This macaroni salad is a classic side dish for good reason.

Elbow macaroni and a handful of add-ins are tossed in a super easy (and extra creamy) tangy dressing.

I love it for potlucks, picnics, or bbqs since it’s fast to make and best made ahead of time.

serving macaroni salad with a spoon

An Easy Make Ahead Side

Macaroni noodles hold a special place in my heart. I’m in love with mac and cheese and my Mom always served elbows with rouladen gravy and of course this classic macaroni salad.  I think the best macaroni salad recipe is a simple side that’s tasty, filling, and budget-friendly. It goes with everything from burgers to fried chicken.

  • You can (and should) make macaroni salad ahead of time for the best flavor.
  • It’s budget friendly and you likely have the ingredients on hand.
  • It’s super fast to put together and versatile (see notes below).
  • The dressing uses simple ingredients but it’s extra creamy with lots of tang (and it only takes about 2 minutes).
  • Use any short pasta or add-ins to make it your own.
Ingredients for Creamy Macaroni Salad on a pan

The basic ratio for macaroni salad: (full recipe below)

  • ½ lb elbow macaroni (or any short pasta)
  • about 2 cups add-ins
  • 1 cup dressing

Of course, you can add more or less of any of these ingredients to your liking. Keep in mind that some of the dressing will soak into the pasta as it chills in the fridge, so be generous when adding dressing.

Ingredients for Macaroni Salad

For the best macaroni salad, include small pasta such as elbows or ditalini, a creamy dressing, and some add-ins for flavor and texture.

  • Fresh & Crisp – celery, shredded carrots, red bell peppers, fresh parsley, or fresh dill
  • Salty – Try adding cheese, bacon, ham, sliced olives, or even capers.
  • Savory – Green or red onions, dill pickles, garlic powder, boiled eggs, chopped or shredded cheddar.
  • Sweet – Baby peas, sweet bell peppers, sweet pickles, or extra pickle relish.
macaroni salad ingredients in a glass bowl

Macaroni Salad Dressing

This macaroni salad dressing is a very simple mayonnaise-based dressing and takes just a couple of minutes to prepare.

  • Mayonnaise (or dressing) is the base of this dressing recipe. To lighten up the dressing you can substitute half of the mayonnaise for Greek yogurt.
  • White vinegar or cider vinegar add tang. Swap for dill pickle juice if you’d like.
  • Sweet pickle relish and a pinch of sugar add sweetness to balance the vinegar. Sugar substitutes work well in this recipe or swap sugar for a splash of sweet pickle juice.
  • Seasonings are kept simple with a touch of prepared or dijon mustard, salt & pepper to taste.

It’s sweet, tangy, and zesty; similar to a dressing similar found in potato salad or coleslaw. You can swap out your favorite creamy dressing in this recipe, bottled coleslaw dressing is a great option too.

macaroni salad ingredients in a bowl

How to Make Macaroni Salad

As easy as 1,2,3…

  1. Cook Pasta: Boil, drain, and cool the macaroni per the recipe below.
  2. Prepare Add-Ins: While the macaroni is boiling, chop the veggies or add-ins.
  3. Mix & Chill: Mix the dressing ingredients and toss with the macaroni and add ins.

Make Macaroni Salad Ahead of Time!

This recipe is best left to chill for an hour or two before serving to allow the flavors to blend and the dressing to soak into the pasta. It can be made up to 24 hours before serving. 

Keep in mind that the pasta will soak in the dressing so dress generously. Before serving, give it a stir and then garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh herbs if you’d like.

a bowl of macaroni salad

Tips for Perfection

  • Elbows can be swapped for any short pasta. Try ditalini, small shells, or wagon wheels.
  • Ensure add-ins are diced about the size of the macaroni.
  • Rinsing the pasta after draining stops it from cooking and ensures it isn’t mushy or sticky.
  • Mix the dressing directly in the salad bowl and then add the other ingredients, one less dish to wash!
  • Dress the salad generously as the pasta will soak up some of the sauce as it sits.

Make-Ahead & Leftovers

More Favorites Sides

What are your favorite add-ins? Leave a comment and rating below!

serving macaroni salad with a spoon
5 from 183 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
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Classic Creamy Macaroni Salad

This classic macaroni salad is creamy & flavorful. Elbow macaroni and a handful of add-ins in a simple homemade dressing.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 6 servings


  • ½ pound elbow macaroni uncooked (approx. 2 cups dry), or any short pasta

Add Ins* (see note)

  • 1 cup celery diced
  • ½ cup carrots shredded
  • ½ cup red pepper diced
  • ¼ cup red onion diced, or green onion


  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt & pepper


  • Cook the elbow macaroni according to the instructions on the package. Drain well and rinse it under cold water to stop cooking.
  • To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, sweet relish, yellow mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Mix well.
  • In a large bowl, add the cooled macaroni, the dressing, celery, carrots, red pepper, and onion. Mix well.
  • Refrigerate the macaroni salad for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving.


*You will need 2 to 2 ½ cups of add-ins. Use the list above for a basic macaroni salad or change them to your liking. Other favorite add-ins include pickles, olives, ham, sweet peas, and cheddar cheese.
  • Elbows can be swapped for any short pasta. Try ditalini, small shells, or wagon wheels.
  • Rinsing the pasta after draining stops it from cooking so it doesn’t get mushy and keeps it from being sticky.
  • The dressing can be swapped for a bottled dressing of your choice or even coleslaw dressing.
  • Dress the salad generously as the pasta will soak up some of the dressing as it sits.
  • Ensure add-ins are diced about the size of the macaroni.
5 from 183 votes

Nutrition Information

Calories: 432 | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 17g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 408mg | Potassium: 214mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 2332IU | Vitamin C: 18mg | Calcium: 25mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.

Course Pasta, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American

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Can you freeze macaroni salad?

Sadly, it does not freeze well.

How long is macaroni salad good for?

Macaroni salad is best made ahead of time, which makes it party perfect. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days. 

What to eat with macaroni salad

We love to serve macaroni salad as a side for anything off the grill! Bbq chicken, hot dogs, or hamburgers are great options. It also is a great dish to serve with pulled pork.

Creamy Macaroni Salad in a bowl with a title
close up of plated Creamy Macaroni Salad with writing
bowl of Creamy Macaroni Salad with a wooden spoon and title
Creamy Macaroni Salad in a bowl and close up with a title

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About the author

Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!
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Recipe Rating


  1. The best recipe! So quick and easy. I didn’t add the sweet relish , I added some four cheese and followed the rest of the recipe! Even better the next day!5 stars

  2. Made this today. Way too hot to cook. Loved your dressing recipe. Forgot to put in sugar, but didn’t need it.
    Will be making this on the regular5 stars

  3. This is the ONLY mac salad I make! Have tried many recipes but this is by
    far THE BEST! Have been asked for the many times! THANK YOU!

  4. Unable to find “Sweet pickle relish” in Australia, is there another substitute or is it called something else here.5 stars

    1. You can omit it and while it will slightly change the flavor, it will still be delicious Karen!

  5. Great and fast recipe.
    I did cut the sugar in half since I don’t like my salads to be to sweet. this was perfect.
    I will keep this recipe to make again.
    Thank you5 stars

  6. made this for my son and grandkids. they all liked it, but said that it was way too sweet. I had to agree with them.
    I will make this again but with just atouch of sugar. I didn’t add the sweet relish, I ‘m the only one that likes it.5 stars

  7. I made 6 lbs of this as written for a party of 30 people and it was gone in 2 hours. Gone! So simple, classic and delicious! Thank you for sharing.