Like many Americans, I’ve had my fair share of macaroni salads — so trust me when I say that this is the best macaroni salad! Memorable pasta salads that leave all picnic-goers demanding the recipe are the ones that perfectly balance creaminess, sweetness, and tanginess.
They must have fabulous fillings, from crunchy chunks like peppers to creamy cubes like cheese. Even better, they should have fresh herbs to brighten up each bite. This pasta salad has all of that, and more. This macaroni salad just may be the pasta salad recipe you’ve been waiting for!
Let’s be honest — when you go to a picnic, sure, the burgers are great. The chicken is tasty. But what do you really load up your plate with? What side dish do you save containers of at home because you know there won’t be any leftovers? Yup. MACARONI SALAD.
- It hits all your taste buds — creamy, tart, sweet, savory.
- Prep + Cook time = 30 minutes!
- Make-ahead magic
The Best Macaroni Salad, in my book, is creamy macaroni salad. No vinegar and oil-based recipes here! But is there any wiggle room when it comes to the creaminess, or the crunch, or the pasta? Read on!
Macaroni Salad Ingredients Notes
Pasta: Believe it or not, there is actually an ideal pasta shape for macaroni salad — well, an ideal pasta category. If you can’t find elbow macaroni, opt for another short noodle type. Fusilli, rotini, or penne are excellent substitutes! Their small size allows for more even dressing dispersion, and they blend well with the small chopped sizes of the other ingredients.
Too much dairy: While I, personally, can never get enough of the dairy products, I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you want to swap out the sour cream to make this dish a bit lighter, Greek yogurt is an excellent substitute.
Can’t cook eggs: Boiling eggs may seem like the easiest type of cooking out there, but for many, it’s intimidating. The shells crack. How do you know if they’re hard-boiled or soft-boiled or blanched or why are there so many terms?!!
If you find yourself overwhelmed (or should I say “over-easy-whelmed.), most grocery stores now sell hard-boiled eggs. I’ve found them in the produce section, but it may vary store to store.
Macaroni Salad With Egg Storing Tips
Can You Freeze This Pasta Salad?
Nope. Unfortunately, you can’t freeze this pasta salad but there’s never enough left to freeze anyway. You can make it ahead of time, but your macaroni salad should just rest in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it.
The cream-based dressing and fresh veggies are no match for freezing temperatures. They are just never quite the same after they thaw.
Easy Macaroni Salad Make Ahead Tips
The beautiful thing about the Best Macaroni Salad is that really should be called Easy Macaroni Salad — the whole thing is make-ahead friendly! For the best flavor, you should actually make it the day ahead, let it sit, and then serve it once all the ingredients have had time to marry.
But if you want to make ahead your Make-Ahead, you can whip up the dressing and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days, and also pre-chop all the necessary ingredients — those will last in the fridge for up to a week.
How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge?
Even though hard-boiled eggs will be fine in the fridge for up to a week, once they’re peeled and mixed with the other creamy ingredients in the Best Macaroni Salad, all of it should only stay in the fridge for up to four days.
Can I Add Tuna To This?
Tuna pasta salad — yum! Tuna may have a bad rep among picnic salads, but it’s a delicious protein pop to this dish. Seafood goes deliciously well with the fresh dill herbs, especially. Don’t hesitate to make this the best tuna macaroni salad!
Can I Add Chicken To This?
What can’t you add chicken too, honestly? Chicken Pasta Salad is a natural evolution for this recipe. It’s such a delicate protein that it’ll be absolutely scrumptious to soak up all that creamy dressing. I guarantee any picnic that serves chicken macaroni salad will be a hit!
What Other Proteins Can Be Added To This Recipe?
Shrimp pasta salad is always a welcomed variation. Cold, crispy shrimp, either sauteed first or boiled — there will be no leftovers.
And if you’re really looking to blow the lid of your cookout, you can’t go wrong with Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad. Add a packet of ranch seasoning to your sauce, crumble up some cooked bacon into the filling, and you’ll have people clamoring for your recipe!
Can I Change The Dressing?
Absolutely! There are countless versions of pasta salads for a reason — it’s so versatile!
If you want a zestier, tangier twist, try pasta salad with Italian dressing. Yup, that bottled Italian Dressing at the store (it’s a miracle sauce, I swear). Either add it alone or mix it in with your sour cream/mayo sauce for a creamy Italian twist!
Or, if you want to get slightly a bit fancier, try pesto pasta salad. Most grocery stores carry pesto in the Italian sauces section. You can always whip up your own with a few simple ingredients: basil, Parmesan cheese, nuts of your choice, lemon juice, garlic, and oil.
Can I Use Tortellini Instead Of Elbow Macaroni?
To take this best macaroni salad from a side dish to the main course, swap your pasta for tortellini and brace yourself for tortellini salad! The extra heartiness in these cheese-, meat- or even veggie-stuffed pasta will make for a decadent tortellini pasta salad. Pair with crispy bread and you’ve got a weeknight winner!
Best Macaroni Salad
- 1 (16 ounce box) elbow macaroni pasta
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 16 ounces mild cheddar, cut into small cubes
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh dill, minced
- 1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
- 1/2 cup celery, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 6 bread and butter spears, cut into small pieces
- 2-4 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped
Garnish Top Dress
- 1/2 parsley, chopped
- 1 cup cheddar, cut into small cubes
- 1/2 dill, chopped
- 2 hard boiled eggs, rough chopped
- 1/2 cup red onion, diced
- Cook elbows according to package instructions, in well salted water, just until al dente. Rinse with cool water and drain well. Cool elbow to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, in a small baking bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until smooth.
- In a large mixing bowl, add cool pasta, all salad ingredients except the hard-boiled eggs and the dressing. Fold together until everything is evenly coated with dressing. Gently fold in hard-boiled eggs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate a minimum of 6 hours (overnight is best.)
- When serving, stir, adjust seasoning and add a tablespoon of milk or water, one at a time, stirring in between as needed to make the dressing creamy. Spread out on a large serving platter and arrange toppings over the salad. Serve 🙂
Best Macaroni Salad may be the best — but what are some winning pasta salad recipes?
- Taco Pasta Salad
- Caesar Pasta Salad
- Southern Macaroni Salad
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Classic Macaroni Salad
Creamy, tart, tangy, savory, crunchy, smooth — is it any wonder that pasta salad is such a beloved summery side dish? It pleases not only every taste bud but every picnic guest. And with a few easy tweaks, you can adjust it for any palate! This is truly the Best of the Best Macaroni Salad.
What did you add to take this macaroni salad over-the-top? Let me know in the comments!