Friday, September 2, 2011

Classic Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

A classic, old fashioned macaroni salad, made with elbow macaroni, sweet onion, celery, chopped pickles, and pimento - simple, the kind that grandma used to make.

Classic Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

Before there were pasta salads filled with all sorts of yummy goodies, there was the humble macaroni salad. Usually a very simple concoction containing elbow macaroni, a little celery, most always pickles and pimentos here in the south, and sometimes onion, it's dressed usually with a very classic mayonnaise dressing.

I love adding in pickle juice - usually some kind of bread and butter pickle since that is what I have on hand the most. Of course I save pickle juice, don't you? A tablespoon or two will brighten up pretty much any pasta salad, or things like tuna and egg salad where you typically add in pickles anyway, but I love this old fashioned macaroni salad with a little bit more juice added in myself.

It's the classic macaroni salad our grandma's made - though you can certainly add in whatever you like - and perfect for cookouts, church socials and potluck suppers. For more substance, toss in some cooked chicken, cubed ham, small, cooked shrimp, or well drained tuna.

Here's how to make it.

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of pickle juice - or you can use your favorite vinegar - the granulated sugar, Creole mustard and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Set that aside.

Cook pasta in well salted, boiling water until al dente according to package directions. Drain, rinse and I like to drizzle it with olive oil. A reader once asked me why I do that and I'm not even sure when or why I started to be honest. It adds some flavor, maybe a little benefit from the oil too, but it also keeps it from being overly sticky too. Add the macaroni to the serving bowl on top of the dressing while it's still warm.

Top with the onion and celery.

Add the pimentos, pickles and the extra 1/4 cup of pickle juice, if using; toss.

Taste, add salt and pepper, taste and adjust as needed.

Refrigerate before serving for at least 2 hours, or overnight, if possible; toss again before serving, stirring in additional mayonnaise, pickle juice, or both, if more moisture is needed.

See more of my favorite macaroni and pasta salads on Pinterest!

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Recipe: Classic Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Inactive time: 2 hours | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings


  • 1/2 cup of mayonnaise (Duke's recommended)
  • 2 tablespoons of pickle juice or vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of Creole or other spicy brown mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 2 cups of dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 cup of chopped sweet onion
  • 1/4 cup of chopped celery
  • 1 (2 ounce) jar of pimentos, drained
  • 1/8 cup of chopped pickles, sweet or dill
  • 1/4 cup of pickle juice, optional
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients; set aside. Cook pasta in well salted water until al dente according to package directions. Drain, rinse and drizzle with olive oil; add to serving bowl. Top with the onion, celery, pimentos, pickles and pickle juice and toss. Taste, add salt and pepper, taste and adjust as needed. Refrigerate before serving for at least 2 hours, or overnight, if possible; toss again before serving, stirring in additional mayonnaise or pickle juice if more moisture is needed.

Cook's Notes: I use Zatarain's Creole mustard and bread and butter fridge pickles and juice. You may also substitute vinegar for the pickle juice.

BLT Macaroni Salad: Just before serving, stir in 1-1/2 cups chopped romaine lettuce, 1 cup halved grape tomatoes, and 1/2 pound of bacon, cooked and crumbled.

Other add-ins: Sliced or chopped black or green olives, chopped or grated carrot, green, red or yellow bell pepper, red onion, frozen, thawed green peas, sliced green onion, chopped, boiled eggs, seeded and chopped tomatoes, seeded and chopped cucumber, shredded or cubed cheese, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and fresh herbs are all good choices.

Tip: For a pretty presentation, garnish with a little paprika and lay slices of hard boiled eggs across the top. Top with cooked, crumbled bacon and chopped fresh parsley. Can also serve on individual chilled salad plates dressed with lettuce leaves or shredded lettuce, with a garnish of crumbled egg and cooked bacon.

Variation: Add 2 cups of cooked chicken (canned okay), 1-1/2 cups of cubed ham, 2 cups of small, cooked shrimp, drained, canned salmon alone, or in combination with, 2 cans of tuna, well drained, or just use the tuna alone.


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Posted by on September 02, 2011
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  1. Very similar to my mother's. But she used ketchup instead of mustard, added both kinds of pickles, both kinds of juice AND apple cider vinegar, cubed cheddar cheese and hard boiled egg. No celery or pimientos. And red onions always. Yours sounds delicious. But like potato salad, my mom's was the best, even better than my own!!! I am curious where the ketchup thing came from, if it is regional thing, since I haven't seen it anywhere else. She was raised in Oklahoma. Her potato salad always had lots of yellow mustard in it, but the same add-ins, except the cheese. Anyone out there know?

  2. Hey Tracey! Your mother's macaroni salad sounds good!! I'm gonna have to try that with the ketchup - I've seen recipes using French dressing too. Don't know where it comes from, though I suspect somebody just decided to try them one time and it caught on!

    I've found that Texas and Oklahoma do use significantly more mustard in their potato salads. Mama never used much - just a bit for flavor. Now I can't take it with heavy mustard - guess mama developed my palate!

  3. I love macaroni salad. Sometimes I make it with cubed ham, diced green pepper, diced onion, diced sour pickles, and cubed cheese and toss it with Italian dressing.

  4. My husband is always wanting me to make him macaroni salad, mine is always so bland. Your recipe sounds delicious, I will be trying it out for him. Thanks.

  5. I make macaroni salad with celery, purple onions, grape tomatoes which are halved, diced cucumber, cubes of cheddar cheese & pickle relish. My dressing has a mayonnaise base with just a touch of Dijon Mustard.

  6. Hello,
    The recipe posted is one way I make my macaroni salad. I have a tendency to use different things every time I make it. I have found that if I save my pasta water from cooking the pasta, the water if already salted. If I am not serving it right away I add up to a 1/2 cup of the water when I mix it store in the refrigerator. The dressing will be thin but the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid. If I need more moisture later I will add more of the pasta water. I don't have to keep adding mayo or the liquid from the pickles to change the flavor and my salads are never like cake or lump. You can cut back on using more salt to flavor also. Experiment for what you like or how much additional liquid you can use. Many times I drizzle a very small amount of salad oil over the pasta and toss well, keeps it all nicely seperated and from absorbing so much of the liquids. Again experiment to your liking. Darrdarr AZ

  7. The salad posts are making me crave! I always see this salad at church functions and the back yard cook outs here!

    Looks delicious and I can just imagine how wonderful it tastes.

  8. I luv luv macaroni salad, popping in shrimp or crab when I can, other than that I put it in early and the flavors, mix and meld, found some Slap Your Mama Seasoning in Seattle, use it all the time judiciously, we live nearly 300 miles from Seattle so I savor it..Happy Labor day, take it easy and let your family spoil you a little you are so sweet in your blog, real lady and your recipes are outtasight..happy happy, we will go to the beach 90's for about a week, never did have one darned day so nice all summer so we are enjoying the nice hot fall..yikes and nice and warm, blue skies, whippee skippeee..take care, the salad looks divine..mjs from 'couv vancouver wa usa!!!!!!

  9. My sister worked in a local hospital kitchen where they served as many workers as patients. One day I asked how they made their macaroni salad. She said, "Boil your macaroni, then drain it. Mix in Thousand Island Dressing, and chill." I've tried it for myself, and it wasn't half bad.

  10. Yummmm! This looks great! Can't wait to try it!

  11. This Macaroni Salad reminds me of the one my mother used to make. It looks fab and I will be making it soon. Thanks for the great recipe and for stopping by!

  12. Mary,

    You can't attend a church covered dish dinner anywhere in the South without finding Macaroni Salad. You are right, Mary, with calling it Macaroni Salad and not Pasta Salad. We didn't know anything about Pasta Salad until we got "big and growed up". Thanks for a great post, Mary!

  13. Nothing better than ol fashion pasta salad! Yours looks delish!

  14. Sounds like a good recipe and a lot like my own. Except I add chopped hard boiled eggs like you do in Potato Salad and Id leave out the mustard. Im from Pennsylvania and our dressings for either of these salads is more a sweet and sour dressing, no mustard. When I take my Potato Salad anywhere people always want to know who made it and can they have the recipe. I have no recipe, I make it from watching my mom make it for years.

  15. This is similar to my dads. He used tje vinegar, sugar and miracle whip sauce for mac salad and potato salad. We put in green or otjer colored peppers, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs too. Mine has never tasted exactly like my dads but it is pretty close. :-)

  16. This sounds like my dads mac salad. He used vinegar, sugar and miracle whip and put in geen peppers, onions and tomatoes. I make it the same way but mine doesn't taste like his. Close, but not exact. :-)

  17. The reason to put oil on your pasta is to keep it from soaking up the dressing/sauce.

  18. Sounds tasty, I save pickle juice too. I use it in cole slaw and potato salad too, good stuff! I like pasta salad, but I try to fill it with veggies, cucumber, zucchini, broccoli among other things. It's never the same twice because it depends on what is in my fridge.

    1. Oh yes, I do the same thing with pasta salads too Lisa! This is the old fashioned basic macaroni salad though - very basic. I included some suggested add-ins but typically this one doesn't contain any beyond the usual onion and celery, maybe some pimento. Gosh, now I'm craving this - think I'll make a bowl today!

  19. Thank you for the recipe. I've been looking for the macaroni salad that I remember from my youth and I think this is it. I made it this morning and was very happy when I just tasted it. Wonderful recipe as is, plus there are lots of possibilities for tasty additions. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. You're welcome! I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed it!!

  20. I’ve been making mac salad for decades, but it’s always been a variation of NYC style salad. I’ve tried your recipe, with variations here and there, for the last half-dozen batches. I’ve gotten mixed reviews; friends usually like it, my wife… menza-menz. However, when it comes to the pickles, I dice-up Mrs. Fanning’s Bread & Butter Pickles; and use the juice as well. That seems to be a hit. Mrs. Fanning’s has a very distinctive flavor, like no other. My wife has been making her potato salad with Mrs. Fanning’s pickles and juice for decades. It’s always been a real hit.
    God bless.

  21. Tried this with some tricolor rotini pasta Left out the pimentos, but used bread and butter pickle which I don't like normally. It came out great ! Will be using this recipe all summer

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!! I love pasta salads with all kinds of stuff in them, but I fall back on this old classic a lot more often. Thanks for stopping back by to let me know you enjoyed it & will be using it this summer!

  22. Love your recipes, love your website....nothing like Deep South Dishes!

  23. Mom made made with sea shell pasta no onion but green bell pepper, Iand added drained tuna to at end. I now make but add frozen peas and love texture. Love in summer. I would come home sunburnt from the beach star in and at huge helping! So good.

    1. I love tuna macaroni! I still use the elbows in the classic version, but I make another peas and pasta salad that I add tuna to. I love using the tiny shell pasta for that one. I eat on those all summer long too!

  24. Good macaroni salad is truly an art, and I've been trying to find the perfect recipe for over a decade. THIS IS IT! Tried and tested at a northern state BBQ with lots of southern guests. The search is over. Thank you so much!

    1. Yay! You're welcome & thanks so much for letting me know that your guests enjoyed it!

  25. It would be nice if nutrition values were include.

    1. Sorry, but you'll find that most bloggers, unless they are diet centered websites, do not provide that information. We aren't big corporations with test kitchens and nutritionists on staff and it's quite a lot of added work with far too many variables!

      If you scroll up to the top of the page and click on that link that says "FAQ," I address that further and provide a link to one where you can do your own nutritional analysis on recipes from anywhere on the net. You can also find others across the internet. Hope that helps!

  26. Laughing - I can never remember what I put in macaroni salad! Dont make it but about every five years because of the fat and carbs. Just made this up with a lowfat mayo - it's wonderful even warm! It's in the fridge waiting to go with ham for supper. Hubby will be so excited! Made the bacon version. Yumm heaven!

  27. Laughing - I can never remember what I put in macaroni salad! Dont make it but about every five years because of the fat and carbs. Just made this up with a lowfat mayo - it's wonderful even warm! It's in the fridge waiting to go with ham for supper. Hubby will be so excited! Made the bacon version. Yumm heaven!

  28. Replies
    1. Aw, that's so sweet, but I'm afraid that credit needs to go to you, the cook!!

  29. Looking back, I actually read the blog part for first time. I was taught always add olive oil to water before adding the pasta, prevents foaming up and boiling/spilling out. I quit doing it 3 years ago, and had noticed my pasta now is always a clump. It never stuck before. Huh. Think I'll add some to water and a tad more to the cooked pasta this time. Yesterday was 84 degrees, tomorrow it might snow. This has been a crazy spring. Hot or cold, I needed a dish to use up Easster ham, and this is it...after I make your ham salad ...and try out one of your ham soups if it snows...


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