This BBQ Chicken Macaroni Salad is a great twist on a classic that combines tender macaroni with a medley of vegetables, tender chicken, and a tangy BBQ sauce and mayonnaise-based dressing.
This side dish is one of our favorites for barbecues and picnics. It’s an alternative to the classic macaroni salad. If you’re used to making that, maybe try this one instead. It adds tangy BBQ sauce and chicken, which makes it both more flavorful and more substantial as a side.
Every time I make it, it’s always a crowd pleaser. You can use whatever BBQ sauce you have on hand, and leftover chicken makes it super easy to whip together.
Ingredients You Need
- Dry macaroni – You can use small or large macaroni – your preference. Any brand will do.
- Red bell pepper – I love the brightness of the red in the dish, but you can use green or yellow bell peppers instead.
- Celery – This adds a nice crunch to the salad, but it also adds a lot of flavor.
- Pickle – Dill pickles give a great crunch and acidity.
- Onion – Use any type of onion you like best – white, yellow, red
- Mayonnaise – I always use full-fat mayo to give this salad the creaminess it needs.
- Sour cream – The sour cream gives the dressing a tanginess, but you can replace it with more mayo if you want.
- BBQ sauce – Use any BBQ sauce you have on hand. I like Sweet Baby Ray’s, or you can make our delicious homemade Bourbon bbq sauce.
- Chicken – You can use any leftover chicken you have in the fridge, or cook up a chicken breast and cube it. We love to use leftover smoked chicken.
- Yellow mustard – I like the tang of yellow mustard in this recipe, but stone ground mustard or even Dijon mustard can be used.
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Fresh cilantro or parsley – For garnish
How to Make Classic Macaroni Salad
Cook the Pasta
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot and add the macaroni. Cook it according to the package instructions until it’s al dente. Drain the pasta and run it under cold water for 2-3 minutes, until it’s cooled. This stops the cooking process and ensures the macaroni stays firm. Allow it to cool and drain completely.
Mix It Up
Start by mixing together all the ingredients except the pasta. I do this while the pasta is cooking, to save time.
Transfer the cooled pasta to the mixing bowl and give it a good mix.
Cover and refrigerate the salad for a few hours, or overnight if possible. This allows the flavors to meld together and the salad to be well chilled before serving. Of course, if you’re short on time you can skip this step, but I do recommend chilling for at least an hour.
Garnish and Serve
Just before serving, garnish the BBQ chicken macaroni salad with chopped cilantro or parsley. This adds a touch of freshness and a pop of color.
Choosing the Perfect Pasta
There are different sizes of macaroni pasta that you can choose from. You might just buy whatever is available at the store, of you might choose a smaller or larger pasta, depending on your preference.
While this recipe calls for macaroni, you can easily substitute it with other types of short pasta. Some great options are fusilli, penne, or farfalle. Keep in mind that the cooking times may vary, so be sure to follow the package instructions for the best results.
Storing Your Macaroni Salad
Remember not to leave the macaroni salad out for longer than 2 hours. Bacteria can start to form on the salad when it’s at room temperature for too long. Since you’re likely serving this with an outdoor BBQ or cookout, it’s easy to lose track of time and leave the salad out too long.
To store your macaroni salad, place it in an airtight container to keep it fresh. It’s best to consume the salad within 3-4 days when stored in the refrigerator. If the salad seems a little dry after refrigeration, you can add a tablespoon of mayonnaise to moisten it before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make macaroni salad ahead of time?
Yes, making macaroni salad ahead of time is actually a great idea! Preparing it a day in advance allows the flavors to meld together, resulting in a richer and more delicious salad. Just be sure to store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Before serving, you might want to check the consistency; if it’s too dry, add a little bit of mayonnaise to freshen it up. Don’t forget to garnish with green onions or any other fresh herbs before serving.
Can I freeze macaroni salad?
Freezing macaroni salad is not recommended. The mayonnaise-based dressing tends to separate and become watery when frozen and then thawed. Additionally, the pasta and vegetables can become mushy and lose their texture. Macaroni salad is best enjoyed fresh or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
What can I add to my macaroni salad to make it more flavorful or unique?
Macaroni salad is versatile, and there are countless ingredients you can add to enhance flavor or add a twist. Some ideas include:
Proteins: Tuna, cooked chicken, or bacon bits.
Veggies: Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives, or grated carrots.
Cheeses: Feta, blue cheese, or gouda in addition to or instead of cheddar.
Herbs and Spices: Fresh dill, basil, paprika, or a dash of hot sauce.
Nuts and Seeds: Sunflower seeds or slivered almonds for crunch.
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BBQ Chicken Macaroni Salad
- 8 ounces (227 g) elbow macaroni
- 1/3 cup (75 g) mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup (77 g) sour cream
- 1/3 cup (79 ml) barbecue sauce
- 4 slices pickle chopped
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) yellow mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) sugar
- 2 cups (108 g) BBQ chicken chopped
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- 1/2 cup (80 g) onion diced
- 1/4 cup (4 g) chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 g) ground black pepper
- Cook and drain the pasta, according to the package instructions. Run under cold water and drain off excess water.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the pasta. I do this while the pasta is cooking, to save time.
- Transfer the cooled pasta to the mixing bowl and give it a good mix.
- Cover and refrigerate the salad for a few hours, or overnight if possible.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley before serving.
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.