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The Best Macaroni Salad doesn’t make you choose between ham or bacon. Use both in this easy pasta salad recipe, along with a creamy, classic Midwest salad dressing. This big-batch macaroni salad is perfect for potluck and party menus.

A serving bowl of macaroni salad.

My first macaroni salad memories are all about the one from Al’s Town and Country Market in Oxford, Wisconsin. My grandparents lived nearby, and my grandpa would often grab a small plastic container of our favorite pasta salad and stash it in the fridge for our visits. I looked forward to a big scoop of this macaroni salad every trip.

This easy macaroni salad recipe reminds me of that rendition, except it’s even better. (Hence the name, The Best Macaroni Salad!) Sorry, Al. When it comes to macaroni salad, in my opinion, more is more. The Best Macaroni Salad has everything you think you want, including a classic Midwest salad dressing, and more that you didn’t know you needed, like ham and bacon.

More is more in terms of the portion size, too. Since it serves 20(!), this pasta salad recipe is perfect for parties, potlucks, tailgates, and beyond.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step by step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for the best macaroni salad.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Elbow macaroni: Or substitute rotini, farfalle, penne, or any other small cut pasta.
  • Cheese: Since we’re not melting it, feel free to pick up a package of pre-shredded cheese. If you prefer, you can also dice up cubes of cheddar to mix into this pasta salad.
  • Ham: Leftover ham works great; just dice it up into bite-sized pieces. Or buy an 8-ounce package of diced ham at the store.
  • Bacon: To quickly and cleanly crisp up 6 strips, I swear by oven-frying it.
  • Broccoli: If you’d like to blanch the broccoli (optional), bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add broccoli and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Step by step instructions

  1. To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste (I like ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper).
Dressing for macaroni salad in a small bowl.
  1. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
Cooked elbow macaroni in a colander.
  1. In a large bowl, add pasta, cheese, ham, bacon, eggs, celery, broccoli, pepper, and scallions.
A bowl with ingredients for macaroni salad.
  1. Drizzle with dressing to taste and stir to combine.
A serving bowl of macaroni salad.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: The Best Macaroni Salad recipe makes a party-sized batch; about 20 servings, depending on what else you’re serving this alongside.
  • Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container or a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: The dressing can be made up the day before and stored covered in the refrigerator. (I like to shake it up in a mason jar, then simply twist on the lid and it’s ready to chill out.) The pasta can be cooked, drained, rinsed, and cooled up to 1 day in advance. The ham, bacon, and vegetables can be prepped the day before and stored separately in the refrigerator.
Four bowls of macaroni salad.

Recipe FAQs

What else can I add to this macaroni salad recipe?

Way to embrace the “more is more” mindset! Get creative (or clean out your fridge and freezer) by adding or swapping in ingredients like diced tomatoes, frozen peas, julienned carrots, black olives, diced cucumbers, rotisserie chicken, or leftover turkey.

How long can I leave pasta salad out to serve it?

According to the FDA’s food safety guidelines, mayonnaise-based pasta salads should be refrigerated within 2 hours after serving at room temperature. If you’re serving macaroni salad at an outdoor party where it’s 90 degrees F or warmer, refrigerate it within 1 hour. Anything mayo-based potato salad or pasta salad out longer than that should be discarded, just to be on the safe side.

Can I make The Best Macaroni Salad for a smaller crowd?

Feel free to halve the recipe, if desired, starting with 8 ounces of macaroni. Or stock up on deli containers and ask guests to help themselves to a serving to-go.

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The best macaroni salad in a white serving bowl.

The Best Macaroni Salad

The Best Macaroni Salad doesn't make you choose between ham or bacon. Use both in this easy pasta salad recipe, along with a creamy, classic Midwest salad dressing. This big-batch macaroni salad is perfect for potluck and party menus.
5 from 20 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Servings 20 servings (about 3/4-cup each)
Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Calories 314

Ingredients 

For the dressing:

For the pasta salad:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or other small pasta (see note 1)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (see note 2)
  • 8 ounces ham diced (see note 3)
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs sliced
  • 6 slices cooked bacon chopped
  • 5 ribs celery sliced
  • 1 cup broccoli chopped (see note 4)
  • 1 red bell pepper stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 4 scallions sliced

Instructions 

  • To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste (I like ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper).
  • In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
  • In a large bowl, add pasta, cheese, ham, bacon, eggs, celery, broccoli, pepper, and scallions. Drizzle with dressing to taste and stir to combine.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Elbow macaroni: Or substitute rotini, farfalle, penne, or any other small cut pasta.
  2. Cheese: Since we’re not melting it, feel free to pick up a package of pre-shredded cheese. If you prefer, you can also dice up cubes of cheddar to mix into this pasta salad.
  3. Ham: Leftover ham works great; just dice it up into bite-sized pieces. Or buy an 8-ounce package of diced ham at the store.
  4. Bacon: To quickly and cleanly crisp up 6 strips, I swear by oven-frying it.
  5. Broccoli: If you’d like to blanch the broccoli (optional), bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add broccoli and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
  6. Yield: The Best Macaroni Salad recipe makes a party-sized batch; about 20 servings, depending on what else you’re serving this alongside.
  7. Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container or a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  8. Make ahead: The dressing can be made up the day before and stored covered in the refrigerator. (I like to shake it up in a mason jar, then simply twist on the lid and it’s ready to chill out.) The pasta can be cooked, drained, rinsed, and cooled up to 1 day in advance. The ham, bacon, and vegetables can be prepped the day before and stored separately in the refrigerator.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving (about ¾ cup each)Calories: 314kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 11gFat: 21gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 8gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0.03gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 379mgPotassium: 179mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 461IUVitamin C: 12mgCalcium: 101mgIron: 1mg
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Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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Comments

  1. Awesome recipe! This was so tasty and everyone enjoyed it and I had no leftovers!
    I also just love how you show the ingredients of all your recipes in a picture!5 stars

  2. This salad is amazing. I will always make it. I usually cut the recipe in half because it makes a lot. Or I give half to my daughter. Thank you5 stars

  3. I love this recipe!! Have made it several times and everyone raves about it!! This will probably be the last time this year because winter is coming but it is beautiful, sunny and warm out today so it is a perfect day for a cold, delicious salad1 Thank you for sharing this gem!!5 stars

  4. I made this for 40 at a community service dinner held weekly for my church and had absolutely none left over. every one loved it. thankyou for such a good recipe.

  5. Want to make this this weekend! Do I need to add mustard? For some reason I always hear macaroni salads always have mustard in them but not sure why.

    1. Hi Krysia! I think macaroni salad is like potato salad – there are different styles. This version doesn’t have mustard, it has a sweet & sour dressing from sugar and vinegar (sort of like the dressing on a broccoli and cheese salad, if you’ve ever had one of those). You could definitely add it. I use mustard in my coleslaw dressing and so many other salad dressings. It will be great if you add it. I haven’t tested it that way, but I just really feel like you won’t have any issues adding mustard to this dressing. If you have any other questions, just let me know! Thank you! -Meggan

  6. Hi- I just have a question. Do you not blanch the broccoli? It just goes in completely raw? I can’t wait to try this and you other salads- they sound delicious! =)5 stars

    1. Hi Yvette, I have never blanched the broccoli for this (my grandma never did, the recipe is from her ) BUT I think that is a great question and a totally reasonable thing to do. I should have it listed as an option/suggestion because it’s a good idea. Not necessary, but a good idea! I do that for one of my other pasta salads, I blanch the broccoli. Good call. Thank you for the suggestion! I’ll update the post. -Meggan

  7. This was delicious, best macaroni salad recipe ever! I made it for the 4th of July and making it again this weekend!5 stars

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

    1. 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.

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

  10. 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. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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. 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. 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!