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Best Macaroni Salad

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The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe – This classic southern macaroni salad recipe has a few surprise ingredients to give that perky, super-addictive flavor we all know and love, a zesty twist. It’s the perfect make-ahead side dish for your next picnic or potluck!

macaroni salad recipe

The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

How to describe this Macaroni Salad…. Well, it’s ridiculously addictive.

Once you start, you just can’t stop eating it.

In all honesty, I’m usually not a fan of macaroni salad. Most of the recipes I’ve tried over the years have been too sweet, too mayonnaise-y, too bland, or too dry and clumpy.

However, I was recently at a barbecue restaurant and decided to give their macaroni salad a taste. I was pleasantly surprised by the zesty flavor and silky texture. It still wasn’t life-changing for me, but it did inspire me to come home and make a version I could really enjoy.

This “The Best Macaroni Salad” recipe might be better titled “The Only Macaroni Salad Recipe You’ll Ever Need” because it is truly the only version I’ve ever tasted or made that I get excited about.

In fact, it’s hard not to eat it right out of the serving bowl.

best macaroni salad

Southern Macaroni Salad Ingredients

So, what’s the secret to a crave-worthy macaroni salad recipe?

It takes the right blend of ingredients to create a salty, slightly-sweet bite that is balanced in spice and tang.

Along with the traditional mayo-based dressing and elbow macaroni, I like to add:

  • Roasted Red Peppers – Slightly acidic, with a smoky-sweet taste.
  • Sweet Pickle Relish –For a tangy-sweet flavor
  • Scallions – The perfect amount of onion taste
  • Cooked Bacon – Salty, bacon-y goodness goes well with anything.
  • Garlic – Who doesn’t love garlic? It enhances any dish.
  • Hot Sauce – Choose your favorite kind!
  • Kale – Let me explain…
southern macaroni salad

Kale In Macaroni Salad?!

A little hot sauce, scallions, garlic, and rich fatty bacon balance out the tendency for this pasta salad to be too sweet.

However, the addition of roasted red peppers, pickle relish, and, perhaps surprisingly, kale, all offer intense flavor and color that has stay-power, making this recipe a marvelous make-ahead and leftover dish.

Look at the kale. It’s a pop of color that doesn’t wilt down like most fresh herbs.

Kale has a sturdy consistency and holds up well even with a heavy dressing. Including it in the salad adds a hearty texture with a slightly earthy flavor.

How To Make Classic Macaroni Salad 

  1. Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions. Then drain and rinse the pasta with cold water, and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Mix together the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar, hot sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small dish to make the macaroni salad dressing.
  3. Combine the pasta and dressing. Then add the chopped roasted red peppers, kale, cooked bacon, pickle relish, and scallions.
  4. Toss well to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve and enjoy this mac salad recipe cold.

Get the Complete (Printable) Recipe Below for How to Make the Best Macaroni Salad. Enjoy!

how to make macaroni salad

Try Our Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe

The texture of this salad is creamy-smooth, with little pops of crunch mingled throughout.

Perfect for barbecues, picnics, and potlucks, you’ll definitely want to share this life-changing version of macaroni salad.

My family is nuts over this recipe. It’s a side dish they ask for again and again.

I bet yours will, too!

Serve This Dish With…

pasta salad recipe

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Make This Recipe Ahead Of Time?

Yes!!! This recipe can be made up to 4 days ahead of enjoying it.

Make sure to cover it well and refrigerate. Serve chilled.

Do You Recommend Freezing This Recipe?

Because of the mayo and fresh ingredients, it is not advised that you freeze this dish.

Can I Leave Out The Pickles?

If you can’t stand pickles, you can leave them out.

Then if you feel the salad needs a little acidity, add rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon at a time until it tastes right to you.

Can I Make This Salad Vegetarian?

Absolutely! Just leave out the cooked bacon for a vegetarian-friendly version of the Best Macaroni Salad.

How About Gluten-Free?

Simply swap your favorite alternative-flour elbow pasta in place of traditional macaroni for a gluten-free version. Just remember, gluten-free pasta does not hold up at long as pasta made with wheat, so be sure to eat it the day you make it.

Can I Substitute The Kale?

Sure! You can substitute spinach or parsley for the kale. Although, one of my kids hates kale, and never detects it in this recipe.

Is There A Specific Mayo To Use?

Honestly, it’s just a matter of personal taste. You can use any mayonnaise brand you like, whether it’s Hellmans, Miracle Whip, or an Olive Oil based Mayonnaise!

classic macaroni salad

Looking for More Scrumptious Pasta Salads?

Check the printable recipe card below for the perfect side dish nutritional information including calories, carbohydrates, protein, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, fiber, vitamin c, and calcium percentages.

The Best Darn Macaroni Salad Recipe Ever | ASpicyPerspective.com
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5 from 42 votes
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Best Macaroni Salad Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
The Best Macaroni Salad Recipe – This classic southern macaroni salad recipe has a few surprise ingredients to give that perky, super-addictive flavor we all know and love a zesty twist.
Servings: 12 servings



  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions, usually 7-10 minutes. Then drain and rinse with cold water.
  • In a medium bowl mix the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, sugar, hot sauce, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper.
  • Pour the macaroni in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the top. Then add the chopped roasted red peppers, kale, bacon, pickle relish, and scallions.
  • Toss well to coat. Then refrigerate until ready to serve.



* This macaroni salad recipe can be made up to 4 days ahead of enjoying, and kept refrigerated in an airtight container. Serve chilled.


Calories: 362kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 12mg, Sodium: 689mg, Potassium: 163mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 750IU, Vitamin C: 20mg, Calcium: 31mg, Iron: 1mg
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Sommer Collier

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47 comments on “Best Macaroni Salad”

  1. This has so much flavor and is the best side, especially during the summer!

  2. This is a must at all our summer picnics & BBQ’s! It makes any meal complete & is always the first things to get eaten!

  3. This macaroni salad was SO good! I took it to my neighbor’s house for a cookout and everyone asked for the recipe. Thank you!

  4. I was a little worried about the kale, but I ended up really enjoying this recipe! thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Well Sommer…..this was indeed what you promised. We really love it. Had it for a taste test tonight before having it for lunch tomorrow. Thank you for another great recipe! dezi

  6. I’m a believer! We had this last night for dinner with spiral sliced ham. Absolutely delicious – everyone loved the sweet+salty+creamy+crunchy. But now it’s the next morning and it’s 100% WHAT I WANT FOR BREAKFAST!! Never had a macaroni salad do that before. :)

  7. Omg, this is the BEST macaroni salad I’ve ever had! It’s the perfect balance of sweetness, saltiness, creaminess… oh goodness. I love the green onions (scallions) in it especially, it really adds that something special. I followed the recipe exactly except for the meat, I left that out and I’m going to make this again experimenting with different additions. I love this macaroni salad so much, I ate 2 huge bowls! Thank you Sommer! You have impeccable taste!

  8. Creamy and Very delicious.
    No bacon on hand but I did use diced up ham in place of

  9. The best macaroni salad I have made in a long time. Totally one of my husbands favorites for sure.

  10. Looks so good! I know my family would go nuts over this.

  11. This macaroni salad is fabulous! Perfectly creamy and balanced flavors; delish!

  12. This is an gluten-free appetizer or snack. Super delicious, budget-friendly, kids-friendly food. I really like this dish.

  13. I made this and was hit can I ask what is better to use far as mayo hellmans mayo or miracle whip??

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  15. This is a good recipe. I’m not a fan of the kale, but did use it. I’d prefer grated broccoli. I feared the 1 1/2c of mayo would be too wet. It isn’t. I mixed the relish into the dressing, rather than mixing with the fresh toppings and bacon. Fresh chopped red pepper and a tsp of lemon juice could give this recipe a little more needed acid. But these are my preferences. It’s a good recipe as written.

  16. This recipe is a potluck favorite! So, so yummy!

  17. What a perfect summer potluck dish! Definitely going to be adding this to the rotation!

  18. Macaroni salads are my favorite!! They are the perfect side to any dish & always a hit!

  19. I love your use of relish in this recipe; it looks delicious! Will make a perfect side at a party!

  20. Perfect for summer bbqs! So easy and always a crowd pleaser!

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  22. Going to be making this all spring and summer long!

  23. Exactly what I needed with all the picnic and summer gatherings coming up. Thanks for sharing Sommer.

  24. This was a winner! My husband didn’t even notice the kale….win-win!!

  25. This has to be the best pasta salad ever!!! YUM

  26. Hi! Could I substitute the mayo with olive oil? Or would that be disastrous?

  27. This macaroni salad looks so delicious, I will cook this for my girl tonight. Thank you for sharing this nice recipe.

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  29. This salad was delish!! I would have used kale if my hubby didn’t see the recipe, haha but added celery for an added crunch! Used a little more Franks too because we love that on a lot of things! Def a keeper!

  30. looks so yummy, and I just love kale.. cant wait to try this recipe out..

  31. Really dislike pickle anything. Can I leave it out or would I need to substitute it?

    • Hi Maria! You can leave it out. Then if you feel the macaroni salad needs a little acidity, add rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it taste right to you. :)

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  33. Sounds delicious, however, can I substitute Spinach instead of Kale?
    My husband hates Kale.

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  35. omg…made this tonight and it was unbelievable! Never thought I would say that about pasta salad. Very different and silky and full of flavor with the kale and bacon and peppers. So so good! Made it with grilled chicken and a side of your zesty onion rings and this was a dinner to remember! Thanks!

  36. A perfect pasta salad for summer meals!

  37. Sounds like the perfectly balanced macaroni salad!

  38. LOVE macaroni salad in the summer!  So good!

  39. Best Macaroni Salad. Ingredient: Franks Redhot sauce – what can I use in the UK??

  40. I like to use Japanese mayo with regular dill pickles because I dislike sweet pickle relish. Other than that, I do it very similar, just no bacon.