Creamy Southern Macaroni Salad is a classic side dish that is perfect for picnics, cookouts, and casual suppers.
This macaroni salad has a creamy southern-style salad dressing and is loaded with tasty flavors of sweet, salty, and savory stir-ins. If you don't have time to wait for potatoes to cook this salad is quicker to make since macaroni takes just a few minutes to boil.
It is amazing what you learn from people at potlucks. Many years ago I had the best macaroni salad I ever had at a work potluck made by a co-worker. It was like any macaroni salad with a sweet yet savory mayo dressing and it contained hard-cooked eggs and chopped celery, but then it had so much more. First, she used small shell pasta to make her salad. Then she loaded it up with salty black olives, sweet red onion, and tiny chunks of sweet gherkin pickles. This salad was amazing!
I talked with her about her recipe and she said she loved using the small shells to make macaroni salad. It made her dish special and adding the black olives, red onion, and gherkin pickles loaded her salad with lots of flavor and interest.
This recipe might look familiar because it resembles Classic Potato Salad. Both recipes have sweetened and seasoned mayonnaise and both recipes contain sweet pickles, celery, and hard-cooked eggs. But this Southern Macaroni Salad is loaded with even more goodies like chopped red onion and sliced black olives.
- Macaroni - Any small macaroni is a great choice. Short and soup pasta like small shells, small elbows, salad macaroni (also called ditalini), and rotini are all great choices.
- Celery - Fresh dark green salad gives a nice crunch to the salad.
- Sweet Gherkins - Chopped sweet gherkins give more texture than sweet relish.
- Black Olives - Salty and loaded with umami flavors, black olives give a big punch of flavor.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs - Hard-boiled eggs add a bit of protein to the salad. But, these can be optional.
- Red Onion - Raw red onions are sweet and flavorful. You only need a little to make an impact.
- Mayonnaise - Use your favorite brand. I prefer the tangy flavor of Miracle Whip Salad Dressing.
- Yellow Mustard - It is not a southern-style macaroni salad without yellow mustard in the dressing.
- Sweet Pickle Juice - Sweet pickle juice is sweet and sour and takes the place of having to add vinegar and sugar to the dressing.
- Salt - Just plain table salt works just fine.
- Black Pepper - Freshly ground black pepper has a distinctive flowery aroma which is best.
Please see the recipe card for quantities.
Cook the macaroni or pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water.
Place the well-drained cooled macaroni in a large mixing bowl and add the chopped celery, sweet gherkins, hard-boiled eggs, onion, and sliced olives.
In a small-sized bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sweet pickle juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour the dressing over the macaroni salad ingredients and mix well.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with a sprinkling of sweet paprika and chopped parsley, if desired.
Substitutions & Variations
Budget-Friendly Version. You can make this salad with fewer ingredients to make a more budget-friendly salad. Just omit the olives, eggs, and red onion and purchase the least expensive macaroni regardless of the shape.
Make-Ahead & Storage
This salad is best when made ahead of at least 1 hour for the flavors to marry. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in a sealed container. This salad will stay tasty up to 4 days after making it.
My Top Tips
Do not overcook the macaroni! Start checking if the macaroni is cooked at the minimum stated cooking time for the package of macaroni you are cooking. Then test frequently until the macaroni is just barely tender to the bite. This makes the best-defined and toothsome salad.
Make it creamy, again. Macaroni is very absorbent and may soak up much of the dressing over time. If this happens and the salad is tight, stir in a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise or heavy cream to loosen it and make it creamy again.
More Delicious Salads
Southern Macaroni Salad
- ½ Pound Macaroni, Small Shells, Small Elbow, Ditalini, or Rotini
- ½ Cup Celery , Diced ¼", About 2 Stalks
- ½ Cup Sweet Gherkins, Diced ¼"
- ½ Cup Sliced Black Olives
- 3 Hard Boiled Eggs, Chopped
- ½ Red Onion, Diced ¼"
- 1 Cup Miracle Whip Salad Dressing, or Mayonnaise
- 1 Teaspoons Yellow Mustard
- 2 Teaspoons Sweet Pickle Juice
- ½ Teaspoon Salt
- ½ Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Chopped Fresh Parsley
- Cook the macaroni or pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water.
- Place the well-drained cooled macaroni in a large mixing bowl and add the chopped celery, sweet gherkins, hard-boiled eggs, onion, and sliced olives.
- In a small sized bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sweet pickle juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Pour the dressing over the macaroni salad ingredients and mix well.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with a sprinkling of sweet paprika and chopped parsley, if desired.
Nutrition Per Serving
All nutritional information on this site is an estimate. Your results may vary.