Chicken Macaroni Salad

If you're looking for a pasta salad that travels well, can be one of several side dishes or is hearty enough to take center stage at mealtime, here it is. This chicken macaroni salad is as tasty as it is versatile.

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A serving of chicken macaroni salad next to a larger bowl with napkins and forks on the countertop.

Perfect Pot Luck Dish

Pasta salad is always a hit at any group gathering. It’s a pretty perfect dish to take along because it can be made well ahead of time, travels well and is best served at room temperature (although it should be understood that “room temperature” is cooler than hot summer outside temperature!). This chicken macaroni salad takes one of my favorite chicken salads with pecans, celery, grapes and parsley and adds pasta to turn it into a crowd pleaser that can feed a nice sized group of people.


Chicken breasts and tenders in a skillet with a pair of tongs and a green kitchen towel.

What Chicken to Use

Now, of course, if you have cooked chicken already in the fridge this chicken macaroni salad is a perfect way to use up leftovers. If you don’t have leftovers, however, you’re going to need to cook some chicken. You can do that by seasoning the chicken well with salt, pepper and dried thyme and cooking it in a skillet. Or, you could pop the seasoned chicken in the air fryer or even on the grill. However you cook it, do remember to season it well and don’t over-cook it so that it stays moist in the salad. 

Ingredients on a countertop - mayonnaise, mustard, cider vinegar, salt and pepper, measuring spoons, a whisk and a green kitchen towel.

Dressing for Chicken Macaroni Salad

The dressing for this pasta salad is mayonnaise based. Of course, you could make your own mayonnaise from scratch if you really wanted to, but relying on your favorite store-bought mayonnaise is just fine. Then, just add a little mustard, cider vinegar, salt and pepper and stir well. You may end up using all this dressing on the salad, or if you’re like me and prefer pasta salads more lightly dressed, you can save the leftover dressing for another occasion. 

Ingredients chopped on a cutting board - grapes, pecans, celery, parsley and red onion.

Prepping the Other Ingredients

The other ingredients in this macaroni salad do need a little prep work. Toast the pecans either on the stovetop in a skillet or in the oven on a baking sheet and then give them a rough chop. Cut the celery into small pieces and halve the grapes. When it comes to the red onion, a little goes a long way… in fact, sometimes that flavor goes too far. To tame the harsh notes in red onion, cut the onion into small pieces and then soak it in cold water while you prepare everything else. This mellows the flavor of the onion and is something I do all the time. I like the flavor of onion, but I don’t like how it lingers after my meal. Soaking helps. 

Ingredients for chicken macaroni salad in a bowl with dressing being poured on top.

Tossing the Salad

You can throw all the salad ingredients into a bowl and toss with as much of the dressing as you like (I suggest starting with half the quantity), or you could toss everything but the pecans and parsley first and add the last two remaining ingredients just before serving. That way, the nuts will stay crunchier. Whichever you decide to do, understand that the pasta will continue to absorb the dressing and you might want to add more dressing just before serving and you’ll definitely want to add dressing to leftovers. 

Chicken macaroni Salad in a stainless steel bowl with tongs.

How Long will Pasta Salad Last?

Store your leftovers in a container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If you’re serving this salad at an outdoor gathering, pull it from the refrigerator and place it with your other foods. Once it is out of the refrigerator, it shouldn’t stay out in the sun for longer than 3 to 4 hours. After that point, it should be discarded. 

Chicken macaroni salad in a wide bowl on a wooden table with a stack of shallow bowls, napkins and forks.

What to serve with Chicken Macaroni Salad

This salad can be eaten alone as a cool lunch or even dinner, but it’s really a perfect dish to serve with other salads. Try putting it out with the watermelon feta salad with blueberries, the avocado tomato salad, or a tomato cucumber salad. Of course, if it’s a traditional summer BBQ, a potato salad with lemon mayo is a nice match too. 

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Chicken Macaroni Salad

  • Prep Time: 10 m
  • Cook Time: 20 m
  • Servings:
    side servings


  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 1 pound elbow or cavatappi pasta
  • ¾ cup pecans coarsely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • pounds chicken breast
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 ribs celery chopped
  • cups red seedless grapes halved (35)
  • ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


  1. Start by preparing your ingredients. Place the diced red onion in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let it soak for 20 minutes (or as long as it takes you to prepare the other ingredients) to make it less pungent and then drain the water away.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Season the water generously with salt and cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse the pasta with cold water. Let the pasta drain well and then set it aside in a large bowl.
  3. Toast the pecans by tossing them in a dry skillet over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or on a sheet pan in the oven at 350ºF for 10 minutes. Set the toasted pecans aside.
  4. Season the chicken breast with the dried thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pre-heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little olive oil to the pan and sauté the chicken breast for 5 to 6 minutes on each side until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, let it rest for 5 minutes and then cut the chicken into ½ -inch cubes. Add the chicken to the bowl with the pasta.
  5. Drain the red onion and pat it dry with a clean paper towel. Add the onion to the bowl with the chicken and pasta, along with the toasted pecans, celery, grapes and parsley.
  6. Combine the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard in a small bowl. Add half of the dressing to the bowl and stir to coat everything with the dressing.
  7. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes. When ready to serve, stir the salad and add more dressing as needed. (The pasta will absorb the dressing as it sits.)
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Comments (5)Post a Reply

  1. 5 stars
    I wanted a pasta salad but didn’t want it “with” something and when I got your recipe I knew I had to try it and boy, am I and my husband glad I did ! I did almost everything as directed except at the last minute I discovered I had no apple cider vinegar! So I just tinkered with a little aged sherry vinegar and a little brown sugar and then added some boiled apple cider till it said Wow! Thanks so much for another standout recipe! I look forward to more! Sincerely,

  2. 5 stars
    I have a nut allergy so had to omit but in my opinion, didn’t matter! This salad is wonderful! It is that good! Thank you Meredith for this delicious salad which I will be making for family to enjoy!

  3. 5 stars
    great recipe but also love pickled ed onions looking for how to make them.Would this work in the recipe instead of soaking in water

    1. Sure you could add pickled onions to your macaroni salad. To pickle onions bring 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon salt and 2 Tablespoons sugar to a boil. Soak the onions for at least 1 hour. They should last up to 2 weeks.

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