Hawaiian Macaroni Salad (Plate Lunch Mac Salad)
Hawaiian-style macaroni salad is an iconic Hawaiian recipe. This creamy Hawaiian side dish is the sidekick on every plate lunch in Hawaii. If you’ve ever been you know what I’m talking about.
Have you ever wondered why is Hawaiian mac salad is so good?
I’m going to give you all the secrets you’ll need to make the authentic version of this plate lunch side dish.
If you’ve ever visited Hawaii and had plate lunch you’ve probably had a scoop or two of mac salad. It’s usually served with a side of rice.
Who doesn’t need extra carbs with your carbs?
Either way, once you’ve tasted it it’s hard to imagine a trip to Hawaii without it.
Don’t forget to pin this recipe to save it for later!
What Makes Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Different?
Even in Hawaii you can find different versions of mac salad.
Sometimes there is tuna or even potato mac salad. These versions are fine; but, they aren’t what I dream of when I remember getting plate lunch when I was living in Hawaii.
Authentic Hawaiian Mac Salad only had a few ingredients: macaroni, mayo, onions, and carrots, and green onions. (plus a few secret ingredients)
Simple enough, right? Getting the flavor is all in the technique. Don’t worry I am going to show you how!
There are only a few simple ingredients in the macaroni salad recipe. But, it’s all in how you but those ingredients together that makes all the difference.
If you live near an L&L Barbecue, their mac salad is pretty spot on! It’s not quite as good as this recipe, but for fast food it’ll do.
Ingredients For making Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Elbow Macaroni: The same kind that you use for classic macaroni and cheese.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: One of the techniques to get flavor into this macaroni salad is to add the ACV to the macaroni right after you drain it, while it’s still hot. I use this technique on traditional macaroni salad, pasta salads, and potato salad.
- Grated Onion: Grating the onion is an absolute must. You’ll want to collect all of the onion juice too and add that to the macaroni.
- Salt and pepper: Mac salad has a lot of black pepper in it. Make sure it is finely ground black pepper. And use enough salt.
- Whole Milk and Mayo: The creamy dressing on mac salad is made with whole milk and sweetened mayo. I use Best Foods mayo and add a little brown sugar.
- Veggies: Finely shredded carrots, finely diced celery, and sliced green onions or chives.
How to make Mac Salad
- Make the Dressing: Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing and set aside.
- Boil the Macaroni: Bring salted water to a boil, add the macaroni and cook according to directions. You want the macaroni on the slightly overdone side. Drain and add to a bowl.
- Add the Seasoning: Immediately add the vinegar, grated onion, carrots, and celery to the macaroni, while it is still hot. Then toss.
- Add the Dressing: Add about half of the dressing, toss well. Then let the macaroni cool for about 10 minutes. Then add the remainder of the dressing.
- Chill: Cover and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours. Top with green onions before serving.
Hawaiian Potato Macaroni Salad
More Hawaiian Recipes: So Ono!
If you’re hungry for more Hawaiian Recipes check out a few of our faves. Pineapple Sweet Rolls, or Pineapple Salsa are both to sweet not to try.
Furikake Chicken with a side or Mac Salad and some Spam Fried Rice is so ono!
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Hawaiian Mac Salad Recipe
- 2 cups whole milk, divided, use 1½ cups, set aside ½ cup
- 2 cups mayonnaise, divided, use 1 cup, set aside 1 cup
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, added to water for boiling
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ sweet onion, grated
- ½ cup carrot, peeled and grated, approximately one large carrot
- ¼ cup celery, chopped fine, approximately one celery stalk
- 4 scallions, green onions, sliced thin
Make The Dressing
- Whisk together 1½ cups milk, 1 cup mayonnaise, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper in a bowl.
Cook The Pasta
- Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta and cook until very soft, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and return to pot. Add the cider vinegar and toss until absorbed.
- Transfer to a large bowl. Add the grated onion, carrots, and celery. Toss.
- Add the dressing. Toss well.
- Let the pasta cool for about 10 minutes. Then add the remaining milk and mayonnaise. Stir to combine.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
- Serve topped with scallions.
This is a great replica of Hawaiian Mac… the only thing I do different is add a bag of coleslaw mix to make it more like their Mac-slaw!
This is truly the most authentic mac salad. I make it every week for my husband and he loves it. Thank you for this delicious recipe.
Thanks for the feedback, Jennifer. It makes me so happy to hear this. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up in California so I can start making this for BBQ season.
My mother’s macaroni and potatoe salad was very similar but a secret ingredient of hers was a spoonful of prepared mustard that enhanced all the other ingredients…….yum ! A little bit of mild vinegar has the same effect.
Bill. I love traditional macaroni and potato salad too! 🥰
Making this recipe now but it looks watery instead of creamy. Help!
Rebecca, Once you refrigerate the mac salad, the pasta will absorb much of the dressing. Just don’t add the extra milk unless you need it. It will be fine.
I am throwing a Hawaiian luau Christmas party for my staff. (Approx. 40 people) trying to work ahead. Can this be frozen? About 2 weeks? Any suggestions? How long will it last in refrigerater?
Hi Toni, I don’t recommend freezing this because the mayonnaise will separate when it’s frozen. It would keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. A Hawaiian Luau Christmas party sounds like a blast. Happy Holidays.
Made this last night with a few alterations. I subbed coconut water for the milk (sounds weird, but it worked) and I cooked the carrots, onion, and celery first because my daughter is allergic to raw carrots. Used chives from my garden instead of green onion. Really good! Thanks!
That’s so interesting. I’m glad it came out. Thaks for the tip.
I’m making pulled pork right now it’s in the crock pot as I type this. Just made the Mac salad and is in the refrigerator! I hope it turns out good. Can’t wait to try it!
Sara, I hope the mac salad was great!!! Let me know how you liked it.
What happens if you use low fat milk
Low-fat milk may be less creamy.
Have you made this using oat or almond milk? Just wondered if it could be made dairy free.
Angela, I have not ever made this recipe with non-dairy milk. However, I would suggest trying the oat milk. I’d love to hear how it comes out.
How much macaroni should I use for this recipe?
You should use 1 lb of elbow macaroni. This is usually one box.
Laura, thank you for sharing this recipe it taste exactly like the plate lunch salad from L&L, my husband and friends thank you too!
Note: I didn’t have whole milk so I used 1/4c Creamo to 2% milk and it worked out perfectly.
Thank you, Kris, I’m so happy to hear that you and your family loved this Hawaiian Macaroni Salad recipe. Thanks for taking the time to leave a review. I really. appreciate the love.
I want to make this but I’m confused by this statement you noted about not changing a thing. You said, Whatever you do don’t use low-fat milk or mayonnaise. I thought this recipe calls for mayonnaise? What am I missing here? Thank you.
Karen, I meant that you shouldn’t use low-fat mayo.
About to pair this with some Shoyu Chicken and Rice, tonight! Thank you for sharing- I grew up in Kailua, and to help me through my homesickness, every once in a while, I’ll make my family food from back home ( husband is Navy). Nothing like local kine comfort food! ( Now of only I can find my some manapua or Malasadas, some good Hawaii Portuguese sausage- not the Linguica you find out here on the mainland!)
I’m so glad that you enjoyed this recipe. I’ve wanted to do a manapua recipe for the blog. I’ll put that on my list. I know what you mean about not finding the real stuff—especially Leonard’s Malasadas. I soooo miss those.
Such a great and Simple to make macaroni salad! Such great flavors!
Thanks Jessica, I’m glad you liked it. It really takes me back to the Islands.