Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is a quick and easy side dish made with pantry staples. With a creamy, tangy dressing, this refreshing cold macaroni salad promises to be your new potluck favorite!
Easy Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
This Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is one of the easiest macaroni salad recipes ever – and everybody loves it!
An authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad is not only a quick and easy side dish, but it’s also made with minimal ingredients. It’s creamy and refreshing, with a tangy mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar dressing folded into perfectly cooked macaroni and little bites of crisp vegetables. It pairs well with nearly everything!
This cold salad is great all year long, but especially refreshing on hot summer days. I like to serve this salad alongside burgers or salmon, as well as grilled beer can chicken. It’s also great with sloppy joes, pulled pork, and pulled chicken.
This macaroni Hawaiian salad promises to be a go-to salad. It was MADE FOR potlucks, picnics, and backyard gatherings!
“This salad is so simple and absolutely delicious! I will definitely be making this again and again.”Diane
Why You’ll Love This Macaroni Salad Recipe
If you’re a fan of traditional macaroni salad, you’re sure to like this one as well. Here’s why this recipe is a favorite:
- Pantry ingredients. You probably have all the ingredients needed to make this salad already in your pantry and fridge, which is great for those times when the neighbors invite you over for a last-minute BBQ. You can use any small pasta shape if you don’t have elbow macaroni on hand.
- The perfect blend of creamy and crunchy. The mayonnaise creates an ultra-creamy sauce to coat the pasta, which is irresistible. And the veggies add little crunchy bites of fresh flavor.
- Quick to prepare. This is always a great selling point. You can also easily double the recipe and keep it in a big container in the fridge until party time.
- Versatile. I love that this salad goes with everything from hot dogs to grilled salmon!
- Great to make ahead. This salad actually likes to be made ahead of time, which is great for entertaining.
What Makes This Salad Hawaiian?
When I was first introduced to this salad, I kept looking for the pineapple and ham. There wasn’t any!
So, what is Hawaiian macaroni salad, anyway?!
I quickly learned that this no-frills macaroni salad from the Aloha State was simply meant to easily pair with a wide variety of foods. It’s creamy, with a sweet, tangy flavor, which makes it the perfect side to many savory entrees. In Hawaii, this salad is usually served on a lunch plate next to rice and sauced-up meats.
A Hawaiian macaroni salad differs from a traditional mainland USA macaroni salad in that it’s just super simple, with few ingredients. The dressing is made mostly with mayonnaise, plus a little apple cider vinegar and a touch of sugar. You won’t find mustard or other flavorings. And the vegetables are only carrots, celery, and green onions – although you’ll often find this salad made with only carrots. This is so unlike the macaroni salad I grew up on that includes mix-ins such as ham, cheese, pickle relish, and peas!
I’ve included a list of everything you need for this recipe below.
Scroll down to the printable recipe card for exact ingredient amounts and full instructions.
- Elbow macaroni – I’m using elbow macaroni, as it’s the traditional pasta for Hawaiian macaroni salad. But pretty much any small pasta shape will work – fusilli, cavatappi, rotini, wheels, etc.
- Vegetables – Carrots, celery, and green onions are the most commonly used add-ins for this pasta salad. Be sure to shred or dice them into small bites so there aren’t any large chunks.
- Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise is the base of the dressing. It adds richness and creaminess.
- Milk – Milk thins the dressing a little, so it evenly coats the pasta.
- Sweet onion – Grated sweet onion adds delicious flavor and a subtle bite to the dressing. I grate the onion using a box grater, like I do when making my mom’s sweet onion and vinegar coleslaw.
- Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar gives the dressing a little pop of tanginess.
- Sugar – Just a little bit of sugar adds a light sweetness to the dressing.
- Salt – Salt seasons the dressing so the pasta salad tastes delicious.
How to Make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Hawaiian macaroni salad is easy to make – here’s how:
- Boil the macaroni. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the elbow macaroni to al dente. Drain the macaroni and rinse it under cold water until it’s no longer warm to the touch.
- Mix the pasta with the vegetables. Combine the cooled macaroni, carrots, celery, and green onions in a large bowl.
- Make the dressing. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, grated onion, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and kosher salt.
- Fold dressing into the pasta and vegetables. Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture and fold to combine.
Tips for Success
Even though this is a very easy macaroni salad, here are a few tips to ensure success:
- Cook the pasta to al dente. Elbow macaroni cooks pretty quickly – and you definitely don’t want to overcook it so it’s overly soft. The pasta will soak up some of the dressing, so cooking it to the point where it’s still a bit firm is the right consistency.
- Chop the vegetables into small bites. You almost want the vegetables to disappear into this creamy pasta salad. Go for a hint of crunch rather than big pieces.
- Keep it simple. One of the beauties of this salad is that it’s just so simple. No pickles, no added ham, no mustard. The idea is that the creamy, tangy/sweet dressing is the star of the show.
- Not a fan of onion? If onion isn’t really your thing, try adding half the amount and give it a taste test. Then add more if you like. Even though the onion is grated and incorporates easily into the salad, it still gives a lot of flavor to this salad.
- Adjust the consistency. If you’d like a thicker dressing, only add half the milk.
- Use best ingredients. Be sure you use real mayo and not salad dressing (like Miracle Whip). Salad dressing has added sugar and flavorings that will give the salad a different texture and flavor. I also recommend full-fat mayo and whole milk to ensure the creamiest salad with the richest flavor.
- Chill it! Be sure to allow enough time for the salad to chill after you make it. One hour is ok, but 2-4 hours is more desirable, as the salad is much more refreshing when fully chilled. Plus it lets the flavors mingle. This is also a great make-ahead salad. If you have the time, prepare it the day prior!
What Goes With Macaroni Salad?
You can serve Hawaiian macaroni salad with almost anything! Here are some of my favorite pairings:
- Grilled meat. Try macaroni Hawaiian salad with grilled chicken skewers, goat cheese stuffed turkey burgers, easy grilled pork chops, or Hawaiian chicken chili kebabs. We like to eat it with beer can chicken, grilled steak, and anything slathered in barbeque sauce!
- Seafood on the grill. We loooooove to make fish and a variety of seafood on the grill. Serve the salad with grilled chipotle-orange salmon, margarita grilled shrimp, or sweet and smoky grilled salmon.
- Lots of vegetables. Continuing in the grilled theme, try serving this easy macaroni salad alongside grilled romaine salad, grilled vegetable salad, or grilled asparagus.
- A fresh salad. A fresh green salad is wonderful served with the creamy macaroni salad. Try my arugula beet salad, light Cucumber Salad, or strawberry salad recipes.
How to Store Extras
Store any leftover pasta salad in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Serve cold.
More Potluck Recipes to Try
- Creamy Homemade Coleslaw
- Dill Pickle Potato Salad
- Broccoli Salad
- Quick Pickled Asparagus
- German Potato Salad
- Grilled Chicken and Lemon Orzo Salad
Like this Recipe? Save to Pinterest
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
For the Pasta Salad
- 1 box 16 ounces elbow macaroni
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- ½ cup finely diced celery
- ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
For the Dressing
- 1¼ cups mayonnaise
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ cup grated sweet yellow onion
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the pasta salad: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the elbow macaroni to al dente according to the package directions– about 10 minutes. Drain the macaroni and rinse it under cold water until it is no longer warm to the touch.
- Add the cooled macaroni, shredded carrots, diced celery, and sliced green onions to a large bowl.
- For the dressing: In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, grated sweet onion, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and kosher salt. I often add ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper, too – if you like black pepper, definitely add some!
- Pour dressing over the pasta mixture and fold gently to combine.