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Nothing tastes better alongside grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, fried chicken, steak, or bbq chicken sandwiches than a cool and creamy Southern macaroni salad! With elbow pasta, crisp veggies, hardboiled eggs, and a sweet-and-tangy mayonnaise-based dressing, this easy side dish recipe comes together in minutes. File it away for your next cookout or potluck — the delicious pasta salad always wins rave reviews!

Side shot of a big bowl of old fashioned macaroni salad on a dinner table with salt and pepper shakers in the background

How to Make Macaroni Salad | 1-Minute Video

Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

If there’s one common theme to any Southern picnic, I can assure you that it’s a creamy pasta salad. Specifically, a macaroni salad! No cookout would be complete without at least one of these classic side dishes.

The term macaroni salad refers to type of pasta salad, served cold, and made with cooked elbow macaroni in a creamy mayo dressing. Similar to potato salad and coleslaw, macaroni salad is often enjoyed as a side dish to barbecue, fried chicken, or other picnic-style entrées.

Boiled elbow macaroni noodles in a colander

There are many, many versions of a classic macaroni salad, which vary between regions and nationalities. In the South, you’ll generally find that a macaroni salad includes raw diced onion, dill or sweet pickles (or pickle relish), celery, and hardboiled eggs. It’s the perfect make-ahead side dish to share with friends and family, and it just gets better as it sits. The pasta, vegetables, and egg absorb that sweet, creamy, and tangy dressing for a flavorful bite on every forkful!

Whisking together mayonnaise dressing in a small bowl

Macaroni Salad Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a batch of Southern macaroni salad. As always, specific measurements and complete step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Macaroni: the salad’s namesake, we use “elbows” or macaroni noodles for this dish. You can substitute with any similar short pasta shape, such as small shells, ditalini, or rotini.
  • Mayonnaise: the base of the dressing, pick a high-quality mayo with the best flavor. We love Duke’s brand.
  • White vinegar: gives the dressing an acidic, tangy bite.
  • Granulated sugar: for a hint of sweetness in the dressing.
  • Yellow mustard: adds tangy flavor to the dressing. Dijon mustard works as a nice substitute, too.
  • Sweet pickle relish: or substitute with finely chopped sweet pickles, dill pickles, or dill pickle relish — whatever you love!
  • Garlic: just a hint of garlic in the background adds another layer of flavor. You can omit this ingredient altogether if you don’t care for raw garlic in your salad, or substitute with a pinch of garlic powder.
  • Onion: for a classic Southern dish, we love sweet Vidalia onions. You can substitute with chopped green onion (scallions), red onion (for a zestier bite), or regular yellow or white onion.
  • Celery: adds a delicious savory crunch.
  • Bell pepper: for sweet, crisp flavor. We like red bell peppers, but any color sweet bell pepper will work. You can swap out the bell pepper for chopped or grated carrots, too.
  • Hard boiled eggs: add flavor and bring the dish together with a nice, creamy texture.
  • Fresh parsley: fresh herbs elevate any salad, and parsley is a classic choice. Feel free to add other herbs that you might have on hand, such as chives, rosemary, basil, or thyme.
Process shot showing how to make macaroni salad

How to Make This Recipe for Macaroni Salad

I’ve perfected my macaroni salad recipe over the years, and I’m finally confident in the version that I’m sharing with you today. The dressing-to-pasta ratio is ideal. The sauce has a slightly sweet taste in the background (without being overpowering), and there’s just a hint of yellow mustard in the mayonnaise-based dish. A garnish of fresh parsley is the final Southern touch that my mom and my grandmother would never omit!

  1. Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package directions for al dente; drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
  2. Chop the veggies while the noodles cook.
  3. Whisk together the macaroni salad dressing with mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, mustard, pickle relish, and garlic.
  4. Toss the cool drained pasta, veggies, eggs, and parsley with the dressing. Cover and chill.
Square shot of hands placing a bowl of the best macaroni salad recipe on a table

What to Serve with Southern Macaroni Salad

There are a number of easy main dish options that go well with macaroni salad. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Overhead shot of hands serving macaroni salad with a big spoon

Storage

Store leftover macaroni salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. I do not recommend freezing macaroni salad, as the pasta and vegetables will get mushy when thawed and the creamy dressing with break.

Side shot of southern macaroni salad in a white handmade ceramic bowl

Recipe Variations

  • Use any short pasta, such as elbow macaroni, mini shells, ditalini, or rotini.
  • Add cooked, diced chicken, ham, shrimp, or tuna to the salad.
  • If you like a sweet burst of flavor, try adding peas to your macaroni salad.
  • Omit the hardboiled eggs if you don’t care for them.
  • Instead of sweet pickle relish, use chopped sweet pickles, chopped dill pickles, or dill pickle relish.
  • A hint of garlic in the background adds another layer of flavor. You can omit this ingredient altogether if you don’t care for raw garlic in your salad, or substitute with a pinch of garlic powder.
  • Add cheese, such as diced cheddar cheese or mozzarella.
Overhead shot of hands serving a big bowl of southern macaroni salad

Tips for the Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

  • Rinse the pasta under cold water to help it cool down, stop the cooking, remove the starches, and prevent the noodles from sticking together.
  • Give the salad plenty of time to chill in the refrigerator before serving. It’s a great prep-ahead dish, because it just gets better as it sits for a few hours and the flavors come together.
  • If your salad looks dry, it’s probably because the pasta has absorbed a lot of the dressing. Just stir in a couple of extra dollops of mayonnaise right before serving, if necessary.
Close up side shot of a big bowl of macaroni salad

More Easy Pasta Salad Recipes to Try

Square overhead shot of southern macaroni salad

Southern Macaroni Salad

5 from 6 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 8 minutes
Chilling Time 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 28 minutes
Servings 8 cups
Calories 157.2 kcal
An easy Southern macaroni salad is the perfect make-ahead side dish for your next potluck, cookout, or family gathering.

Ingredients
  

  • 6 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni pasta (about 1 ½ cups uncooked, or 3 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
  • ½ teaspoon minced, pressed, or grated fresh garlic
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  • Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  • While the pasta cooks, chop the onion, celery, bell pepper, eggs, and parsley.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickle relish, and garlic until smooth.
  • In a large bowl, combine cool pasta, onion, celery, bell pepper, eggs, and parsley. Toss with dressing and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Video

Notes

  • Rinse the pasta under cold water to help it cool down, stop the cooking, remove the starches, and prevent the noodles from sticking together.
  • Give the salad plenty of time to chill in the refrigerator before serving. It’s a great prep-ahead dish, because it just gets better as it sits for a few hours and the flavors come together.
  • If your macaroni salad looks dry, it’s probably because the pasta has absorbed a lot of the dressing. Just stir in a couple of extra dollops of mayonnaise right before serving, if necessary.
  • Use any short pasta, such as elbow macaroni, mini shells, ditalini, or rotini.
  • Add cooked, diced chicken, ham, shrimp, or tuna to the salad.
  • If you like a sweet burst of flavor, try adding peas to your macaroni salad.
  • Omit the hardboiled eggs if you don’t care for them.
  • Instead of sweet pickle relish, use chopped sweet pickles, chopped dill pickles, or dill pickle relish.
  • A hint of garlic in the background adds another layer of flavor. You can omit this ingredient altogether if you don’t care for raw garlic in your salad, or substitute with a pinch of garlic powder.
  • Add cheese, such as diced cheddar or mozzarella.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/2 cupCalories: 157.2kcalCarbohydrates: 10.6gProtein: 3.5gFat: 11.3gSaturated Fat: 1.8gCholesterol: 38.7mgSodium: 111.8mgFiber: 1.3gSugar: 2.2g
Keyword: classic macaroni salad, macaroni salad, old fashioned macaroni salad, southern macaroni salad
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in June, 2017. It was updated in April, 2022.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Aren’t cookouts the best?! It just screams summer, and you can’t beat the food. This macaroni salad looks amazing, Blair! I love the flavors and pretty color. Definitely a summer staple in my book!

    1. Hi, Roxanne! The ingredients weren’t published right away (annoying glitch), but I fixed them almost immediately so they should be there now. Maybe refresh your browser if you still can’t see them? Sorry about that hassle! 🙂

      1. 5 stars
        This is hands down the absolute BEST macaroni salad I’ve ever tasted. I never need to try another recipe. My mom was from Kentucky, and this is what what I was raised on. Never could duplicate her recipe, but you have! Thank you!

        1. Hello Vickie,
          Your comment struck me because my mom was born and raised in Kentucky as well.
          This recipe is very similar to my mom’s recipe. And I make mine like my mom. She was an amazing cook. The main difference is we always added lots of hard boiled eggs. I can’t tolerate the texture of the egg whites so I only use the yolks but I do like a strong eggy flavor in my macaroni salad. We also added a descent amount of sweet pickle chunky relish. One ingredient that was a must in macaroni salad rather than regular onion was green onions, never regular onion. Mam always topped her macaroni salad with fresh chopped parsley and paprika.
          I don’t make macaroni salad very often but I enjoy it year round not just in the summer.
          Have a blessed day my friend. If your mother is still with you tell her hello from another daughter of a fine Kentucky lady!

  2. Okay!!! Where is the list of ingredients with their amounts??? Am I overlooking something here or do I have to watch the video to get the amounts??? Thank you so much!!! Love your site!!!

  3. I make my version of this from spring to fall using different pasta shapes and with various meats from tunafish to shrimp but i use only fine chopped celery and red onion sauteed to soften before adding to the rest of ingredients sometimes adding dry ranch dressing mix to the mayo.

  4. Where is the actual recipe? I see instructions to put it together but no list of ingredients and the amount.

    1. Hi! The ingredients have been added to the recipe, so try refreshing your page and they should appear. 🙂

  5. I’m sorry but I didn’t care for this. The garlic just ringed it for me and my family, and we are Italian, put extra garlic on everything, but it just didn’t work in this salad. All your recipes I’ve made have always been on point, I’m sure it’s just a personal preference.

    1. Hi, Tami! That’s okay! Thanks for the feedback! Other readers who don’t care much for garlic in their pasta salad might choose to omit it in the future. 🙂

  6. Hi making your salad for about 25 guest. Can’t figure how to adjust amount of pasts and ingredient. HELP.. THANK YOU FOT IMMEDIATE RESPONSE.

    1. Hi, Ada! I think it’s safe to assume about 1/2-cup to 1-cup of pasta salad per person. This recipe yields about 8 cups total, so one recipe should serve at least 8 (or more) people. I would suggest multiplying all of the ingredients by 3 and that should be more than enough for your group (assuming it’s a side dish and not the main entree). So for instance, you would use 18 ounces of uncooked pasta, 3 cups of mayonnaise, 6 T vinegar, 6 T sugar, etc. Let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂

  7. I have a question. I’m thinking of making this for church on Sunday. It says slice the eggs and then have them added with everything else to stir in. Wouldn’t it be better to dice or cut them up? Why sliceC

    1. Hi, Angie! You can totally just dice the eggs if you prefer! I said “slice” because I use one of those hardboiled egg slicers because it’s quick. 🙂 They break up in the salad, so any way that you cut them will be fine!

  8. 5 stars
    Your recipe is exactly the way my mom made it since I can remember excellent but my mom did add relish

    1. Wonderful! I’m so glad that it’s just as you remember it, Sherry! Relish sounds like a great addition, too! Thanks so much. 🙂

  9. Hi Blair,
    I enjoy your blog very much & look forward to it every Sunday.
    You know what would be fabulous? If you could do a TV show every week Instead of this blog! I’m sure everyone would tune in!
    If Rachel Ray could do it, so can you! Plus, it would be better, because with your adorable family Involved, we can relate on the same level. It’s so refreshing to see your activities every week & how you fit & schedule everything in. This is what family is all about. Your the perfect mother & wife that we admire and with your your guidence we can be too!

    1. You are so kind, Judy! 🙂 I love the idea of a show, but I haven’t been offered one yet. Do you know a producer?! Hah! 🙂

  10. 5 stars
    This is the BEST macaroni salad I have ever made, I found the recipe 6 weeks ago and now by popular demand I make it every week . I did add larger amounts of the vegetables, and 2 xtra tablespoons of vinegar. Also I went with 1/2 mayonnaise and 1/2
    Sour cream. Thank you

  11. 5 stars
    WOW! This is the best mayonnaise pasta salad I have ever eaten. Perfect proportions! Garlic and the mustard just made it. I can’t believe I made this. Thank you! Thank you! Your recipes don’t let me down. Gonna try those green beans next. Yum!

  12. 5 stars
    You have got to be kidding. No one could stop at a one cup serving. This is so good the next time I make it I’m doubling the recipe. And I live alone. lol

  13. Sounds like a delicious combination. Sometimes, being single, I have had trouble with salads going dry because the pasta has absorbed the dressing. Often I kind of deconstruct the salad, storing both the macaroni and vegetables/protein separately and then combining a serving with the dressing at mealtime. Seems to work fairly well when cooking for one, which is good, because I LOVE pasta salads.