We like to say we’ve got the best Macaroni Salad in town! It’s lighter on the mayo so that you can taste everything else that goes into this classic American staple that graces the table of every potluck, barbecue, cookout, and pool party all year long. We’ve got creamy, we’ve got the crunch, and we’ve even got the soft chew of cheese and the little pops of peas. One might say this salad not only comes to the party, it’s part of the party. Or, you know, it’s just a really good macaroni salad.

We’ve got an equally good Tuna Mac Salad for those who roll even bolder, and for those who appreciate our lighter-on-the-mayo approach, you may really dig our version of Potato Salad too.

Why Our Recipe

  • Light on the mayo so you can actually taste the other ingredients, including the dressing that’ll leave you wanting to lick the plate clean.

Overhead view of macaroni salad.

Ingredient Notes

  • Elbow Macaroni: Any short pasta like fusilli, penne, or bowtie works well. For a gluten-free version, opt for gluten-free pasta.
  • Cheddar Cheese: You can use diced mozzarella for a milder taste and fresh mozzarella for a softer bite.
  • Red Onion: To tone down the bite of fresh red onion, soak chopped onions in water for about 10 minutes before adding. Green onions or shallots are also good milder alternatives.
  • Celery and Bell Pepper: Serve as the crunch. Celery is super mild and blends in, and red bell pepper is preferred for the sweet bite, but you could use any color of bell pepper.
  • Frozen Peas: The most controversial ingredient in our mac salad. You can skip them if you must.
  • Mayonnaise: Use plain Greek yogurt for a lighter option.
  • Cider Vinegar: You need the acidity to balance the flavors. White wine vinegar or red wine vinegar could also be used.
  • Fresh Dill: While fresh is strongly recommended, you could also use 1 tablespoon dried.
  • Sweet Pickle Relish: We like the sweet, but you could also use dill pickle relish as well.
  • Dijon Mustard: We like the strong bold flavors of the dijon, but you could also use yellow mustard in the same amount.

Chef’s Secret

The key to making sure your macaroni salad isn’t mushy is to only cook your pasta until it is just barely al dente and then immediately rinse the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process. Al dente means the pasta should be tender but still firm when you bite it. Since the pasta will absorb some of the dressing, it’ll continue to get softer. Cooking just to al dente will avoid that additional softening that goes from soft to mush so quickly.

Macaroni salad.

Make-Ahead Instructions

If you make this dish the night before, it does absorb a significant amount of the dressing. Some people double the dressing ingredients when making ahead. The other option is to mix the pasta with all the veggies in a bowl, and keep the dressing separate until ready to serve.

Food Safety

Macaroni salad can sit out for up to 2 hours at room temperature before it should be discarded.

If you serve yours at an outdoor function, make sure to keep it chilled before serving and opt to put it in a shady spot once you’re ready to dig in. This dish can goes bad in the sun much more quickly than 2 hours.

Storage Instructions

Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. While you can just put some plastic wrap over the bowl, it does keep better if it’s stored in a separate sealed container.

Freezing is not recommended as it turns to mush upon thawing.

More of our delicious pasta salads…

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Save This Recipe!
Get this sent to your inbox, plus get new recipes from us every week!