This creamy Southern Macaroni Salad recipe is a staple down south, and the best you'll find for picnics, potluck dinners and summer barbecues!
It's a simple cold pasta salad made with elbow macaroni, fresh vegetables, mayonnaise, seasonings, and a pinch of sugar for good measure. You'll want to take it to every tailgate party and cookout you attend!
Why You'll Love It
- Make ahead: macaroni salad is the perfect make-ahead side dish!
- Travels well: serve it on ice at your next picnic or family gathering
- Quick and easy: super easy macaroni salad is ready in under 30 minutes!
- Delicious flavors: you won't be able to stop eating these tender macaroni noodles mixed with fresh veggies!
- Versatile: can be customized to your preference with many variations
There are several cold salads we can't live without in the south which include red skin potato salad, classic tuna salad and macaroni salad with a creamy dressing. You'll see all three of these show up at family reunions and summer picnics along with chicken salad croissants and ham salad sandwiches!
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 recipe is the perfect side dish for pulled pork barbecue, grilled hamburgers or chili hotdogs. You can serve it by itself, or with other sides as a cold salad plate. The tangy dressing is hard to beat!
With only a few fresh ingredients, you'll be enjoying a traditional southern side that will be ready in under 30 minutes!
- elbow macaroni - the classic macaroni pasta for this recipe
- mayonnaise - Duke's mayonnaise (ad) is the favorite choice
- apple cider or white vinegar - apple cider vinegar is bolder, while white vinegar is smooth
- sugar - balances the acid in the vinegar
- celery - adds a nice crunch
- red onion or green onions - flavor enhancer that tastes great with tomatoes
- cubes of sharp cheddar cheese - use sharp cheddar for best results
- cucumbers - cools things down
- tomatoes - adds color, texture and flavor
Seasonings: garlic salt, onion powder, ground mustard, celery seed, dried parsley, salt and black pepper
- large mixing bowl
- cutting board
- sharp knife
How to Make Southern Macaroni Salad
Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add macaroni and cook 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and cool down by rinsing with cool water. Drain again and dab with paper towels to absorb most of the liquid.
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 cooked macaroni in a large bowl 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.
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.
Some folks add hard boiled eggs to this recipe, but it's not required. Others like to add green bell pepper, fresh dill, or sweet pickles to make it a Carolina macaroni salad.
Any type of pasta works well with this recipe, but elbow macaroni is the traditional favorite. Other shapes of pasta to try are bowtie, rotini, or cavatappi.
Make sure to drain all of the water from the noodles before adding the dressing and dab with paper towels to absorb the liquid. This is an important step. Cooking the noodles until they are just al dente also prevents them from absorbing more water than they should.
If pasta sits in the refrigerator for a while, it will absorb most of the dressing and appear to be dry. To fix this problem, just add a tablespoon of milk, or a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise and give everything a big stir. It should loosen right up!
- 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. Rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Use Duke's mayonnaise or Hellman's for best results. Miracle Whip is not recommended but you can add it if preferred.
- 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 classic side 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.
Sweet pickle relish and red bell pepper make a great addition. If you like things spicy, adding pickled jalapeños is a nice touch.
Some folks add sour cream, dijon mustard or yellow mustard to the mix. But, I don't like to deviate from this classic southern macaroni salad recipe. It's a family favorite that's been passed down through the generations.
Storage and Freezing
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.
This recipe shouldn't sit out of the refrigerator unless it's on ice. It shouldn't reach room temperature due to safety concerns.
Can macaroni salad be frozen?
Since this dish contains mayonnaise, freezing is not recommended. The veggies and mayonnaise don't freeze well so it's best to eat this recipe within 3 days.
What to Serve With Macaroni Salad
There are unlimited dishes to serve with this southern macaroni salad recipe, but here are a few favorite combinations...
Southern Macaroni Salad Recipe
*See notes in blog post for detailed tips, photos and instructions.
- 16 oz. elbow macaroni
- 1 cup celery diced
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese cubed
- 1 cup cocktail tomatoes sliced in half
- ½ cup cucumber diced
- ½ cup green onion diced
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 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
- Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot.
- Add macaroni and cook 10 minutes.
- Dice celery, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion while noodles are boiling.
- Drain macaroni and cool down by rinsing with cold water.
- In a separate large mixing bowl, mix celery, cheese, tomatoes, onion, mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar together.
- Add all 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.
- Time does not include refrigeration. If not serving right away, refrigerate for at least 2 hours to chill the salad.
- 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.
- 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.
- This recipe shouldn't sit out of the refrigerator unless it's on ice. It shouldn't reach room temperature due to safety concerns.
- Since this dish contains mayonnaise, freezing is not recommended. The veggies and mayonnaise don't freeze well so it's best to eat this recipe within 3 days.
- View the Google Web Story for Macaroni Salad!
Nutrition info is an auto generated estimate.