Summer truly begins with your first bite of Southern-Style Tuna Macaroni Salad! This nostalgic pasta side dish combines tender macaroni, tuna fish, freshly chopped veggies, and creamy dressing – a perfect addition to any picnic or BBQ!
Hard to believe Labor Day is here! Summer is coming to a close with humidity and rain here in Georgia, and I know the dog days will still linger for a few weeks before it finally starts to cool down in this valley.
Let me tell you, I do not miss Florida summers at all.
Summer in general is not my favorite, unless we’re talking about the eats!
Grilling all the things.
Peaches, cherries, and tomatoes galore.
Big bowls of salads of every color.
That’s what’s happening this week, folks. It’s unofficially salad week over here, and I’ve got some really tasty ones to share that are going to make the most popular chef at the potluck!
Summer is the perfect time for big ol’ backyard get-togethers.
There are so many holidays to celebrate in this three-month season, and this Tuna Macaroni Salad is perfect for all of them!
Just TRY to find an American that doesn’t remember at least one big bowl of pasta salad at every barbecue, picnic, or potluck.
Canned tuna fish is a staple in our house. I grew up eating tuna & noodles, and it’s one of my go-to lazy lunches to this day. Boil up some pasta, toss in a can of juicy, oily tuna, and boom – what I call a balanced meal.
Abe doesn’t care for my overly simple 2-ingredient version, so I usually have to dress up his share.
I can promise that this bowl of classic Tuna Macaroni Salad also works as dinner, even if there are no picnics in sight.
And yes – even without peas.
What to serve with pasta salad
If you’re a tuna lover like I am, you’ll be happy just eating this as a meal by itself. But, if you’re taking it to an outdoorsy-style meal, pair it up with some grilled BBQ chicken and/or burgers and hot dogs or brats.
For a bigger spread of sides, add a bowl of Watermelon Blueberry Salad, Fresh Pineapple Coleslaw, and Jalapeño Popper Cornbread Muffins.
No potluck is complete without dessert! Try my huge Triple Berry Slab Pie, or Grilled Peach Caprese with Blackberry Balsamic if you like something a little less sweet.
Macaroni salad in general is not only easy to throw together, it’s easy to customize! Feel free to swap or leave out veggies and seasonings in here until you get that flavor you’re looking for.
- Elbow macaroni pasta – this is the classic type of noodle for pasta salad, but you can also use Farfalle (Bowties), Mini Shells pasta, Cavatappi, or other small shaped noodles
- Tuna fish – chunk tuna in oil, or albacore if you prefer; tuna in water can also be used
- Hard boiled eggs (learn how to boil them perfectly in your Instant Pot!)
- Red onion – or try shallots or sweet Vidalia onion for a different flavor profile
- Red bell pepper
- Dill pickles or sweet relish
- Dijon mustard
- Lemon juice
- Kosher salt or sea salt
- Black pepper
- Fresh parsley – optional, just for garnish
- Paprika or cayenne pepper; optional, just for garnish
What else can you mix into macaroni salad?
‣ Don’t like tuna? Try shredded chicken or canned salmon instead
‣ More veggies – diced cucumbers, tomatoes, maybe even shredded carrots
‣ Add leftover corn cut off the cob for a little bit of sweetness
‣ Try fresh herbs like basil or thyme
‣ Cheese! Feta, crumbled blue cheese, or cubes of cheddar would be delicious
How to make tuna pasta salad
Pasta salads are super simple to make, involving little more than chopping veggies and mixing.
- First, boil some pasta to your desired texture. Not quite al dente, but not too mushy is ideal. Follow the package instructions for the recommended cook time.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse it under cold water. This helps stop the noodles from cooking and flushes the starch that causes them to stick together.
- While the pasta is boiling, prep your other ingredients. Hard boil some eggs, chop celery, red pepper, red onion, and dill pickles (my secret ingredient!).
- Lots of other similar macaroni salad recipes use sweet peas, and if that’s what jogs your childhood memories, feel free to toss those in, as well.
- Combine everything in an extra large bowl with 2 cans of tuna fish and the drained pasta. I’m partial to olive oil-packed chunk light tuna, because FLAVOR and less mercury than albacore. Feel free to use your favorite – or whichever one is on sale!
- In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning if you’d like, then pour it over the bowl of pasta & veggies.
- Mix everything up well, so that the dressing coats everything in the bowl. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the macaroni salad until you’re ready to serve it. Sprinkle the top with paprika or cayenne pepper, and garnish it with fresh parsley, if you’d like, then watch it disappear.
Serve this tuna pasta salad at every potluck and barbecue this summer, and give everyone the nostalgia feels (and don’t forget to share the recipe)!
Can you make tuna macaroni salad in advance?
If there is any of it left over, store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing it!
Is there a way to make this pasta salad healthier?
‣ Opt for whole-wheat pasta, chickpea pasta, or quinoa pasta over regular enriched pasta. You’ll cut down on the carbs, and amp up your protein. This is also a great option for gluten-free folks.
‣ Swap out half or all of the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt to lower calories and increase protein.
‣ Use tuna fish in water instead of olive oil.
‣ Load it up with even more veggies!
LOOKING FOR MORE EASY PASTA SALAD RECIPES?
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Southern-Style Tuna Macaroni Salad
- 16 ounces (1 box) elbow macaroni pasta
- 10 ounces (2 cans) tuna fish drained (chunk, oil or water)
- 3 hard boiled eggs chopped
- ½ cup (2 ribs) celery chopped
- ½ cup red onion finely chopped
- ½ cup red pepper finely chopped
- ¼ cup dill pickles finely chopped (or sweet relish)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- Paprika or cayenne pepper for garnish
- Boil the macaroni according to package direction, adding a bit of salt to the water as it begins to boil. Drain, rinse, and set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked macaroni, tuna, eggs, celery, onion, pepper, and pickles. Toss gently with a spoon to combine.
- In another small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.
- Pour the mixture over the macaroni and stir gently until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to overnight.
Amy Heflin says
I know it says mayo but would that be Miracle Whip or Hellman’s. I know Miracle Whip is not technically mayo but I think that most people call it mayo.
It’s a personal preference. I can’t stand Miracle Whip personally, and always opt for Hellmann’s, but it’s up to you! )
Jennifer Dumas says
Hi Erica! I just have to say , this looks fantastic. I will definitely make this..Thanks for sharing!
I made this but opted for adding a cup of cheese and an extra hard boiled egg. I also used garlic salt as opposed to regular and turned out great.
Kelli correll says
Do you use tuna in the oil or in the water? And what’s the best tuna to purchase out of the grocery store I am going try to make this macaroni salad it looks very good and tasty. Can u send me a copy of the recipe
I would gladly appreciate it.
Thanks an have a bless day
Hi Kelli! This is really up to you – I prefer tuna in oil, mostly drained, because of the flavor the tuna (and the salad as a whole) takes on from it. My favorite brand is Genova yellowfin tuna in olive oil! Let me know if you make it and how you like it!
This tuna salad brings me back to being a kid! it comes out so perfectly creamy and such an easy thing to whip up for a gathering!
Giangi Townsend says
Amazingly delicious! My mother-in-law used to make a similar to yours. I made yours for my husband and he devour it. I had to fight for a bowl, lol. It reminded him of his mom and he could not be more pleased and happy.
We love this!!!
I have made this so many times for backyard grills and pot lucks! It is always a hit.
I love the egg in it, it makes it extra creamy and rich, people always comment!
I’ve made so many variations! With tuna and corn. Canned Salmon, leftover shredded chicken, I even did it with some fresh BBQ salmon and added some avocado. Always delish and your recipe is the perfect starting point.
But the tuna version just you way you write it is the version I make the most.
Making it again tomorrow for a lunch 🙂
This macaroni salad was so fresh and flavorful! Great as a side dish or light lunch!
This was perfect with our grilled bbq chicken this weekend! Everyone loved it!