Hawaiian macaroni salad is one of our favorite dinner side dishes. It is indulgent, creamy and comforting. This authentic side dish from Hawaii is excellent for summer BBQs, and any Asian meal. It is a Hawaiian plate-lunch classic and has excellent flavor and texture compared to the classic American pasta salad – SO delicious!
I got introduced to Hawaiian Macaroni Salad at a little Hawaiian restaurant called Local Boyz. The food they do is wonderful! Beef ribs with crunchy edges in a sweet and savory sauce, Huli Huli Chicken and flavorful steak strips. Everything is served up in the Hawaiian plate lunch style with big scoops of white rice and Hawaiian mac salad.
Local Boyz is so popular that we often have to get our food to go because we can’t find a table. Now we live in a different state and I’ve never found another Hawaiian restaurant that compares so we make all of our plate lunch favorites at home! Being able to make your favorite restaurant food at home is fun and will save you money in the long run!
What Makes The BEST Hawaiian Macaroni Salad?
Authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad does NOT have ham or pineapple in it. This is a simple, simple pasta salad. You need the right mixture of pasta and seasoned dressing. Jonathan and I worked together over many, many, many batches to find the perfect balance of milk, mayonnaise, garlic and pepper.
The final result is astounding! We make a lot of Korean BBQ around here and this is the perfect side dish. I also take it to cookouts on a regular basis and somebody is always asking for the recipe. Even my readers say this hawaiian macaroni salad recipe is better than what you can get in Hawaii!
tips for making Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Cook the pasta just enough. Good pasta salad is going to absorb the dressing so the pasta should be cooked just until al dente so your salad doesn’t get mushy. I read the directions and set a timer for 2 minutes less than the package suggests. If it isn’t done I check it in one or two more minutes. Al dente pasta is pasta that has just a touch of chew to it. I bite through the middle and if I see a big raw section in the middle it is NOT ready. I’m looking for the slightest chew but I want to pull that pasta before it turns to mush.
- Use a good quality mayonnaise. I’m all for buying store brands when you can but with mayonnaise you can’t. I don’t think Kraft has a good flavor for pasta salad. I suggest using Hellman’s, Best Foods or Duke’s.
- Give this salad time to absorb. It really needs a good 3 hours to marinate. When you first put it in the fridge it is going to look soupy but it will be the perfect texture three hours later.
- Use sweet onions if you can. A sweet onion has lots of great onion flavor without too much bite. This is the perfect onion for Mac salad. A sharper onion can give you too much onion flavor.
- Try cutting your onions with this wonderful chopper. It gets really nice minced size onions which is perfect for mac salad. (I also use it to save a lot of time vegetable chopping from soups to omelettes.)
Making Hawaiian Macaroni salad ahead of time
This is a pasta salad that is pretty easy to make in advance. I will make it the morning before I need it or the day before!
This recipe is intended to sit and soak but if it gets a little bit too dry you adjust easily. Whisk together 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise and 2 Tablespoons of milk. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold / stir the mixture into the salad. Repeat this process if needed.
How Long is pasta salad with mayo good for?
Hawaiian Macaroni salad is great for several days in the refrigerator. It doesn’t dry out as much as other pasta salads do – I think that milk / mayo combination makes a big difference! Keep the salad covered and it will retain its best flavor for up to four days. Discard after seven days.
Remember not to leave any mayo at room temperature for more than two hours. On a hot day you can put the serving bowl of salad into a bigger bowl full of plenty of ice. This can help protect your food from going bad in the heat. I would still avoid keeping any pasta salad with mayo outside of the refrigerator for long periods of time.
Making a Vegan version of Mac Salad
To make a vegan version of this Hawaiian macaroni salad replace the mayonnaise with a vegan mayo. I’ve been told that Hellman’s is a good quality vegan mayo. Replace the milk with an unsweetened dairy free milk that you like the flavor of.
More Summer Side Dishes Perfect for Summer cookouts
- Smoked Sausage and Bacon Loaded Potato Salad
- Best Coleslaw Ever (according to me)
- Baked Beans With a Kick
- How to Cut a Watermelon Into Trees
- Slow Cooker Creamed Corn
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- 2 3/4 cups macaroni noodles uncooked
- 2 1/2 cups mayo can use light mayo
- ¾ cup milk
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- ¾ cup sweet onion minced
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add macaroni and cook until tender, 10-13 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine all the other ingredients.
- When pasta is tender, run it under cold water until cool. Drain it well, tossing a few times to get all the water out of the elbows.
- Add pasta to the mayonnaise mixture and toss until pasta is thoroughly coated.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours.
- The pasta will have absorbed some of the mayonnaise and will look strange. Stir and it will look creamy again. Taste for salt and adjust if desired.
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This recipe was originally posted in July 2014. It has been updated for content.