What Goes with Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad is a classic dish that has been enjoyed for generations at picnics, potlucks, and family gatherings. Its versatility and creamy, satisfying taste make it a perfect complement to various dishes. In this article, we’ll explore some of the best pairings for this delightful side, helping you elevate your meals and create lasting memories with friends and loved ones.

From meat options to vegetarian suggestions, there’s sure to be a pairing that suits your taste buds and dietary preferences. As a cold pasta salad, macaroni salad can provide a refreshing contrast to warm and savory dishes, enhancing the overall dining experience.

So whether you’re planning a summer barbecue or weekday family dinner, macaroni salad is sure to add that extra zing to your meal. Keep reading to discover great tips and combinations that will inspire you to create mouth-watering menus bursting with the perfect flavors and textures.

Macaroni Salad Basics


Macaroni salad typically starts with elbow macaroni as its base. Dressings often include mayonnaise, salt, sugar, and vinegar for a tangy taste. Vegetables like carrots, celery, onion, and peppers can also be added for crunch and color. Seasonings can be adjusted to personal preference and may include kosher salt, pepper, or a dash of garlic powder.


There are countless ways to mix up your macaroni salad. Adding pickles can provide a delightful tartness and crunch. If a lighter dish is desired, swap out the mayonnaise for a yogurt-based dressing. Experimenting with different flavors can lead to delicious results, such as incorporating zesty lemon or adding a touch of smoky paprika.

Pairings for a Classic Main Course

Macaroni salad is a versatile side dish, and it pairs well with various protein options. One popular choice is to serve it alongside hamburgers, as the creamy salad complements the juicy meat. Grilled or fried chicken is another common pairing, offering a contrast between the warm, crispy chicken and the cool, refreshing salad.

A nice slice of ham or a couple of hot dogs can also be served with macaroni salad, making it suitable for a variety of occasions. Alternatively, sandwiches made with beef, pork, turkey, ground beef, or even lamb are excellent options to pair with this classic side dish.

For seafood lovers, macaroni salad can be a delightful accompaniment to shrimp dishes and various types of fish, like salmon. The combination of flavors and textures creates a balanced and satisfying meal. In any case, macaroni salad is a convenient and delicious side dish that can elevate many main courses without stealing the spotlight.

Complementary Sides

Macaroni salad is a versatile dish that pairs well with a variety of side dishes. Coleslaw makes for a great companion, as it offers a crunchy and tangy contrast to the creamy macaroni salad. Likewise, deviled eggs provide a protein-packed option and a contrasting flavor profile.

For those looking for something more substantial, corn on the cob and baked beans both make hearty additions to a meal with macaroni salad. As a classic cookout staple, grilled hot dogs also pair well with the dish. BBQ chicken, on the other hand, adds a smoky element that complements the creamy macaroni salad.

Potato salad and pasta salad offer additional starchy options for side dishes. While they may share similarities with macaroni salad, the different textures and flavors create a pleasing balance in the meal. Choosing a variety of salads presents an appealing spread for any gathering.

For those following vegetarian or vegan diets, a simple green salad with lettuce and other fresh vegetables is a good choice. For a vegan alternative to cream macaroni salad, consider swapping out mayonnaise and other non-vegan ingredients for plant-based alternatives. This way, everyone at your gathering can enjoy the spread!

Perfect for Outdoor Occasions

Macaroni salad is a classic dish that pairs beautifully with various outdoor occasions such as barbecues, picnics, and backyard parties. These events often feature grilled meats that have a unique smoky flavor, which harmonizes with the creamy, tangy taste of macaroni salad.

At a barbecue, you can serve macaroni salad alongside popular grilled dishes like hamburgers, hot dogs, and ribs. The combination of textures creates a delightful contrast on your plate – think tender, juicy meat complemented by the pasta’s slight crunch.

For picnics and backyard parties, macaroni salad can be easily prepared in advance and transported in a portable container. Combine it with fresh fruits, sandwiches, and cold drinks to create a delicious and satisfying meal that everyone can enjoy outdoors.

Unique Flavor Combinations

Macaroni salad can be mixed and matched with numerous ingredients to create exciting flavor combinations. Adding vegetables such as corn, cucumber, and tomato adds a refreshing touch of color and crunch. For a smoky twist, toss in some crispy bacon or black pepper, which complement the creamy mayo-based dressing.

Your salad can also benefit from the tanginess of pickles, the boldness of seasoning, and kick it up a notch with a spicy punch using red onion, and Dijon mustard. Apart from the classic mayo-based dressing, you can experiment with salad dressings like vinaigrette or even BBQ sauce for some additional zing.

Meats, when added to macaroni salad, can take it to the next level. Options like BBQ ribs, ground meat or meatloaf add tenderness and depth of flavor to the salad. Be sure to cook the meats appropriately to maximize flavors and tenderness.

Pairing your macaroni salad with side dishes adds variety to the meal. Grilled vegetables, Italian pinwheels, and cornbread make delightful companions. The choice of sides can transform this dish into a complete, satisfying, and wholesome meal.

International Influences and Twists

Macaroni salad can be found in various forms around the world, each regional twist reflecting local tastes and preferences. In the Southern United States, macaroni salad often includes classic additions like diced pickles and mayonnaise, while incorporating other unique ingredients such as boiled eggs or even corned beef.

Italians enjoy their own twist on macaroni salad by incorporating traditional Italian deli meats like salami and pepperoni. The savory flavors of these meats complement the pasta and dressing, creating a flavorful and indulgent salad option. Aromatic ingredients such as garlic powder and a blend of Italian spices can also be added for an extra punch.

For a Mediterranean-inspired macaroni salad, try incorporating crumbled feta cheese and a variety of fresh herbs. Greek-inspired salads often have an olive oil-based dressing, and can similarly utilize a range of spices to enhance the dish. Regardless of the influences you choose, macaroni salad offers an opportunity to explore different cultures through a familiar comfort-food dish.

Kitchen Tips and Techniques

When making macaroni salad, boiling the pasta correctly is crucial. Use a large pot filled with water and add salt before boiling. This will prevent the pasta from sticking together and enhance its flavor profile.

While the pasta is boiling, you can prepare the other ingredients. Shop at your local grocery store to pick up fresh vegetables, such as celery, onions, and bell peppers, as well as good-quality mayonnaise and mustard for a creamy dressing.

Incorporating protein in your macaroni salad can provide an extra layer of flavor and texture. Grilled chicken, tuna, or hard-boiled eggs are popular choices. Baking seasoned chicken breasts or using store-bought rotisserie chicken are options for adding flavor without too much extra work.

Finally, here are a few suggestion to make your macaroni salad even more appealing:

  • Thoroughly chill the salad before serving to allow flavors to meld
  • Add a splash of vinegar for zing
  • Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika or fresh herbs for added color and taste

Written by Laurie Graves

Laurie is a 50-something wife and boy mom, who loves to share easy recipes, DIY home ideas, and food hacks. She truly believes that with a little inspiration, anyone can make their home and meals feel special.