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Classic Macaroni Salad: BBQ Potluck

This classic macaroni salad is always a crowd-pleaser no matter the occasion! Enjoy it chilled as a light picnic lunch or a BBQ potluck side dish, this traditional simple pasta salad has texture and flavor in every scrumptious bite!

macaroni pasta salad in a bowl
Classic Mac Salad

We are going back to the basics today, with this classic macaroni salad. You know the one that all moms and grandmas used to make. It’s the same one that all home cooks should know still know how to make because it has stuck around this long for a reason!

This version of macaroni pasta salad combines diced cheese, onions, and celery coated in a creamy mayonnaise dressing. It is then chilled in the fridge until the flavors have set and it’s ready for a quick light lunch, a fun dish to take to a potluck or to serve as a BBQ side dish.

It really is one of the best cookout food ideas. You can make it ahead of time and pull it out just before serving. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

This and a classic tuna pasta salad (recipe coming soon) is what my mom used to make when I was growing up. She would make it the night before and would be perfectly chilled and the flavors were all set by the morning. Of course, if you can’t wait that long, an hour of chill time will do just fine!

It’s just one of those timeless dishes that is so simple, it comes together quickly, it’s budget-friendly, and it’s delicious! It only uses a few simple ingredients which you’ve probably already got in your pantry, but it’s definitely customizable so you can get as creative as you’d like with it.

It’ll be the first thing to go because there is just something about a classic cold macaroni salad recipe that everyone loves!

Ingredients needed to make Mac salad

Mac Salad Ingredients

This pasta salad is very flexible. Adding or omitting your favorite add-ins is an easy way to enhance this recipe to just the way you like it. Below is a list of ingredients you might want to add, or substitute.

  • Two kinds of cheese
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Diced Bell Pepper
  • Pepperoni
  • Miracle whip
  • Homemade mayo
  • Yello mustard (a little extra zest)
  • Red pepper flakes or diced jalapeno (for added heat)

Tips When Making this Pasta Salad

  • Make the pasta according to the package directions but err on the side of al dente so there is a slight bite in the pasta. No one likes a mushy pasta salad. 
  • Allow the macaroni noodles time to cool before adding the mayonnaise. If you add the mayo to the hot noodles it will separate or curdle and no one wants that. I’ll often boil the pasta the morning I want to make the salad and let it chill in the fridge to save cooling time. 
  • Chop the vegetables into small bite-sized pieces. I try to make each item all the same size to it’s pretty in the bowl. 
Serving bowl of pasta salad on a table


How long does Macaroni Salad Last?

Macaroni Salad lasts for 3-4 days after you make it. It’s actually still ok to eat up to a week, but the texture changes, and the tomatoes start to break down. If you are making it way ahead of time, hold off on adding the tomatoes until right before serving.
If the salad seems a little dry you may need to add a tablespoon or two of milk or some additional mayo to get it to the creamy consistency it started out as.

Can you freeze macaroni salad?

Unfortunately, the texture of the vegetables is not made for freezing so I would not freeze it. But, the recipe is so easy to make and you can make it a few days ahead of time so you probably won’t have a need to freeze it. Plus,
I’ve never had enough leftover to need to freeze it. People just seem to LOVE a traditional macaroni salad so it flies off the buffet table!

More Cookout Sides You might Enjoy

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Yield: 12 Side Dish Servings

Classic Macaroni Salad: BBQ Potluck Side Dish

Closeup of pasta salad in a glass bowl

Classic creamy mac salad is full of macaroni, creamy mayo, cheese, celery and onions. Perfect for potlucks or as a summer side dish for BBQ Cookout Meals

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 32 minutes


  • 1 box Spiral Pasta (1 pound box)
  • 1 cup mayonaise
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 onion, minced finely
  • 1 cup celery, diced small (about 4 long stalks) 
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (3 Roma or 1 large beefsteak) 
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, minced for garnish


  1. Boil pasta according to package instructions, making sure to not over cook. You want the pasta to be slightly al dente, with a small bite to it. Not mushy.
  2. Drain water away, let cool for 15 minutes.
  3. While cooling, chop cheese, onions, tomatoes, celery into small bite sized pieces.
  4. Once pasta has cooled, stir mayonaisse into the pasta and incorporate completely.
  5. Then toss in the rest (celery, cheese, onions, and tomatoes.) and mix well.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Let chill in the fridge for at least an hour, best overnight-
  8. Sprinkle the parsley on top and serve.
  9. Keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days if kept covered so it wont dry out.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 224Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 26mgSodium: 270mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 5g

This recipe was calculated using the exact brands and measurements I used to make this recipe. If you are following a strict diet please note changing anything will cause the nutritional info to change. Please calculate your own nutritional information if you want it exact to what you make and use my calculations as a guide only.

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