Conventional acinic cell carcinoma (CACC) represents a prototypical low-grade salivary malignancy. Rarely, acinic cell carcinoma (ACC) can demonstrate aggressive features (zones of necrosis, apoptosis, varying nuclear atypia) warranting classification as “ACC with high-grade transformation” (HGT-ACC) or “dedifferentiated” ACC. This study reports ten new cases of HGT-ACC. There is potential for subtlety in recognizing high-grade transformation and distinguishing discrete nodules of necrosis from cytology aspiration changes. We compared immunohistochemical (IHC) profiles, specifically β-catenin (bCAT) and cyclin D1 expression, which have been touted as potentially helpful in this context. We quantified morphology (primary axis nucleus, nuclear area and perimeter) in HGT-ACC and CACC. Clinical outcome is known for eight HGT-ACC patients; three patients developed locoregional or distant metastases, five remained disease-free. Nine of ten HGT-ACC expressed strong, diffuse, membranous bCAT. CACC demonstrated lower intensity of membranous bCAT expression. Strong, diffuse nuclear cyclin D1 was seen in five of ten HGT-ACC whereas no CACC demonstrated cyclin D1 with distribution greater than 50 %. The quantified nuclear morphologic features of CACC and HGT-ACC demonstrated overlapping means values. Maximum values for nuclear primary axis, area, and perimeter were greater for HGT-ACC versus CACC, corresponding to a subpopulation of larger tumor cells in HGT-ACC. The poor outcome associated with HGT-ACC justifies its recognition, which should alter surgical approach with respect to elective neck dissection or possible facial nerve sacrifice. With respect to ancillary IHC studies, strong, diffuse membranous bCAT expression, with or without strong nuclear cyclin D1 ≥ 50 % distribution or Ki67 index ≥ 25 % supports this diagnosis.