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The 8 Best Pasta for Macaroni Salad

Do you love macaroni salad but don’t know which type of pasta to use?

The key to making a delicious and flavorful macaroni salad is finding the right type of pasta.

There are many different types of pasta that can be used for this classic dish, each with its own unique texture and flavor profile.

In this article, I’ll share my top 8 picks for the best kinds of pasta to use in your next macaroni salad.

From short-cut penne to rotini spirals, these options will make sure your salad is as tasty as it is easy to prepare.

So let’s get started!

What is Macaroni Salad?

Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salad is a type of pasta salad that typically consists of cooked elbow macaroni, mayonnaise, and other ingredients such as diced celery, onion, bell pepper, pickles or olives.

It can also include hard-boiled eggs and cheese.

The dish is usually served cold and is popular in the United States as a side dish at picnics and barbecues.

Macaroni salad has its origins in Italian cuisine but has been adapted to suit American tastes over time.

The texture of macaroni salad varies depending on the amount of mayonnaise used; some recipes call for more mayo than others resulting in a creamier consistency while others are drier with less dressing.

The flavor profile also varies from recipe to recipe; some versions are tangy due to the addition of vinegar or lemon juice while others have a sweeter taste due to added sugar or honey.

Additionally, different herbs and spices can be added for extra flavor such as garlic powder, paprika or parsley flakes.

The 8 Best Pasta for Macaroni Salad

Macaroni salads are an easy and delicious way to feed a crowd.

The key is finding the right type of pasta that will hold up in the salad without becoming overly mushy or waterlogged.

Here are eight types of pastas that can be used in macaroni salads, each offering its own unique texture:

1. Elbow macaroni

Elbow Pasta

Elbow macaroni is a type of pasta that is shaped like an elbow, hence the name.

It’s one of the most popular types of pasta and is widely used in dishes such as macaroni and cheese, casseroles, soups, salads, and more.

Elbow macaroni can be made from wheat or rice flour and comes in various sizes.

The smaller size works best for salads because it holds its shape better when cooked.

I love using elbow macaroni for making macaroni salad because it has a great texture that stands up to all the other ingredients without getting too mushy or falling apart.

Plus, it’s easy to mix with other ingredients like mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing so you can get creative with your flavors!

I also find that elbow macaroni absorbs flavor well so you don’t have to worry about adding too much seasoning—it will take on whatever flavor you give it!

2. Rotini


Rotini is a type of pasta that is shaped like a corkscrew.

It has ridges on the outside and a hollow center, which makes it perfect for holding sauces and other ingredients.

Rotini is made from durum wheat semolina flour, water, and salt, so it’s high in carbohydrates but also contains some protein and fiber.

It cooks quickly—in about 8-10 minutes—and can be used in many different types of dishes including salads, soups, casseroles, and more.

When it comes to macaroni salads, rotini is one of my favorite choices.

Plus I love how colorful it looks when mixed with other vegetables like carrots or peppers.

The ridges also make it easier to mix together all the ingredients evenly without having them stick together too much or fall apart easily.

And since rotini cooks quickly compared to other pastas like penne or rigatoni, you don’t have to wait as long for your salad to be ready!

3. Fusilli


Fusilli is a type of pasta that has been around since the 16th century.

It is made from durum wheat flour and water, and it is formed into long, twisted strands or spirals.

Fusilli can be found in many different shapes and sizes, including short, medium-length, and long varieties.

The most popular shape of fusilli is the corkscrew-shaped variety which has become a staple in Italian cuisine.

Fusilli’s unique shape makes it ideal for macaroni salads because its spiral shape helps to hold onto sauces and dressings better than other types of pasta.

Additionally, its ridges make it easier to scoop up with a fork or spoon when eating.

Its texture also holds up well when mixed with other ingredients such as vegetables or meats making it an excellent choice for cold salads that need to be served at room temperature or chilled.

Finally, its bright yellow color adds visual appeal to any dish!

4. Cavatappi


Cavatappi is a type of pasta that has a corkscrew-like shape and ridges along its surface.

It is also known as cellentani, amori, or spirali.

Cavatappi is made from durum wheat semolina flour and water, and it’s usually sold in the same section as other types of dried pasta.

The unique shape makes it great for holding sauces, so it works well in macaroni salads.

Cavatappi is popular for macaroni salad because the ridges help to hold onto the dressing better than other types of pasta.

The spiral shape also helps to keep larger chunks of vegetables and proteins like chicken or tuna mixed throughout the dish instead of all sinking to the bottom.

Additionally, cavatappi cooks quickly compared to some other pastas—it only takes about 8 minutes—so you can have your salad ready in no time!

5. Farfalle


Farfalle, also known as bow-tie pasta, is a type of Italian pasta that is shaped like small bows or butterflies.

It’s often used in macaroni salads because it holds its shape well when cooked and can be easily mixed with other ingredients.

Farfalle comes in different sizes and colors; the most common are white and yellow, but you can find them in green (spinach), pink (beetroot), orange (carrot) and even black (squid ink).

When making a macaroni salad with farfalle, it’s important to cook the pasta al dente—that means not too soft or too hard.

  1. To do this, bring a pot of salted water to a boil then add the farfalle and cook for 8-10 minutes until just tender.
  2. Drain the pasta then rinse under cold running water to stop it from cooking further.
  3. Once cooled, combine your favorite vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions etc., along with some herbs like parsley or basil for flavor.
  4. Add some mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing to bind everything together then season with salt and pepper before serving.

6. Orecchiette


Orecchiette is a type of pasta that originated in the Puglia region of Italy.

The name literally translates to “little ears” and it’s easy to see why; the shape resembles small, round discs with a slight indentation in the center.

Orecchiette is usually made from durum wheat flour and water, but some recipes call for adding eggs or other ingredients.

It has a slightly chewy texture that pairs well with heavier sauces like pesto or ragu.

Macaroni salads are an ideal way to feed a crowd because they can be prepped ahead of time and served cold.

  1. To make one using orecchiette, cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente then rinse under cold water and drain thoroughly before transferring it into a large bowl.
  2. Add your favorite vegetables such as bell peppers, celery, onions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers etc., along with cooked chicken or tuna if desired.
  3. For dressing mix together mayonnaise (or vegan mayo), mustard, vinegar/lemon juice/lime juice depending on preference and seasonings such as salt & pepper or Italian seasoning blend.
  4. Mix everything together until evenly coated then chill before serving!

7. Penne


Penne is a type of pasta that is shaped like a tube with ridges on the outside.

It is one of the most popular types of pasta and can be found in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

Penne comes from the Italian word for “pen,” which refers to its quill-like shape.

The ridges help sauces cling to it better than other types of pasta, making it perfect for macaroni salads.

When cooking penne for your macaroni salad recipe, be sure not to overcook it; al dente (firm but cooked) is best so that your salad doesn’t become mushy when mixed with all the other ingredients.

8. Shells

pasta Shells

Shells are a type of pasta that is shaped like a conch shell, hence the name.

They come in various sizes and can be made from different types of flour, including semolina, durum wheat, and whole wheat.

Shells are great for macaroni salads because they hold their shape well when cooked and have plenty of nooks and crannies to capture dressing or sauce.

  1. To make a delicious macaroni salad with shells, start by boiling the pasta according to package instructions until it is al dente (tender but still slightly firm).
  2. Drain the shells in a colander then rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process.
  3. Once cooled, add your favorite vegetables such as diced tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, celery or cucumbers; some protein such as tuna or chicken; cheese if desired; and mix everything together with mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing. You can also add herbs like parsley or basil for extra flavor.
  4. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving so all the flavors meld together nicely.


In conclusion, macaroni salad is a classic picnic favorite that is easy to make and incredibly versatile.

With so many different types of pasta available, you can easily find the perfect pasta for your macaroni salad.

The best pastas for macaroni salad are elbow macaroni, rotini, fusilli, cavatappi, farfalle, orecchiette, penne, and shells. Each of these pastas offers a unique shape and texture that will make your macaroni salad stand out.

Using a combination of these pastas is a great way to add variety to your macaroni salad and ensure that everyone at the picnic can find something they like

Macaroni Salad

The 8 Best Pasta for Macaroni Salad

Sure, macaroni salad is an easy and delicious side dish, but the type of pasta you use can make a big difference. That's why I'm here to share with you the 8 best pastas for making the perfect macaroni salad. I'll provide an overview of each pasta and explain why it works so well for this dish, as well as how to prepare it for optimal flavor.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Pasta
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 4 people
Calories 368 kcal


  • Elbow macaroni
  • Rotini
  • Fusilli
  • Cavatappi
  • Farfalle
  • Orecchiette
  • Penne
  • Shells


  • Pick your favorite type of pasta from this list to use in your macaroni salad recipe.
  • Prepare the rest of your meal, and enjoy in no time!
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Jenny has always been passionate about cooking, and she uses her platform to share her joy of food with others. Her recipes are easy to follow, and she loves giving tips and tricks to help others create their own unique culinary creations.