Here’s one of our family’s favorite summertime side dishes — an easy Southern macaroni salad recipe with bacon that’s perfect for summer barbecues, potluck dinners, family reunions or your next picnic. This tasty salad combines tender pasta, crispy veggies, cheese, a creamy dressing, and flavorful, crunchy bacon.
The simple salad dressing is a blend of creamy mayonnaise, ranch dressing and just a splash of balsamic vinegar, which gives it a yummy savory flavor with just a hint of sweetness that pairs well with the crispy bacon bits.
You can make the easy pasta salad recipe up to a day in advance and add the final ingredients right before serving.
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Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Easy to Make: The simple pasta salad with bacon and tomatoes takes less than an hour to prepare before chilling in the fridge to blend the flavors.
Amazing Flavor: The combination of tender macaroni, homemade balsamic ranch dressing, sharp cheddar cheese, tomatoes, celery, and crispy bacon is SO tasty!
Make Ahead Recipe: This easy macaroni salad is the perfect make-ahead side dish. Prepare it up to 24 hours in advance, and store in the refrigerator. Right before serving, add in the grated cheese and crispy bacon.
Here’s what you’ll need to prepare this creamy southern macaroni salad:
Elbow macaroni – We like to use a good quality Italian dried pasta made from durum wheat semolina flour.
Fresh Tomato – Choose a ripe tomato for the best flavor and texture. Remove the seeds and excess juice before chopping to prevent the salad from becoming too watery.
Celery – Remove the tough outer strings from the celery stalks before chopping. Chop the celery into small, bite-sized pieces for even distribution in the salad.
Green onions – The recipe calls for 3 green onions, but you can adjust the quantity to suit your taste. Use both the white and green parts of the green onions for added flavor. Finely chop them to ensure they are evenly dispersed throughout the salad.
Mayonnaise: Use real regular mayonnaise for the best flavor. We’re partial to Duke’s mayonnaise for its creamy texture and great flavor.
Ranch Salad Dressing: Use your favorite brand of ranch dressing or make your own buttermilk ranch dressing if you prefer.
Balsamic Vinegar: Use a good brand of real Balsamic vinegar to add a tangy and slightly sweet flavor to the dressing.
Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese: Choose a high-quality sharp cheddar cheese and grate it just before adding it to the salad for the best flavor and texture. You can substitute another
Bacon, cooked and crumbled: Use your favorite bacon — smoked or unsmoked, thick cut, regular cut, cured or uncured. Cook the bacon until crispy and drain it on paper towels to remove excess grease. Crumble or chop the bacon into small pieces before adding it to the salad.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Here’s what you’ll need to prepare this recipe:
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- Box grater to shred the cheese
- Large pot to cook the pasta
- Colander or strainer to drain the pasta
- Large serving bowl
- Large spoon
My Favorite Box Grater
This top-rated professional box grater is sharp, dishwasher safe and value priced. With four different grating surfaces, it’s perfect for prepping a variety of cheeses, vegetables and other ingredients.
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Step by Step Instructions
(See the printable recipe card below for the full recipe.)
STEP ONE | Prepare the macaroni by following the instructions on the package, until the noodles are al dente (tender to the bite). Once cooked, drain the pasta water and give the macaroni a quick rinse with cold water.
STEP TWO | Transfer the cooked macaroni noodles to a large bowl and add the chopped tomato, celery, and green onions. Give it a gentle stir to combine the ingredients.
STEP THREE | In a separate small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, ranch dressing, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper until well blended. Pour the dressing over the macaroni mixture and toss gently to coat all the ingredients.
STEP FOUR | Cover the bowl and refrigerate the salad for a minimum of 2 hours or, if possible, overnight. Chilling allows the flavors to meld together and creates a more delicious salad.
STEP FIVE | Just before serving, add the grated sharp cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon to the chilled macaroni salad. Give it a final mix so the cheese and bacon are evenly distributed throughout.
Leftover salad may be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered in an airtight container, for up to 2 days.
Pesto Bacon Macaroni Salad: Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of pesto sauce to the balsamic ranch dressing.
Caprese Bacon Macaroni Salad: Take inspiration from the classic Caprese salad. Substitute diced fresh mozzarella for the cheddar cheese. Add chopped fresh basil leaves to the salad just before serving.
Smoky BBQ Bacon Macaroni Salad: Substitute a tablespoon or two of your favorite barbecue sauce for the balsamic vinegar in the dressing. Whisk well before adding to the salad.
What to Serve With Bacon Pasta Salad
- Grilled Burgers: The smoky flavors of grilled burgers pair well with the creamy and savory bacon macaroni salad. Serve them on buns with your favorite toppings for a satisfying meal.
- BBQ Ribs: Tangy and tender BBQ ribs make a fantastic main course alongside the salad. The combination of smoky flavors and the creamy salad creates a mouthwatering contrast.
- Grilled Chicken: Marinated and grilled chicken breasts or thighs are a healthy and flavorful option to serve with classic southern macaroni salad. The chicken’s juicy texture complements the creamy salad nicely.
- Fried Sweet Corn: Skillet fried sweet corn is a classic summer side dish that pairs well with the flavors of bacon macaroni salad. The sweet and juicy corn kernels provide a nice contrast to the creamy salad.
- Coleslaw: A refreshing coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, and a tangy dressing is an excellent accompaniment to the bacon macaroni salad. The crispness and brightness of the coleslaw balance out the richness of the macaroni salad.
- Baked Beans: The sweet and smoky flavors of baked beans go hand in hand with the savory bacon macaroni salad.
- Grilled Vegetables: Grilling a medley of seasonal vegetables, such as zucchini, bell peppers, and eggplant, enhances their natural flavors and provides a vibrant side dish that complements the macaroni salad.
- Watermelon Salad: A refreshing watermelon salad with feta cheese, mint leaves, and a tangy dressing is a great way to balance the richness of the bacon macaroni salad. The juicy and sweet watermelon provides a refreshing contrast.
- Garlic Bread: Serve warm and crusty garlic bread alongside the macaroni salad. The garlic-infused flavors and crispy texture of the bread complement the creaminess of the delicious pasta salad.
- Fresh Fruit Platter: A colorful assortment of fresh fruits, such as sliced melons, berries, and grapes, is a light and refreshing option to serve with the creamy macaroni salad. The natural sweetness of the fruits adds a refreshing element to the meal.
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Southern Macaroni Salad with Bacon
- 1 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
- 1 large tomato chopped and drained
- 2 stalks celery finely chopped
- 3 green onions finely chopped (white and green parts)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup ranch dressing
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 pound bacon cooked and crumbled
- Cook the macaroni according to package directions; drain and rinse in cold water. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in tomato, celery, and green onions.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, dressing, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Pour over macaroni and toss to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours or overnight. Just before serving, mix in cheese and bacon. Makes 8 servings.
This recipe was used with permission from my cookbook, Bacon Beans and Beer. Big thanks to the book’s publisher Gibbs Smith and photographer Susan Barnson Hayward for taking the beautiful images for the book.