tossed with a kitchen sink’s worth of ingredients and a classic tangy dressing. My Grandma made this old-fashioned recipe for decades; you probably will, too.

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Homemade Macaroni Salad has always had a special place in my heart. Everyone makes their own favorite version, and everyone thinks of themselves as a connoisseur. Years ago, Al’s Town and Country Market in Oxford, Wisconsin used to make the best store bought macaroni salad, but in my not-so-humble opinion, my lovely Grandma made the best pasta salad from scratch.

With a pasta salad this good, there might be the occasional squabble. It’s true! People get passionate about something so richly, indulgently delicious. Someone may want more egg than broccoli, for example. While others may help themselves to more bacon than another feels is rightfully theirs. It happens.

Better make a double recipe to keep things civil.

Making extra Macaroni Salad for a family reunion? Smart. Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.

All the ingredients in Macaroni Salad:

Veggies? Yes! Bacon? But of course! Here’s what my Grandma always put in her bright and colorful simple pasta salad:

  • Elbow macaroni. You can use any type of small pasta. My Grandma made this salad with bow tie pasta, but I love the springy-ness of macaroni.
  • Cheddar cheese. Shredded, full-fat cheddar is divine. Some people like small cheddar cheese cubes, which is okay, too. Don’t worry about the small pieces of cheese getting lost or soggy in the salad. They’ll hold up, promise.
  • Ham. Leftover Easter ham works great, diced up into bite-sized bits. Or you can probably buy an 8-ounce package of diced ham at your grocery store—it’s usually right by the bacon in the deli section.
  • Hard-boiled eggs. Slice ‘em, dice ‘em, just don’t forget ‘em.
  • Bacon. Mandatory. Crispy cooked bacon is unbelievable. Chop it up nice and small.
  • Celery. For crunch.
  • Broccoli. Florets add color to the salad, plus they taste good, too. To get extra fancy, you can blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds to turn them bright bright green.
  • Red pepper. Any bell pepper you have works, but I love red.
  • Scallions. Whites, greens, and all.

This isn’t the boring macaroni salad from salad bars; this is the Best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have! Chewy macaroni is tossed with a kitchen sink’s worth of ingredients and a classic tangy dressing. My Grandma made this old-fashioned recipe for decades; you probably will, too.

Macaroni Salad Dressing Ingredients:

This is amazingly simple.

Mayonnaise. Good quality mayo like Hellmans or Best Foods (aka Hellmans west of Rockies).

Sugar. Not too much, just enough to taste it. You can reduce the quantity if you want to.

White vinegar. It’s not just for windows!

Salt and freshly ground black pepper. To taste always!

How to make the Best Macaroni Salad:

  1. First, cook the pasta. Use 4 quarts of salted water to a pound of pasta. Once the pasta is al dente, drain it and give it a rinse under cold water. Don’t soak it, though—you want cool pasta that isn’t waterlogged.
  2. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a bowl: mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper. You can absolutely make the salad dressing in advance, to give the ingredients a chance to meld. Store it into the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it.
  3. Next, pour the cooked pasta into a large bowl. Add the ham, bacon, cheese, broccoli, peppers, scallions, celery, and eggs. Add most of the salad dressing and toss gently to combine. If you feel like you need more dressing, add it. Everyone is a little different, so it’s better to under dress at first, than overdress.
  4. Finally, make everyone form an orderly line once you put it on the table.

This isn’t the boring macaroni salad from salad bars; this is the Best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have! Chewy macaroni is tossed with a kitchen sink’s worth of ingredients and a classic tangy dressing. My Grandma made this old-fashioned recipe for decades; you probably will, too.

Can you make Macaroni Salad in advance?

This salad is at its prime when it is freshly dressed and insanely juicy. The dressing can absorb into the ingredients over time, so I really recommend making it the moment you’re planning to serve it. My Grandma would want it that way.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get all the ingredients prepped, the pasta cooked, and the salad dressing made and ready to go, however! Tote everything to the party separately and dress it on site.

Use the extra dressing to freshen up the salad halfway through dinner.

What else can you add to make the Best Macaroni Salad even better?

  • Quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Matchsticks of carrots
  • Crumbled blue cheese instead of cheddar

This isn’t the boring macaroni salad from salad bars; this is the Best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have! Chewy macaroni is tossed with a kitchen sink’s worth of ingredients and a classic tangy dressing. My Grandma made this old-fashioned recipe for decades; you probably will, too.

How do you store Macaroni Salad?

Because this recipe has eggs (in the mayo and hard-boiled) it needs to be refrigerated. Macaroni salad will hold up for 3-5 days in the refrigerator, if need be. Store it in an airtight, covered container, or wrap the bowl with plastic wrap.

Any amount of mayonnaise-based pasta salad that has been left out at room temperature for 2 hours or longer should be discarded, just to be on the safe side.

5 from 5 votes

The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

This isn’t the boring macaroni salad from salad bars; this is the Best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have! Chewy macaroni is tossed with a kitchen sink’s worth of ingredients and a classic tangy dressing. My Grandma made this old-fashioned recipe for decades; you probably will, too.
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Keyword eggs, ham, macaroni
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 20 servings
Calories 378kcal
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or other small pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded
  • 8 ounces ham diced
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs sliced
  • 6 slices bacon fried and crumbled
  • 5 stalks celery sliced
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1 red pepper seeded and diced
  • 4 scallions sliced
  • In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well and rinse with cold water.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  • Pour pasta into a large bowl. Add cheese, ham, bacon, eggs, celery, broccoli, pepper, and scallions. Stir to combine.
  • Add most of the salad dressing and toss until evenly coated, reserving a small amount to refresh the salad if it needed.

Recipe Notes

All components (including the dressing) can be assembled ahead of time such as the night before. Just toss everything together in a large bowl right before serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 378kcal

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  1. Jason

    This was delicious, best macaroni salad recipe ever! I made it for the 4th of July and making it again this weekend!

  2. Heather

    Was the greatest macaroni salad ever than you5 stars

    1. Meggan

      Wow! Thank you so much Heather! This makes my day! -Meggan

  3. Ashley May

    Just made this for 4th of July BBQ. It’s DELICIOUS! Thanks for the Recipe!5 stars

  4. Tina

    for the celery sticks s that like 5 bunches our is it 5 stixs and the scallions like 4 bunches or what??

  5. Toni

    Will the sugar in the dressing make it sweet? I’m not a fan of sweet. Is there something else I could substitute 

    1. meggan

      Hi Toni, slight sweet overtones. It’s not a “sweet” pasta salad overall. However, I would say just make the dressing without the sugar and see what you think. You could always add the tiniest amount of sweetness if you wanted, or not at all.

  6. Dani

    Just made this! Seriously, best macaroni salad ever! Love it! Now I just have to stay court of it until my guests get here. Lol thank you so much!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Dani! I have to agree though, my grandma’s macaroni salad is the best. :) Enjoy your party and thanks again!

  7. Tisha K

    I made this for potluck at my job, everyone loved it!! There werent any leftovers to take home…5 stars

    1. meggan

      THAT is what I like to hear!!!! Thank you Tisha!!

  8. Leslie Hutchings

    Hi Meggan,
    I have never use shredded cheese in my mac salad before, only cubed.
    My question is:
    If I make the salad the day before, will the shredded cheese go soggy in the salad?

    1. meggan

      Hi Leslie, in my experience shredded cheese holds up just fine. It doesn’t disintegrate into slimy pieces or anything like that. Having said that, you are welcome to use cubes if you want! But the shreds should work just fine. Even if you make it a day before! Thanks.

  9. Catherine

    If you make ahead, do you wait to put the dressing on until ready to serve? Your comment was a little vague

    1. meggan

      Sorry about that Catherine. I would mix the dressing ingredients together (make the dressing) but do not add it to the salad. So, the flavors of the dressing can start to blend with each other, but don’t add it until right before serving. Basically make the dressing and prep all the rest of the ingredients and keep everything separate, then toss it all together right before serving. I’ll re-write my note on that so it actually makes sense! Thanks and I hope you love the salad.

  10. Jenn

    It says bow tie pasta in recipe but picture shows macaroni?

    1. Christine

      Really? Does it really matter which pasta shape it is? Be a little forgiving.5 stars

    2. meggan

      Hey Jenn! I’m such a genius. My grandma always uses bow-tie pasta but I like elbow. Clearly I wrote down her recipe without adding that change. :) I’ll fix it right now. It should really say, “Elbow macaroni or other small pasta” because it doesn’t really matter what you use. Thanks for letting me know about the typo!

  11. Kathy

    This is my first time making this recipe. I doubled the dressing and it still seems too dry for our liking. The flavor is great and I love all the ingredients. 

    1. meggan

      Hi Kathy, sorry about that!! My Grandma used to thin her dressing with water or milk so I will experiment with that and updated the recipe. Nothing worse than dry macaroni salad. Thanks for the info!

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