The Best Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe - Julia's Simply Southern (2024)

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Y’all come join me in the kitchen and let’s make the Best Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe, the perfect side dish for summer.

That’s right, honey, we’re gonna whip up a Southern classic that’s sure to bring a smile to your face and a bit of comfort to your heart—classic macaroni salad! This creamy macaroni salad will have you swooning with delight in every bite!

This dish is perfect for those warm summer days when you want something cool, creamy, and downright delicious.

With tender macaroni pasta, crisp veggies, and a delightful dressing, this salad is the star of any potluck, picnic, or family gathering.

So grab your mixing bowls and follow along as I share all of my best tips and steps for making the most delicious homemade macaroni salad.

And, if you don’t have the extra time to spend with me, I understand life is busy honey, just use that jump to recipe button up top to scroll right to the recipe card.

Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe

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What is macaroni salad?

Macaroni salad is a creamy pasta salad that is combined with diced sweet veggies in a slightly sweet and tangy dressing.

I do find that this classic potluck dish is better homemade than what you typically find sold at a deli counter.

So, if you’ve never tried macaroni salad and looking to try it, I recommend making your own so that it will be a great tasting experience for you.

Tips for making the Ultimate Macaroni Salad that everyone will LOVE

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Y’all follow these tips and you’ll have the best macaroni salad ever!

  • Place a large mixing bowl in the refrigerator to get nice and cold. This will help to cool the pasta down to room temperature later on. I like to use a large stainless steel mixing bowl for this.
  • Do Not, I repeat do not, rinse the pasta after cooking – I know some of y’all will find this to be controversial, but trust me. The starches add to the dish and help hold that dressing making macaroni salad so much better. If you’re worried about pasta sticking, don’t, you’ll see why shortly…plus the dressing will un-stick it.
  • Prepare the macaroni salad a day ahead to allow those flavors to get well acquainted with each other.
  • Save back a little bit of the dressing to refresh this old fashioned macaroni salad so that it presents nice and creamy for those who will be enjoying its wonderful flavors.
  • How long is mac salad good for? to make the most of your good macaroni salad, store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator and it will last 3 to 4 days.

Macaroni Salad Recipe Ingredients

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Here’s what you will need to make macaroni salad:

  • Mayonnaise – I am from the upstate region of South Carolina where Duke’s reigns supreme and it is my favorite. Use your favorite good quality real mayonnaise for the dressing.
  • Yellow Mustard – just your good ole regular yellow mustard, nothing fancy needed.
  • White Vinegar – I like white vinegar in this dressing recipe, but you can use apple cider vinegar if that is what you have on hand available to you.
  • Ground White Pepper – white pepper is delicious and is great for presentation reasons for this dish. My husband happens to love white pepper so I always have it on hand. If you don’t, just use black pepper.
  • Kosher Salt –for the dressing mixture and you’ll also want to add a bit to the water cooking the pasta.
  • White Granulated Sugar – for a touch of sweetness for this classic side dish.
  • Red Bell Pepper – I love the pop of color.
  • Green Bell Pepper
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Green Onions – the white and green parts. You could use some red onion if preferred. I like the green onions because of how mild they are. If you don’t care for onion, just leave it out.
  • Elbow Macaroni – well, of course you need macaroni noodles for a mac salad.

Optional Ingredients and Variations for this Recipe

The ingredients that I have listed above are all you need to make a macaroni salad that will make grandma proud. Try it, then see how might want to tweak it to suit your taste buds.

Some of y’all are likely wondering where the hard-boiled eggs are. Southern folks love to throw hard boiled eggs in everything. Y’all know it is true. Well, I just don’t like the chopped eggs in my macaroni salad because I think it makes it look messy, so I don’t add any. You can, of course.

Sweet pickles or dill pickles, chopped or relish, are a great addition to this salad.

We love it plain and classic with the mayo creamy dressing. These days, there are lots of different eating plans people follow so you can adapt the dressing if needed with some sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt if that suits you better. The mayonnaise is the way to go in my book though.

I find the simple seasonings best for this recipe, but if you want to play around with other seasonings and throw in some garlic powder or onion powder then go for it.

Oh, by the way, if you want a delicious variation, try my friend Norine’s Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Recipe.

The Mac Salad Dressing

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Okay, y’all, let’s move on to how to make this easy macaroni salad recipe.

First thing is to place that large bowl in your refrigerator to get nice and cold that I mentioned earlier.

Then, grab yourself a medium sized mixing bowl and let’s make the dressing. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, white pepper, salt and sugar to the bowl.

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Whisk to combine everything together for the dressing mixture.

Be sure to remove a half cup of the dressing mixture and transfer it to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to use the following day to refresh the salad.

Set the dressing aside for a minute and let’s take care of the veggies.

The Sweet Veggies are key to delicious Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

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Petite dice the red pepper, green pepper, and celery. The photo above shows how I like to chop mine so the ingredients are well distributed throughout the macaroni salad.

Thinly slice the green onions and grate the peeled carrot using a box grater.

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Then throw those sweet vegetables into your creamy dressing mixture and place the bowl into your refrigerator to hang out while we work on the macaroni.

Yes, there is a reason we’re doing things in this order, so follow along with me friend.

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How long to boil macaroni? Prepare the elbow macaroni al dente according to package directions. Basically you’ll add some cold water to a large pot, bring it to a boil then add some salt, add the pasta, and cook it until tender, which takes 10 to 12 minutes. Then drain it very well in a colander.

I’m gonna say it once more, do not rinse the cooked pasta.

Remember that chilled mixing bowl in the fridge? Now is the time to let it do its magic. Transfer that tender cooked macaroni to that icy cold bowl and use a spatula to stir it around.

The cold bowl is going to help that pasta cool down. You do want the past to cool before you add the dressing or the mayonnaise will become a greasy mess. Nobody wants that in their macaroni salad.

Patience is key here, and we’re gonna take ten minutes to cool the pasta, giving it a stir occasionally.

Yes, the noodles will be somewhat sticky but as soon as the dressing goes in they’ll all separate perfectly.

Dressing the Creamy Macaroni Salad

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The next step is to add our wonderful dressing with those vegetables to the cooled macaroni.

Aren’t those colors amazing? I think this is such a beautiful dish with all of the bright colors of the veggies. That makes it so appetizing!

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Now, use your spatula and stir everything together until well combined. That my friends is a creamy pasta salad worthy of a place on your menu all summer long.

Go ahead, I know you want to, give it a little taste. Now, cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and place the bowl of macaroni salad into the fridge to marinate in that creamy dressing. You’ll want it to chill at least several hours, but I think overnight is best.

That dressing is going to be sucked up and absorbed by the macaroni noodles, so don’t be surprised.

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Notice how the macaroni salad looks a bit dry the next day? The pasta really absorbs the dressing. Now, it is still delicious just like this and has all of the flavor from the dressing, but I do like to freshen it up a bit before serving. That is why we reserved ourselves a little bit of the dressing mixture.

Refresh the Macaroni Salad before Serving

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Add the reserved half cup of dressing to the macaroni salad and give it a quick stir. This will make it look fresh, creamy, and an eye-catching dish for all who want to eat it.

Transfer the homemade macaroni salad to a serving bowl or garnished platter and serve.

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Doesn’t that look amazing? So much deliciousness happening on this platter of macaroni salad. I’ve garnished around the edges with fresh pretty greens, but that is personal preference. You can serve it out of a pretty bowl if you like.

What to Serve with Macaroni Salad?

  1. Traditional Southern Fried Chicken: Crispy, golden, and juicy fried chicken is a perfect match for that creamy macaroni salad.
  2. BBQ Ribs or Pulled Pork Sandwiches: Don’t forget the creamy coleslaw for the pulled pork sammies.
  3. Hot Dogs with Chili or Cheeseburgers: Mac salad is a great side at a cookout.
  4. Other Sides on a Cold Plate: Enjoy macaroni salad on a cold plate along with a side salad, potato salad, and deviled eggs. So delicious on a hot summer day.
  5. Easter Ham: this is a wonderful side for your spring Easter dinner.

Don’t forget a big ole pitcher of sweet tea to wash it all down.

Macaroni Salad Recipe Card

Y’all, don’t you just wanna grab a fork and take a bite? Creamy, delicious and perfectly prepared macaroni salad will be the hit of your gatherings.

Below if the printable recipe card for this simple Southern macaroni salad.

Yield: 1 Side Dish

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Enjoy the very best classic macaroni salad with this simple recipe. It is perfectly creamy with tender elbow macaroni mixed with crisp sweet veggies, and a dressing that's so rich and flavorful, you'll be licking the spoon clean! This is the perfect side dish for summer and sure to be a hit at gatherings, so be sure to share. It's got a touch of sweetness, a hint of tang, and a whole lotta love. Perfectly seasoned and oh-so-refreshing. Follow my simple tips for making your own homemade macaroni salad.

Prep Time20 minutes

Cook Time10 minutes

Total Time10 minutes


The Dressing

  • 1½ cup Real Mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Yellow Mustard
  • ¼ cup White Vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon White Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt, or to taste
  • ¼ cup White Granulated Sugar

The Mac Salad

  • ½ cup Celery, diced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced (seeds removed)
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, diced (seeds removed)
  • ½ cup Carrot, grated (this is one medium to large carrot, peeled)
  • ¼ cup Green Onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 16 ounces Elbow Macaroni Pasta, cooked according to package directions - do not rinse after cooking.


  1. Place a large mixing bowl in the refrigerator to chill.
  2. Prepare the dressing: in a medium sized mixing bowl; whisk together the mayonnaise, yellow mustard, vinegar, white ground pepper, salt, and sugar together until well combined. Remove ½ cup of the dressing and transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate and reserve to freshen the salad before serving. Next, add the prepped vegetables to the remaining creamy dressing mixture and place the bowl of dressing in the fridge until needed.
  3. Prepare the Pasta: Cook the macaroni according to package directions until tender then drain well in a colander. Do not rinse. Grab the large bowl that has been chilling from the refrigerator and transfer the cooked elbow macaroni into the cold bowl. The chilled bowl will help cool the pasta. Use a spatula to gently stir the macaroni occasionally and allow it to sit for 10 minutes until it has cooled down.
  4. Dressing the Macaroni Salad: Next, add the creamy dressing mixture with the vegetables to the cooled pasta and use a spatula to stir to combine.
  5. Cover the macaroni salad with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours to overnight. Overnight recommended to allow the flavors to mingle. The dressing will absorb into the pasta.
  6. Before serving, add the reserved half cup of dressing to the macaroni salad and stir to combine to freshen up the creaminess of the mac salad then transfer to a serving bowl or garnished platter and serve.


See full post for ingredient variations and other options as well as serving suggestions.

Do not add the mayonnaise based dressing to hot pasta or it will be greasy. The ten minute cooling time for the pasta is an important step for good macaroni salad.

While the pasta cools, give it a stir occasionally. The pasta will be a bit sticky but the dressing will loosen everything up once it is added and combined with the macaroni.

Leftover macaroni salad can be refrigerated up to 4 days in an airtight container.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving:Calories: 349Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 379mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 2gSugar: 7gProtein: 4g

serving size may differ according to individual appetite

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The Best Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe

Well, there you have it, y’all—classic macaroni salad that’s as easy as pie and twice as tasty! So do yourself a favor, friend, and skip that deli made stuff and make your own mac salad at home.

Whether you’re serving it up at a backyard barbecue or enjoying a quiet dinner at home, this dish is sure to be a hit.

Now, before you run off to the kitchen to whip up a batch of my perfect macaroni salad recipe, be sure to subscribe to my email list. Subscribers get my latest recipes and news here on the blog delivered straight to your inbox so you never miss a thing.

Until next time, happy cooking and may every meal be filled with joy and Southern hospitality.

Author of Julia's Simply Southern

The Best Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe - Julia's Simply Southern (32)

About Julia

Hey Y'all! I'm Julia, the cook and writer behind the recipes here at Julia's Simply Southern. I began my website so that I could share easy to follow recipes that anyone can use to put a home cooked meal on the dinner table. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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The Best Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe - Julia's Simply Southern (2024)


How long does macaroni salad with mayonnaise last? ›

How long does pasta salad with mayo last in the fridge? It can last between three and five days in the refrigerator, depending on some factors. Ingredients: Ingredients containing dairy, such as mayo, salami, and cheese: They can reduce the shelf-life to just 2–3 days.

Why does my macaroni salad get watery? ›

One of the best ways to prevent watery macaroni salad is to avoid overcooking the pasta. Overcooked pasta is more likely to absorb the dressing and get even mushier.

Should you rinse macaroni when making macaroni salad? ›

Elbow macaroni: To make this a macaroni salad, use elbow macaroni or substitute it with any small pasta shape (small shells and spiral shapes work nicely). After cooking the pasta, rinse it before tossing it with the dressing. Rinsing removes extra starch, which makes the dressing sticky.

Should you run pasta under cold water for pasta salad? ›

That scenario is one where you intend to serve your pasta chilled without any starchy, warm sauce alongside it. In other words, you should rinse your cooked pasta if you're using it for a cold pasta salad or a chilled noodle salad.

Can you eat week old macaroni salad? ›

For the most part, pasta salad will last between 4 to 7 days if you store it correctly. Always use sealed containers or freezer-quality storage bags. (You can also freeze it for up to three months – you can read more on freezing pasta salad in the section below.)

Can you eat macaroni salad left out overnight? ›

Anything perishable should go into the fridge within two hours. If perishables are sitting in temperatures of more than 90 degrees, the time limit to get them into the fridge goes down to one hour. Examples include leftovers, boiled or fried rice, pasta salad, cut fruit, and poultry, meat and seafood.

Can you freeze macaroni salad that has mayonnaise in it? ›

Freezing macaroni salad allows it to last up to two weeks or 14 days! While freezing is a great way to extend the shelf life, it does come with its challenges. What is this? For instance, dressings like mayonnaise, cream cheese, or sour cream might separate or become watery once thawed.

What are the ingredients in Sally Sherman macaroni salad? ›

Macaroni (Durum Semolina, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin), Hellmann's Mayonnaise (Soybean Oil, Whole Eggs, Vinegar, Water, Egg Yolks, Salt, Sugar, Dextrose, Lemon Juice, Natural Flavors, Calcium Disodium EDTA [Used To Protect Quality]), Sugar, Water, Vinegar, Bell Peppers, Carrots, Onions, ...

Why does my macaroni salad not stay creamy? ›

The key to keeping macaroni salad from drying out is the pasta. If you don't cook it enough, the pasta won't grab on to the dressing and will dry out. If you overcook the pasta, it will be completely soggy and gross. Cook the pasta just right, and your macaroni salad will stay perfectly creamy.

Why does my macaroni salad taste bland? ›

Making sure the water is salty enough ensures the macaroni is seasoned through (even after rinsing in cold water) and the salad will not be bland. 2. The noodles weren't sufficiently drained. Let the macaroni drain completely in a colander to ensure the sauce isn't diluted with water.

What are three things that should be avoided when making a nutritionally balanced salad? ›

Is Your Salad Healthy? 7 Ways You Might Be Sabotaging It, According to Registered Dietitians
  • Mistake 1: Forgetting Protein. ...
  • Mistake 2: Drowning in Dressing. ...
  • Mistake 3: Packaged Dressings. ...
  • Mistake 4: Going Crazy on the Croutons. ...
  • Mistake 5: Boring Bowls. ...
  • The Magic Formula for a Winning Salad.
Mar 27, 2023

What not to do when making pasta? ›

5 Things We Never Do When Making Pasta
  1. Use a small pot to boil the pasta.
  2. Neglect to salt the water.
  3. Forget to give the pasta a stir or two as it cooks.
  4. Cook it past al dente.
  5. Dump out all of the pasta water.
May 1, 2019

What are the seven things that you should not do when preparing the salad? ›

Common Salad Mistakes
  1. Here are seven things you should NOT do when making salads: Too much dressing. ...
  2. Pouring on the dressing. ...
  3. Wet salad leaves. ...
  4. Not seasoning it. ...
  5. Subpar salad dressings. ...
  6. Uncreative toppings. ...
  7. Served in a bowl.
May 13, 2013

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