Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a staple on a Hawaiian plate lunch. This classic side dish features elbow macaroni smothered in a mayonnaise dressing with grated carrot and onion. It's the perfect tangy and creamy counterpart to any meal.
(This recipe was originally published in January 2020, but was updated with new photos and content in 2023).
A trip to Hawaii sounds really amazing right now! In lieu of a plane ticket, harness the flavors of Hawaii through a simple recipe for an island classic. I'm not referring to Kalua pork or poke, although you can serve this recipe alongside either of those if you'd like.
Hawaiian macaroni salad, or mac salad, is perhaps as ubiquitous on the islands as pineapples. It's served everywhere, from potlucks to picnics, in restaurants and on food trucks. Next to rice, it’s perhaps the most popular side dish on the islands.
You can easily create this recipe in place of any macaroni salad. Even if you're not planning a Hawaiian-style meal, you can serve it with nearly anything. It's fantastic with burgers to ribs and everything in between.
Although it seems super straight forward and potentially basic, it's outrageously good! There's a reason it's practically its own food group on the Hawaiian islands.
There are similarities between Hawaiian mac salad and other American macaroni salads. A few specifics set the Hawaiian version apart from all the rest.
First of all, you absolutely must use Best Foods or Hellman's brand mayonnaise for the dressing. These are the only brands of mayonnaise that are used in this dish. They are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the US region where you purchase them. It's called Best Foods on the West Coast and in Hawaii, and Hellman's in the Midwest and East Coast.
Hawaiian mac salad is very mayo-forward. It may use more mayo than some of you are used to, but that's the way to make it. This macaroni salad is extra creamy and worth every calorie!
You'll also need elbow macaroni. Locals tend to overcook their macaroni, so the noodles are soft and fat. This is a situation where the chef can make the choice on how long to cook the noodles. Err on the longer side for a more traditional textured mac.
Other traditional components include grated carrot for texture and color and grated onion for a little sharpness. You'll also find some apple cider vinegar in this recipe, which adds tanginess.
A touch of milk loosens up the mayo to create the perfect consistency for the dressing while a little sugar helps cut the richness just a tad.
Please note that adding ham and/or pineapple to a dish doesn’t automatically make it “Hawaiian.” In fact, neither of those ingredients belong in Hawaiian mac salad.
How to make it
First, boil your elbow macaroni in salted water. Drain the pasta and transfer to a mixing bowl. Drizzle the top with apple cider vinegar, and add grated carrot and onion (PHOTO 1). Stir, and let it cool slightly for about 10 to 15 minutes (PHOTO 2).
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Combine mayonnaise with milk and sugar and whisk until smooth (PHOTOS 3-4).
Stir it into your macaroni and carrot/onion mixture, and season with salt and pepper to taste (PHOTOS 5-6).
Refrigerate your Hawaiian mac salad for 1 hour or overnight. If the mixture is a bit stiff before serving, thin it out with a touch more milk.
Please scroll to the bottom of the post for the full recipe (in a printable recipe card) including ingredient amounts and detailed instructions.
Store leftover Hawaiian macaroni salad for up to 3 days in a covered container in the refrigerator. If it seems a little stiff, add a splash or two of milk and give it a good stir to loosen it up before serving.
The serving size for this recipe is based on an ice cream scoop of salad per plate. You can even halve the quantity in the recipe below (I have on occasion), and it is still plentiful. If you desire more macaroni per person, make the full recipe, or even double it for a party or potluck.
Note that all of the process and finished photos in this post are of a double batch of Hawaiian mac salad using a pound of elbow macaroni.
You can include this fantastically simple Hawaiian mac salad in a classic plate lunch. This terminology refers to a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad.
This can include macaroni (or mac) salad, potato mac salad or even tuna mac salad. Some versions even add 'ulu (breadfruit). Make your own classic Hawaiian plate lunch by pairing this easy Hawaiian mac salad with another standby: Loco Moco.
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- New England Lobster Rolls
- Hawaiian Butter Mochi
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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad (Mac Salad)
- 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 carrot peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons grated onion (it will be liquidy)
- 1 ¼ cups Best Foods or Hellman’s mayonnaise (I use Light Hellman's—same great taste, less calories!)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package directions (see notes). Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the top, add the carrot and onion, stir, and let it cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and sugar. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the macaroni, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Gently stir before serving, and if needed thin it out with a teaspoon or two of milk or a little more mayo.
- The locals tend to overcook the pasta until it’s soft and fat. I prefer to cook until tender but not really overcooked. This is a matter of personal preference.
- You absolutely must use Best Foods or Hellman's brand mayonnaise for the dressing. These are the only brands of mayo that are traditionally used in this dish. They are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the US region where you purchase them.
- The serving size for this recipe is based on an ice cream scoop of salad per plate. You can even halve the quantity in the recipe, and it is still plentiful. If you desire more macaroni per person, make the full recipe, or even double it for a party or potluck.
- You can include this fantastically simple Hawaiian mac salad on a classic plate lunch. This terminology refers to a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad. Make your own classic Hawaiian plate lunch by pairing this easy Hawaiian mac salad with another standby: Loco Moco.
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*