Hawaiian Macaroni Salad (Mac Salad) is made with a handful of simple ingredients and a super creamy dressing. This easy recipe is the perfect side dish for summer cookouts!
If you have ever been to the Hawaiian Islands or enjoyed a Hawaiian plate lunch at your favorite Hawaiian food trucks or Hawaiian restaurant, you've probably tasted Hawaiian style macaroni salad. It's amazing, right?
I had my first taste of this delicious Hawaiian pasta salad when I visited Hawaii a few years ago. Even though I can get my mac salad fix at our local Hawaiian BBQ place, I finally started making my own Hawaiian macaroni salad so we can enjoy it anytime.
Serve this delicious side dish with pulled pork, BBQ chicken, teriyaki chicken or your favorite BBQ recipes. Make your own plate lunch with a scoop of rice, (We love jasmine rice) chicken katsu, kalua pork or Huli Huli chicken.
Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Like potato salad, every local Hawaiian cook has their own recipe for mac salad. And, the recipe will also vary with different restaurants. One of our favorite Hawaiian restaurants adds tuna to their salad!
Basically, what makes macaroni salad Hawaiian is lots of real mayo so that it is very creamy. The pasta should be soft, and grated onion will give it a distinct flavor. You can read all about the origins of mac salad in this article.
You only need a handful of ingredients for this Hawaiian mac salad recipe. They should be easy to find in your local grocery store.
- Macaroni -- I use Barilla brand macaroni noodles, but any brand will do
- Mayonnaise -- It needs to be real mayo, not Miracle Whip, as the flavor will change. I use Best Foods mayo, which is known as Hellman's brand east of the Mississippi. Some people swear by Dukes mayo or Kewpie mayo if you can find those.
- Half and Half -- or milk. Try to use 2 percent milk or whole milk to keep the dressing creamy.
- Apple cider vinegar -- gives the salad a nice tang and cuts the sweetness
- Sugar -- White sugar adds a little sweetness to the dressing
- Carrots -- grated carrots, not diced or sliced. You can use matchstick carrots if you prefer more texture.
- Onion -- either white onion or yellow onion. It needs to be grated so that it blends well. Use the juice, too!
- Celery -- optional, but adds a nice crunch
- Salt and black pepper
How to Make Hawaiian Mac Salad
First, either cook the dry macaroni pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water or cook pasta in the Instant Pot. Cook macaroni just a little longer than al dente so it it is nice and soft.
Drain macaroni in a colander. Then, rinse with cold water -- I do this with all pasta salads so the pasta doesn't stick. Shake to remove excess water.
You can either sprinkle the ACV over the macaroni now, or add it with the dressing. It has a little more of a tangy flavor when sprinkled on the macaroni.
While the pasta is cooling down, make the simple dressing. Just add the mayo and milk to a large mixing bowl.
Sprinkle in the sugar, salt and pepper, and stir until the mixture is well combined.
Use the same bowl to make the rest of the salad. Just add the remaining ingredients to the dressing, and stir.
How to Store
Store macaroni salad in an airtight container in your refrigerator until ready to serve. I recommend allowing it to sit for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend. You can add a little more milk or mayo if needed before serving.
Omit the celery for a softer salad. Peas are a great addition to this salad.
Stir in a can of tuna for added protein and flavor. You can also add chopped up hard-boiled eggs or cooked potatoes for more of a Hawaiian potato mac salad.
If you don't like ACV, use rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar. You can also sub brown sugar for the granulated sugar.
Tips for the Best Mac Salad
Cook the pasta until soft and use lots of real mayo for the taste of authentic Hawaiian mac salad.
Adding vinegar directly to the cooked pasta will add more of a zip to the flavor.
Allow the macaroni salad to chill and the flavors to develop before adding extra ingredients. If the flavor is too tangy right away, it should mellow after sitting in the fridge.
Add a little milk or a mix of milk and mayo if needed before serving.
Like most macaroni salads, mac salad keeps well for about 4 days. Although you can freeze it, the creamy texture isn't the same when thawed.
Traditional Hawaiian macaroni salad is made with softer pasta, grated onion and more mayonnaise. Mainland macaroni salad typically uses al dente pasta, diced bell peppers and onions and less mayo. Sometimes, sour cream or Greek yogurt are used to lighten up the dressing.
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Recipe
- 1 pound dry elbow macaroni
- 2½ cups mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup half and half whole milk or 2%
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup yellow onion grated with juice
- 2 small carrots grated
- 2 small celery ribs finely diced
- Cook the macaroni in a large pot of water until soft or a little past al dente. Or cook in the Instant Pot
- Drain macaroni in colander, and rinse under cold water. Allow to drain
- Sprinkle ACV over cooked pasta, and stir. Set aside
- In a large bowl, mix the mayo, half and half or milk, and sugar until well combined
- Add the cooked macaroni and stir in remaining ingredients until well blended
- Refrigerate in a covered container for 2 hours or until ready to serve.
Nutrition information is estimated. Please do your own calculation to fit special diets.
Hawaiian macaroni salad is a great recipe to serve at your next BBQ or luau. My family is crazy about my recipe, and I hope you enjoy this creamy macaroni salad as much as we do.
If you do try this simple recipe, please leave a star rating and/or comment.
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Made this for a cookout, and it was a hit! Will definitely be bringing this dish to all my future gatherings!!
Thank you so much! Glad you liked the salad.
This mac salad is so good!! Now that it's getting warmer I'm trying new cold salad recipes and this one was something I never saw before. I made it for dinner last night and my family loved it! If I add tuna for protein like you suggest then I can make this into a main dish. Delicious!!
Awesome, Cassidy. So happy you liked the salad!
Somebody recommended this recipe so I had to try it! What a unique flavor and not so much Mato taste! This is my new go to for potlucks!
Yum! I made this delicious salad for a Mother's Day potluck, and everyone loved it. There were no leftovers!
Delicious!! Even my picky eater enjoyed this! Thanks for the recipe!
Found this recipe and had to try it! Sweet and tangy no mayo flavor. I big thumbs up from the family too!
This salad has all the flavors that I appreciate! I am sure it will be a hit in our house!
We do a ton of grilling and barbecuing in the summer, and this is going to be on the table every single time we fire up the grill. Yum!
Debi H says
Delicious! One of the better macaroni salads that I have made. Thank you for the recipe!
Thank you so much, Deb. I'm glad you liked it!