Perfect Creamy Macaroni Pasta Salad

How to make the best creamy pasta salad with our easy creamy dressing and crisp, colorful vegetables. We love this easy macaroni salad recipe!

Creamy Macaroni Pasta Salad Recipe Video

I love this creamy pasta salad (also called macaroni salad). The dressing is so simple and delicious. I keep the sugar level low for this salad and only use a slight drizzle of honey or maple syrup in my creamy dressing, but you can increase this for a sweeter salad.

We love pasta salads around here and have a few. For a vinaigrette-based dressing, see this no mayo pasta salad or this orzo pasta salad with a lemon vinaigrette.

Creamy Macaroni Salad

Key Ingredients

  • Elbow macaroni: To make this a macaroni salad, use elbow macaroni or substitute it with any small pasta shape (small shells and spiral shapes work nicely). After cooking the pasta, rinse it before tossing it with the dressing. Rinsing removes extra starch, which makes the dressing sticky.
  • Veggies: I love some fresh crunch in my pasta salads. So, I add finely chopped onion, bell pepper, celery, and radish. Before you add the onion, allow it to soak in cold water for a few minutes, which tones down the raw flavor.
  • Pickles: I use dill pickles in this pasta salad, but you can use a sweet pickle instead. Here are our recipes for dill pickles and bread and butter pickles.
  • Creamy dressing: My favorite creamy pasta salad dressing combines sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and a touch of honey or maple syrup. It’s easy to make and tastes incredible.

How to Make Macaroni Salad

When it comes to making a cold, creamy pasta salad, keep these tips in mind:

When you cook the pasta, undercook it slightly. I follow the package directions and set my timer for a minute or two before it should be done. Then, I rinse the pasta under cold water before tossing it with the salad dressing. If you’ve ever made pasta salad that turned sticky, not rinsing the pasta before tossing it with the dressing could be the reason.

For the dressing of our macaroni salad, I love using a slightly adapted version of this potato salad dressing (it gets rave reviews). Instead of only using mayonnaise, which can make the salad heavy, we combine the mayonnaise with sour cream. Since the sour cream is tangy, it lifts the flavors of the dressing, just as fresh lemon juice would to other dishes.

How to make Macaroni Salad - Ingredients for a Creamy Pasta Salad

I make my dressing in the bottom of a big bowl, then add the cooked (and rinsed) macaroni and the veggies. I give it a really good toss and then taste for seasoning. You might find that it need a bit more salt. Then, I store the salad in my fridge until ready to serve!

Macaroni Salad

What to Serve with Creamy Pasta Salad

We often serve this salad during the summer. I love it with turkey burgers, grilled chicken, and grilled salmon. It’s perfect with pulled pork and these hoisin sticky ribs.

Potato salad is also excellent when served next to other sides, such as our creamy potato salad,  watermelon feta saladeasy bean salad, and creamy cucumber salad.

Perfect Creamy Macaroni Pasta Salad

Perfect Creamy Macaroni Pasta Salad

  • PREP
  • COOK

The key to the best creamy pasta salad is to rinse the cooked pasta under cold water before tossing it with the dressing. Skipping this step means the dressing will be sticky. We also “de-flame” the onion, which tames the raw onion flavor so that it does not take over the salad. A quick bath in cold water does the trick. Use elbow macaroni for macaroni salad or other small pasta shapes (like small shells or ditalini).

Makes about 6 servings

Watch Us Make the Recipe

You Will Need

For the Salad

8 ounces (226g) dry elbow macaroni or small pasta shape

1/4 medium red onion, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup

1 medium bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped, about 1/3 cup

3 radishes, trimmed and finely chopped, about 1/3 cup

1 to 2 medium dill pickles, finely chopped, optional

For the Dressing

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise, try our homemade mayonnaise

1 ½ tablespoons yellow mustard, substitute Dijon or whole grain mustard

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons honey, optional for sweet version


    1Cook macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and rinse well under cold water to remove starch from the outside of the pasta.

    2Meanwhile, add the chopped onions to a small bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside for 5 minutes and then drain. This tones down the raw flavor of the onion so that it won’t overpower the salad.

    3Make the dressing in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Whisk the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper.

    4For a sweeter macaroni salad, add honey or maple syrup to taste. I typically add half a tablespoon, but try one to two tablespoons if you enjoy sweeter macaroni salads.

    5Add the rinsed macaroni, drained onions, bell pepper, celery, radish, and the pickle to the bowl with the dressing. Mix well. Taste, then adjust with additional salt and pepper.

Adam and Joanne's Tips

  • Storing: Store your creamy pasta salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Make-ahead: Creamy macaroni pasta salad improves on the second day, so this is a perfect make-ahead recipe! However, I do not recommend freezing it (the dressing does not freeze and thaw well).
  • Mayo substitution: You can substitute the mayonnaise for low-fat mayo and some or all of the sour cream called for in the recipe with yogurt. The yogurt will make the dressing a bit tangy, but it will still taste great.
  • Dairy and egg free creamy pasta salad: Use vegan mayonnaise (here’s our homemade recipe) and a dairy-free sour cream.
  • The nutrition facts provided below are estimates.
Nutrition Per Serving Serving Size 1/6 of the recipe / Calories 252 / Total Fat 10.4g / Saturated Fat 2.9g / Cholesterol 10.6g / Sodium 317.2mg / Carbohydrate 32.2g / Dietary Fiber 2.1g / Total Sugars 2.4g / Protein 6.9g
AUTHOR:  Adam and Joanne Gallagher
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25 comments… Leave a Review
  • Anita K Williams June 24, 2024, 7:32 pm

    Your Creamy Macaroni Pasta Salad is absolutley the BEST I have ever tasted. I’m taking it to all the potluck dinners this summer! So delicious, easy, and pretty in the bowl. Perfect!

    • Adam June 24, 2024, 7:53 pm

      Love it! 🙂

  • tatum June 17, 2024, 8:01 pm

    these sound so yum please send some more recipes to me thank you so much!!!

  • tatum June 17, 2024, 7:58 pm

    i cant wait to cook the best mac and cheese for my family!!!!!!!!!

  • Barbara June 15, 2024, 5:36 pm

    This was delicious!! I tripled the recipe for the potluck at Church and substituted greek yogurt for the sour cream. It was a hit.

  • Melissa December 12, 2023, 1:10 pm

    This was fantastic!! I added a tblspoon of sugar instead of the honey. I added cucumbers and shredded a carrot and subbed rotini for elbows. Everyone loved it- thought it was so crunchy and fresh-will be a go to pasta salad recipe.

    • Joanne April 23, 2024, 5:12 pm

      I am so glad you tried our recipe, Melissa. Thanks for coming back.


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