Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

Old fashioned macaroni salad is the perfect make-ahead side dish for summer potlucks, barbecues, showers, or parties.  Tailor the salad ingredients to what you have on hand or what is in season.

White platter of Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

This salad is one of my ‘go-to’ holiday picnic recipes. It’s easy, cool, creamy, and tasty. I like to serve it alongside Pickled Deviled Eggs, Burnt Ends (aka meat candy), a festive Balsamic Fruit Salad, Brown Sugar And Bourbon Baked Beans, Vinegar Based Cole Slaw, and Peanut Butter Pie With Chocolate Ganache.


Most of us grew up with a family recipe for macaroni salad.  I have fond memories of my mom making huge containers of this salad for family picnics at the local amusement park.  She packed it in containers and then packed the containers in a cooler with lots of ice.  It was definitely a labor of love, and we loved her for it!

Another great perk to this recipe is how easily customizable it is.  Change up the vegetables that you use.  Add different herbs and spices.  Also, you can add protein, such as canned tuna or grilled chicken, to make it a complete meal.


  • Pasta – I used macaroni, but you can use any pasta you like.  Cavatappi, Ditalini, or Shells all work beautifully.
  • Kosher salt – it is imperative that you add flavor to the pasta.  The cooking water should taste like the sea.  You also need a bit for the dressing.
  • Olive oil – this will keep the pasta from sticking together while it cools.
  • Vegetables – this recipe uses celery, peas, tomato, carrot, and onion, but use whatever you enjoy or have on hand.
  • Cheese – small cubes of cheese, preferably provolone, are delicious. You can use shredded cheese or crumbled cheese, like feta.
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Vinegar – I used white wine vinegar, but apple cider, balsamic, white, tarragon, or champagne vinegars all work beautifully.
  • Black pepper and celery seed – all for flavor.


  1. Cook the pasta
  2. Drain the pasta
  3. Toss the cooked pasta with olive oil and allow the pasta to cool
  4. Whisk together the dressing
  5. Toss the pasta, cheese, and vegetables together with the sauce
  6. Serve

Don’t you love how easy this recipe is?  Yep, me too!

White platter of Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad


  • Go Tex-Mex by adding jalapenos, taco meat, cheddar cheese, and chili powder, lime juice, and cumin to the dressing.
  • Sweet macaroni salad would be delicious by adding diced pineapple, diced ham, and pineapple juice, and extra sugar to the dressing.
  • Try a seafood macaroni salad by tossing in cooked shrimp, canned tuna, crab flakes, and a bit of Old Bay Seasoning, lemon juice, and lemon zest to the dressing.
  • Make the kids happy with a cheeseburger pasta salad – toss in diced hamburger patties, shredded cheddar cheese, pickle relish, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, onions, and add ketchup to the dressing to make it more like a burger sauce.


Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad is the retro side dish that you remember eating as a kid.  It makes a perfect addition to a potluck, barbecue, holiday party, or weeknight dinner.

  • Author: Millie Brinkley
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6 1x
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Boil
  • Cuisine: American



For the salad:

  • 8-ounces elbow macaroni (½ box)
  • Handful of Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen peas (if frozen, thaw the peas)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely minced
  • ½ small sweet onion, finely diced
  • ¼ pound provolone cheese, finely diced

For the dressing:

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed


Cook the pasta.

Fill a large pot of water with hot water and stir in a large handful of salt.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil.

Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions less one minute.  The pasta should be very al dente.

Drain the pasta and spread it out on a baking sheet.  

Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and allow the pasta to cool.

Make the dressing.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and celery salt.

Combine the salad.

Add the cooked, cooled pasta to a large bowl.

Toss the pasta with the remaining salad ingredients.

Pour the dressing over the pasta and veggies and toss well to fully combine.

Cover the macaroni salad and chill until ready to serve up to three days.

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