This is a recipe for a creamy macaroni salad combing mayonnaise and vinegar for that good old-fashioned sweet tangy flavor. This Classic Macaroni Salad has been in our family forever, and if you’re looking for make ahead cold salad recipes, this is perfect for any picnic, backyard BBQ or pot luck.
About This Recipe
This recipe was first posted in August of 2012 – Updated 6/2020 with new photos.
Our good friends, Greg and Cauleen and their two boys Connor and Cameron are moving to Chicago. :::insert wail here. Greg is already there and working at his new position in Downtown Chicago.
With our days numbered for seeing our friends and neighbors on a regular basis, I invited Cauleen and the boys over for a casual Summer dinner.
How about this for a classic kid friendly dinner. Hot Dogs, Classic Macaroni Salad and watermelon. Sounds like Summer to me.
For dessert we had banana splits and I’d like to report that no bananas were harmed in the eating of that dessert. The boys ate the cherries, the whipped cream, the three scoops of ice cream…and left the banana halves on the bottom of the bowl. Cracked me up. I was having so much fun that I failed to drag the camera out.
Nothing says Summer like the best old-fashioned classic Macaroni Salad. With eggs, crisp vegetables and the perfect creamy sweet and tangy dressing. This recipe is just like you remember from your childhood. This recipe and my mom’s Classic Potato Salad are staples for our Summertime meal plans.
I’ve had this Classic Macaroni Salad recipe as long as I can remember, and it brings back so many Summertime pot luck and picnic memories from my childhood. It’s an old fashioned macaroni salad recipe that everyone loves. Let’s take a look:
- Elbow Macaroni: Is there anything more traditional that elbow macaroni for an old fashioned macaroni salad? Any brand will do, but I prefer to purchase American Beauty Brand Pasta. Why? Because I’m a 3rd generation Kansas Wheat Farmer, and American Beauty purchases United States Grown wheat from American Farmers to make their pastas.
Dressing For Macaroni Salad
Using a traditional of mix of mayo, vinegar and mustard, this dressing for this macaroni salad is a perfect blend of sweet, tangy and creamy. Take a look at what makes this dressing so special:
- Mayonnaise: Don’t skimp on flavor here by purchasing a low fat mayonnaise. Just stick with regular Hellman’s or Best Foods Brand. I wish I could purchase Duke’s here in Colorado, but no such luck. A full fat mayonnaise is thicker, creamer and more flavorful.
- Sour Cream: This is something I addd as the years went on. I didn’t have enough mayo one time when making this recipe, so added in some sour cream to make up the difference. That little bit of tangy flavor sour cream brought to the party really kicked things up a bit. So, I’ve used it ever since. Again, full fat please.
- Dijon Mustard: Again, my addition. My mom used to make this recipe with plain yellow mustard. I felt adventurous one day and added Dijon in it’s place, and I’ve never looked back. It still brings that distinctive mustard flavor, but is a little more intense and complex. Why? It’s made with black mustard seeds and white wine. Yellow mustard is made with the milder yellow mustard seeds.
- Sweet Pickles and Sweet Pickle Juice: In our books, a classic macaroni salad would’t be classic at all with out a sweet factor. And the best way to get that sweet factor is with sweet pickle juice and diced sweet pickles. I like to use pickles from my homemade Sweet and Spicy pickle recipe. You make this recipe easier and use sweet pickle relish if you’d like or Bread and Butter Pickles from the store work great.
- Sweet Onion: Texas sweet onions, or Vidalia onions work beautifully for this recipe. Or yellow onions. I wouldn’t substitute red onion, even though it was add color, the flavor has a strong bite and would overwhelm the balance of salad.
- Celery: Its not a classic macaroni salad with some diced celery. And make sure you fine chop some of those delicate celery leaves for added celery flavor, color and texture.
- Hard Boiled Eggs: Chopped fine, adds color and creamy flavor. Cook a couple extra hard boiled eggs and cut them into wedges for garnish.
- Chives: Chives aren’t only for garnish. Fine chop them to add another depth of delicate onion flavor. Chives also have a hint of garlic flavor. Perfect for dressing for macaroni salad.
- Pasta Cooking Water: f I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. If you let that water from cooked pasta go down the drain, you’re throwing away liquid gold. That cloudy starchy liquid is cooked pasta’s best friend. It can turn elbow macaroni into that silky, saucy pasta of your dreams. It’s filled with salt and starch and when combined with fat (mayo in this case), results in a luxurious sauce. Instead of letting that water drain through your colander, right before draining, just take a 1 cup measuring cup and dish out some of that hot water. It helps to emulsify any sauce you’re adding to any pasta.
Classic Macaroni Salad Recipe
I hope you give this creamy homemade macaroni salad recipe a try. And if you do, please come back and let me know how you liked it and give the recipe a star rating. Your feedback is valuable to me for developing future recipes.
And if you have a favorite picnic pasta salad, let me know, I’d love to give it a try.
More Pasta Salad Recipes
- Pioneer Woman’s Best Macaroni Salad This is Ree Drummond’s favorite take on Macaroni Salad. A tangier version with black olives.
- Old Fashioned Amish Macaroni Salad Straight out of a cookbook from Lancaster, PA, An authentic Amish pasta salad recipe that’s bold in flavor and creamy in texture. This recipe is on the sweeter side.
- Smoked Mozzarella Penne Pasta Salad With baby spinach, roasted red bell pepper and an outstanding Parmesan cream sauce. This unique and hearty pasta salad recipe can be made in advance, will wow guests at your next potluck.
- The Best Pasta Salad Recipe – Ever Take a look at this wonderful pot luck, crowd pleasing Summer pasta salad. Salty bacon and sweet onions…always a winner, chewy cheese tortellini with a fresh crunch of broccoli, colored with red tomatoes, with a creamy sweet unique dressing.
And don’t miss my line-up of 4th of July Side Dishes. There’s something for everyone.
Old Fashioned Classic Macaroni Salad
- 3 cups elbow macaroni
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- For the dressing:
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1-2 teaspoons sweet pickle juice
- 1/2 sweet onion finely chopped
- 3 celery ribs finely chopped, leaves reserved and finely chopped
- 1/8 cup sweet pickles finely chopped. Or more if you want a sweeter salad.
- 2 hard-cooked eggs chopped
- 1/8 cup fresh chives chopped
- 1/2 cup pasta cooking water
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the 3 cups elbow macaroni, and cook according to package directions to the "tender" stage. With a measuring cup, save some of the pasta cooking water. Drain the macaroni.
- For the dressing: Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon, pickle juice, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well.
- Add the onion, celery and chopped pickles. Add the macaroni and about 1/2 cup of the starchy macaroni hot cooking water. Add the celery, onions, celery leaves, chives and chopped hard boiled egg. Gently stir. Garnish with celery leaves and wedges of hard boiled eggs.
Homemade Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad … It’s Whats for Summer
Why Trust These Recipes? Lea Ann Brown has lived, worked and played in Colorado for 45 years. She has immersed herself in the Colorado Culinary space, is a Culinary School Graduate and publishes her Colorado food Blog, Cooking On The Ranch.