There’s nothing quite like this creamy, old fashioned macaroni salad recipe to bring back memories of summer. This is the Hellmann’s classic recipe my mom made with a few of her own tweaks. Shredded carrots, extra green olives, tiny bits of chopped onion and celery are all mixed with tender elbow macaroni and swathed in a creamy mayonnaise dressing – it’s absolutely craveworthy!
For this recipe you’ll need: small elbow macaroni, celery, red bell pepper, onion, carrots, salad olives, mayonnaise (I use Hellmann’s), cider vinegar, prepared yellow mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper
Looking for a vinegar based pasta salad rather than a creamy macaroni salad? Try my Italian pasta salad! It’s full of tangy, fresh flavor.
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It’s a Quintessential Summer Dinner
I grew up on old fashioned macaroni salad for dinner. In the summer my mom just didn’t cook a lot because of the heat and it was the main course.
If it was the weekend dad would grill but during the week? We were likely to eat a cold salad. We were not big eaters.
Meals were often just what happened to be in the fridge and could consist of cantaloupe with ice cream, or sandwiches, or strawberry shortcake, or the best macaroni salad ever. Seriously. Mom made the best.
I think her secret was making macaroni salad with green olives! Lots and lots (and lots) of olives.
If you were still hungry afterward? Ah… the sound of my mom’s voice echoes through the decades…Grab a carrot.
The answer to world hunger as far as my mom was concerned was raw carrots. Snack food? Carrots. Craving something? Grab a carrot. And you know what my kids hear when they are wanting a snack? Yep… Grab a carrot.
Anyway, to me macaroni salad was summertime. I was a bit of a picky eater but I could put this stuff away. My kids can, too.
Original Hellman’s Macaroni Salad Recipe …Sort Of
As far as I know this is the classic macaroni salad recipe that Mom no doubt cut from the paper, or package of something or other. I’m guessing Hellman’s Mayonnaise.
She was not a creative cook so I imagine it is pretty much as written. I have considered updating it but I just can’t bring myself to mess with it. Macaroni salad is perfect the way it is.
My mom told me that the secret to the best macaroni salad was to overcook the macaroni. No al dente here, folks. Cook it until it is very tender but still holds its shape.
It will soak up the flavor from the dressing that way. It is always better the second day so make it ahead of time if you can. Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly rebellious, I will add some chopped, fresh tarragon.
Tips for the Best Macaroni Salad Ever
This creamy salad is easy to make but here are some tips to make your old fashioned macaroni salad even better!
- Use salted water to cook the macaroni – about 2 tablespoons salt to 1 gallon of water.
- Elbow macaroni is traditional but I do love a good shell macaroni salad! The ingredients get stuck in the shells…perfection.
- Slightly overcook your pasta. I know the directions say not to overcook it but trust me on this. I once asked Mom why her macaroni salad was better than mine and she said (and I quote) “You have to cook the snot out of it darlin'”. So there’s that.
- Drain the pasta but don’t rinse it. Mix about 1/4 cup of plain mayonnaise with the macaroni to coat it and keep it from sticking. You can also use olive oil for this but I don’t recommend it.
- I recommend Hellman’s Mayonnaise. I just like it the best.
- Let it cool before adding the dressing and vegetables! If you add your vegetables to the hot macaroni they’ll lose their crispness.
- Always go by taste with the dressing. I use a lot more sugar than is called for in the recipe – I probably use 1/3 of a cup because we like things on the sweet side. Adjust to your own tastes.
- Full disclosure – Just to be honest – I double the salad olives because I love them.
- Let the flavors blend at least two hours in the refrigerator before serving. Overnight is better.
- You may need to add a little more dressing just before serving if the macaroni soaks up all of the moisture. Just be prepared to make more and stir it in.
- If the dressing seems too thick after it’s mellowed in the fridge you can add a little cream or milk to balance it out.
- Always keep macaroni salad chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve and cover and put leftovers back in the refrigerator promptly.
- This is fantastic for potlucks and cookouts but you MUST keep it cold. The easiest way is to fill a big bowl with ice and keep the bowl of macaroni salad in the bowl of ice.
More Summer Recipe Ideas
Man cannot live on old fashioned macaroni salad alone, right? Here are some other great summer recipe ideas!
- BBQ Macaroni Salad is a yummy variation on this recipe that ALWAYS disappears at potlucks and picnics! A little spicy, a little tangy, and a lot delicious!
- Black Eyed Pea Salad is another summer salad that works really well with grilled beef dishes. It’s sometimes called Texas Caviar.
- Cauliflower Salad is crunchy and delicious with flavors similar to Tabouleh.
- Roasted Sweet Potato Salad is a delicious update to old fashioned potato salad. I usually do the roasting part early in the morning so as not to heat up the house.
- Southwestern Style Potato Salad is a smoky, spicy version of the old fashioned potato salad we all grew up on.
- Chicken Salad, Southern style, is the BEST stuff ever. Use it in croissants or on a bed of lettuce. SO good.
- Pea and Cheese Salad is a mixture of everything good and bacon, too.
- If you’re still looking then check out this round up of 50 side dish recipes!
Loving the look of this Panzanella Salad from All Our Way!
You May Need…
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I love this serving bowl! It’s such a refreshing color for summer and so pretty with the creamy macaroni salad inside of it! Looks perfectly old fashioned – like it would be comfy on Grandma’s table.
Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad Recipe
This recipe is best made at least 8 hours before you are ready to serve it. Make it up to 2 days ahead of time.
If you love this recipe please give it 5 stars!
Old Fashioned Macaroni SaladPrint Add to Collection Go to Collections
- 1 pound elbow macaroni, uncooked small elbows or shells
- 2 cups Hellmann’s mayonnaise, or homemade
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mustard, plain yellow prepared
- 2 tablespoons sugar, more or less to taste
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, more to taste
- 2 cups celery, celery – thinly sliced
- 1 cup red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 cup onion, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 cup carrot, grated
- 1 cup salad olives with pimentos, drained
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Pour in macaroni and cook until very tender.
- Drain completely but don’t rinse.
- Stir a little mayonnaise into the macaroni to keep it from sticking.
- Cool completely.
- Combine mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning and sweetness.
- Put macaroni, celery, carrot, onion, peppers, and olives in a large bowl.
- Pour mayonnaise mixture over and combine gently.
- Chill overnight if time permits.
- Add a little more dressing if necessary before serving
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days – keep chilled if you are bringing it to a cookout or picnic.
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