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Easy Macaroni Salad Recipe – A Classic Picnic Side Dish

At every potluck, picnic, or backyard barbecue party that you attend this time of the year, you can almost guarantee that someone is going to bring some sort of cold macaroni salad to share. From a classic creamy macaroni salad recipe to one that has been flavored with bacon and tomatoes, you are sure to find some version on the food table.

Just imagine a big bowl of cold elbow pasta coated in a creamy dressing that is tossed with crunchy bits of diced peppers, celery and onions. Not only is it a crowd pleaser, it is a great side dish to bring to any gathering.

Not to mention, for the large quantity that it makes, it is an inexpensive recipe to prepare. In addition, you can make it a day or two ahead of the event. Which is a huge time saver on a busy summer day!

classic macaroni salad
Bowl of All-American Classic Macaroni Salad ready to be served at your next picnic or barbecue gathering.

Another advantage of making macaroni salad for your next party, is that it is a side dish that goes with just about any other dishes that are being prepared. Hot dogs, hamburgers, pulled pork, ribs, you name it this is a great side dish that goes with just about everything.

However, not all macaroni salad is the same. In fact, there are so many variations, that it is hard to define what ingredients should be in macaroni salad.

Classic Macaroni Salad Ingredients

If you asked 10 different people how to make homemade macaroni salad, you will most likely get 10 different recipes.

Although it always starts with cooked and cooled pasta that is tossed in some sort of dressing, the similarities stop there. Some people add eggs, and others add chunks of cheddar cheese to their dish.

And the creamy dressing that you find on top could be a thick, mustard and mayonnaise dressing. Or the pasta could be covered in a light, Greek yogurt mixture or even a lighter, vinegar based mixture.

However, one thing is for sure. Classic macaroni salad is made with elbow pasta and diced veggies that are tossed and coated in a creamy dressing.

When we serve this side dish for a crowd, we like to use basic, but delicious ingredients that provide the perfect amount of flavor that everyone loves.

Celery, onions, and sweet peppers provide a ton of flavor and also gives this dish a crunchy texture that balances out the soft pasta perfectly.

mayonnaise
Whenever you have to measure creamy ingredients, such as sour cream or mayonnaise. It is best to use a push measuring cup. It allows all the measured ingredients to be added to the recipe with little effort.

And as for the dressing, we keep it on the lighter side. The tart flavors of mayonnaise and sour cream are tamed down a bit with a little bit of sugar and vinegar.

Add in a few spices and you have the perfect dressing for classic macaroni salad!

How To Make The Pasta

But the very first step to making this macaroni salad recipe is to cook the pasta. Macaroni noodles, aka elbow noodles, make up the base to this side dish. Although you could use other types of noodles, such as penne or cellentani noodles, it is customary to use elbow noodles for this recipe.

However, the most crucial step is cooking the noodles. It is important that they are cooked to al’ dente consistency. This will allow them to be tossed with the vegetables and dressing without falling apart.

Because each brand of pasta requires different cooking times, be sure to follow the instructions on the package for al’ dente noodles. Although, when I am busy, I prefer a quicker, less maintenance way to cook the pasta.

How To Cook Pasta In An Instant Pot

Instead of cooking the noodles in a pot of water over the stove, I prefer to make them in the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. Not only does it cook the noodles in half of the time, it also is a ‘fix it and forget it’ type of cooking method.

That means there is no more waiting for the pot of water to boil before adding the noodles. Also, there is no need to stand in the kitchen to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over and create a mess in the kitchen.

Simply place the noodles in the liner of the Instant Pot. Then add 4 cups of water per 1 pound of pasta.

instant pot pasta
Pasta noodles cooked in the Instant Pot with just 4 minutes of cook time required!

Set the cook time to half of the time listed on the package, for al’ dente consistency. If the instructions give you a range of time, such as 9-11 minutes, use the lower number, divide in half and round down if necessary.

Therefore in this case 9 minutes, divided in half equals 4.5 minutes. Because it is not a whole number, round the cook time down to 4 minutes.

However, as with all pressure cooking recipes, additional time is required for the pot to come to pressure and the actual cook time to begin. This will take about the same time for a pot of water to come to a boil.

Once the cooking time is up, slowly release the pressure until the pin drops. Then remove and drain the pasta. It is that simple.

Rinse The Noodles In Cold Water

However, no matter what pasta cooking method that you choose for making this macaroni salad recipe, be sure to rinse the cooked pasta in cold water to stop the cooking process. Otherwise the noodles will continue to cook and will end up too soft and mushy.

Serving Tips For Macaroni Salad

Now comes the hardest part. Once the macaroni salad has been prepared by tossing the noddles and veggies with the dressing, you must refrigerate it before serving.

This classic macaroni salad needs time in the refrigerator to not only become cold, but also so that they flavors can meld together. This time allows the dressing time to not only stick to the pasta, but soak inside the noodles as well.

classic macaroni salad dressing over pasta
Classic Macaroni Salad Ingredients ready to be tossed together and placed in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Therefore, it needs at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before you serve it. In fact, if you can wait even longer, it will even be that much better!

Just like with Potato Salad, this dish only gets better when it has been in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

And when it is time to serve it, be sure to not let it sit out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. Because the dressing has mayo as one of the ingredients, it needs to be kept at a safe temperature for consuming.

Now that you know all the tips and tricks to making this classic side dish, let’s get to the actual ingredients and instructions.

Macaroni Salad Recipe

*Specific measurements and complete recipe instructions are located in a printable recipe card at the bottom of this article. However, be sure to continue to read the tips and tricks to making this recipe below.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups dry elbow macaroni
  • 1/3 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet or red onion
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet peppers
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry ground mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 crushed red peppers, optional
macaroni salad
Pasta salad that is cold and ready for the picnic table!

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Cook macaroni pasta based on package instructions for al dente texture. See the above tips for cooking the pasta in a pressure cooker to save time.

2. Rinse the cooked pasta under cold water and drain. Let cool while you cut the vegetables.

3. Then in a large bowl combine the cooked macaroni, celery, onion, sweet peppers and parsley.

4. Prepare the macaroni salad dressing in a small bowl by whisking together the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, and crushed red peppers.

5. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight before serving.

Enjoy! Mary

Small batch fudge recipe

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All American Macaroni Salad

classic macaroni salad

Classic All-American Macaroni Salad – pasta tossed in a light dressing and served with diced celery, onions and sweet peppers.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Inactive Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 24 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dry elbow macaroni
  • 1/3 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet or red onion
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet peppers
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry ground mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 crushed red peppers, optional

Instructions

  1. Cook the elbow macaroni based on package instructions for al dente texture. Rinse under cold water and drain. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl combine the cooked and drained macaroni, diced celery, onion, sweet peppers and parsley.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, and crushed red peppers (optional).
  4. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to evenly coat. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Notes

Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If serving for a potluck or picnic where it will be out for more than 1 hour, set the serving bowl in a container of ice.

Recipe provided by Make Your Meals

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1 grams

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 140Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 7mgSodium: 181mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 2g

Nutritional Information is to be used as a general guideline only . Nutritional calculations will vary from the types and brands of the products used.

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