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!

Best Macaroni Salad Recipe - close hot in large bowl

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 Recipe - overhead image in bowls

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…
Best Macaroni Salad in three bowls

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 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!

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…

Best Macaroni Salad Recipe with spoon lifting salad out of bowl

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!

Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe close up of finished recipe

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.

Best Macaroni Salad Recipe - overhead image in bowls
Print Recipe
5 stars (42 reviews)
Leave a Review »

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
Making this recipe?Follow us on Instagram and tag @ASpicyPerspective so we can share what you’re cooking!

Share This Recipe With Friends!