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Classic Deli Style Macaroni Salad Recipe

This deli macaroni salad recipe is the perfect side dish for backyard BBQs and holiday celebrations like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July!

macaroni salad on a grey plate

Do you ever eat something at a restaurant – maybe a unique salad or a spectacular sandwich – and all you can think about afterward is eating it again because it was such a great recipe?

You could return to the restaurant soon to partake in it again, savoring each bite while wondering how they do it. Or you could try recreating it at home to have it repeatedly whenever you get a craving.

I had this same predicament with a creamy macaroni salad I picked up at our local grocery store’s deli counter.

I purchased pints of their macaroni salad weekly when I went grocery shopping. And it’s time to stop.

I looked at the ingredient list (not hard since it’s printed on the label) and tried to make a copycat version.

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel your pain if you’ve tried to recreate a recipe. Particularly a restaurant’s dish where you’re guessing at the ingredients.

macaroni salad recipe in a glass bowl

Deli Style Macaroni Salad Recipe

Even if you have an ingredient list to work off of, that doesn’t necessarily help. Celery – that part was easy. But peppers?

The genus Capsicum of the nightshade family (peppers) consists of 20-27 varieties. Each of these varieties has its own types called cultivars. Ugh. 

I found this list of hot peppers, which doesn’t include ANY of the sweet peppers if you want to know how difficult my search was.

After trying a few kinds of peppers, including red bell and roasted red peppers, I created this classic macaroni salad that is simple and delicious but slightly different from what my deli makes. 

I found a jar of pimento peppers that, when drained and chopped, became the best part of this basic recipe.

It is similar enough to the traditional recipe that I still call it deli style, but not a copycat.

Thanks to my pepper conundrum, I don’t think I’ll ever get it exactly the same without asking them for their recipe.

clear mixing bowl with a wooden mixing soon. Inside the bowl is creamy deli macaroni salad

Deli-Style Macaroni Salad Ingredients

This Deli-Style Macaroni Salad is the homemade version of deli mac salad, making it a classic and beloved side dish for picnics, pot luck, barbecues, or any gathering.

Elbow Macaroni Pasta: These are the base of your salad, providing a comforting and familiar texture. Cooking and cooling the noodles beforehand ensure they’re the perfect consistency for a cold salad.

Diced Pimento Peppers: Pimento peppers add a sweet and mildly spicy flavor to the salad. Drain them first to control the salad’s consistency if using pimentos packed in liquid.

Finely Diced Celery: Celery contributes a refreshing crunch and a subtle herbal taste. The fine dice ensure even distribution throughout the salad.

Low-Fat Mayo: Mayo is the creamy binder that ties the ingredients together. Opting for low-fat mayo makes a lighter version of deli macaroni salad without compromising on flavor. 

Salt: Salt is a fundamental seasoning, enhancing the overall taste of the salad. Start with a measured amount and adjust according to your preference.

Black Pepper: Crushed black pepper adds a mild heat and complements the other flavors. Adjust the quantity to suit your taste.

White Vinegar: White vinegar provides a tangy acidity, balancing the richness of the mayo. It contributes to the salad’s overall brightness.

Cold Water: Adding water helps achieve the desired consistency, especially if the salad needs more moisture. It also aids in distributing the flavors evenly.

Additional Salt and Pepper to Taste: Adjust the salt and pepper at the end to ensure the salad is perfectly seasoned according to your liking.

deli style macaroni salad on a wooden spoon

What can I add to macaroni salad?

The best macaroni salad will have your favorite simple ingredients. The options are endless!

Use my simple recipe as your base, and add additional ingredients you like. These are some of my favorite add-ins:

Chopped Red Onion and Green Onions: Red onion adds a bold, slightly spicy flavor, while green onions contribute a mild onion taste. Both bring a pop of color and freshness.

Colorful Veggies (Diced Green Bell Pepper, Orange Bell Peppers, Peas, Carrots): These veggies not only enhance the visual appeal but also provide a variety of textures and flavors.

Peas add sweetness, bell peppers contribute to crunch, and carrots bring a subtle sweetness.

Diced Jalapeno Pepper: For a spicy kick, diced jalapeno adds heat and a hint of smokiness.

Adjust the quantity based on your spice preference. You can also use pickled jalapenos. 

Protein Options (Tuna, Cubed Ham, Bacon, Small Shrimp): Protein adds heartiness to the salad.

Tuna brings a seafood flavor, ham adds a savory touch, bacon provides a smoky element, and shrimp offers a delicate taste.

Diced Hard-Boiled Eggs: Eggs add creaminess and protein. They’re a classic addition that complements the overall texture of the salad.

Cheese Cubes: Cubes of cheese, such as cheddar or Monterey Jack, introduce a rich and creamy element. Choose a cheese variety that pairs well with the other ingredients.

Diced Sweet Pickles or Sweet Pickle Relish: Sweet pickles or relish contribute a sweet and tangy flavor, balancing the savory and creamy components of the salad.

The sweet pickle juice can create the perfect balance for the rest of the dressing.

Mustard (Dijon Mustard or Yellow Mustard): Mustard adds zing and depth of flavor. Dijon mustard brings a sophisticated touch, while yellow mustard provides a classic, tangy kick.

Fresh Herbs (Parsley, Dill): Chopped fresh herbs like parsley or dill add brightness and a fresh flavor.

Cherry Tomatoes (Halved): Cherry tomatoes bring a burst of juiciness and a sweet note to the salad.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Elbow Macaroni Pasta: Choose another pasta shape like shells, rotini, or bowties. Each shape can bring a slightly different texture to the salad.
  • Diced Pimento Peppers: If pimentos are unavailable, substitute with diced roasted red peppers for a sweet and smoky flavor.
  • Finely Diced Celery: Replace celery with cucumber for a crisp and refreshing twist. Alternatively, use fennel for a mild licorice flavor.
  • Low-Fat Mayo: For a creamier texture, you can use regular mayo. If you’re looking for a lighter option, Greek yogurt provides tanginess, while sour cream adds richness.
  • White Vinegar: Red wine vinegar can be an alternative for a slightly deeper and fruitier acidity.
  • Water: You can use chicken or vegetable broth instead of water to infuse extra flavor into the pasta. Just be mindful of the salt content in the broth.

How long can you keep homemade macaroni salad in the fridge?

You can keep homemade macaroni salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. This makes it a great side dish to make ahead of time or for next-day leftovers. 

How long can you keep macaroni salad at room temperature?

Keeping side dishes like macaroni salad at room temperature for no longer than 2 hours is recommended. If you think you’ll need to keep it outside longer, I suggest placing the bowl inside a second bowl full of ice and water (an ice bath.)

macaroni salad pinterest image

Looking for more recipes, fit for a barbecue? Try these recipes:

macaroni salad on a grey plate

Macaroni Salad

This deli macaroni salad recipe is the perfect side dish for backyard BBQs and holiday celebrations like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Course: Side Dishes
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 191kcal


  • 8 ounces macaroni noodles cooked al dente according to package directions, drained and cooled
  • ½ cup diced pimento peppers if in liquid, drain liquid first
  • ½ cup celery finely chopped
  • ½ cup low-fat mayo
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • additional salt and pepper to taste


  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Give everything a big stir to make sure it is mixed well.
  • Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 191kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 360mg | Potassium: 145mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 477IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 15mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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4.60 from 5 votes (5 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating


Thursday 11th of June 2020

use milk not water


Monday 21st of May 2018

Love it definitely will make it again! Thank you.


Monday 21st of May 2018

Thanks Rosa!

Kriska Marie

Wednesday 26th of July 2017

Haven't had this in a while! I want it now!

Thank you for sharing it over at Food Friday! Excited to see what you'll be sharing next!

Miz Helen

Sunday 23rd of July 2017

One of my all time favorite classic Macaroni Salads, it looks awesome! Thanks so much for sharing your post with us at Full Plate Thursday this week. Hope you will come back and visit us again real soon! Miz Helen

Helen at the Lazy Gastronome

Wednesday 19th of July 2017

Thanks for sharing at the What's for Dinner party!