This is the best classic Macaroni Salad! It’s loaded with ham, cheese, and veggies, in a creamy dressing. Perfect as a side dish, and for BBQs and potlucks.
Mom’s Macaroni Salad
I am not typically a fan of macaroni salad unless it is my Mom’s recipe. Her recipe is the best I’ve had. The ingredients are fresh and colorful, and it tastes amazing! This recipe is easy to make AND it can be made a day ahead. We would always have this at family picnics or trips to the lake. It is a perfect side dish for Easter dinner or a BBQ on the 4th of July. This recipe has been made over and over again by all of us in the family. It truly is a family favorite!
What Kind of Pasta is Best For Macaroni Salad?
Well, typically elbow macaroni is the preferred pasta for macaroni salad. But sometimes it’s fun to switch things up a bit. I know the picture above shows this salad made with the little shells. My kids prefer shells to macaroni because that is what Ariel from The Little Mermaid would like best (you have to take things like this into consideration when you have 3 little girls). Here are some more pasta ideas for macaroni salad:
- Farfalle (Bowtie)
- Rotelle (Wagon Wheel)
- Any other fun shape of “short” pasta
Additional Mix-In Ideas
I feel like every time we had it, there were different mix-ins depending on what my Mom had on hand (and what guest preferences were). A few things were always the same though: cheese, ham, and peas. Some other possibilities depending on guests’ tastes are:
- red peppers
- green peppers
- diced tomatoes
- grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
- baby corn
- shredded carrots
- red onion
- green onion
- sweet pickle
Tips for Making Macaroni Salad
- I like to make this salad a day and ahead and let it chill overnight. This gives the flavors a chance to blend and it tastes delicious! Making this macaroni salad ahead of time also makes things so much easier when going camping, or to a potluck or family gathering.
- When making ahead, store in Ziplock bags until ready to serve – this way you save on dishes, too.
- If it seems a little dry when ready to serve, just add a splash of milk before serving and stir for a few minutes. This will get you back to that perfect macaroni salad consistency.
- Depending on your tastes, you can add in or substitute ingredients to the dressing as well. Dijon mustard can be used instead of yellow mustard. Garlic powder, onion powder, lemon juice, and other seasonings can add flavors to your taste.
Frequently Asked Questions
We have had such a great response to this macaroni salad recipe and we would love to save you some time by answering some questions we have had right here:
- Q. Can this be frozen?
- A. Typically macaroni salad does not freeze well, but it can be refrigerated for several days and still taste great!
- Q. What are some other add-in ideas?
- A. We have seen people comment using tuna, crab, celery, peppers, onions, banana peppers, chicken, turkey, and boiled egg with great success. Let us know of any other add-ins you have tried! We would love to hear!
- Q. How do I keep my macaroni from sticking together when cooling?
- A. We usually just run the pot we boiled the noodles with under cold water before adding the pasta back to it after draining (not rinsing the noodles– just cooling down the pot, itself). Save a little of the pasta water that you drained off and add a little back at a time if it is getting too dry while cooling. You can also place the macaroni on a cookie sheet while cooling. If you are in a time crunch and don’t want to do these things, you can also just run cold water over the pasta to cool it quickly while draining. This will just rinse away the starches and will make it lose some flavor
Looking for more great recipes?
If you are wanting to check out even more ideas for macaroni salad, be sure to check out our Hawaiian Mac Salad (this is an authentic macaroni salad recipe from when I lived in Hawaii – perfect for luaus!) or our Creamy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad. Because you really can’t go wrong with bacon and ranch, am I right? In case these aren’t enough, you can check our ALL of our delicious salad recipes and ideas HERE.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or pasta shells
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise (can use as little as 1 cup if preferred)
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt or to taste
- ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cup ham steak cut into small cubes
- 1 cup cheddar cheese cut into small cubes
- 2/3 cup frozen peas thawed
- 3 carrots shredded
- Prepare macaroni to al dente according to package directions. After macaroni is cooked, drain well and cool to room temp (see notes below).
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, mustard, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
- In a large bowl toss macaroni with ham, cheese, peas, carrots, and other mix-ins.
- Fold in mayonnaise mixture until pasta is well coated.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
- If the salad seems a little dry after setting up overnight, add some milk a little bit at a time until salad becomes nice and creamy again.