My tuna macaroni salad has a thick, super creamy, dressing with a slightly sweet zesty quality that is amazingly delicious. There are lots of fresh veggies and fresh herbs that separate our recipe from all of the mediocre others you might see on the internet.
I love that this dish is hearty enough, and balanced as well to stand on its own as the perfect warm-weather supper but can also sublimate almost all spring and summer meals.
This salad comes together in a few easy steps, is protein-packed and nutritious, and totally adaptable. You’re gonna want to put this pasta salad on permanent repeat in your warm-weather dinner rotation.
Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe
Tuna macaroni salad is one of those satisfying pasta recipes that you just crave sometimes. When that desire for macaroni salad with tuna comes over you, only the best will do! Open yourself up to the blissful delight of this tuna macaroni salad, the king of all tuna salad!
Let me tell you when the chicken of the sea meets the salad of Southern gatherings – something magical happens! It’s hearty and nutritious despite being incredibly delicious and pretty ding-dang irresistible! This dish offers an inviting quality to weeknight family dinners, friendly backyard BBQs, family get-togethers, picnics, and potlucks.
Try my pasta salad with Italian dressing, authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad, and Mediterranean pasta salad next. Each is uniquely delicious and promises to please.
Let’s make this salad, you guys!
- Can I Use Another Pasta Shape? Absolutely! Elbow macaroni is the classic choice and what I use, but any small shape shell pasta will work just fine.
- Can I Make Tuna Macaroni Salad In Advance? Yes. After putting this salad together, it needs to chill in the fridge for 6 hours minimum but, frankly, is even better when chilled overnight. This makes it the ideal candidate for making it ahead of time.
- What Kind Of Canned Tuna Should I Ise? Any brand of canned tuna packed in water not oil.
- Can I Use Miracle Whip Instead Of Mayonnaise? If you prefer the taste of Miracle Whip over mayonnaise you can make the swap. It will definitely change the flavor of the overall salad. I prefer this recipe made with good quality mayonnaise instead of Miracle Whip.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Elbow Pasta: Yes, you can change the shape of the pasta. Use a good quality brand of pasta like Barilla or DeCecco.
- Canned Tuna: I use tuna packed in water.
- Sliced Bread And Butter Pickles: These are a favorite pickle in our house. Feel free to use whichever type you like.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs: I love these in the salad. They add flavor, texture, and protein.
- Celery: Adds a natural saltiness and great crunch.
- Red Onion: These are the bomb in this salad but if you don’t have them, others will work just fine. Green onions actually make a fantastic substitution and I have also used Vidalia onions.
- Red Bell Pepper: These have a slightly sweet taste and more great crunch.
- Frozen Petite Peas: This recipe calls for frozen petite peas. I have tried other kinds, and these seem to work best. They are sweeter and can stand up to the folding and mixing of the salad. Other kinds of peas seem to get too mushy.
- Fresh Parsley: I prefer to use fresh herbs in this pasta salad because they are so fragrant and delicious.
- Mayonnaise: I live on the west coast so I use Best Foods mayo. If you’re able to get Duke’s grab it!
- Sour Cream: I use full fat for the best flavor.
- Whole Milk: Same as above, I use full fat!
- Lemons: Fresh lemon juice adds the perfect acidity to complement the tuna.
- Dijon Mustard: Add a complex mustard flavor.
- Salt + Black Pepper:
- Paprika: Adds a little smoky flavor.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Adds complexity and sweetness to the acidity.
- Dried Dill: I love using fresh herbs in my pasta salads but, the dried dill in the dressing works fabulously.
- Food Safety – Keep in mind that mayo-based pasta salads have special handling instructions for food safety when served unrefrigerated for any length of time, such as get-togethers and potlucks. Here’s more about that from the FDA and Food Network.
- Pasta Prep – First, make sure you put plenty of salt in your pasta water. This will give your pasta some flavor. It absorbs the water as it cooks and if the water is salty, it will help infuse flavor into your pasta before it ever hits the salad. Otherwise, you could be in for a snoozer of a dish.
- Must Be Al Dente – Cooking your pasta al dente is also important. Typically, it takes around 7-9 minutes, but the time may increase with the amount of pasta you’re making. Al dente pasta is still a little firm in the middle. A mushy texture will ruin the dish.
- Same Size – Chopping all the veggies roughly the same size is another way to polish up your simple tuna macaroni salad. It allows people to get a refreshing variety of flavors and textures in every bite.
- Doubling The Recipe – Don’t forget that this pasta salad calls for 16 ounces of pasta and 4 cans of tuna fish. If you are cutting or doubling the recipe (especially the pasta), you’ll need to adjust the tuna and the dressing as well.
Storing + Freeze + Make-Ahead
- How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge? Cream-based pasta salads will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 3-5 days, according to the USDA. Store this in an airtight container with a secure lid. If you don’t have room for that big bowl in your fridge, then 1-gallon Ziploc bags work just fine.
- Freezing: Unfortunately, you can’t freeze this one but there’s never enough left to freeze anyway.
- Make-Ahead Tips: This needs to be made ahead of time so it can properly chill in the fridge and all the flavors can mingle and marry.
- Food Safety: If you’d like more info on food safety check out this link.
- Pickles – This recipe calls for bread and butter pickles but if you want something a little different you can use dill pickles instead. I use dill pickles in my dill pickle pasta salad and it’s always a hit.
- Canned Chicken – Canned chicken works great in this salad.
- Canned Salmon – If you love canned salmon, use it instead of tuna.
- Add Eggs – I often add hard-boiled eggs roughly chopped as an add-in to this salad.
- Tuna Macaroni Salad With Tomatoes – Adding some Roma or grape tomatoes is a nice way to brighten up this robust tuna macaroni salad. I like to quarter them or cut them in half when I add them, so they aren’t too big.
How To Make Tuna Macaroni Salad
- Mix all the salad ingredients.
- Pour the dressing. Mix.
- Chill and serve.
***See complete instructions below.
More Salads You’ll LOVE!
- Three Bean Salad
- Portillo’s Chopped Salad
- Southern Macaroni Salad
- Taco Pasta Salad
- Grape Salad
- Pea Salad
- Carrot Salad
- Broccoli Salad
Tuna Macaroni Salad
- 16 ounce elbow pasta 1 (16 ounce) box
- 4 12-ounce) cans tuna, in water, drained
- 1/4 cup sliced bread and butter pickles, rough chopped
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, rough chopped
- 1 cup celery diced
- 1/2 cup red onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper chopped
- 3/4 cup frozen petite peas thawed
- 1 cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup whole milk more as needed
- juice and zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 3/4 cup red chopped onions diced
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- 1/4 cup bread and butter pickles sliced
- 1/2 cup parsley chopped
- 3 hard boiled eggs chopped
- 1 zest of lemon
- 1/4 cup peas
- 1/2 cup red pepper
- Cook the elbow pasta according to box directions, in well-salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water. Cool to room temperature.
- To a large mixing bowl add all the salad ingredients.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Pour over salad and toss together until everything is well coated.
- Chill for 6 hours or overnight. If the dressing is too thick, add milk, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach desired consistency.
- Spread out salad onto a serving platter. Top with garnish and serve!
Fans Also Made:
- Food Safety - Keep in mind that mayo-based pasta salads have special handling instructions for food safety when serving unrefrigerated for any length of time, such as get-togethers and potlucks. Here’s more about that from the FDA and Food Network.
- Pasta Prep - First, make sure you put plenty of salt in your pasta water. This will give your pasta some flavor. It absorbs the water as it cooks and if the water is salty, it will help infuse flavor into your pasta before it ever hits the salad. Otherwise, you could be in for a snoozer of a dish.
- Must Be Al Dente - Cooking your pasta al dente is also important. Typically, it takes around 7-9 minutes, but the time may increase with the amount of pasta you’re making. Al dente pasta is still a little firm in the middle. A mushy texture will ruin the dish.
- Same Size - Chopping all the veggies roughly the same size is another way to polish up your simple tuna macaroni salad. It allows people to get a refreshing variety of flavors and textures in every bite.
- Doubling The Recipe - Don’t forget that this pasta salad calls for 16 ounces of pasta and 4 cans of tuna fish. If you are cutting or doubling the recipe (especially the pasta), you’ll need to adjust the tuna and the dressing as well.
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Wow! This is really awesome. I didn’t have sour cream, milk, or parsley so left them out entirely and it was fine. I’m in Europe so tried to translate (4) 12 oz cans of tuna to 1361 grams. I only had 8x52g cans on hand (about 1/3 of what the recipe calls for) and again it was fine. This makes a lot, but it’s so good that won’t be a problem.
Thank you so much for your positive feedback, Ted! 🙂
I have a bunch of canned tuna just at the back of our pantry. I used those for this and it’s so good!
Thank you, Ellen! It’s so easy, right? 🙂
Four 12 oz cans of tuna? Is that correct? The directions says something about 3 cans…. Just checking on the size, etc.
Hi Sylvia. Yes, I use 4 cans of the tuna. Sorry for the typos. I fixed the errors <3
I make Tuna Pasta Salad often knowing that it is always a hit. My variation includes diced pepperoncini peppers & horseradish. I will set aside a “private” reserve and replace Dijon with Chinese mustard to ensure sinuses get cleared!