Classic macaroni salad is a regular summertime standby with a symphony of flavors and textures that give pasta salads a good name. Fresh crunchy vegetables, all the right seasonings and elbow pasta are perfectly blended in a thick, creamy mayo-based dressing with a secret ingredient for a memorable macaroni salad.
A handful of everyday ingredients mixed in just the right proportions can make one of the best pasta recipes you’ve had the pleasure of tasting. And yes, you’re gonna want seconds of this timeless classic macaroni salad!
Okay, let’s dive in!
This classic macaroni salad uses everyday ingredients that you probably already have in the kitchen to create a refreshing cold pasta salad worthy of any outing or summertime meal. It’s a super flexible recipe that comes together easily and offers a friendly smile in every tasty bite!
Here are some other things I love about it.
- Classic wholesome ingredients
- Ready in 3 simple steps
- Deliciously savory and slightly sweet
- Compliments almost any meal
Making this easy macaroni salad taste absolutely fantastic requires just a little finesse and a lot of love. So, first things first.
Chilling foods is often necessary for things like cold pasta salad, but it also means that you must season more aggressively. As food gets colder, the flavors and aromas are dulled as maximum taste isn’t achieved until at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit (according to studies).
Anyhow, I recommend seasoning according to the recipe directions at first. Then taste and adjust the seasoning as needed after chilling your classic macaroni salad.
Speaking of chilling….the recipe calls for six hours. But, if you can throw your classic macaroni salad together the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight you can really coax out some incredible flavor. This easy macaroni salad is fantastic either way, but I prefer to chill it overnight whenever time allows.
Macaroni Salad Ingredients Notes
Using a quality store-bought mayonnaise will really help boost the flavor profile of your dressing. Buying the cheapest mayo you can find will only be apparent in the finished product. If you wouldn’t love it on a sandwich, you won’t love it in your classic macaroni salad.
Adding sweet pickle juice to your dressing will make it lip smackin’ good. Sweet pickle juice is the secret ingredient and it does wonders for this macaroni salad. Forget sugar and all that other stuff. Just like with the mayo, get something you can feel good about using.
Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad Cooking Tips
Perfectly boiled pasta is essential to a flavorful classic macaroni salad. First, you must add salt to your pasta water. I typically use 2 tablespoons for every 4-6 quarts of water. It sounds like a lot but it’s really not. You are just letting the pasta absorb the salt as it cooks so that the flavor is evenly dispersed throughout the finished dish.
Next, you’ll want to ensure that you only cook your elbow macaroni al dente. Mushy noodles do not a good macaroni salad make! They should still be just a little firm inside but to your liking.
Rinsing the pasta thoroughly after cooking is also important. It helps wash away a lot of that starchy residue that makes the pasta sticky. You want a nicely cooked elbow macaroni that’s not glued together to give you a beautifully finished dish that tastes magnificent in that beautiful dressing.
Grandma’s Macaroni Salad Storing Tips
Storing your classic macaroni salad is easy. Just put it in an airtight container with a secure lid in the fridge. It does make 8-12 decent sized servings so it may be easier to store it in a gallon Ziploc instead of a large container, plus it will free up room in the fridge.
Don’t forget that if you are going to a potluck or backyard barbecue, this classic macaroni salad can’t stay out (unrefrigerated) too long. Mayo-based salads must be handled with care and kept at the proper temperature for safety. Here is an article on mayo-based food safety from Food Network for more information.
Can You Freeze This Creamy Macaroni Salad Recipe?
No. Unfortunately, this is not a recipe that freezes well. The mayo separates and the veggies are just never quite the same after they thaw so its best to avoid the freezer with this one.
How Long Can You Keep This?
Well, according to the USDA this classic macaroni salad will stay good for 3-5 days if stored properly. This means protecting your salad from air by keeping it properly sealed and below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are so many ways you can change this recipe to suit your personal preference it’ll make your head spin! Changing things up is super simple. Try substituting pimentos for the bell peppers for an easy flavor twist.
Tossing in a handful of shredded carrots or even coconut will also do the trick. It just depends on your mood and if you want your classic macaroni salad a little more savory or a little sweeter!
Some people even like to toss in some chopped deviled egg or chopped sweet pickles. Just don’t overdo it on the sweet pickles or it could become too sweet along with the juice in the dressing.
Using different herbs is another way to dress up your classic macaroni salad. Try using chopped fresh basil or cilantro in place of the parsley. Sometimes just a subtle change is all you want.
What Proteins Can I Add To This Recipe?
Adding protein is a fantastic way to boost the nutritional value of this classic macaroni salad and make a heartier dish. We’ve already talked about making a macaroni salad with egg and it adds a nice new texture to the dish as well.
If you want a little more coastal flavor, set your sights on shrimp pasta salad for an oceanic fair that will remind you of sitting on the beach with tasty local cuisine. Its cold, creamy, delicious and satisfying.
Can I Make This Recipe With Bacon?
Sure, you can! Go on and toss a handful of bacon bits in there if you like. If you are a total bacon enthusiast, try making a bacon ranch pasta salad. It just doesn’t get much better than bacon, pasta and creamy refreshing ranch dressing made with wholesome ingredients.
The BLT pasta salad is another nice salad combination that really highlights that salty, savory bacon. It’s a fresh crunchy combination with plenty of textures to keep your taste buds on their toes and begging for more.
Is Chicken A Good Addition To This Recipe?
Uh, absolutely! -That is, if you’ve got it in the fridge. Chicken is one of the most flexible meat proteins because it has a subtle palatable flavor that jives with almost anything! Make a chicken macaroni salad that eats like a meal or a chicken pasta salad that will surprise all with its incredible flavor profile.
Use grilled chicken, canned chicken, rotisserie chicken…..see what I mean? It all works and each has its own subtle flavor nuances that add character to your classic macaroni salad.
Can I Use Tortellini Instead of Macaroni?
Personally, I like the elbow pasta best for this recipe, but it is your classic macaroni salad. Make it with the pasta of your choice. Believe it or not, the size and shape of pasta does affect most recipes. Different pastas offer different shapes and textures for your mouth and they pick up different amounts of dressing, so it’s up to you.
I think the best type of pasta for each general recipe must be written somewhere in the Italian constitution!
But if you are a tortellini fan, there is no shame in that game. Turn your macaroni salad into a tortellini salad. Better yet, make a tortellini pasta salad that can satiate even the heartiest of appetites. It’s a beautiful delicacy of flavors and textures that can easily be a main course!
What Other Dressings Can I Try For This Recipe?
Substitution different dressings in your classic macaroni salad can be fun and incredibly tasty but you’ll miss that sweet, tangy dressing that holds this recipe all together. Since this macaroni salad calls for a mayonnaise-based dressing you can try making pesto pasta salad instead. All those fragrant ambrosial herbs really add something special to a pasta salad.
Or you could skip the mayo altogether and make a pasta salad with Italian dressing. It’s got a creamy, tangy stick to your ribs deliciousness that is just hard to resist. Plus, it’s a nice alternative to cream-based dressings.
Classic Macaroni Salad
- 1 -16 ounce box elbow pasta
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons pepper
- ½ teaspoons dried mustard
- 3 tablespoons sweet pickle juice
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 cup celery finely chopped
- ½ cup red bell pepper finely chopped
- 1 Cup red onion finely chopped
- 1 - 4.25 ounce can chopped black olives drained, rinsed and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley finely chopped
- Cook the macaroni just until it's al dente according to package directions in lightly salted water; drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together macaroni salad ingredients: mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, dried mustard, sweet pickle juice and milk until smooth. Stir in macaroni, celery, red pepper, red onion and olives. Chill for 6 hours. If you like a thinner dressing, simply add 1 Tablespoon at a time, of either milk, water, or even more sweet pickle juice, to the finished salad, toss well to combine. Continue adding your liquid of choice, in 1 Tablespoon increments, until you reach desired consistency. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve
Making pasta salad is like a right of passage into the warm summer months. Pasta salad is friendly and inviting and typically made to share, which are some of its best characteristics. Plus, there are flavor variations to suit every taste and occasion. Here are some of my best cold pasta salad recipes for you to add to your collection.
- Southern Macaroni Salad
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Tuna Macaroni Salad
- Best Macaroni Salad
- Taco Pasta Salad
Cold, creamy classic macaroni salad just like grandma used to make is ideal for so many different occasions. Plus, it’s super simple to make! Just three easy steps and, Viola! Bring people together and feed a hungry crowd at the same time with a handful of stuff you probably already have in the kitchen.
That slightly sweet inviting flavor and classic elbow pasta was made for friendly get togethers, warm smiles and hungry tummies. It just doesn’t get much better than this!