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!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Finally, make everyone form an orderly line once you put it on the table.
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
- Matchsticks of carrots
- Crumbled blue cheese instead of cheddar
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.
The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe
- 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.