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Party Food

Elbow Macaroni Pasta Salad (Easy Recipe)

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This easy, creamy, homemade macaroni salad is a favorite for our family!

Simple and quick, this delicious macaroni salad is a breeze to make from scratch. It’s a classic side dish in our family. I love how easy it is to make and how yummy it turns out. 

I serve it as a side for weeknight dinners or as a dish to pass at a potluck or barbecue. 

Grab your ingredients and let’s head to the kitchen to make this creamy, tasty recipe! 

Do you dare ask for a classic dish like macaroni salad when you’re at a restaurant or are you a purist who says their own pasta salad is the best?

The thing about a macaroni salad recipe is it’s quick and easy to make, with very little cooking and one batch makes several servings. If you can boil water, you’re golden. So when something that delicious is so simple to fix, a little experimentation never hurts.

This recipe is a go-to dish all year round. I serve it at potlucks and barbecues as well as large family gatherings and parties — alongside other side dishes such as this classic coleslaw recipe and scalloped potatoes.

Bowl full of elbow macaroni salad

Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe:

Besides tasting good, macaroni salad is popular at family reunions, picnics, BBQs, and all sorts of parties because it can be fixed ahead of time and it travels well.

Ready to explore?

Ingredients Needed for Macaroni Salad in a Big Bowl

What do you put in macaroni salad?

Even though the ingredient list for macaroni salad has room for lots of variation, I think everyone agrees it must have at least some creamy mayonnaise and it must be cold.

The best macaroni salad I ever tasted included: red pepper, celery, carrots, green onions, parsley, vinegar, a bit of sugar, sour cream, Dijon mustard, plus salt and pepper (recipe follows).

And no matter if you like your salad sweet, spicy, or sweet n’ sour, you can create your preferred version by adjusting add-ins.

If you’re feeling adventurous, here are some ingredient possibilities: olives, pickles, pickle relish, cucumbers, radishes, pimentos, green peppers, roasted red peppers, grape tomatoes, kidney beans, boiled eggs, peas, baby corn, cheese cubes, red onions, banana peppers, bacon, ham, hot dogs, chicken, turkey, tuna, and crab.

How’s that for variety?!

Cream Sauce Being Poured into Macaroni Pasta Salad

How do you make creamy macaroni salad?

In my estimation, if your pasta salad is dry, you don’t have real macaroni salad. I like to use real mayonnaise, sour cream, and just a little apple cider vinegar.

But there are dressing variations that enhance the signature creamy goodness, too.

Use red or white wine vinegars, substitute Greek yogurt for half the mayonnaise, or include milk or cream if your salad is too dry.

You can even add a trickle of juice from the olive or pickle jar.

How to make macaroni salad:

  • Boil pasta according to the package directions—but slightly undercook so it doesn’t become mushy when you add dressing—and drain well, but don’t rinse.
  • Toss it with a little olive oil so it doesn’t stick together.
  • Avoid using butter because it will clump when it becomes cold and that changes the salad’s taste.
  • Then toss your chosen add-ins with the pasta, gently folding ingredients together with a spatula or large wooden spoon so the macaroni retains its shape.
  • I think there is a better flavor melding if the add-ins are in smaller pieces or chunks. For example, halve cherry tomatoes, dice celery, and cube the ham.
  • If you decide to include bacon, I suggest cutting it in bite-sized pieces before you fry it. That way it’s ready to be tossed into the salad without further messy crumbling.
  • For dressing, whisk mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, mustard, and parsley (or your chosen dressing version) together and pour over the salad. Be generous.
  • I like to chill the entire salad for a minimum of two hours before serving but six hours are even better.

What do you put in a pasta salad?

Elbow macaroni is frequently used for pasta salad but there are other interesting shapes to look for. They taste pretty much the same but choose penne, shells, bowties, wagon wheels, or spirals for a fun change.

What goes into a pasta salad?

Although it isn’t macaroni salad in the traditional view, there are other wonderful pasta salads to explore.

  • Macaroni Caesar Salad uses eggs, bacon, and croutons, but pasta is substituted for some of the lettuce. Top it with Caesar dressing.
  • Tropical Macaroni Salad includes eggs, pineapple, and apples with a creamy dressing.
  • Try combining boiled potatoes with macaroni for a filling salad that includes the best of potato salad and macaroni salad.
  • Pasta salad goes south of the border when you add spicy salsa and a little garlic.
  • Pineapple, coconut, maraschino cherries and cabbage combine with pasta for a fresh taste. Fruit-flavored yogurt, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and oil dress it up.
  • Mix pasta with your chosen add-ins but forego the mayo and sub ranch dressing for an easy salad.
  • How about a sweet pasta-fruit salad? Macaroni, vanilla pudding, mandarin oranges, fruit cocktail, maraschino cherries, and frozen whipped topping cools everyone off.

bowls of pasta salad

Are you getting hungry? Stick with the classics or dare to try something new. Macaroni salad is a crowd pleaser. Time to get that pasta boiling!

More Salad Recipes You Will Love

Macaroni Salad Recipe

Elbow Macaroni Pasta Salad

This quick and easy Elbow Macaroni Pasta Salad is the absolute best!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: macaroni salad
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 10
Calories: 142kcal


  • 1 box of elbow macaroni cooked
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 2 stalks of celery finely chopped
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1 cup of mayo
  • ¼ cup of sour cream
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley


  • In a large bowl, toss cooked macaroni with celery, red pepper and carrots.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, mustard, green onions and parsley.
  • Pour over macaroni and toss to coat. Refrigerate until serving.



Calories: 142kcal
Tried this recipe?Follow me on Pinterest @spaceshipslb

Create an amazing dish with help from these great baking ideas gathered by the crew at Spaceships and Laser Beams:

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Check out more great summer recipes:

Don’t miss this Classic Coleslaw recipe…

Classic Coleslaw

Plus, check out this Retro Pistachio Cool Whip Salad

Pistachio Cool Whip Salad



Layne Henderson

Layne is a boy mom in love. Surrounded by three adventurous little men, she's in pursuit of an empty laundry basket, the perfect cup of coffee, and sleep. She blogs, parents, and manages social media while wearing her tiara.



      May 26, 2018 at 7:16 pm

      Can you email me macaroni recipe?

    2. Geri Sonnenberg

      May 30, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      how big is the box of macaroni?

    3. Michele

      June 17, 2018 at 7:12 am

      Love the combination of veggies and the dressing recipe you have for this macaroni salad! I’m pinning and making!

    4. treena

      February 8, 2019 at 9:54 am

      Macaroni salad is one of my favorites and this recipe definitely did not disappoint.

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