This BBQ Chicken Macaroni Salad will change how you think about traditional mac salad. This salad is a little sweet, a little tangy and never heavy or soggy! It’s the perfect side for summertime grilling or just a simple lunch!
I think macaroni salad gets a bad rap sometimes. Traditionally, it’s overcooked macaroni with load of mayo and “dressing” that can be good, but can also turn into a soggy, heavy mess REALLLLL quick! I’ve kept the dressing super “light” in this recipe and added BBQ sauce, sweet pickle juice and milk to the dressing to keep it thin and not heavy (pickle juice, I KNOW!!!). Once you have had this mac salad, it’s hard to go back to the heavy, traditional stuff!
Other summertime salads you will love that don’t contain mayo are this Perfect Orzo Salad and this super easy Sweet Corn Salad! Need a heartier salad?! You HAVE to try this Dorito Taco Salad with Homemade Catalina Dressing!! It’s a crowd-pleaser!
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE
- It’s a new spin on traditional macaroni salad that will change how you feel about heavy, traditional mac salad.
- The dressing is thin and light and doesn’t make the macaroni soggy or overly mayonnaise’ed!
- It has BBQ sauce in the dressing making it an ideal side dish for grilled meats.
- You can easily make this ahead and bring it to your next backyard BBQ!
- It stores well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
For the salad:
For the dressing:
Pasta: Traditional “macaroni” always works but I like mixing it up a bit! I used Cavitappi in this recipe and I have also used both shells and rotini (corkscrew)–they both are excellent!
Chicken: The chicken adds a little protein to the salad if you want to enjoy it on it’s own. If you are serving this with another meat or protein, you can leave the chicken out. If you ever have leftover BBQ chicken, it is DIVINE in this salad, too!
Sweet Pickle Juice: Yep! This is my secret weapon in the dressing! I got this tip from The Pioneer Woman!
HOW TO MAKE BBQ CHICKEN MACARONI SALAD: STEP BY STEP
Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!
Step 1: Make the dressing. Whisk all dressing ingredients together and set aside.
Step 2: Boil pasta according to package directions, drain, rinse and cool completely.
Step 3: Add pasta and all salad ingredients to a large bowl. Toss with half the dressing to start and add more as needed. If you are making this ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Toss with the remaining dressing right before serving.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
To keep your mac salad from drying out, there are two important tips. First, make sure your pasta is cooked according to package directions. While al dente pasta is great for other pasta dishes, you want your pasta for this salad to be cooked all the way and maybe even about 30 seconds more than what it says on the package. If it’s undercooked at all, the dressing will have a harder time “sticking” to the pasta. Also, a huge tip if you are making this ahead, is to dress the macaroni salad with half the dressing when you make it. Then, right before you’re ready to serve, toss with the other half of the dressing. This recipe makes extra dressing for this reason!
To keep the mayo creamy and unseparated, make sure your pasta is COMPLETELY cooled and DRY before adding in the mayo. This dressing in this recipe includes a little milk as well which will also keep the mayo from separating.
Not at all! I used Cavitappi in this recipe and I have also used both shells and rotini (corkscrew)–they both are excellent!
This salad will store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you plan to store it, I always like to save a little dressing to add to the salad over the course of the week to prevent it from being dry–the macaroni will absorb the dressing the longer it sits.
Store this macaroni salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. A gallon Ziploc bag works as well. Because of the mayo in the dressing, I do not recommend freezing it.
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Do not undercook the pasta or the dressing will have a hard time sticking to it.
- If making in advance, reserve a little dressing to toss in right before serving to ensure pasta is well coated and creamy (not dry). When the salad sits in the fridge, the pasta will absorb lots of the dressing!
- Swap the chicken for eggs for another protein option.
- Red onion is also delish in this salad!
- If you are adverse to celery, check out some great alternatives here!
OTHER SALADS YOU’LL LOVE
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BBQ Chicken Macaroni Salad
For the dressing
- 3/4 cup mayonaise
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar See Note 1
- 2 tbsp sweet pickle juice
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup BBQ sauce use your favorite!
For the Macaroni Salad
- 1 lb macaroni or similar See Note 2
- 1 cup sweet pickles, chopped
- 1 3 oz. can sliced olives or about 1 cup of olives, sliced
- 3-4 scallions, chopped green AND white parts!
- 1 cup celery, chopped see alternatives here
- 1 cup cooked chicken, chopped See Note 3
- Boil pasta according to package directions. Ensure that it is NOT al dente and cooked through completely. Drain, rinse and set aside to cool completely.
- In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients, set aside.
- When pasta is completely cool, add it to a large bowl. Add pickles, olives, scallions, celery and chicken.
- Add half the dressing and toss to combine. Continue adding more dressing until you get to your desired amount of creaminess. NOTE: If you are making this ahead of time, toss with half the dressing, cover and refrigerate. Then, when you are ready to serve, toss with the remaining dressing (or dress to your desired taste).