Macaroni Salad and My Childhood Fears of the Potluck

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As a kid, I always feared potlucks.  Mainly because I was afraid to eat other people’s food.  I’m pretty sure this stemmed from a tragic incident when a great aunt decided to make some kind of jiggly mess that had fruit loops and other unidentifiable objects in it.  I guess that just burned me.  After that, I always stuck to what the folks I knew brought.  It often reminds me of that scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Aunt Bethany shows up with the lime jello mold topped with cat food.  Ugh!  I’ve gotten better over the years, but there are times when I get a little weak-kneed heading into a potluck – especially if I’ve recently watched an episode of Hoarders and have the lingering thoughts about what some people have in their kitchens.  And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably a little obsessive about cleanliness in my kitchen.  But you get salmonella poisoning one time and then you can come back and talk to me about that.  In fact, some of my most favorite recipes have come from potlucks, so I’ve got a much different impression now than I did back then.  But it’s taken time.  One of Aunt *****’s congealed salads will just do that to you.

A potluck in the South just isn’t a potluck without a few staple dishes like macaroni salad, some form of congealed salad, banana pudding, probably a cobbler or two, and enough casseroles to choke an elephant. Do you have a favorite recipe that people always request you bring to the potluck?


  • 3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1/2 green bell pepper
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder


  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions using salted water.  Meanwhile, finely chop onion, celery, and bell pepper.
  2. In a another bowl stir together mayo, mustard, vinegar, pepper, sugar, salt, garlic, and onion powder.
  3. Once macaroni is cooked, drain and rinse with cold water until pasta is cool.
  4. In a large bowl, combine dressing, chopped veggies, and macaroni.  Mix well.  Refrigerate for at least two hours. 
Macaroni Salad
Prep time
Total time
  • 3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions using salted water. Meanwhile, finely chop onion, celery, and bell pepper.
  2. In a another bowl stir together mayo, mustard, vinegar, pepper, sugar, salt, garlic, and onion powder.
  3. Once macaroni is cooked, drain and rinse with cold water until pasta is cool.
  4. In a large bowl, combine dressing, chopped veggies, and macaroni. Mix well. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
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  1. Danielle D. says:

    Everyone loves for me to bring my Aunt Sue’s Orange Juice cake (guest posted on Southern Plate). It is so good and moist. Being lactose intolerant, potlucks always make me a bit nervous as well because I can’t stop and ask about every dish. I usually have to steer clear of the creamy casseroles and most desserts but there is always so much food, I never leave hungry.

  2. Here’s a quick hint- just rinse your macaroni briefly, not until completely cooled (you want it still kinda hot). Sprinkle with part of your vinegar and mix well. Then let it cool. The vinegar will season the macaroni while it is still warm, making your salad even yummier! This works the same with potato salad as well!

    I always, always have to make hash brown casserole or broccoli salad, and never carry any home!

  3. Tommajean says:

    When I take anything to potlucks I always list ingredients like dairy, nuts, eggs, or anything unusual, and tape it to the front of the dish. Better safe than sorry. I usually take baked beans, or potato salad, and almost always take cake. I spent 20 years baking and decorating cakes, and while I no longer do fancy decorating, people still request my icing.

    • Tommajean:

      I would love to have your fancy decorating icing recipe. I love the bakery icing but cannot find a good recipe for it so far for my cakes. Hope you can share it.

  4. Too funny. My husband hates potlucks and I have always loved them because I like to try different recipes. I think its a germ thing for him…or unknown preparation methods…love this Mac salad – classic and full of all the right flavors!

  5. Ha I could write a book on church mystery foods S I was the dare devil taster in my family always sampling other peoples food. This recipe is close to my moms except she added extra mayo, one vidalia with one red onion, some sweet pickle juice and diced sweet pickles, small mini blocks of sharp cheddar or colby jack cheese. So many versions of this came across my plate with small chopped blocks of ham, chopped chicken, cooked smoked bacon, large green peas or beans.

  6. wow this is different for me. I make mine just like this but have always added boiled eggs. I also use a lot of boiled eggs in my potato salad. More than most folks. I just realized that was probably because we had chickens and in the summer were overrun with eggs and most people we knew had their own chickens. We did what we could to use them up. Lasagna, broccoli salad, strawberry spinach salad, usually brownies. All easy and yummy! I also make a lot of macaroni salads with different shapped pasta and raw veggies that are non mayo dressing usually Italian. If I use seashells and mayo I usually had a couple of cans of tuna (and yes, boiled eggs) 🙂

    • I’m a big boiled egg fan, too! I love ’em in potato salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad (of course!), all types of green salads, just by themselves… Wait, I’m starting to sound like Bubba on Forrest Gump… fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, shrimp cocktail… LOL!

      • I love eggs, period. Especially, soft boiled eggs with buttered toast. The hard part is getting the eggs boiled just right because I love a runny yolk but don’t want any semi-congealed white.

        • Cynthia A. Greenfeather says:

          Not any more! America’s test kitchen has a 100% FOOLPROOF way to make PERFECT soft boiled eggs! You can Google it and it’s on lot of free sites now, but if you want to make 1 soft boiled egg or a dozen, you boil an inch of water, add the eggs with a spoon or tongs so that they don’t crack, and you don’t burn. Put the lid on, turn the eggs down so the waters gently boiling (must continue to boil so steam is maintained), cook for 6 1/2 minutes, EXACTLY. Remove from heat, rinse in cold water so you can handle them, and crack them open and eat. Use large eggs, not med or extra large.

  7. Sounds delicious! I have never put mustard in my macaroni salad but I sure look forward to trying it!!
    Usually I bring dessert of some sort to a potluck. Death by chocolate, biscotti,or toffee are a couple of favorites!!

  8. My Aunt Nancy’s corn salad is always a hit.

  9. This hits home with me. I am very picky about whose food I eat. I had an uncle who, at family reunions, would only eat what my mother or I would take. I am a very clean cook, I am very careful and my hands are washed a dozen times. I usually take baked beans and a casserole or two, plus cake or pie and naturally sweet tea!

    • Cynthia A. Greenfeather says:

      I’m a nurse, so I wash my hands multiple times when I cook, and if I go to a potluck prepared by people I don’t know, I’m always leery, and apt to only eat what I bring, or the foods that have to be thoroughly cooked. Over the years, I’ve made home visits to people who had cockroaches and we’re very unclean, but were the sweetest people you’d ever want to know. More than once, they’ve given me cookies to take with me. I couldn’t bring myself to eat them, because of the possible cockroach contamination. But I confess, Iam a TERRIBLE housekeeper, but as I said, I wash my hands many times while cooking, and even though my house is a mess, I am very careful when it comes to cooking. Thank goodness I never carried any cockroaches home with me. (I used to pray that none would get caught in my supplies or clothing while I made home visits. God ALWAYS answered my prayers). Happy cooking!

  10. Now that you have posted your delicious macaroni salad recipe I’m hoping you will post your potato salad, tuna salad, egg salad and chicken salad you mentioned. I love all kinds of these salads for summer picnics we have for our growning family reunions. But I love tuna salad, egg salad and chicken salad the best for everyday sandwiches. You are such a good cook and I have enjoyed making most of your recipes.

  11. What’s up with the KRAFT mayo???

    • LOL!! You know I’m loyal to my Duke’s mayo, but Kraft was buy one get one free… I just couldn’t pass it up!

      • Cynthia A. Greenfeather says:

        I saw that, too! I tried dukes once, and I liked it. To me, it’s a cross between miracle whip and Hellmans. Hellmens is so bland, but so nice and rich. miracle whip is tangy, but too sweet. I almost always use both together, unless I’m looking just for a tangy flavor. My husband loves miracle whip, or I’d probably just buy dukes.

  12. When fixing eggs for potato salad use the microwave..cuts down on time..I take 3 eggs and crack them into a glass bowl,stir them just to mix yolks and whites and then nuke them for 15 seconds…stir and nuke again 15 more second and stir again and nuke till they are fluffy and all the liquid is cooked..them I smash them up good and put them in the mix of Mayo and pickle rellish and seasoning.Stir that and then add my potatoes…a lot quicker than boiling and peeling eggs..

    • Fritzi Schnitzer says:

      That’s awesome! I crack mine in a pyrex pie dish, stir to barely marble them, nuke, then cut em up with a pastry blender. So much easier than fighting with stubborn clingy shells! I put hard cooked eggs in anything I can get away with. Green bell peppers, though, are essential to any self respecting Southern macaroni salad. Oh, and Duke’s, of course. Sugar is the miracle ingredient.

    • wow, thanks for sharing

  13. This was REALLY good! My hubby loved it and he is very picky!! Thank you for the recipe!

  14. Jen from bham says:

    Omgosh! I cannot believe I JUST found you Stacey! Where have you been all my life?!?! Your recipes are amazing…..right up my alley. I have been reading your fb page, website and blog for over an hour. I’m so happy I found you!!! I have your cookbook in my Amazon cart. After this comment I’m heading to Amazon to buy your book!!!!! I cannot wait to receive it. Thanks, Stacey! I can’t wait to get cookin’.

    War Eagle!

    • Ha! These types of comments just make my day! Welcome, Jen!! I’m so glad you’ve found lots that you like here! Thanks so much for your support!! War Eagle!!! (Sorry for all the exclamation points. I’m Just excited!)

      • Jen from bham says:

        This is just great! I’m still looking around and have a grocery store list 3 miles long. Your stories are excellent and I can relate in so many ways. You are very inspiring and I look forward to watching your success. It’s ” normal” people like you that make a difference. Thank you for sharing your stories and delicious recipes.

  15. Trish Casey says:

    Love your stories and I can relate to almost everyone. My mom was the one at ever dinner on the grounds at Church that would run point and tell me what to eat and not to eat. Now I work in a family owned restaurant that makes everything homemade. I love what you do.

  16. Kentucky Lady 717 says:

    Aren’t you a friend of “SOUTHERN PLATE” Christy who has a blog ? Seems I remember her talking about you or maybe you were on one of her videos….am I right ?
    What part of the South are you from ? I like your food, you cook a lot like I do ….when I cook 🙂
    I make my potato salad like you except I use boiled eggs, but I mash the yolks before I add them to the salad…..don’t care for chunks of egg yolk…..
    And I too am very picky about pot lucks…..I avoid them… never know who cooked what and if their kitchen looks like the hoarders LOL…..I have this fear too…..
    I worked with this lady who lived with her mother and brother and they had a couple of big dogs, and she would come to work with dog hairs all over her coat and it smelled like the dogs had slept on it, and she would always bring homemade goodies to work, and I don’t think many people ate any……certainly not me……..she just did not look like a clean person… usually can tell……and I can tell…….

  17. Dorothy Dunton says:

    Hey Stacey! I grew up o church potluck dinners! My biggest fear now is the “all you can eat” places where who knows when it was cooked and how long it has been sitting there! I won’t go there!

  18. Sharon Norton says:

    My Nanny made Macaroni Salads all the time.Her key ingredient was Thousand Island Dressing.I may have to give yours a try and see how I like it.I’ll have to add eggs and a little bit of pickles and juice too.You can’t go wrong with any of the salads in summer.

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  20. Cynthia A. Greenfeather says:

    My husband’s not a pasta fan at all, (must be from another planet, right?) so I almost never make macaroni salad. Never would have thought to put mustard in it. I might just try that sometime. Years ago, I had macaroni salad at a friend’s house, and it was made with boxed macaroni and cheese. It was really good! I made some for a family picnic, and my ex-husband’s grandfather, who LOVED pasta any way, shape or form, HATED it! Oh, well, can’t win ’em all.

  21. Boy howdy, you hit the nail on the head regarding staple dishes at a southern potluck! ???? Thanks for this mac salad recipe, always looking for good recipes to add to my potluck folder!! Have a blessed Easter.

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