Macaroni Salad {Mom’s Recipe}

4.94 from 16 votes
52 Comments

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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.

Macaroni salad in a white bowl
Featured with this Recipe:
  1. The Best Macaroni Salad Ever
  2. Ingredients in Macaroni Salad
  3. What Kind of Pasta is Best For Macaroni Salad?
  4. Additional Mix-In Ideas
  5. Tips for Making Macaroni Salad
  6. Frequently Asked Questions
  7. Looking for More Great Pasta Salad Recipes?
  8. How to Make Mom’s Macaroni Salad
  9. Mom’s Macaroni Salad Recipe

The Best Macaroni Salad Ever

Typically, I’m not a fan of classic Macaroni Salad. However, my mom’s mac salad recipe is the exception. The ingredients are fresh and colorful and it tastes amazing! We would always have this at family picnics or trips to the lake. It is also a perfect side dish for Easter dinner or a BBQ on the 4th of July. In fact, this recipe appears at so many of our family functions, it definitely gets the stamp of family favorite!

Macaroni salad in a white bowl with a wooden spoon and a green napkin

Ingredients in Macaroni Salad

  • Elbow macaroni
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Sour cream
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Ham
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Frozen peas
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Green onions

What Kind of Pasta is Best For Macaroni Salad?

Obviously, elbow macaroni is the preferred pasta for macaroni salad. However, sometimes it’s fun to switch things up a bit. Any small pasta shape will work. I especially like elbows and shells because they catch little pockets of dressing that are oh-so-yummy! Here are some more pasta ideas for macaroni salad:

  • Cavatappi
  • Farfalle (Bowtie)
  • Rotini
  • Ditalini
  • Rotelle (Wagon Wheel)

Additional Mix-In Ideas

The great thing about this salad is that you can switch up the macaroni salad ingredients depending on what you have in the fridge and what your family will eat. Usually, we start with ham, cheese, and peas and go from there. Additionally, some other mix-in ideas include:

  • Red bell peppers
  • Green peppers
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • Baby corn
  • Celery
  • Red onion
  • Dill pickles
  • Sweet pickles
  • Sweet pickle relish
  • Fresh parsley
  • Capers
Ham, cheese, carrots, cucumbers, peas, and green onions all diced up in a white bowl

Tips for Making Macaroni Salad

  1. I like to make this salad a day ahead and let it chill overnight. This gives the flavors a chance to blend.
  2. When making ahead, store in Ziplock bags until ready to serve, this way you save on dishes too.
  3. If it seems a little dry when ready to serve, just add a splash of milk before serving and stir for a few minutes.
  4. If you don’t want to make the full thing ahead of time, just making the macaroni salad dressing can save you time later (mayo, mustard, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, pepper, and salt).
  5. 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.
Mom's Traditional Macaroni Salad from Above

Frequently Asked Questions

We have had such a great response to this macaroni salad recipe. We love getting comments from our readers! Since a lot of questions have been asked multiple times below, we thought we would answer them all up 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 else can I add?

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). Additionally you can save a little of the pasta water that you drained off. 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, you can also just run cold water over the pasta to cool it quickly while draining. However, this will rinse off some of the starch and salt on the pasta, and it will lose some flavor.

Read Next: Best BBQ Side Dishes

Macaroni salad in a white serving bowl

Looking for More Great Pasta Salad Recipes?

If you want to check out more ideas for macaroni salad, check out our Hawaiian Mac Salad. This is an authentic macaroni salad recipe from when I lived in Hawaii and it is perfect for luaus! You can also try our Creamy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad. You basically can’t go wrong with bacon.

How to Make Mom’s Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad in a white bowl with a green napkin

Mom’s Macaroni Salad

4.94 from 16 votes
This is the perfect macaroni salad. It's loaded with ham, cheese, and veggies in a creamy dressing. Perfect for BBQs and potlucks!
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Refrigerate 3 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs 20 mins
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Servings 12

Video

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Prepare macaroni to al dente according to package directions. After macaroni is cooked, drain well and cool to room temperature.
    Cooked elbow macaroni in a glass bowl
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, mustard, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
    Macaroni salad dressing in a small bowl
  • In a large bowl, toss macaroni with ham, cheese, peas, carrots, and other mix-ins.
    Macaroni salad toppings in a white bowl
  • 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 a bit at a time until salad becomes nice and creamy again.
    Macaroni salad in a white serving bowl

Notes

Recipe Tips:
  • I like to make this salad a day ahead and let it chill overnight. This gives the flavors a chance to blend.
  • 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.
  • If you don’t want to make the full thing ahead, just making the macaroni salad dressing can save you time later (mayo, mustard, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, pepper, and salt).
  • 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.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 425kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 12gFat: 27gSaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 33mgSodium: 823mgPotassium: 242mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 2752IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 92mgIron: 1mg

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About the author

Erica Walker

Erica lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband, Jared, an attorney, and her beautiful three girls. Beyond the world of recipes, she loves adventuring with everything from kayaking, to cruising, to snowboarding and taking the family along for the thrill ride.

More about Erica Walker

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Comments

  1. I make the basic salad (pasta, ham and sauce) the day before and chill it in one bowl (I love the bag idea). I prep the veggies and cheese and put them in sandwich bags to add a little while before serving. I think it gives it a ‘fresher’ flavour and the cheese doesn’t get soggy. It only takes a minute to mix them in. I put some whole cherry tomatoes on top for those who want them.

  2. I can’t figure out why so many people muck-up a perfectly delicious cold salad with mustard. I like mustard, but not in salads, since (IMO) it tends to overpower the flavor of all the added goodies, even if you use yellow mustard. I think it’s a southern & midwestern thing. It’s a lovely salad w/o the mustard.

    1. My mid-western dad has always said: just enough mustard to make them wonder why it’s so delicious 🤤

  3. I forgot to get a cube of cheese but I have a bag of shredded. Would that be okay as a substitute?

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