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This simple, creamy macaroni salad is loaded with pasta, peas, and ham. It’s perfect for parties, family dinners, and potlucks!
There are a few salad recipes that I always make in the summertime, including this macaroni salad! We also love our other version – Chicken Macaroni Salad!
Quick + Easy Pasta Salad
In search of a great pasta salad dish to bring to your next family dinner?
This macaroni salad is it! It’s also great for picnics, BBQs, showers, brunches, and all of the holidays, especially summer ones!
I like to make a big batch of this classic macaroni salad because it always serves a ton of people. It’s super yummy served on the side of other main dishes or it can be served by itself as a lunch or dinner dish.
How to Make Macaroni Salad
This easy macaroni salad recipe comes together in minutes!
PASTA. Cook macaroni in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
In a large bowl, combine cooked macaroni, ham, and peas.
DRESSING. In a separate bowl, mix the mayonnaise, milk, and ranch dressing.
COMBINE. Add dressing to the pasta and mix until coated.
SEASON + SERVE. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Stir in any additional desired mix-ins and refrigerate until ready to serve.
I like to keep my macaroni salad recipe simple especially when I’m serving it for a large crowd. However, there are so many delicious mix-in ideas that you can use for your family.
You can even have the mix-ins on the side for people to add themselves. The mix-ins can spruce up the flavor as well as add texture and color.
- Add diced celery, tomatoes, red bell peppers, black olives, or sliced radishes.
- Use sweet pickles or even sweet pickle relish.
- Add chopped red onion or scallions.
- Add in a diced Boiled Egg or two.
- Add cheese chunks-cheddar cheese or Colby jack is yummy.
- Season with garlic powder, fresh parsley, and paprika.
- Add a dab of Dijon mustard or a splash of apple cider vinegar.
- Use tuna or chicken instead of ham.
- Add a bit of crunch with chow mein noodles.
Perfect Pasta tips
Not only is pasta the main ingredient in the recipe for macaroni salad it is what can make or break the recipe. Take note because macaroni salad breaks a couple of my pasta rules.
Cooking pasta. This is one of the few pasta recipes that you DON’T want al dente (broken rule 1). If you don’t cook the macaroni long enough, then the sauce won’t stick very well. However, you also don’t want to overcook it. Check the package directions for the perfect middle time.
Rinse. Drain, rinse with cold water (broken rule 2), and then chill the macaroni noodles while you whip up the sauce. If you add sauce to warm pasta the sauce will melt right off. The pasta also needs to be somewhat dry for the sauce to stick to each piece of macaroni.
Chill. Once the salad is mixed, allow time for all the ingredients and flavors to marry while it chills in the fridge.
Making this for a crowd. I would plan for ½ cup which is about 5 ounces per person.
Pasta shape. Anything that is bite-sized and has grooves that will cling deliciously to the dressing will work. Some ideas include: shell (small or medium), wagon wheel, bow tie, penne, and rotini.
This best macaroni salad is perfect for picnics and potlucks, but this means often leaving it out for a while and sometimes in warm temperatures. It’s not recommended for any food to be left out for longer than 2 hours at room temperature and less in the heat. Here are a couple of tips to help when serving:
- Only set out a little at a time and leave the rest in a cooler with ice.
- Set the bowl of macaroni salad inside a large bowl with ice in it.
Make it ahead of time. Easy macaroni salad can be made ahead of time. In fact, I like to make mine the day before and let all the flavors blend. If you do make this the day before, I suggest leaving a little dressing out so that you can freshen it up if it gets a little dry.
STORE. Leftover classic macaroni salad can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days. If it gets dry, mix up a little bit more macaroni salad dressing and re-toss.
Complete Your Picnic
Add some of these other classic recipes to your upcoming picnic:
- Chicken Salad
- Pasta Salad Recipe
- Deviled Eggs
- How to Cut a Watermelon
- Easy Fruit Salad
- Homemade Brownies
Salting the water beautifully seasons the pasta. Once the water is boiling, right before adding the macaroni, you’ll want to add 1½ tablespoons of salt per pound of pasta to the pot.
Some common mistakes when making macaroni salad include using pasta that is too big or too small, over or undercooking, not seasoning it enough, not rinsing the noodles with cold water, and storing it for too long causing it to dry out.
This usually isn’t a problem when the salad is served soon after making it, but if you want to make it in advance you could toss the cooked macaroni in a bit of olive oil before adding the mayonnaise dressing.
For More Pasta Salad Recipes, Try:
Macaroni Salad Recipe
- 24 ounces (or 6 cups) elbow macaroni
- 1½ cups cubed ham
- 1 (12-ounce) bag frozen peas thawed
- 1½ cups mayonnaise
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup ranch dressing
- salt and black pepper to taste
- paprika to taste
- Cook macaroni in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
- In a large bowl, combine cooked macaroni, ham, and peas.
- In a separate bowl, mix the mayonnaise, milk, and ranch dressing.
- Add dressing to the pasta and mix until coated.
- Season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Stir in any additional desired mix-ins and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.