Southern Macaroni Salad

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Creamy Southern Macaroni Salad is a staple down south, and this classic recipe is the best you’ll find for your next picnic, potluck dinner or barbecue cookout!

This simple cold pasta salad is made with elbow macaroni, fresh veggies, mayonnaise, seasonings, and a pinch of sugar for good measure.

a green dish filled with southern macaroni salad.
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Why You’ll Love This Salad

There are three cold salads we can’t live without in the south which include Red Skin Potato Salad, Creamy Coleslaw, and Macaroni Salad. You’ll see all three of these show up at every summer picnic or potluck in town, sometimes alone, but usually together!

Southerners love pasta in every form, and this old fashioned macaroni salad recipe is a tried and true favorite. Creamy pasta mixed with cheese, veggies and seasonings creates a tangy and crunchy delight.

Southern Macaroni Salad is the perfect side dish for barbecue, hamburgers or hotdogs. You can also serve it by itself, or with other sides as a cold salad plate. The homemade taste is hard to beat!

macaroni elbow noodles spilled around a bowl of macaroni salad.

Ingredients

With just a few easy ingredients, you’ll be enjoying a traditional southern side that’s delicious when served as a cold pasta salad.

  • elbow macaroni – the classic pasta for this recipe
  • mayonnaiseDuke’s mayonnaise (ad) is the favorite choice
  • vinegar – apple cider vinegar provides boldness
  • sugar – balances the acid in the vinegar
  • celery – adds a hearty crunch
  • green onions – flavor enhancer
  • cheese – use sharp cheddar for best results
  • cucumbers – cools things down
  • tomatoes – adds color and flavor

Seasonings: garlic salt, onion powder, ground mustard, celery seed, dried parsley, salt and pepper

ingredients needed for recipe.

Instructions

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add macaroni and cook 10 minutes. Drain and cool down by rinsing with cold water. 

While the pasta cooks, chop the veggies. In a separate bowl, mix celery, cheese, tomatoes, onion, mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar together. Add seasonings and mix well.

Place macaroni in a large serving dish and mix with dressing. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, add a tablespoon of mayonnaise to the salad to loosen it up and coat the macaroni. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

salad ingredients in a bowl.

Recipe FAQS

Why is sugar added to the dressing?

The sugar balances out the acid from the vinegar. If you like it without sugar, it’s fine to leave it out, but be sure to taste it first.

Do you put egg in macaroni salad?

Some folks add hard boiled eggs to this recipe, but it’s not required. Others like to add red bell pepper and sweet pickle relish to make it Carolina macaroni salad.

Can I substitute other types of pasta?

Any type of pasta works well with this recipe, but elbow macaroni is the traditional favorite. Other shapes of pasta you could try are bowtie, rotini, or cavatappi.

spoon lifting up macaroni salad out of a crock.

Expert Tips

  • Make sure not to boil the pasta past 10 minutes. It will absorb moisture from the dressing, so cooking too long will make it mushy.
  • Adding extra mayonnaise just before serving will loosen up and coat the macaroni that has absorbed most of the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Refrigerating for at least 2 hours before serving allows the flavors to blend together, and it tastes better when cold.
  • Since this dish has mayonnaise in it, be sure to keep it cold at all times. It should never be left out in the sun on a picnic without proper chilling.
  • Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
close up shot of a spoonful of macaroni salad

Variations

Additional veggies are fun to add, but this recipe is a classic just like it is. If you want to mix things up a bit, try adding fresh asparagus, spinach, green peas, peppers, squash, or zucchini.

If desired, stir in protein like grilled shrimp, boiled eggs, chicken or ham. Olives such as kalamata are also delicious in this dish. Sweet pickle relish and red bell pepper also make a great addition.

Storage

Store leftover salad in the refrigerator for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Be sure to keep this dish on ice if serving outdoors at a picnic. It shouldn’t sit out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours.

What to Serve With Macaroni Salad

There are unlimited dishes to serve with this dish, but here are a few favorite combinations…

Recipe Card

southern macaroni salad with tomatoes, cheese and celery

Southern Macaroni Salad

Southern Macaroni Salad is a staple down south, and this classic recipe is the best you'll find for your next picnic or cookout!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Salads
Cuisine: Southern
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 323kcal

*See notes in blog post for detailed tips, photos and instructions.

Ingredients

MACARONI SALAD

  • 16 oz. elbow macaroni cooked
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese cubed
  • 1 cup cocktail tomatoes sliced
  • ½ cup cucumber diced
  • ½ cup green onion diced
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar

SEASONINGS

  • ¼ tsp. garlic salt
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground mustard
  • ¼ tsp. celery seed
  • ¼ tsp. dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot.
  • Add macaroni and cook 10 minutes.
  • Drain and cool down by rinsing with cold water. 
  • In a separate bowl, mix celery, cheese, tomatoes, onion, mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar together. 
  • Add seasonings and mix well.
  • Place macaroni in a large serving dish and pour dressing over top. Mix well.
  • Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  • When ready to serve, add a tablespoon of mayonnaise to the salad to loosen it up. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Notes

  • Serve Southern Macaroni Salad over lettuce as a main dish, or as a side for barbecue, burgers or hot dogs.
  • Only boil macaroni for 10 minutes. Cooking longer will cause it to be mushy.
  • Adding extra mayonnaise just before serving will loosen up the salad that has absorbed most of the dressing. 
  • View the Google Web Story for this Macaroni Salad! 

Nutrition

Calories: 323kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Sodium: 229mg | Potassium: 174mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 90mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition info is an auto generated estimate.

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4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    My Mama used to make macaroni salad and I loved it! Your recipe is different because it has cheese in it. I can’t wait to try it.

  2. Thanks for linking up to Meal Plan Monday this week! I love the cheese and tomatoes in salad!

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