posted September 11, 2023
Classic Macaroni Salad
Everybody needs a classic and easy macaroni salad recipe to whip up for a backyard BBQ, potluck, or family gathering. Lucky for you, I consider myself a mac salad connoisseur and have dedicated a fair amount of my culinary pursuits to perfecting the humble pasta salad. This macaroni salad recipe is the perfect balance of tangy, creamy, and savory with the ideal amount of soft noodles and crunchy veggies.
Classic Macaroni Salad Ratios
The secret to the best macaroni salad is nailing the ratios of noodles to veggies to dressing. Once you’ve got those ratios down, it’s all about fine tuning the flavors to suit your family’s needs. A classic macaroni salad recipe has an ingredient ratio of 4-2-2. 4 cups of cooked noodles, 2 cups of diced vegetables, and 2 cups of dressing. A 16 oz package of noodles, when cooked, will yield around 4 1/2 cups, so you may need to start with slightly less noodles than a full package.
Homemade Macaroni Salad Dressing
Homemade dressing is the magic sauce of any macaroni salad. Every mom and grandma has their own version, but this is the dressing that I grew up loving! It is creamy with a kiss of sweetness from the sweet pickle brine and spoonful of sugar. The standout that really pushes my homemade dressing to the next level is the assertive amount of acid. A blend of red wine vinegar and dijon mustard provide a tanginess that prevents this macaroni salad dressing from ever feeling heavy.
The best part of a homemade dressing is that you can mix it all up a day in advance, store in a lidded jar, and refrigerate to let the flavors marry together. Simply dress your macaroni salad the day of your event, and you’ve got a great side dish with low levels of prep.
Pro Tips for Making Your Salad the Best Salad
- Season your pasta water. Before you put your noodles in your boiling water, make sure it is salted. You want enough salt in your water that it tastes like the ocean. Unseasoned water leads to bland noodles that soak up flavor from your sauce, making everything taste flat.
- Cook your noodles al dente. You want your noodles to have a good amount of texture in your salad. Overcooked noodles will fall apart when you add in the vegetables and dressing. You want to be able to feel each noodle as you eat it, instead of having the whole bowl of macaroni salad turn to mush.
- Dice your veggies to the right size. You want your celery, peppers, and pickles to be diced to around the size of peas. This will help them distribute evenly in the pasta salad and make each bite consistent. The rest of your veggies should be shredded to prevent anybody from getting a big bite of raw onion or super crunchy carrot. I use the larger holes of a cheese grater to get the right size.
- Give your salad time. Prep your salad at least an hour before serving and let it chill out in the fridge. This time in the fridge lets the flavors from the dressing, noodles, and veggies really marry together and blend.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
You really only need 3 steps to make killer macaroni salad. Cook your noodles, dice your veggies, and make your dressing up to a day in advance for the easiest macaroni salad ever.
- Combine the macaroni salad ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked noodles, celery, bell pepper, carrots, red onion, and pickles.
- Combine the dressing ingredients. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing until thoroughly combined.
- Mix the macaroni salad and dressing. Pour the dressing over the noodles and vegetables and stir to combine. For the best result, mix the salad at least an hour before serving and hold in the refrigerator.
Bonus Macaroni Salad Ingredients
Now I think this version of mac salad is perfect as is, but I know some families have their own additions that they swear by. Feel free to add in any of the following ingredients you like, just don’t forget the 4-2-2 ratio. If you add ingredients, you’ll need to increase the amount of pasta and dressing to match the amount of bonus goodies you included or risk ending up with a macaroni salad that is either under dressed or feels like it’s missing noodles.
- Tuna. Drained, canned tuna is a common addition to pasta salad. I recommend using an albacore tuna in water and draining well.
- Hard boiled eggs. This addition is often chopped and mixed in with the vegetables. I especially love when sliced hard boiled eggs are layered on the top of the salad if it includes eggs.
- Shrimp. Miniature cooked shrimp or finely chopped shrimp are added to the rest of the salad ingredients before getting dressed. Macaroni salad with shrimp was a HUGE childhood favorite of mine. It always seemed so fancy.
Other Side Salad Recipes
Need some more delicious side ideas to round out your meal? Here are some tasty suggestions to try out today from Hey Grill Hey. They’ve been tried and true over the years and come highly reviewed by friends and family.
- Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad
- Grilled Potato Salad
- Grilled Corn Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
- The BEST Pasta Salad
Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe
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- 16 oz macaroni noodles (cooked al dente (around 4 cups))
- ½ cup celery (diced)
- ½ cup red bell pepper (diced)
- ½ cup carrots (shredded)
- ¼ cup red onion (diced)
- ¼ cup sweet pickles (diced)
- 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
- 2 Tablespoons sweet pickle brine
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- ½ teaspoon celery seed
- In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked noodles, celery, bell pepper, carrots, red onion, and pickles.16 oz macaroni noodles, ½ cup celery, ½ cup red bell pepper, ½ cup carrots, ¼ cup red onion, ¼ cup sweet pickles
- In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing until thoroughly combined.1 1/4 cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard, 2 Tablespoons sweet pickle brine, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 1 Tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, ½ teaspoon celery seed
- Pour the dressing over the noodles and vegetables and stir to combine. For the best result, mix the salad at least an hour before serving and hold in the refrigerator. Taste before serving and stir in additional salt, if needed.
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