Homemade Macaroni Salad

Homemade macaroni salad is simple to make. Did you know you don’t need to buy macaroni salad?  You can make the best homemade macaroni salad from scratch.

homemade macaroni salad in two bowls

Okay, so Macaroni Salad isn’t exactly the sexiest side dish around, and you aren’t very likely to see it on the menu of any five-star restaurant, but it is tough to beat when it comes to flavor. Southern macaroni salad is simple and inexpensive to make and a whole lot more exciting than mashed potatoes. With red onions, mustard, and vinegar, this recipe has a lot more zing than your Grandma’s macaroni salad! It is the perfect way to liven up any potluck or gathering.

Making This Pasta Salad Recipe Your Own

There is nothing particularly complicated when it comes to throwing together a Macaroni Salad. Therefore, it is an ideal recipe for a creative cook to play around with the ingredients. Don’t be afraid to experiment on your own, but if you need some inspiration, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Spice is nice. If you are one of those people obsessed with spicy food, you can modify this recipe to appeal to your taste. Try switching out the pimento and bell peppers for something a little hotter such as banana peppers or jalapenos. Remember, acid helps balance the creaminess of the mayonnaise, so think about opting for pickled peppers as well.
  • Bacon makes everything better. Crispy, crumbled bacon is an excellent addition to this pasta salad recipe. Try replacing the celery and carrots with a cup of bacon bits to add an incredibly rich, smoky flavor and crunch. If bacon is really your thing, think about mixing a tablespoon or two of bacon drippings into the mayonnaise.
  • Use the short pasta of your choosing. Although elbow macaroni may be traditional, don’t feel like you have to stick with it. Spiral rotini, bow tow farfalle, and tubular penne are all great options. Whichever pasta you pick, do yourself a favor and stick to the dried version. Fresh pasta doesn’t work well for this dish.

Tips for Making and Serving the Best Macaroni Salad

  • Always salt the water before boiling the macaroni. A little salt in the pasta’s cooking water is a good thing, but for the most flavorsome pasta salad, add a bit more salt than you would use when cooking spaghetti. The reason is simple. Cold dishes dull flavors, and you have to amp things up if you want the flavor to come through.
  • Slightly overcook the pasta. No, don’t wait until it is mushy to drain, it but an extra minute of cooking time is actually a good thing when making a cold pasta salad. Cold temperatures make pasta contract, turning perfectly al dente macaroni a little on the hard. The extra cooking time keeps the pasta soft when they come out of the fridge.
  • Don’t dress the pasta too soon. Let the pasta cool in the strainer entirely before mixing in the other ingredients. The starch that clings to the pasta helps bring the pasta salad together, so don’t rinse it off. Speed the cooling by shaking the strainer every once in a while to help redistribute the pasta.
  • Make your pasta salad in advance, but not too far in advance. To get the best flavor from pasta salad, let it rest in the fridge for at least four hours, but ideally overnight before eating. Pasta salad can last in the fridge for three or four days.

Watch us make more pasta dishes on YouTube!


Here’s a list of what you need:

  • Macaroni
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sugar
  • White vinegar
  • Yellow mustard
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Diced pimento peppers
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Red onion
  • Red bell pepper
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

When it comes to pasta, I really like the Barilla brand. For me, I always get the best results when I use Barilla.

homemade macaroni salad ingredients

How to Make Macaroni Salad

  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and allow to cool.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, and mustard in a small bowl. Stir until the dressing is well combined.
    macaroni salad dressing in a bowl
  3. In a large bowl, add cooked macaroni, celery, carrots, onion, bell pepper, pimento peppers, and dressing. Stir to combine.
    macaroni salad ingredients in a bowl
  4. Add shredded cheddar cheese and gently stir to combine.
  5. Season with salt and black pepper.
  6. Refrigerate the macaroni salad a couple of hours before serving.

CopyKat Tip: You can easily make creamy macaroni salad by doubling the dressing and adding a little extra at a time until your desired creaminess is reached.

Recipe Notes

It is really crucial to salt the water you boil the pasta in. If you don’t do this, the pasta may taste bland.

I also am not a fan of rinsing off pasta after I cook it. I like to simply drain it and let it cool before using it with the recipe.

Recipe Variations

Macaroni salad is easy to customize! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Add either dill or sweet pickle cubes.
  • Add black or green olives.
  • Serve with boiled egg slices on top.
  • Use cubed cheddar cheese instead of shredded.
  • Use low carb instead of regular macaroni.
  • Sprinkle paprika on top just before serving.
homemade macaroni salad in two bowls and forks on a napkin

Favorite Potluck Salads

Be sure to check out more of my summer salad recipes and the best pasta side dish recipes here on CopyKat!

homemade macaroni salad in two bowls

Homemade Macaroni Salad

Make the best homemade macaroni salad for your next potluck or holiday celebration.
5 from 4 votes
Print Pin Rate Add to Collection
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Homemade Macaroni Salad, Macaroni Salad
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories: 459kcal


  • 4 cups macaroni
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar cider vinegar is ok
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup pimento peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  • Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain pasta and allow it to cool.
  • Prepare dressing for macaroni salad by combining mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, and mustard in a small bowl. Stir until it is well combined.
  • In a large bowl, add cooked macaroni, chopped celery, shredded carrots, chopped red onion, chopped bell pepper, pimento peppers, and creamy dressing. Stir to combine.
  • Add in shredded cheddar cheese and gently stir to combine.
  • Season with salt and black pepper.
  • Refrigerate a couple of hours before serving.



Calories: 459kcal | Carbohydrates: 43g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 26mg | Sodium: 585mg | Potassium: 222mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1975IU | Vitamin C: 18.4mg | Calcium: 123mg | Iron: 1mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of CopyKat.com's Dining Out in the Home, and CopyKat.com's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Lauren Kelly Nutrition

    I always make this simple bow tie pasta salad that my family loves! This looks amazing and I love the paprika on top!

5 from 4 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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