It's no picnic without macaroni salad.
Macaroni salad might not be exotic or glamorous, but it sure gets invited to a lot of parties. Easy to make and endlessly customizable, homemade macaroni salad is welcome everywhere it goes—and did I mention that it gets along with just about any other dish on the menu? So, when it comes to choosing side dishes for picnics, potlucks, or even just everyday meals, don't overlook the macaroni salad. I'll share quick tips to make the best macaroni salads, plus 16 favorite recipes to try.
How to Make Macaroni Salad: 5 Quick Tips
1. Don't undercook the macaroni. Pasta firms up when it cools, so you want to cook the macaroni thoroughly enough to be tender, but not so much that it's mushy.
2. Salt the water. To keep your macaroni from tasting bland, add 2 tablespoons Kosher salt for every 1 gallon of water when you boil the pasta.
3. Season the cooked macaroni right away so the flavor soaks in. Add some of the dressing to the drained macaroni while it's still warm and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then add the rest of the ingredients and dressing.
4. Bite-size is best. Cut up all your ingredients so they're small enough to fit on a fork. Not only will the macaroni salad be easier to eat, it will look its best, too.
5. Make-ahead, but not too far ahead. You'll want most macaroni salads to chill in the fridge for at least an hour to let the flavors mingle. But pasta salad can get dry if you leave it in the fridge overnight (depending on how much dressing you add). To play it safe, make a little extra dressing to hold aside so you can freshen up the macaroni salad before serving the next day.
16 Macaroni Salad Recipes to Try
"A colorful and flavorful macaroni salad made with hard cooked eggs, bell pepper and celery in a creamy dressing," says recipe creator CONNIE0751. This sweet macaroni salad is one of the most popular macaroni salads on Allrecipes.
This creamy macaroni salad includes celery, sweet onion, peas, relish, and hard-cooked eggs. "I made this recipe for a small cook out we were having with friends," says Mamacheese2004. "I really love this recipe. The only thing I would change is I would use frozen peas, thawed, in place of the canned peas."
You might be surprised that this Hawaiian macaroni salad is made with potatoes, but it's an optional extra that Hawaiian mac salads can handle. Sweet Maui onion, hard-cooked egg, and matchstick carrots round out the mix for a salad that you'd find on Hawaiian plate lunches all over the islands. To tweak this recipe so it's more authentic, skip the Italian-style dressing and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar over the cooked macaroni, carrots, and onion, and let it all sit for about 15 minutes. Fold in the rest of the ingredients and there you have it. Purists might add a bit of sugar to the mix, but that's up to you.
Here's another version of the famous Hawaiian-style mac salad. This one is simply macaroni and shredded carrot, held together with creamy mayonnaise. As in the salad above, you could add an authentic touch by tossing the warm macaroni in a little apple cider vinegar before folding it into the mayo.
Sweet pickles, pimentos, and a touch of mustard add extra tang to this creamy macaroni salad. "Love this macaroni salad," says Amy Jo. "Didn't change a thing. Love the 'sweet' from the pickles and the 'tang' from the vinegar. This has been my go-to macaroni salad recipe this summer. Great recipe!"
Here's a great way to use up extra cooked chicken. "I used whole wheat elbow macaroni, threw in a half cup or so of halved cherry tomatoes, used leftover 'Mexican' shredded chicken, and homemade dry ranch dressing mix," says Sarah Jo. "Between the three of us (my two boys and I), we made quick work of this macaroni salad. NO leftovers."
"Whether it's sitting next to some smoky ribs or just a humble hot dog, this deli-style macaroni salad will always be a crowd favorite, as long as you pay attention to a few key details," says Chef John. He reveals those details in the video below.
Plan to make this the night before and let it rest in the fridge before stirring in the shrimp. Many reviewers cut back on the lemon juice and bumped up the herbs.
This quick and easy macaroni salad with ham is a good one to keep in the fridge for those hot days when you need a good meal but you don't want to cook. If you're looking for a macaroni salad made without mayo, give this a try.
"I needed a quick & easy pasta salad recipe to make for my husband and 2 kids lunches throughout the week," says McKenzie Kroes. "I doubled this recipe, to make a huge bowl that they will take all week :) All 4 of us absolutely LOVE IT!"
The salsa you use determines how spicy this simple Mexican macaroni salad will be. Many reviewers loved how easy it was to add extra ingredients such as corn, black beans, celery, cilantro, pimentos, cheese, and chicken.
"I have made this recipe twice and received rave reviews both times," says friday cat. "The vinegar gives this salad a refreshing 'tang.' Definitely try this!" Note: The recipe calls for Beau Monde seasoning. If you can't find it, you can make it with this copycat recipe for Beau Monde Seasoning.
Here's a hearty BLT macaroni salad that could certainly stand on its own as a main dish. Note: You'll want to serve this over a bed of lettuce to put the "L" in the BLT.
"This recipe is better the second day, if there is any left over," says recipe creator Marsha Glick. "My family fights for the leftovers! You can add more or less olives, celery seed, and mayonnaise to taste. Even better if made the night before and allowed to sit for several hours."
Try this seafood macaroni salad for a light and satisfying lunch. Note that the Catalina salad dressing adds a sweet, bright tanginess to the dish.
Chili sauce, lemon juice, and dill combine to give this simple macaroni salad a little kick. Note: Be sure to taste the dressing before adding the salt—depending on which chili sauce you use, you might not need as much salt as the recipe calls for.