Macaroni salad is one of the most classic picnic, barbecue, and cookout side dishes! Filled with tender pasta, crunchy veggies, and a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing, this recipe is easy to put together – and even easier to scarf down!

Overhead view of macaroni salad.

This easy macaroni salad recipe is a side dish staple! It’s certainly a go-to whenever we’re asked to bring along something for a get-together. All it involves is cooking some macaroni and then adding in all of the yummy extras once the pasta has cooled. Even the most inexperienced chefs can pull it off! We load ours up with crunchy celery and onion, crisp bell peppers, peas, and a bit of cheddar. Some easy macaroni salad recipes skip out on the cheesy stuff, but we love it in ours. The mayonnaise dressing also comes together in a jiff. The addition of pickle relish adds a bit of sweetness that we can’t get enough of. The next time you’re tasked with bringing a side dish to a party, try your hand at this easy peasy salad!

Do You Rinse Pasta For a Cold Pasta Salad?

While we don’t recommend rinsing pasta for warm pasta dishes, you should for this pasta salad. Rinsing not only cools the macaroni down, but it also washes away any extra starch that will cause the noodles to stick together. This is the best way to avoid a clumpy cold pasta dish. 

Troubleshooting: How Do You Keep Macaroni Salad From Drying Out?

It’s all about the macaroni! You want to make sure to cook your noodles just right for the creamiest results. If overcooked, the pasta will absorb the dressing too quickly, and you’ll end up with a soggy mess. Undercooked, and the dressing and other add-ons won’t stick to the noodles, leaving you with a dry salad. Perfectly cooked noodles mean perfectly creamy results! 

Another recommended trick is to toss your noodles in a bit of olive oil before adding the rest of the ingredients. This will prevent the macaroni from soaking up too much of the dressing and will keep your dish moist, not soggy.

Serving Suggestions:

We recommend serving this recipe as a side dish. It goes best with grilled meat or seafood, as well as burgers. We love ours with:

Add-ons and Variations:

Use this easy macaroni salad recipe as a base for your noodle salad creations. Additional ingredients can vary based on your personal preferences. The sauce is usually mayonnaise-based, but you can replace it with a low-fat or egg-free option if needed. Mustard, herbs, and pickle juice or relish are all common ingredients to add to the sauce. In addition to the macaroni and the ingredients in our recipe, you can add even more fresh vegetables, or use a different type of cheese: 

  • Tomato
  • Avocado
  • Cucumber
  • Carrot
  • Mushroom
  • Corn
  • Cauliflower
  • Olives, black or green
  • Replace cheddar with feta, fresh mozzarella, or goat’s cheese

You can also add a few hard-boiled eggs or bacon for a bit of protein. Feel free to mix and match to suit your own personal tastes!

Macaroni salad.

Make-Ahead Instructions:

This dish is best eaten fresh. That said, if you want to get ahead of your cooking schedule, you can start to prepare it the night before. Cook the pasta and let it cool completely before placing it in an airtight container. You can store it in the fridge overnight. You can even chop up the other ingredients and store them separately in the fridge. If you’re feeling really ambitious, make the dressing in advance too. Then, a few hours before you plan on eating, you can toss everything together in a large bowl. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy!

How Long Can This Dish Sit Out?:

Our easy 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. As the dressing is made with mayonnaise, this dish can spoil in the sun. 

Storage Instructions:

If you have any leftovers, they will keep in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or store it in an airtight container to maximize freshness.

If you like this recipe, you may be interested in these other delicious salad recipes: