How To Make Old-Fashioned Macaroni Salad


I’ve never liked the pre-made macaroni salad you get at the grocery store, with over-cooked noodles swimming in in runny, watery dressing. This version comes out nearly dry, the pasta soaking up most of the dressing, and with a bit of crunch from the veggies. You can easily substitute cooked, cubed potatoes for the macaroni and have a really good potato salad.


one pound elbow macaroni
1/2 sweet onion
two stalks celery, green part only
one cup mayonnaise
three tablespoons white vinegar
one teaspoon celery seed
4-6 large hard-boiled eggs (see note on presentation)


Boil the eggs and cook the pasta the way you normally do. When the pasta is done and you have drained it in a collander, mix it under cold running water until it is completely cool. If you use your hand to mix it, you’ll be able to tell when it’s cooled down.

While the pasta is cooking, dice the onion and celery according to the directions for making mirepoix.

I’ve made this salad a hundred times using store-bought mayonnaise, so that’s what I showed in the ingredients. If you’re serving this with a main dish that’s going to take a lot of attention, like the ribs I served them with, you might want to save yourself the trouble of making the mayo. (Subscribe to my RSS feed in the column to the right to get the recipe for the ribs and home-made cider onion sauce as soon as I finish writing it up.)

Since you already have the eggs and vinegar out, though, you’ll never have a better time to give it a try. Just use:

1 extra large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup olive pomace oil

Put the ingredients in a tall, narrow cup or jar in the order listed, lower a stick blender in, turn it on and slowly pull it up to the top. Instant mayonnaise. Pour it into the macaroni.

Or add one cup of prepared mayonnaise.

Add the onion, celery, vinegar and celery seed and mix well. Scoop down along the side using a silicone or rubber spatula, and lift from the center.

Here’s a quick clip showing what I’m talking about.

Dice four of the eggs according to the directions for how to dice hard boiled eggs. It’s easiest do the third slice directly over the bowl.

Mix again, gently so you don’t mash up the egg. You want both the white and yellow bits to stay whole.

And that’s it.


If you are taking this to a potluck, the traditional presentation is to slice a couple more eggs and place the rings on top, the way I did in potato salad with bacon and egg.

A note about personal taste

I brought some of this over to my in-laws, and my father-in-law noted how much drier it was than what he is used to. There’s two parts to this. First, yes it is drier. That’s how I like it. Second, the macaroni will soak up a lot of the mayonnaise overnight. I usually add more when I’m having leftovers.


  1. I like the bacon and eggs addition on top. This is something I need to try soon.


  2. You make everyhting look so good! I’m going to try this recipe when I have a barbeque.


  3. Pat and Ben,

    Thanks to both of you. Before making it you should take a look at the note I added at the bottom about personal taste.

    • I was just wondering if the Macaroni Salad was too sweet? or sweet at all?

      • Ashley, there’s nothing sweet in here unless you get a really sweet onion. If I’m in the mood for sweet I’ll chop up some gherkins and toss those in, but usually I like it pretty basic.

  4. Amanda says:

    Hi, that macaroni salad looks great, but an idea my grandmother used for a potluck display was making a lettuce bowl inside your glass bowl, and trimming along the side with tomato, and cucumber. Thought I would share. This stumble thing is working out great!!

  5. Amanda, that sounds good. I think I’ll do the lettuce and tomato next time. For some reason I don’t think cucumber would work with macaroni salad.

  6. Finally a macaroni salad that reminds me of what I grew up on! The only difference is that we add chopped sweet pickles and sliced black olives to the mix. Since you are only using the pickle and not the juice, it does not make the salad sweet, like the really bad stuff from the grocery deli counter.

  7. I like the pickles, but in a concession to the rest of my family I leave them out.

  8. Now you are talking. We prefer homemade everything at our house. See my posts on homemade yogurt…a no brainer…Love your site and your pictures are fabulous. I will link your site to mine. Check out my site. Goal at the Backcounter buffet is to make life easier for moms who are trying to balance it all and feed the hungry hordes…

  9. “… homemade everything … make life easier for moms …”

    Hahahahaha! Whooo that’s funny. Come on Julia, we don’t cook from scratch because it’s easier, we do it because it’s better.

  10. Your recipe is pretty much exactly what I grew up with as “Tuna Noodle Salad” – the only difference being the addition of some canned tuna. Good stuff…

  11. Oh man, I haven’t had that in years. I’ve had some cooked tuna casseroles — eww — but haven’t had the tuna and macaroni since … jeez, so long I can’t remember.

  12. I love to watch “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS. Their tip for the “dry” macaroni salad is to add a bit of warm water just before serving. This eliminates the gloppy mayo and brings the moisture back to the macaroni. It worked really well.

  13. Barbara, that makes so much sense. It’s just the water evaporating out of the mayo, so that’s all you need to add back in. I’ll give that a try next time.

    • Jodi Snyder says:

      Hello – it’s not the water evaporating out of the mayonnaise, it’s the pasta absorbing the moisture in the dressing. The water idea is a good one!

  14. This looks almost exactly like my grandma’s macaroni salad. She used smaller macaroni, I think it’s called digitali, and added dill pickle relish and pimento. I never did like it when I was growing up, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a taste for it. Also, I’m now the only one in the family who can make it almost the same.
    My grandma would put Deviled Eggs on top of the salad. She always pushed a recipe up one more notch.

  15. Stephanie, pickles I would do, if it’s for myself. I don’t think the wife and kids would like it. But deviled eggs on top? Oh yeah, doing that next time.

  16. Anonymous says:

    rss feed isn’t working, can you please doublecheck?
    Thanks, what a great site I just found!

  17. I made this salad for a family bbq it was great i added lots of bacon because my family loves it i did the eggs too it was wonderful will make it again and again. viniger is a very important ingredient make sure to add a little then taste add a little the taste it really helps create more flavor…

  18. Jennifer, everything's better with bacon. And I agree on the vinegar. I like just enough to make it a little tangy, but not so much that it gets runny.

  19. jenny bahr says:

    i have now made this several is exactly like my grandma made. i have added on occasion old bay and shrimp,just a variation,but very good

  20. The mayonnaise recipe is DA BOMB! Funny that I was reading Harold McGee on mayonnaise last night. So when I saw that, I went right to it. So far I’ve made it with malt and balsamic vinegars and olive and sunflower oils. It’s great! The recipe is not rocket science, it’s variable and foolproof so far. So lime juice for vinegar and throw in the Sriracha. I’m eating it on crackers right now. Thanks, Drew. I may never buy mayonnaise again.

  21. Ooh, lime mayo. That would be great mixed with sour cream as a dip for Mexican dishes.

  22. Susan Turnbull says:

    Here we are in 2012 and I just saw this recipe. It’s exactly like my grandma’s EXCEPT, Grandma always diced up a package of good sandwich ham or leftover ham and mixed it in. Yum! And for color’s sake, I like to use red onion instead of yellow or white – when I have one on hand. I won’t make a special trip to the store for it.

    • I love keeping red onion around for color. But yes, if I don’t have it I won’t make a special trip for it.

  23. This is almost EXACTLY like my mom’s. Which is a bit of a legend in my family. When I lived in Cleveland – I called her in near tears one day saying “I have to take a covered dish to a cookout and your macaroni salad would be perfect. I know you said you would take the recipe to your grave but please tell me because a) I want to eat it and I miss you and b) I want to wow everyone else! I promise I’ll not tell anyone in the fam how you do it.”

    And then she spilled the recipe. Thankfully the only thing stronger than safe guarding a secret from her sisters – is the knowledge of making her daughter look good. After several batches – I can match it to perfect consistency.

    She didn’t use celery seed – she uses just a *dash* of mustard. That was the only difference. :) Thank you though for making me feel less crazy as I was beginning to think that my mom was the *only* person that made macaroni salad that way!

  24. Jessica says:

    I wanted to thank you for sharing this recipe. Last Summer, I was at a friends house for a BBQ where a similar macaroni salad was served. I asked my friend to share her Mother’s recipe, but I never did end up getting it. I took matters into my own hands and began my search for a similar mac salad and that is when I came across your food blog. This mac salad was exactly what I had been looking for. I made it last night for a BBQ that I hosted and It was a hit! People were Thank you for sharing. I will be trying out many of your other recipes.

    • Jessica, glad you liked it! And isn’t it much better to be able to share a great dish than to just have a story about how great someone’s secret recipe tasted?

  25. Was getting the ingredient list for your macaroni salad and noticed that we have the exact same stove. I love mine, so I hope you do too.


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