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Easy Macaroni Salad

Salads are always a hit at summertime barbecues or picnics. When you are trying to think of a salad to take to a summer barbecue or picnic, think of the 3 P’s: potato, pasta, or pea salad. Choosing the right recipe and preparing your salad carefully will ensure that it is full of flavor and will last as long as the party or picnic. Keep reading for tips on how to make a delicious picnic salad and new recipes to try.

Tips for Making Perfect Picnic Salads:


The most important thing to remember about picnic salads is to season them properly. Bland pasta, potato, or pea salad is unappetizing. Adding a judicious amount of salt and pepper to your salad will give its natural flavors a pop and take your salad recipe from boring to amazing!

Keeping It Cool and Clean:

If you are concerned about your salad sitting at room temperature during your picnic or on a summertime buffet:

  • Choose a recipe that does not call for mayonnaise or sour cream.

  • Be sure to limit the time your salad spends out of refrigeration.

  • Serve your salad from an ice chest.

  • To make sure that your salad is free from bugs and debris, cover it with a plate or lid while it sits on the buffet or picnic blanket.

    Pasta Salad:

    Every pasta salad starts with the right cut of pasta. Most recipes will call for elbow macaroni, small shells, corkscrews, penne, or bow ties. Cook your pasta in salted water to give it the best flavor. To avoid mushy pasta, cook it to al dente or until it is just tender. Drain the pasta using a colander or remove it from the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Lay your pasta out on a walled sheet pan so that it will cool off quickly and any extra moisture will evaporate. Don’t let it sit too long though or it will become dry and crunchy. 

    Most recipes call for about two pounds of mix-in ingredients for every one pound of pasta. You can add cooked, canned, or raw vegetables; olives; cheeses; canned beans; cooked seafood; or cooked meats. Whatever add-ins your recipe calls for, make sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces before adding them to the pasta.

    Dressing your pasta salad is the final step. Some recipes will call for a bottled salad dressing or vinaigrette. Others will guide you to make your own dressing. There are also recipes, like classic macaroni salad, that include a dressing made from a mustard and mayonnaise base. Whatever type of dressing your pasta salad calls for, make sure that it is thick and fully blended so that the pasta can completely absorb the flavor you have worked so hard to create. 

    Simply toss your pasta, add-ins, and dressing together according to your recipe. Then, refrigerate your salad until you are ready to serve or head out for your barbecue or picnic. In general, pasta salad will last for three days in the refrigerator when packaged in an airtight container. Pasta salad should not sit out at a picnic or on a buffet for longer than two hours.

    Potato Salad:

    Whether you prefer German, Old Fashioned, Amish, or Mustard-Style potato salad, there are simple tips to follow to make sure it is delicious every time. Choose the right kind of potato for your recipe. A waxy potato, like Yukon Gold or fingerling, will not become mushy as it sits in the potato salad dressing.

    A russet potato will absorb the flavors better, but can lose it’s texture in the salad. Red potatoes seem to be the best of both worlds, keeping their shape and absorbing flavors well. Whatever type of potato your recipe calls for, buy potatoes that are uniform in size for even cooking.

    Simmer your squeaky-clean potatoes in salted water until they are fork tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the hot water and place them in an ice bath to cool. When the potatoes are ready to handle, use your fingers or a knife to remove the skins. They should slip right off. Cut your potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle a tablespoon of dill pickle brine over your potatoes to give them a pop of flavor.

    Many potato salads call for add-ins like chopped veggies, pickles, cheese, bacon, hard boiled eggs, or cooked meats. Follow your recipe and add all extras that are bite-sized. To keep bacon from getting soggy, wait to fold it into the salad until just before serving or leaving for your barbecue or picnic. 

    Prepare the style of dressing called for in your recipe. To lighten up your mayonnaise-based potato salad dressing, swap miracle whip or low-fat sour cream for the mayonnaise. Toss your ingredients together and chill your potato salad until it is ready to serve. Potato salad will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days. Discard potato salad that has set out on a buffet or at a picnic for longer than 2 hours.

    Pea Salad:

    Start by using canned, fresh, or frozen peas, depending on your recipe. Look for the best quality peas you can find. Young, tender peas often have the best flavor. Frozen peas will need to be thawed, but usually hold up best in pea salad. Fresh peas need to be cleaned and cooked.

    Steam, do not boil, fresh peas to keep them from becoming mushy in your salad. Canned peas and peas that have been freshly cooked will need to be drained and patted dry before they can be added to your recipe.

    Many pea salad recipes call for adding cheese, chopped onion, hard boiled egg, crumbled bacon, diced ham, chopped nuts, raw vegetables, pickle relish, or canned beans. Be sure that all of your add-in ingredients are bite-sized. Hold off on adding the bacon or cheese to your salad until you are ready to serve it or leave for your barbecue or picnic. 

    Most pea salad recipes feature a mayonnaise or sour cream based dressing. Be careful not to overdress your salad as peas can quickly become weighed down in dressing and lose their fresh flavor. Remember that peas are delicate and need to be tossed gently with the dressing and add-in ingredients. Pea salad is good for 2 days in the refrigerator. Just like with pasta and potato salads, pea salad is not good after it has set out on a buffet or at a picnic for longer than two hours.

    There is a completely different type of pea salad that you might see recipes for. This is a layered pea salad, also called seven layer salad. In this dish, peas are layered with diced tomatoes; romaine lettuce; baby spinach; crumbled bacon; diced onion; shredded cheese; and a dressing made of mayonnaise, sour cream, and seasonings. Frozen peas that have been thawed hold up best in this salad. Be sure to season each vegetable layer with salt and pepper.

    After layering the ingredients according to your recipe, keep the salad in the refrigerator until you are ready to enjoy. Layered Pea Salad does not keep for a long period of time in the refrigerator as the spinach and lettuce droop and the tomatoes become wet. Eat your layered salad within two hours of serving it at a buffet or picnic.


    Potato Salad:
    Purple Potato Salad

    Bonnie’s Potato Salad

    Summertime New Potato Salad

    Grilled Potato and Parsley Pesto Salad

    Old Fashioned Potato Salad

    Country Potato Salad

    Mustard Potato Salad

    Southwestern Potato Salad

    Grandma’s Potato Salad

    Sichuan Potato Salad

    Pea Salad:

    Cold Pea Salad

    Crunchy Pea Salad

    Macaroni and Pea Salad

    Green Pea and Peanut Salad

    Pea and New Potato Salad

    Asian Millet Salad

    Pea and Carrot Salad

    Pasta Salad:

    Easy Macaroni Salad

    KFC Macaroni Salad

    Carlas Macaroni Salad

    BLT Pasta Salad

    Mary Poulin’s Pasta Salad

    Artichoke Pasta Salad

    Greek Mac and Cheese

    Layered Southwestern Pasta Salad

    Creamy Pasta Salad

    Vegetable Pasta Salad