Classic Macaroni Salad-Just like Mom used to make! Delicious pasta with all the right goodies tossed in an extra creamy, thick dressing!
Growing up my family served macaroni salad like it was its own food group.
So it’s no surprise that one of my favorite summer side dishes is macaroni salad.
I used to buy mine at the grocery store down the street—always from the deli, never from the shelves. (Shelf-salad is about as bad as it gets.)
I found, though, that I was dropping some serious cash to keep up with my macaroni-salad-eating patterns.
It’s such a convenient side dish for summer grilling or barbeque that I was serving it all the time!
I needed an alternative that was easier on my wallet but didn’t require me to spend all my time making macaroni salad.
I tried many recipes looking for that one superior macaroni salad. But here’s the problem: I’m picky about my macaroni salad.
Like, really picky.
I don’t like clumpy macaroni salad or a salad that’s too vinegary.
I want a salad that’s creamy and just a little bit sweet.
And when you’re as picky as I am, not just any macaroni salad will do.
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Well, this classic macaroni salad recipe was my savior.
As with any delicious macaroni salad, the dressing is the key.
I love delicious al dente pasta smothered in a heaping helping of creamy dressing. Dry macaroni salad is a horrible, horrible thing. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy (you know who you are).
This simple macaroni salad is loaded with a super creamy, thick dressing that leaves nothing wanting.
The fabulous flavor is a great balance of savory, salty, and a wee bit sweet.
Of course, the best macaroni salad recipes play on the contrast of soft and crunchy. This pasta salad is a perfect example.
The al dente noodles and the crisp vegetables add that beautiful crunch amidst the delicious cream.
Macaroni salad should always be like this! (And if you make it yourself using this recipe, it can be!)
One of my favorite things about this easy macaroni salad is how quick it is to put together. My schedule is always so busy, so I love dishes that don’t ask for too much of my time.
I’m always on the lookout for “20 minutes or less” dishes.
This macaroni salad recipe is even faster! 15 minutes will get you a delicious macaroni salad ready for the fridge.
A simple addition of cooked tuna can make really good tuna macaroni salad. I’m fond of serving this up at any seafood or beach themed event!
Recipe Notes For Macaroni Salad:
Mayo: A good, quality commercial mayo is vital to the success of this macaroni salad recipe. Because mayo is the base of the whole dressing, it doesn’t do you any good to buy the cheapest stuff on the shelf. But there’s no need to find the most expensive, uber-organic, double nutrient mayo either. A solid commercial mayo will be just fine. It gives the recipe a lot of subtle undernotes and contributes well to the overall flavor. Personally, I use Best Foods. I love its flavor. (Btw-not an endorsement, just my opinion).
Seasoning: Food that’s served cold needs to be seasoned more aggressively than warm food in order to ensure it tastes right. So don’t skimp out on the seasoning!
The Dressing: This recipe makes a very thick dressing. 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.
Pasta: Make sure your cooking water is well seasoned with salt. I use 2 tablespoons of salt for every 4-6 quarts of water.
No, your eyes aren’t going—you read that right. 2 tablespoons of salt. Cooking the pasta in well-salted water enhances the flavor of the finished pasta. It’s an important step to ensure that the pasta doesn’t taste bland in the macaroni salad.
I can’t stress this enough: do not overcook the pasta. Classic Macaroni Salad is just not as good with soft noodles. You want the noodles to stay firm enough to add some texture to the macaroni salad.
Don’t skip rinsing the pasta with cold water right after it’s done the cooking. This step removes the starchy residue that occurs when cooking pasta. This extra starch is really helpful when you’re making a hot pasta dish, it aides the sauce in sticking to the pasta. But in a cold pasta dish, it doesn’t work the same. Instead, the starch just makes the pasta sort of gluey and sticky.
Make sure the pasta is well drained. The extra water clinging to the pasta can really dilute the creamy dressing, making it thinner and less delicious.
Chilling: The recipe says to chill for six hours. For me, this usually means chilling overnight. I think the extra few hours while I’m sleeping helps it set better anyway. That time in the fridge is crucial to a good dish—the flavors marry and mingle while chilling.
The Secret Ingredient: I’m not fond of secret ingredients. Generally, I think any recipe that claims a secret ingredient as the key to its success is lying. But, in this case, this macaroni salad recipe really does have a key secret ingredient! (Although it’s not really all that secret.) Sweet pickle juice. This is an old family trick for a lot of dishes. It’s an unassuming addition to macaroni salad that really makes the whole dish shine. I tell friends that it works like magic. I also use sweet pickle juice in my Classic Deviled Eggs Recipe.
Variations: Occasionally I’ll use pimentos instead of the peppers. It’s a solid substitute when I want to change things up. Or when I just have extra pimentos lying around.
Some people prefer a heartier version of this recipe called Amish macaroni salad. Basically, it’s just macaroni salad with eggs. Now, don’t get me wrong. Making this salad with eggs is fine. I like it occasionally. But I think the dish loses its versatility when you add the eggs.
Some people prefer a heartier version of this recipe called Amish macaroni salad. Basically, it’s just macaroni salad with hard-boiled eggs. Now, don’t get me wrong. Making this salad with eggs is fine. I like it occasionally. But I think the dish loses some of its versatility when you add the eggs. It’s up to you!
A different alternative for this dish is Hawaiian macaroni salad. It’s a very similar recipe, but with apple cider vinegar, carrots and onions. (If you’ve ever heard that Hawaiian macaroni salad has ham and pineapple, don’t believe it. The traditional stuff—the best stuff—is made from a simple combination of ingredients.) Here’s a really awesome recipe for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. It’s unique and very tangy!
Food Safety: If you’re taking this dish to a potluck or a picnic, remember that you can’t leave any mayo-based salad, like this one, out of the fridge for too long. It will go bad. Check out this article on Food Network for more food safety information.
More Salads Recipes Like This?
Pea Salad – Little green gems lend beautiful color and texture to this delicious creamy salad.
7 Layer Salad – Beautiful fresh salad, loaded with texture and layer of flavor!
Antipasto Salad– chock full of meat, cheese, olives, and pickled veggies for new textures and flavors in every bite
Hawaiian macaroni salad -Generously dressed in a super creamy dressing that’s both a little tangy and a little sweet.
Tuna Pasta Salad – Our Tuna Pasta Salad, made with creamy dressing, fresh vegetables, and fresh herbs, is a true summer table staple. Works perfectly as a main dish or a side!
Creamy Cucumber Salad– Our creamy cucumber salad is the perfect blend of sweet, a little sour, and creamy! Crisp and tangy, the texture and flavors are absolutely fantastic!
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Classic Macaroni Salad
Classic Easy Macaroni Salad-Just like Mom used to make! Delicious pasta with all the right goodies tossed in an extra creamy, thick dressing!
- 1-16 Ounce Box Elbow Pasta
- 2 Cups Mayonnaise
- 2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 Teaspoon Sugar
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Pepper
- 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Mustard
- 3 Tablespoons Sweet Pickle Juice
- 1/2 Cup Whole Milk
- 1 Cup Celery Finely Chopped
- 1/2 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
- 1. 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.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together 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
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