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How To Make Easy Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad

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This delicious Hawaiian macaroni salad is known for its simplicity and is a popular side dish on a lunch plate throughout the islands. 


It’s a twist on the classic macaroni salad with a creamy dressing and a unique blend of flavors.

Whether you’re having lunch at one of the local restaurants or grabbing a bite at one of the popular food trucks on the islands, this authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad is sure to be on the menu!

It’s a simple recipe that’s a perfect side dish that is very popular during the summer!


 Hawaiian style mac salad is one of my favorite recipes for family gatherings or summer cookouts.

So let’s dive into the simple steps to recreate this iconic big island delight!

Simple Ingredients for Hawaiian Mac Salad

There is a jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of apple cider vinegar, a blue box with dry elbow pasta, a white round shallow dish with an onion in it, a small clear glass bowl with milk in it, two peeled carrots, and three very small clear glass bowls with dry ground seasonings in them. Items are on a white marbled surface.

Key Ingredients

Elbow Macaroni Noodles: While you can use any small pasta to make this salad, the tubular shape of elbow noodles captures the creamy dressing making every bite tasty. (see Tips)

Apple Cider Vinegar: Adding vinegar to macaroni salad gives the salad a wonderful tangy flavor. (see FAQ’s)

Mayonnaise: Real mayonnaise such as Hellman’s (also known as Best Foods Mayonnaise in some regions) is best to use for authentic Hawaiian mac salad. Salad dressing like Miracle Whip will alter the taste.

Milk: Adds to the creaminess of the dressing base. Whole milk is recommended. Heavy cream can be substituted. 

Fresh Carrots: Grated carrots add a crunch and color to the creamy macaroni salad!

Onion: Grated onion adds a layer of flavor. You can use sweet onion or yellow onion. 

Sugar: Just a little bit of sugar balances the vinegar.

Salt and Black Pepper: Add to fit personal taste.

Garlic powder: Completely optional but it adds a little savor to the subtle flavors of the creamy dressing.

Green Onions: Optional garnish.

There is a small white bowl with cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, small pieces of pineapple, and a creamy white sauce mixed together. In the background there is a large clear glass bowl with the same mixture. There is a white cloth napkin laying next to the large clear Items are on a white marbled surface.

Optional Additions:

  • Pineapple bits
  • Chopped hard-boiled eggs
  • Cubed ham, fried spam, or canned tuna for added protein

Classic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Recipe

There is a large white pot with pasta cooking in boiling water.
  • Cook the macaroni noodles a few minutes longer than the package directions. 
  • You want the pasta to be extra soft. (see Tips)
There is a wooden cutting board with a mound of shredded carrots and grated onions. There is a flat metal grater utensil on the board with part of an onion on it. The wooden cutting board is on a white marbled surface.
  • While the pasta is cooking, grate the onion and carrots. 
  • Set aside.
There is a large clear glass bowl with cooked elbow pasta in it. There is a wooden spoon resting in the bowl. In front of the large bowl, there is a small clear glass bowl with a light brown liquid (apple cider vinegar) in it. Items are on a white marbled surface.
  •  Dump the drained pasta into a large bowl.
  • Pour the apple cider vinegar over the top of the warm pasta.
  • Gently stir until the vinegar is absorbed.
There is a large clear glass bowl with cooked elbow pasta in it. There is a sheet of plastic wrap covering the entire top of the bowl. The bowl is on a white marbled surface.
  • Cover the bowl with a fitting lid or plastic wrap.
  •  Refrigerate until cooled.
There is a clear glass bowl with creamy mayonnaise in it. There is a metal whisk utensil resting in the bowl. To the side of the bowl there are three very small clear bowls with dry ground seasonings in them. One has black pepper in it, one has salt in it and the third small bowl has white sugar in it. There is also a metal measuring cup with milk in it next to the large glass bowl. Items are on a white marbled surface.

While the pasta is cooling make the dressing:

  • Place the mayo in a bowl.
There is a clear glass bowl with creamy mayonnaise in it. There is a metal whisk utensil resting in the bowl. To the side of the bowl there are three very small clear bowls with dry ground seasonings in them. One has black pepper in it, one has salt in it and the third small bowl has white sugar in it. Items are on a white marbled surface.
  • Whisk in the milk.
There is a clear glass bowl with creamy mayonnaise in it. There is ground black pepper, salt, and sugar sprinkled over the top. There is a metal whisk utensil resting in the bowl. The bowl is on a white marbled surface.
  • Add the sugar, salt, and pepper.
  • ​Mix well.
  • Set aside.
There is a large clear glass bowl with cooked elbow noodles and a mound of carrots and grated onions on top of the noodles. There is a wooden spoon resting in the bowl. Ind the background there is a clear glass bowl with a creamy white sauce in it. The bowls are on a white marbled surface.
  • Once the pasta has cooled, add the grated carrots and onion.
There is a large clear glass bowl with cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, and grated onions mixed together. There is a wooden spoon resting in the bowl. Ind the background there is a clear glass bowl with a creamy white sauce in it. The bowls are on a white marbled surface.
  • Mix well.
There is a large clear glass bowl with cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, and grated onions mixed together. There is a white creamy sauce poured over the top of the noodle mixture. There is a wooden spoon resting in the bowl. The bowl is on a white marbled surface.
  • Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture.
  • Gently stir all together.
There is a large clear glass bowl with cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, grated onions, and a creamy white sauce mixed together. The bowl is on a white marbled surface.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Overnight is even better.
  • If you’re really in a hurry, you can serve the macaroni salad right away, but it will taste better once it has time to rest and soak up all the flavors!
  •  Stir before serving, adding a little milk if needed.
  • Garnish with chopped green onions.

See recipe card below for complete measurements and times.

Tips For Success

  • Using real mayonnaise is important when making this classic Hawaiian Mac Salad. Low-fat or light mayo will make the dressing less creamy. 
  • Often pasta salad recipes use very tasty salad dressing but it’s not recommended for Hawaii’s mac salad.
  • Cooking the pasta way past “al dente” is a key step to making Hawaii’s most popular side dish!
  • Be sure to cook the pasta 3 to 5 minutes longer than the package directions.
  • The longer you chill Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad the better!
  • Pasta salad always tastes better the next day so if you can, make it the day before your summer BBQ!
There is a clear glass bowl of cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, grated onions, and a creamy white sauce mixed together. There is a spoon of the noodle mixture being held above the bowl. The bowl is on a white marbled surface.

What to serve with Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

On the Hawaiian islands, macaroni salad is often served with a local dish of chicken katsu or kalua pork. I like to serve this easy recipe aside potato salad with fried chicken, steakburgers, or hot dogs.

How To Store Leftover Pasta Salad

 Place leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to four days.

Add a splash of milk if needed and a good stir before serving!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Hawaiian plate lunch?

A typical Hawaiian plate lunch includes a scoop of mac salad and a scoop of white rice with some sort of pork, chicken, or fish.

Why add vinegar to macaroni salad?

When vinegar is added to hot pasta noodles, the noodles become more absorbent which helps them soak up the flavor of the the dressing.

Do I need to rinse the cooked pasta under cold water?

Some macaroni salads ask for the noodles to be rinsed under cold water after boiling to stop the cooking process. With Hawaiian macaroni salad, you DO NOT rinse the cooked pasta.

The hot, overcooked noodles need to absorb the vinegar which is important to the overall flavor of the pasta salad.

There is a clear glass bowl of cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, grated onions, and a creamy white sauce mixed together. There is a spoon resting in the bowl. The bowl is on a white marbled surface.

Looking for more recipes for backyard cookouts or family gatherings?

Check out these delicious dishes!

Yield: 12 servings

How To Make Easy Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad

There is a green rectangular plate. On the plate there is a scoop of cooked elbow noodles, chopped carrots, grated onions, and a creamy white sauce mixed together. There is also a scoop of white rice and two pieces of fried boneless chicken on the plate.

This delicious Hawaiian macaroni salad is known for its simplicity and is a popular side dish on a lunch plate throughout the islands. 

It's a twist on the classic macaroni salad with a creamy dressing and a unique blend of flavors.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry elbow macaroni pasta
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2.5 cups real mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup grated sweet onion
  • 2 fresh carrots - peeled and grated
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder - optional
  • Optional Additions:
  • 1/2 cup crushed pineapple - drained well
  • 3 chopped hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 cups cubed ham, fried spam, or canned tuna

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove over high heat, then cook the macaroni noodles in it according to package directions and tack on an additional 3 minutes to the cooking time so the pasta will be extra soft and absorb the dressing better.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, grate the onion and carrots. Set aside.
  3. Carefully drain the cooked pasta in a colander and then dump it into a large bowl.
  4. Pour the apple cider vinegar evenly over the top of the warm pasta and gently stir until the vinegar is absorbed.
  5. Cover the bowl with a fitting lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  6. While the pasta is cooling make the dressing.
  7. Place the mayo in a separate bowl.
  8. Whisk in the milk.
  9. Add the sugar, salt and pepper.
  10. Set aside.
  11. Once the pasta has cooled, add the grated carrots and onion.
  12. Mix gently.
  13. Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture.
  14. Gently stir until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  15. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Overnight is even better.
  16.  Gently stir before serving, add a little more milk if needed, no more than a tablespoon or two.

Notes

Tips For Success

  • Using real mayonnaise is important when making this classic Hawaiian Mac Salad. Low-fat or light mayo will make the dressing less creamy. 
  • Often pasta salad recipes use very tasty salad dressing but it's not recommended for Hawaii's mac salad.
  • Cooking the pasta way past "al dente" is a key step to making Hawaii's most popular side dish!
  • Be sure to cook the pasta 3 to 5 minutes longer than the package directions.
  • The longer you chill Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad the better! Pasta salad always tastes better the next day so if you can, make it the day before your summer BBQ!
  • Some macaroni salads ask for the noodles to be rinsed under cold water after boiling to stop the cooking process. With Hawaiian macaroni salad, you DO NOT rinse the cooked pasta. 
  • The hot, overcooked noodles need to absorb the vinegar which is important to the flavor of the pasta salad.

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