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I Tried 8 Store-Bought Macaroni Salads & The Winner Tasted Like a Summer Day

Don't settle for just any mac salad this summer—pick up the most delicious brand on your next grocery trip!

Now that we're fully in the swing of summer, there are picnics, barbecues, and parties of all kinds happening almost every time I turn around—and I wouldn't have it any other way. But that means a constant need for some kind of summer party food like potato salad or its creamy, pasta-laden cousin: the macaroni salad.

Now I am a macaroni salad snacker and will happily keep it stocked in my fridge for a rainy Tuesday evening, but I also love to bring it along to the park for a summer picnic, too. So I know exactly where to shop for the best macaroni salad to make all my friends and family happy.

The perfect macaroni salad (in my humble opinion) has the perfect balance of noodles, vegetables, and vinegar. None of the flavors outshine the others, and the vinegar doesn't smack you in the face—but you still want to be able to taste it! You also want there to be enough vegetables to add some crunch and brightness. Macaroni salads will vary, of course, and no mac salad will ever compare to how grandma made it, but if you're lucky, you'll find a grocery store or deli version that comes very close.

I recently shopped through eight stores in my local New York-New Jersey area to gather as many store-bought macaroni salads as possible. My mission: to see which ones were close to grandma's recipe and which ones you should bring to your next summer cookout. I evaluated them based on their balance of noodles, vegetables, and vinegar, as well as the overall taste and freshness.

Here's how each macaroni salad stacked up, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the best-tasting one.

Reser's Classic Macaroni Salad

a container of reser's macaroni salad next to a plate of it
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per ½ Cup Serving)
Calories: 380
Fat: 28 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 1150 mg
Carbs: 27 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 10 g)
Protein: 4 g

Reser's macaroni salad comes in a few different sizes, including a family size tub so you can stock up for big get-togethers and feed a crowd. The brand also makes plenty of other side dishes so all your party needs will be met (though I'm not sure you'll want to bring a Reser's macaroni salad to a party). I got this one-pound tub for $5.79 at my local Stop & Shop.

The look: This macaroni salad is so juicy—much juicier than some of the competitors. There weren't many veggies, though.

The taste: I struggled to find much flavor in this at all. There's an overwhelming sweetness, though, which was off-putting. Sugar is very high up in the ingredient list, and you can tell. (A whole 10 grams of sugar per serving, according to the nutrition label.) The only thing I could taste was the sugar and nothing else. No vinegar, no spices, no vegetables.

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Wegmans Macaroni Salad

a container of wegman's macaroni salad next to a plate of it
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per ¾ Cup Serving)
Calories: 420
Fat: 37 g (Saturated Fat: 6 g)
Sodium: 740 mg
Carbs: 19 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 2 g)
Protein: 5 g

As much as I love a macaroni salad and as much as I love Wegmans, I can't recommend bringing this Wegmans macaroni salad on your next park date. The 13-ounce tub cost me $6.39. Let's discuss where the popular East Coast grocer went wrong here.

The look: You could plainly see there were plenty of vegetables in this store-brand macaroni salad (carrot, celery, and onion are among the listed ingredients), which is one thing I did like. It was also a very creamy salad, which should have been a good thing.

The taste: Bland. Unfortunately, despite being a very amply dressed macaroni salad, none of the dressing had any flavor. There was a hint of sweetness from the added sugar, but other flavors were largely absent. Reading down the list of ingredients—mayo, onion, mustard, sea salt, "spice"—actually baffled me because some of those things should have come through, but I couldn't taste any of them.

Häns Kissle Elbow Macaroni Salad

a container of hans kissle macaroni salad next to a plate of it
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 227 g Serving)
Calories: 830
Fat: 40 g (Saturated Fat: 6 g)
Sodium: 960 mg
Carbs: 102 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 16 g)
Protein: 16 g

Häns Kissle's macaroni salad, which I purchased for $4.79 at Stop & Shop, comes in a single-serve container, which is great for packing in your lunch or having for a snack (if you're willing to consume this many calories or grams of sodium in one sitting). The brand also makes a section of other salads and prepared foods.

The look: This juicy little mac salad was so yellow! Looking at the ingredient list, I saw that it was made with eggs and mustard, so I knew that's where the hue came from, but it was a bit of a surprise at first. It was also packed with veggies.

The taste: If the color didn't tell me there was mustard in this macaroni salad, the taste certainly would. This macaroni salad is really sour from both the mustard and the vinegar. The noodles were also really tough. It was hard to eat very much of this because it was so mouth-puckeringly tart. The vegetables added some contrast and texture, but the mustardy flavor was a lot to handle.

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Wellesley Farms Traditional Macaroni Salad

a container of wellsley farms macaroni salad with some macaroni salad on a plate
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per ⅔ Cup Serving):
Calories: 550
Fat: 27 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 640 mg
Carbs: 68 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 10 g)
Protein: 11 g

I don't usually shop at BJ's Wholesale Club, so this store-brand Wellesley Farms macaroni salad was new to me. But I'm always down to try new things (and new stores). Plus, I love a big-box store that caters to bulk-size products, so the family can stock up for our summer picnics! A 2-pound tub cost me $6.39.

The look: This macaroni salad was also on the yellow side, because it's similarly made with a healthy dose of mustard. This one had the largest vegetable chunks of all brands in this survey, which I loved.

The taste: Overwhelmingly mustardy—it's all you can taste. The combination of mustard and vinegar is too much, and even having large vegetable chunks doesn't help. The noodles were also really hard, so it was unpleasant to try to chew.

Thumann's Macaroni Salad

a container of thumanns macaroni salad next to a plate of it
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 4-oz. Serving)
Calories: 260
Fat: 17 g (Saturated Fat: 2.5 g)
Sodium: 380 mg
Carbs: 22 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 4 g

Thumann's, which I picked up for $5.66 at my local ShopRite, gives grandma vibes because the brand bills its macaroni salad as "the deli best." When I think of what I'm getting at the deli, that just makes me think of grandma. Would grandma approve of this recipe? Let's see.

The look: A bit dry. A well-made macaroni salad has enough dressing to hold everything together, but here the sauce was so scarce that the salad practically fell apart when I scooped it. It was also very skimpy on veggies and was mostly just noodles.

The taste: The noodles were cooked perfectly al dente, which I liked. The flavor was mild and not too vinegary, though I wanted more vegetables to add some brightness and texture. The flavor overall just felt a bit boring—not bad, just boring.

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Bowl & Basket Specialty Macaroni Salad

a container of bowl and basket macaroni salad next to a plate of it
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per ⅔ Cup Serving)
Calories: 510
Fat: 26 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 580 mg
Carbs: 60 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 9 g)
Protein: 11 g

Bowl & Basket is Northeast grocer ShopRite's store brand, and it offers plenty of picnic-friendly salads, including this macaroni salad. A one-pound container cost me $3.99 at my local store in New Jersey.

The look: I was so excited to see how many vegetables were in Bowl & Basket's macaroni salad—this is a salad, after all! There were lots of green and red peppers, which added plenty of color to the pale yellow mixture.

The taste: Peppery. All those crunchy, red and green bits added bursts of flavor to what was otherwise a pretty standard vinegary pasta salad. I really liked the Bowl & Basket variety because of that veggie-forward vibrancy. Even so, there were two other salads that I enjoyed even more.

Trader Joe's Lemon Herb Macaroni Salad

a container of trader joes lemon herb macaroni salad next to a plate of it
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per ⅔ Cup Serving)
Calories: 250
Fat: 15 g (Saturated Fat: 2 g)
Sodium: 830 mg
Carbs: 24 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 5 g

You can always count on Trader Joe's to offer a unique spin on things. TJ's lemon herb macaroni salad is certainly different, and I was honestly surprised I was able to find it, because it's pretty new to stores (which usually means it's flying off the shelves). I managed to snag a 12-ounce container for $3.99.

The look: So green! I actually thought I had opened a container of spinach and artichoke dip. There's a lot of greenery in the recipe (cucumber, celery, and caper relish, to name a few) and a lot of chunks.

The taste: Pleasantly unconventional. This is not grandma's macaroni salad! I worried I wouldn't like this macaroni salad because it is so different from the classic version, but it's actually very tasty. The lemon flavor is prominent, but it adds a lot of brightness to what is sometimes a heavy salad. You can still taste the vinegar, which reminds you that it is, in fact, a macaroni salad, and the salty, tangy capers are a fun touch for both texture and taste.

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Walmart Freshness Guaranteed Original Macaroni Salad

a container of walmart macaroni salad
Photo: Hedy Phillips, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per ¾ Cup Serving)
Calories: 310
Fat: 17 g (Saturated Fat: 3 g)
Sodium: 730 mg
Carbs: 30 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 8 g)
Protein: 5 g

Walmart has a collection of cool summery salads in the deli section, whether it's potato salad, macaroni salad, chicken salad, or the like. (There are also varieties of each, to get even more specific.) If you're having a summer picnic, your local Walmart will make it easier than ever to have your side dishes fully stocked up. I grabbed this 1-pound container of Walmart's original potato salad for $2.92.

The look: Perfectly chunky and creamy. There were plenty of vegetable pieces throughout this macaroni salad, and an ample amount of dressing to keep it all together. It looked like what grandma would make!

The taste: Grandma would be proud. This macaroni salad had the perfect amount of vinegar so that you get that zing but it's not overpowering like so many others in this survey. The noodles were also perfectly cooked, and there were enough vegetables to add texture and crunch. A handful of spices pump up the flavor, but again, nothing is too overpowering. It all melds together and tastes like a summer day.

If I were to pick one store-bought macaroni salad to bring to my next summer gathering, it would be Walmart's grandma-worthy macaroni salad.

Hedy Phillips
Hedy is a freelance writer with years of experience covering buzzy food trends, wellness, and weight loss. Read more about Hedy