This Mom-Style Macaroni Salad was one of the very early recipes I posted on this blog, and for good reason. It is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, a retro pasta salad that is hard to beat.
Easy to make and evey easier to eat, you can also customize it with additional vegetables if you’d like. But for me, the way mom mom used to make it is still my favorite way. Try it. I hope you love it as much as we do!
If you like your macaroni salad a little on the spicy side, give my chipotle ranch pasta salad a try, and if you like warm pasta dishes, you will also want to check out my creamy mac and cheese recipe. It is The Best.
If you love pasta like I do, here are all of my pasta recipes in one place.
For ease of browsing, here are all of my side dish recipes in one place.
The Difference Between Macaroni Salad and Pasta Salad
I do enjoy a good pasta salad: crisp, blanched vegetables and yummy al dente pasta shapes all drenched in a homemade vinaigrette and spiked with whatever herbs and spices strike my fancy.
Macaroni salad or retro pasta salad is the less fancy version of modern pasta salad.
Classic, workhorse pasta shapes like shells or elbows are the order of the day here, and maybe rotini if you’re feeling fancy. The dressing is usually mayonnaise-based and not vinaigrette based.
When trying to decide whether a dish is pasta salad or macaroni salad, ask yourself these questions, which are admittedly subjective, but it’s my list, s there you go:
- Are there tons of vegetables in it? (It’s probably pasta salad)
- Do I see any black olives? (It’s definitely pasta salad)
- Is all the pasta slathered in creamy, mayo-based sauce? (It’s probably macaroni salad)
- Is there pickle juice in the dressing? (It’s probably macaroni salad)
- Is there cheese in it?
- Is it feta cheese? (It’s probably pasta salad)
- Is it Parmesan cheese from a can? (It’s probably macaroni salad)
- Is it Velveeta or American cheese or maybe cheddar? (It’s probably macaroni salad)
So maybe some of those questions are broad generalizations and are based on my own personal preferences. Maybe.
My Mom’s Macaroni Salad
My mom’s macaroni salad is definitely not pasta salad.
This is the macaroni that you take to the covered dish Wednesday night supper.
The one that you make for the little league end-of-season party. The Dish of Choice for the swim team party, the block party, the I’m-sorry-your-aunt-died get together.
I grew up eating this stuff, and when I make it for myself, I stay pretty true to Mom’s way of making it. And now, I’m going to share it with you.
Use this as a basic recipe template, and feel free to add/substitute to your Heart’s Content. But do try it The Original Way at least once. Especially if you are a fan of celery seed and tuna. You won’t be sorry.
Ingredients and Equipment for This Recipe
As with most mom-style recipes, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or ingredients to make a retro pasta salad. Here’s a checklist to make sure you have what you need (and you probably do):
- large pot for boiling pasta
- a colander or strainer (I use my over-the-sink strainer all the time)
- a large bowl for mixing up the salad
- a large spatula for folding everything together without smashing the macaroni
And the ingredient list, exactly as I like to make it with no substitutions:
- Duke’s mayonnaise (or a half and half mixture of mayo and sour cream if I’m feeling righteous)
- yellow mustard
- sweet pickle juice or apple cider vinegar and a touch of sugar
- sweet or dill pickle relish (I prefer sweet)
- Parmesan cheese (green can here is just fine)
- little cubes of sharp cheddar cheese (maybe 1/4″ cubes)
About the cubes of cheese? Don’t buy already cubed cheese because those cubes are too big and you’ll just need to cut each of those into 8 smaller cubes.
Why cubes? Because I add the cheese while the pasta is still somewhat warm. If you use shredded cheese, it could melt.
While that’s not the worst thing, I like to find little bites of cheese in my macaroni salad, so even if the outsides of the little cubes melt some, they generally stay intact.
Now, on with the ingredient list:
- salt and pepper
- celery seed–I love it. Try it in tomato soup sometime!)
- Medium shell pasta sweet, white, or yellow onion
- shredded carrot (my mom uses it, but I generally don’t because I am not a Carrot Fan)
- canned tuna
How to Make Macaroni Salad
There are plenty of ways to make macaroni salad, and probably no one right way, but this is how I do it.
- Mix up all the dressing ingredients in a bowl.
- Cook the pasta, drain well, and rinse so it’s not boiling hot.
- Mix the dressing with the still warm pasta so it can soak in.
- Chop/mince up additional ingredients.
- Fold them into the salad with a spatula.
Make It a Meal
Wondering what to serve with mom’s macaroni salad? It makes a great side dish for an old fashioned burger like a Double Polar Burger with Everything (from Grease!) or a smashed bacon double cheeseburger.
Since the macaroni salad is already pretty carby, you could also choose to serve it with this chicken with mushrooms and thyme. Or you can stick with the salads theme and serve it with coronation chicken salad.
And of course, round out your meal with a retro classic double chocolate cheesecake. You’ve earned it!
More Retro Recipes
I love the recipes my mom made as I was growing up back in the 70s, so I have quite a few on the blog.
If you’re a fan of easy, mom-style retro recipes, you may like some of the following:
- My favorite casserole, beefy and tomato-y and creamy Hamburger Macaroni Casserole Supreme
- My favorite Christmas cookie, the perfect pecan slices or Angel Slices. These have a shortbread type crust, coconut pecan filling, and thin, crunchy lemon glaze. They are perfect.
- Perfectly buttery all-butter Angel Biscuits. Lord, y’all.
Okay, enough talk.
Here it is. My mom’s macaroni salad, and my favorite retro pasta salad in all the land.
Do you have a favorite “mom-style” dish that you go back to again and again? I’d love to hear about it so I can make it and Eat It. And maybe share with The Beloved.
If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.
If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.
If you make this recipe and/or have enjoyed or learned from reading this post, I’d appreciate it if you could share this!
I have Convenient share buttons that float to the left on desk top and on mobile which invite you to share on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or Yummly.
If you make the recipe, please consider rating it a rating and a review. You can do this via the recipe card in the post.
Reviews really help sell the recipe, and negative reviews help me tune into what people really want to have explained better, so any ratings and reviews are helpful!
Also feel free to tag me on Instagram at @onlinepastrychef with #pcorecipe so I can find your creation. Thank you!
Mom-Style Macaroni Salad
The best mom-style macaroni salad in the world. Because it's my mom's. Give it a try, or spin it using your favorite ingredients.I never measure when I make this.
Leave out the tuna to make it vegetarian. To make it vegan, you can use Just Mayo for the mayonnaise and leave out the cheese (or sub with the vegan cheese of your choice)
The whole idea is to make enough dressing goo to coat all the pasta pretty liberally. By the next day, most of it will have soaked in, leaving the pasta somewhat dry.
If you don't like it that way, make a Very Lot of dressing goo. If you like your macaroni on the dry-ish side, make Just Enough. Whatever that means is up to you.I will give you amounts to start with, and from there you can add more or less as your taste dictates. Enjoy!
For the Dressing
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 2 Tablespoons yellow or spicy mustard
- 3 Tablespoons vinegar or sweet pickle juice
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 Tablespoon sugar or honey, (optional and only if using vinegar rather than sweet pickle juice)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup "green can" Parmesan cheese (optional but nice)
For the Macaroni
- 1 pound macaroni--shells, elbows or rotini
- 1 cup medium onion, diced (as much or as little as you like)
- 2 ribs celery, small dice (ditto)
- 1-2 carrots, peeled and shredded on a box grater
- 1/2 cup pickle relish (sweet or dill)
- 12 oz canned tuna, drained and pressed (about 2 small cans)
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese cut into 1/4" cubes
For the Dressing
- Mix together all the dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. It should be pretty yellow, so decide if you want to add a bit more mustard or not.
For the Macaroni
- Cook the macaroni until it is done to your liking, and drain well. Rinse with cool water just to keep it from being boiling hot.
- Put the macaroni into a big old bowl, and stir in the dressing. Yes, while the macaroni is still warm, so it will soak in.
- Then, stir in the onion, celery, relish, and tuna until it is all nicely Mixed Up. I do this one ingredient at a time, just to give the macaroni time to cool off some before adding the cheese.
- Add the cheese cubes last and fold them in gently so they're evenly distributed
- Refrigerate until cold.
- Put in your face.
Remember, you can add additional vegetables if you would like. You can also leave out anything in the ingredient list that you don't like and substitute for ingredients you enjoy.
It's mom-style macaroni salad, so make it the way your mom would made it (if she is a macaroni salad maker)
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Nutrition InformationYield 12 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 463Total Fat 31gSaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 24gCholesterol 33mgSodium 581mgCarbohydrates 33gFiber 2gSugar 10gProtein 13g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
And if you love creamy, comforting, hot pasta dishes, try my one-pot pimento cheese pasta. You will be so happy!
Want me to shoot new recipes and an occasional email into your inbox?
You can do that by signing up here for my newsletter, The Inbox Pastry Chef.
I’ll be seeing you!
What Others Are Saying...
linda conley says
Ooo-ooo! Extremely lazy version: Make some pasta. Cool it off. Pour some ranch dressing over it. Add some chopped crispy bacon. At this point, you can put anything else you want to in it – red onions are nice too! I love pasta salad!
I’m all for extremely lazy options–yum!
Daily Spud says
Mom-style dish? Well, mashed spuds of course 🙂 With milk & butter & salt & pepper & maybe mustard & often capers & a bit of parsley & lots of onion gravy & I bet that would all taste great with some of that Neese’s sausage…
Why have I never thought to put mustard in mashed potatoes?! I put it in potato salad. Next time, I shan’t forget. And you’re prolly right about Neese’s being great with them, too!
This is so timely! I finally have my computer back from the shop and I’ve been craving macaroni salad for an upcoming picnic. You must be telepathic!
Welcome back to the land of the Plugged In, Ashley! And, yes, I am telepathic! 😉
Ha, I went to a cookout recently where my friends were all “you HAVE to tell me what you think of my food” because I cook & bake, and one of my friends had brought a really delish macaroni salad. It was one of those things I thought I didn’t like growing up, and I never make it myself, but it IS awesome when it’s made properly.
My favorite mom recipe is for my mom’s apple pie – well, specifically the crust. She always makes an olive oil crust, which I LOVE with apples. I mess with the filling whenever I make it, but I always make her crust. I’m also a big fan of her blueberry muffins (which I’m re-doing as cupcakes soon) and oatmeal raisin cookies (which, like everything she bakes, has Smart Balance/whatever instead of butter, and if I make them with butter they just don’t taste right).
Yeah, Moms are magic that way. “Use margarine; it’s the only way.” And although we think we know better and are Above Margarine, they’re always right! 😆 Will have to try that olive oil crust. Sounds fantastic, Anna!
Oh this is my kind of food! It is very nostalgic but probably tastier than what I grew up on.
Nostalgic is exactly the word. And addictive, because I honestly can’t stop eating it. I had some for breakfast. Oh, look! It’s lunchtime… =)
I suspect my guys will like your version better than mine. I’m trying it this weekend. I am the laziest of cooks and basically just cook the macaroni and add tuna, finely chopped onion, a bag of mixed vegetables and a couple big gobs of mayo. Your dressing sounds wonderful–and not too hard. 🙂
Not too hard at all! Add some of the pickle juice, too–yum! Hope you enjoy it, Kathleen!