Hawaiian macaroni salad is an iconic and super popular side dish served across all of Hawaii. It's rich and creamy with a good balance between savory, sweet, and some tang. Our recipe is dairy free with 2 versions to chose from, whether you like it with relish or just vinegar. It's perfect for your next potluck with these easy beef bulgogi meatballs or some jalapeño popper wonton cups!
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Please scroll down to the recipe card for the ingredient quantities!
- Dry elbow pasta - Elbow shaped pasta is the classic choice. However, feel free to use any small tube shaped pastas like cellentani, penne, or even fusillini. We do recommend choosing a pasta with ridges on the outside so that the dressing can cling on well.
- Carrot - To add a little color, sweetness, and texture.
- Yellow onion - This is a must have. Yellow onion adds so much flavor to the dressing.
- Sweet relish - This is used in version 1 of our Hawaiian macaroni salad dressing. It replaces the need to add vinegar and sugar, and it also adds additional texture. This choice this is definitely for relish lovers.
- Apple cider vinegar and sugar - If you were to opt the dressing without relish, use apple cider vinegar and sugar (as provided in dressing version 2). This combination gives the Hawaiian mac salad a simple tangy and mildly sweet flavor.
- Mayo - The main ingredient for Hawaiian macaroni salad dressing. We used Hellman's real mayo.
- Salt - For salting the pasta water and to season the dressing.
- Black pepper - A little kick from cracked black pepper helps to balance out the richness of the macaroni salad.
- Ham, spam, can tuna, hard boiled eggs - These are all optional proteins that you can add to the Hawaiian macaroni salad. You can also do without any proteins at all.
How to make Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe and instructions!
1. Cook the pasta. Bring a pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Add the dry elbow pasta and cook until tender, about 12 to 14 minutes. Drain well and set aside to let the pasta cool completely.
🌟 Pro tip: We recommend adding about 1 tablespoon of salt per 4 quarts of water. Also, make sure the pasta is cooked until tender, NOT al-dente!
2. Make the dressing. In a large mixing bowl, combine the grated carrots and onions, relish (or apple cider vinegar and sugar), mayo, salt, and black pepper. Mix until well combined.
📝 Note: We provided measurements for two versions of this this Hawaiian macaroni salad dressing in the recipe card below. So feel free to choose the one you prefer.
3. Assemble the mac salad. Once the pasta has cooled, add it to the prepared dressing and mix well.
4. Chill and serve. Cover and refrigerate the macaroni salad for at least a few hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, gently fold the macaroni salad and top with a little more cracked black pepper. Enjoy!
- Grate the onion using the spiky side of the box grater. This helps to break down the onion really fine and juices the onion at the same time. Because the onion is so finely grated, it adds so much more flavor the the dressing.
- Allow the macaroni salad to chill for at least a few hours or even overnight. This not only help the pasta absorb and bind better with the dressing, it also helps to mellow and make the mac salad taste more rounded.
- If adding canned tuna to the macaroni salad, make sure to drain it well.
Hawaiian macaroni salad is best enjoyed after chilling for at least a few hours or the next day, but it is best to finish the mac salad within 3 to 4 days of making. This is because the onion is grated, which encourages the onion to break down faster.
With this said, this macaroni salad is great for making a day ahead for potlucks, holidays, and gatherings!
The main differences between the classic and the Hawaiian macaroni salad is the addition of grated onions in the Hawaiian version and the use of mustard in classic macaroni salads.
Our Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe is dairy free, but not all recipes are. So make sure to check the ingredients!
Sweet relish is a good substitute for the addition of apple cider vinegar and sugar, as suggested in version 1 of our Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe. If you're not a fan of relish and want to stick to using vinegar, we recommend substituting white balsamic vinegar for apple cider vinegar.
Yes, absolutely! Hawaiian macaroni salad actually tastes better and more rounded after refrigerating overnight. So this is perfect for making ahead of time for potlucks, holidays, and gatherings.
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
For the macaroni salad:
For the dressing (version 1):
- Cook the macaroni:Bring a pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Add the elbow pasta and cook until tender, NOT to al-dente, about 12 to 14 minutes. Stir occasionally.*We recommend adding about 1 tablespoon of salt per 4 quarts of water.*
- Once cooked, drain the pasta well and set aside and let the pasta to cool completely.
- Make the dressing:For either version of the dressing, combine the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix until well combined.
- Assemble:Once the macaroni has cooled, add it to the prepared dressing and mix until everything is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours until chilled, or overnight.
- Serve:Before serving, give the macaroni salad a gentle stir and sprinkle a little more cracked black pepper on top if desired. Enjoy!
- Optional proteins - Hawaiian macaroni salad can be made with or without any protein. Both tastes amazing! Some of the most popular protein choices are ham or spam, can tuna, and hard boiled eggs. If using canned tuna, make sure to drain the tuna before adding to the salad!
- Dressing options - We provided 2 dressing options and both tastes great! If you're a relish fan, you'll definitely love version 1. Version two is simple and tastes a bit tangier.