This easy, tangy, and tasty macaroni salad is the perfect side for your next tailgate or barbecue.
It’s a creamy twist on a traditional pasta salad that pairs perfectly with grilled and smoked meats.
The Best Macaroni Salad
This macaroni salad is a variation of pasta salad but is more similar to creamy sides like potato salad and coleslaw than a traditional pasta salad.
There are many variations of the dish depending on what region you are in, but this recipe is a classic version filled with fresh peppers, onions, and tangy pickles.
While it’s difficult to trace the original creator of macaroni salad, it is commonly believed to have been created by European immigrants.
In the early to mid-1900s, creamy mayonnaise and mustard-based side dishes really gained popularity in the United States and the first macaroni salads started showing up in American cookbooks in the 1920s.
It’s easy to make and also keeps fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days, which makes it a great staple for the deli counter and barbecue restaurants.
How to make macaroni salad
1. Cook the pasta
The first step to making macaroni salad is to cook the macaroni. If you prefer a different style of pasta you can totally use that, but I find that a classic elbow macaroni is the best vessel for the creamy and delicious dressing.
When you cook your pasta, you want to cook it just slightly under al dente. This will ensure that the pasta does not get clumpy and mushy while it sits in the fridge after the dressing is added. You can just follow the instructions on your box of macaroni and subtract one minute from their recommended cooking time for al dente.
Once your pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander and then give it a good rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top to keep the pasta from sticking together and let it sit at room temperature to cool.
2. Prep your veg
I prefer finely dicing the vegetables I include in my macaroni salad, but if you prefer heartier chunks then a rough chop will do just fine. It’s all dependent on personal preference.
The most important components of a macaroni salad are onions, peppers, and pickles – but you can get creative with the varieties you choose.
If you want more of a southwest vibe, maybe substitute the red bell pepper with poblano pepper. If you want to cut back on the acidity, swap the red onion for a white onion or sweet onion. If you’re not a pickle fan, swap them with diced cucumber for a fresher flavor profile.
Once your pasta is cooled to room temperature, just dump all of the other ingredients into the bowl and give it all a good mix.
3. Make the dressing
This creamy dressing is super easy to whip up and full of flavor. It can also be used as a dressing component in other dishes such as potato salad or coleslaw.
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisk together until everything is well combined. The consistency should be similar to blue cheese dressing.
Once the dressing is made, pour it on top of the macaroni salad and stir until everything is well coated and incorporated.
You want to store it in the fridge, covered, for 2 hours prior to serving to let it get cold and to let all of the flavors combine.
What to serve macaroni salad with
Here are some great barbecue recipes that pair perfectly with this macaroni salad:
- Smoked Meatloaf with Homemade BBQ Glaze
- Whole Smoked Chicken
- Brisket Grilled Cheese
- Competition Style Pork Butt
- Competition Style Pork Ribs
The Best Macaroni Salad for BBQ
- 16 oz elbow macaroni
- ½ cup red bell pepper diced
- ½ cup celery diced
- ½ cup red onion diced
- ½ cup sweet pickles diced
- ⅛ cup green onion diced
Macaroni salad dressing
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp pickle juice
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ tbsp Kosher salt
- ½ tbsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- Cook your macaroni pasta as per package instructions, subtracting 1 minute of cook time. Rinse immediately with cold water and drizzle with olive oil. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In a large bowl, combine the pasta, bell pepper, celery, onion, pickles, and green onion. Stir until well combined.
- Pour the dressing over the top of the macaroni salad and mix until pasta is well-coated.
- Store in the fridge for 2 hours prior to serving (up to 5 days).
Macaroni salad dressing
- In a medium sized bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the macaroni salad dressing and whisk until well combined.