Classic Macaroni Salad

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!

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This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!I have a strange obsession with pasta.  I mean, I do love Italian food…so that makes my obsession a bit less strange.  But I love to stand in the grocery store and stare at all of the different types of pasta options.  There’s literally dozens of different pastas.  The whole process of choosing the correct style of pasta for your dish totally fascinates me.  For instance, thick sauces (think ragu-style sauces) call for thick pasta (think tagliatelle or fettuccine).  Thinner sauces (think cream sauce) are usually partnered with thinner pastas like spaghetti or linguine.  And then there’s the whole category of tube-style pastas like macaroni, penne and rigatoni.  I mean, you could get an advanced degree in the art of pairing recipes with the appropriate pasta!

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!A few weeks ago, near the end of curling season, I was sitting around with my teammates and our opponents after a game (because that’s what you do in curling).  We were sipping on beers, and someone commented that they were hungry.  Our team captain had the great idea to see if there were any leftovers hanging out in the fridge from the previous weekend’s tournament.  Sure enough, there were leftovers!  In fact, there was a jackpot of leftovers!  He came walking out of the kitchen with 2 massive trays of macaroni salad.  Nothing crazy.  Just good ole classic macaroni salad.  It might have been 9:30pm, but we all dug into that pasta like we hadn’t eaten in days!

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!Aside from its deliciousness, I was struck by the fact that this leftover macaroni salad wasn’t made with macaroni.  (Does that still make it a macaroni salad?  Hmm…)  Instead, the Italian deli that made it had used ditalini pasta instead.  I loved this little twist.  In the great big pasta family, ditalini is like a cousin of macaroni.  Unlike the curved shape of macaroni, ditalini is shaped like small, straight tubes.  Ultimately, it doesn’t change the taste of the salad that much, but I really enjoyed the way it looked in the tray.

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!Now that it’s finally getting warmer again, it’s time for backyard picnic food.  It’s time to get the grill out and invite friends over to hang out.  It’s time for Classic Macaroni Salad.  Inspired by the curling club leftovers, I pulled out my family recipe for macaroni salad, but I used ditalini pasta instead.  This is just a classic summer pasta salad recipe.  It’s one of our many go-to side dishes for picnics, and I’m pretty sure I could eat a big plate of this Classic Macaroni Salad as a meal.

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!While this pasta salad primarily consists of mayo (with a little sour cream added in), it isn’t overly “mayonnaise-y.”  We’ve all been to picnics where the pasta salad is swimming in a pool of mayo.  That’s not this recipe.  I don’t particularly enjoy pasta salads that are loaded with mayo, but feel free to add more to suit your own tastes.  You’ll also notice that the pasta soaks up a lot of the mayo after it sits in the fridge for a few hours.  That’s fine by me, too.  The flavor is still there.

Oh, and pasta salads always taste better after they’ve been able to rest for a bit.  So make this batch of Classic Macaroni Salad the day before you want to serve it.  (Plus, it’s just one less thing to do on the day of the picnic.)  Make up a big batch of this salad, grab some beers and hotdogs and enjoy the summer with friends!

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!

Classic Macaroni Salad

This Classic Macaroni Salad is perfect for summer picnics and dinners on the back porch!
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 381kcal



  • Cook pasta according to the package instructions; rinse in cold water until completely cool. Drain pasta and place in a large bowl.
  • Add remaining ingredients (mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard powder, sugar, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper, celery, onion and carrot). Stir until well combined. Place in refrigerator until well chilled.
  • Sprinkle top of salad with paprika before serving.

Looking for more summer pasta salad recipes?  Check out these other favorites, too:

Italian Antipasto Salad: This delicious pasta salad is perfect for summer picnics and barbecues!Italian Antipasti Salad

This Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad has a secret ingredient: pepperoncini! This recipe is a delicious way to celebrate summer picnic season!Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad

With a nod to the Windy City, this Chicago Hot Dog Pasta Salad is a tasty way to celebrate warm summer days in the backyard!Chicago Hot Dog Pasta Salad

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  1. I think I must know 3 variations of pasta – I always called these ones “small tubes” not ditalini! I think I need a Google session on all the different pastas around. I had my first macaroni salad for the season at a friends place last Tuesday – she had used Italian dressing instead of mayo so no veggies or pasta were allowed to go “swimming” 🙂 Speaking of veggies, using “cup measurements” is such a good idea, David – I just realized how different in size veggies tend to be – and I’ve tend to just say ” 1 green pepper” or “2 carrots”!

    1. Yeah, that’s a good point about the measurements, Shashi. I honestly do it both ways. The cups is nice because you can be exact, but then it can be confusing to figure out cups when you are standing at the store staring at carrots, ya know? Either way, this macaroni salad is one of our favorite summer side dishes! Here’s to the summer!! 🙂

  2. Hi David! Macaroni salad is one of my favorite things to have on hand! I like to add peas to mine and sometimes small chunks of cheese and black olives. It is so customizable – add ham or tuna or chicken and you’ve got a meal! And yes, I’ve been known to eat it for breakfast! 🙂

    1. Ooo, I love chunks of cheese and olives in pasta salad. That version sounds a lot like the Italian Antipasto Salad I posted last summer. My mother-in-law came up with that recipe, and she gets thick slices of meat from the deli counter. Then she just cubes it up for the salad…genius idea if you ask me! And yes, pasta salad is totally acceptable for breakfast!

  3. I love incorporating pasta in salads, but honestly, I’ve never been a fan of a classic macaroni salad (well such a good way to begin a comment on this post, right?) The mixture of mayo and sour cream mixed with pasta is not that appealong to me. But, David, your version is just screaming: “I’m the best version! Make me! Make me!” And importantly, I agree – this salad looks the perfection to me. There is the great balance of the dressing and the other ingredients – not too dry and pasta is not swimming in tons of sauce as I’ve seen a few times. Love your addicion of paprika (smoked paprika would work perfectly). Nicely done, David!

    1. I definitely get it, Ben. I’ve been to more than one picnic or catered event where the pasta salad is literally chunks of veggies swimming in a big vat of mayo. I like subbing some of the mayo out for sour cream, although believe it or not sour cream is a relatively new love of mine. I used to always use it for baking, but it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve used it in things like pasta salad or right on tacos. Crazy, right? Cheers to warm weather! (It is warm up there by now right? You’re only a couple hours north of us, and we’re finally out of the freezing temps. Although we’re in a little cold snap right now…go figure.)

  4. heh, I totally had this internal pasta debate last night while I was making a simple pasta dish and realized that I only had spaghetti and lasagna noodles at home….definitely was craving my penne, weirdly enough, so I’m nipping down to the store now to buy some. Oh, and some more noodles for this macaroni salad! 🙂

    1. Haha! There are so many types of pasta out there. But hey, I totally wouldn’t have thought you were strange for using lasagna noodles in a pasta salad. Just break up the big pieces and call it a day. 🙂

  5. David, this is the perfect recipe to share this week! I can’t be at a Memorial Day BBQ without macaroni salad . . and I completely understand your obsession with pasta!!! I’m the same way!!! and it’s funny, I’m not sure I have ever sprinkled on paprika when I’ve made macaroni salad. . but I see it all the time . . I need to try this!!! looks delicious! have a great Memorial Day weekend!

    1. Memorial Day BBQ’s without pasta salad is like summer without the sun! Here’s to the unofficial start of summer…and lots of delicious grilled food. And pasta salad, of course! 🙂

  6. “But I love to stand in the grocery store and stare at all of the different types of pasta options”

    Dave, these are the things you don’t admit on the internet! Haha, just kidding but some of them are crazy, moreso their name than anything! My friend’s nonna made homemade pasta with pesto swirled in the process. Epic. This is the kind of salad i need on Monday!

    1. Hahaha…I guess you are right, Arman. I shouldn’t admit my weird habits to all of your internet catfish. Ooo…pesto! I’m thinking I need a pesto pasta salad for Monday. Along with this classic version, of course. Heck, let’s make it a party and see how many different types of pasta salad we can collect on one table! 🙂

  7. You are so right about all the different pasta choices! I haven’t had macaroni salad in forever. I always seem to make potato salad or a greek style pasta salad. My mom always used to make her macaroni salad with the little shells. I love this curling inspired ditalini macaroni salad. I think it still fair to call it that even if there are no elbow macaroni in here.

    1. Potato salad and greek pasta salad are totally acceptable options, Rachelle! They all go great with a cold beer. 🙂 I almost called this one Ditalini Pasta Salad, but then that doesn’t really fairly describe the dish! Accurate yes. But confusing. Oh well, here’s to summer pasta salads and delicious grilled food!

  8. Pasta choice is totally everything! Macaroni salad is definitely its own pasta salad category, separate from pasta salads made with rotini/fusilli/penne/farfalle in my opinion. This looks amazing and is getting me super excited for summer cookouts!

    1. Me, too, Medha! I can’t wait for summer cookouts. All of the delicious grilled food…and pasta salads, of course! I must admit that I am hooked on the ditilini version of this pasta salad. No more macaroni for me…although I’ll still call it macaroni salad just because I can. Hope you have an awesome long weekend!

  9. Looking at this totally just put me in the mood for a Memorial Day picnic. It’s important to start the summer right with some good, classic picnic food! I’m also a fan of your choice of ditalini pasta!

  10. David, I read this recipe at 9am and it gave me a craving for mac salad. That’s just not right at 9 in the morning! But even though I probably have about 20 pounds of pasta in the pantry, I high tailed it to P-Chops to get a box of ditalini. It just looked like an awesome pasta for salad. Well, I made it this afternoon and it was fabulous. My eldest, who is moving to his own apartment in another state next week, asked if I could print out the recipe for him to take! Thanks for (yet another) great recipe!

    1. P-Chops….hahaha! I love that. I actually think I checked P-Chops for ditalini, but I had to go across the street instead. Maybe they were just out. Either way, I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe, Judy! It’s the least I could offer for putting up with all of the noise across the street lately. 🙂 And hey, this recipe is easy enough that anyone can make it!

      1. I’m kinda embarrassed to say the entire huge bowl of it is already gone. No kidding…Ken came down and ate it for breakfast the next day! Less than 24 hours after creation it was history. But that’s okay….like you said, easy to make! And no problem about noise….don’t even notice unless I’m outside and then I enjoy watching the transformation.

        1. Hey, I wouldn’t be embarassed to admit that at all! This macaroni salad is one of our favorites over here…there’s always a chance that you can find a batch of it in our fridge to go along with summer grilling recipes! I haven’t eaten it for breakfast, though…yet. Haha! And if you get tired of the peace and quiet across the street, you’re welcome to come sit over here. I can’t hear myself think right now!

    1. Thanks, Manali! I love pasta salad, too…it’s like the quintessential summer recipe. You can’t have summer BBQs without at least 2 kinds of pasta salad. And this will always be one of my favorite kinds of pasta salad. 🙂

  11. This macaroni salad really looks good. I love the pasta you used It’s so cute! 🙂

    I typically shy away from macaroni salad because of the all the mayo so it’s nice to see a recipe that doesn’t involve large amounts of mayo.

    1. I totally agree with you about the mayo, Tamara! I hate pasta salads that are like swimming in a big vat of mayo. This isn’t that pasta salad at all! It’s perfect for weekend grilling parties. 🙂

  12. I have to agree with Arman, there are certain things you should never confess on the internet.
    Like I would never say that I never accept samples. Of anything. Food, drinks, perfumes. Nothing.
    I know it’s weird, what’s the harm in a little sample after all? Dunno man, it’s a thing.
    Oh wait…did I just confess it? Dumb… 😉

    Anyways, I would probably make an exception to my no-sample rule for this macaroni salad. It looks awesome!

    1. Hahaha…and now your secret is out there for the world to know, Mike! I bet you have an entire drawer full of those cologne samples you get in the mall. You are such a wierdo. I guess it could be worse. You could have a sock drawer full of macaroni salad. Have a great Memorial Day weekend, Alpha!

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