Classic Tuna Salad

Tuna salad is a classic go-to for quick lunches and snacks. This tuna salad recipe is made with canned tuna, mayo, celery, onion, and lemon, and can be customized in dozens of ways. It’s creamy, filling, and easy to make!

best tuna salad recipe
Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

Raise your hand if you didn’t grow up eating tuna salad sandwiches. Anybody? That’s what I thought.

Wait! You, in the back. OK, I’ll allow that not everybody grew up eating these. But, hold on, there’s comfort in that can of tuna!

Tuna Salad: A Simple Pleasure

I have memories as a child sitting atop Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire with my camp friends after a day’s climb. Lunch was always oranges and tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And for dessert? Well, let’s just say a Hershey bar never tasted so good!

And now, in these times, that sandwich brings just as much pleasure (not to mention cost savings). Spare me the bells and whistles; I’ll get to them in a minute.

Right now, a classic tuna salad sandwich is all I’m after. That means canned tuna, mayo, celery, lemon juice, and if you like, red onion. Period. Slather it on some good bread and I’m that happy camper again. In fact, I’m taking my sandwich out to the back porch to eat in the sunshine.

What's the Best Tuna to Use?

Any can or jar of tuna will work in a sandwich. Just make sure you drain the water or oil before mixing with the ingredients for tuna salad.

I prefer using water-packed tuna in tuna salad, because I’m already adding mayonnaise to the recipe. I save oil-packed tuna for dishes where the oil matters a bit more, such as in this Salad Nicoise, because oil-packed tuna is richer than water-packed tuna.

That being said, tuna salad is no time to get picky—just use what you have on hand.

classic tuna salad on top of greens
Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

Swaps and Suggestions for Tuna Salad

I’m strictly a mayo kind of gal, but if you prefer Miracle Whip or light mayo, go for it. I’ve never tried it with yogurt, but Greek yogurt might work, especially if you add a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

To toast or not, it’s up to you if you're turning this into a sandwich. Sometimes, I’m in a toasty mood and crave a little crunch, and sometimes I just want the comfort of soft bread.

No bread in the house? My better half always prefers tuna salad on saltines(?), but you could make some of these biscuits or homemade soda bread.

Tuna Salad Add-Ins and Adaptations

The best thing about basic recipes is how easily you can adapt them to your own tastes. Use my Classic Tuna Salad recipe as a foundation, but then mix things up with some excellent add-ins:

  • Capers
  • Olives
  • Chopped pickles
  • Chopped apples
  • Chopped fennel
  • Any color diced bell peppers
  • Chopped pickled jalapenos from a jar
  • Grated carrots
  • Mustard
  • Scallions

You can also try these great herbs and spices for tuna salad:

  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Smoked paprika
  • Chopped fresh parsley
  • Fresh dill

If it sounds good to you, it probably will be. If you want to get fancy, make Elise’s Best Ever Tuna Salad Sandwich, though I’m going to have to talk to her about that claim.

how to serve tuna salad
Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

How to Serve Tuna Salad

For me, the next best thing to a plain ol’ tuna sandwich is a tuna melt. That’s a grilled cheese sandwich with tuna salad. Slap some cheese on the sandwich, butter the bread on the outside, and grill it in a pan until the bread is crisp and golden, and the cheese melts.

You could do something similar with a tortilla, too. Just place cheese in the center, top with tuna salad, fold it like a burrito, and grill it to seal it. But there’s more! Make a wrap with pita or flatbread and add some greens and sliced tomatoes or cucumbers.

You could also serve this as a true salad on top of greens with some extra vegetables to round it out.

Tuna salad makes a simple midafternoon snack when paired with crackers or spread onto celery sticks. You can also take the virtuous route and top your greens with a scoop of tuna salad for a healthy lunch.

How to Store Tuna Salad

Leftover tuna salad can be stored in the fridge for three to five days. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap to keep other refrigerator odors out and the tuna odors in.

More Easy Tuna Recipes

classic tuna salad
Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

Classic Tuna Salad

Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Servings 2 servings

This recipe serves two, but it’s easy enough to double or even triple to serve more people.

Ingredients

  • 1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in water

  • 1 rib celery, diced

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • 1 teaspoon red onion, finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • Pinch salt

  • Pinch black pepper

Method

  1. Drain the tuna:

    Open the can and hold it over the sink. Tilt the can and press on the lid to allow the water in the can to drain.

  2. Mix the tuna salad ingredients:

    In a bowl, break the tuna up with a fork. Add the celery, mayonnaise, onion, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Cover and chill or use immediately.

    canned tuna salad
    Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko
    tuna salad filling
    Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko
  3. Serve how you like it:

    Spoon tuna salad onto slices of bread to make a sandwich, scoop onto crackers for a snack, or serve it atop a bed of salad greens for a healthy meal.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
256 Calories
18g Fat
1g Carbs
21g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 256
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 3g 16%
Cholesterol 45mg 15%
Sodium 539mg 23%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 21g
Vitamin C 2mg 8%
Calcium 23mg 2%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 269mg 6%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.