Elevate your mac & cheese with these 6 variations.
10 Ingredients or Less,  Dinner

Mac & Cheese – 6 Ways to Make it Epic

I love a good mac & cheese. It’s one of those foods that even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Legit I don’t know that I’ve ever met a bowl [or plate] of mac & cheese I didn’t like. However pretty good isn’t epic. These 6 variations are sure to kick your mac & cheese up a notch.

Getting Started: Check out my original mac & cheese post that all of these variations are based off.

Try different noodles.

Changing up pasta shapes can change the feel of mac & cheese. Shells are an obvious option. They’re good for soaking up lots of sauce and small mixed in bits. Cavatappi, aka cellentani, is a regular for us because it’s so freakin fun to eat. I like it’s bigger size when there’s chunks of chicken or beef in mac & cheese. Radiatori is my absolute favorite; it’s hard to find though.

It really doesn’t matter what pasta shape you choose. You might find you prefer a certain shape with a certain variation of mac & cheese. I don’t like long noodles like spaghetti or linguine with a cheese sauce. But you do you.

More cheese please.

Sharp cheddar is a go to choice for mac & cheese, but switching up cheese(s) can really change the flavor profile. It also can be adjusted to match other items you’re adding. Shredding your own cheese will melt a bit better than bagged shredded cheese (because it’s not coated with anti-caking chemicals) but the bagged stuff is just so convenient. I rarely shred cheese. Ain’t nobody got time the arm strength for that. Some favorite options:

  • gouda or smoked gouda
  • Italian blend
  • pepper jack
  • Monterey jack
  • Mexican blend
  • white cheddar
  • parmesan

Specific variations.

1. Buffalo Chicken Mac

This combines buffalo wings and mac & cheese. It’s way more efficient to eat this way. And less likely to make your face look like a 2 year old learning how to eat. I make this every year for the Super Bowl and am pretty sure people would riot if I didn’t.

  • Variation: add 2 cooked & cubed chicken breasts + 1/4 cup of wing sauce to finished cheese sauce
  • Cheese: sharp cheddar or an Italian blend
  • Noodle: macaroni or cavatappi
  • Notes: top with ranch & extra wing sauce

2. Pesto Mac

For when you want to feel healthy but really want carbs. This vegetarian mac & cheese variation can feel very elevated but doesn’t take much work at all. Costco makes an excellent jarred pesto or you could make your own if you’re into that.

  • Variation: add 1/4 cup of pesto to finished cheese sauce (could add in bacon if you don’t need things to be vegetarian)
  • Cheese: white cheeses – an Italian blend or white cheddar
  • Noodle: fancy it up with cavatappi or radiatori
  • Notes: roasted red peppers or spinach give you a few extra vitamins

3. Chili Mac

Best baked, this variation is sure to keep you warm when the weather cools off. I’ve found I don’t like the texture of beans and pasta together so I stick to a chili without beans. Skyline Chili is my absolute favorite. Our Kroger only sells frozen Skyline and it works great. It looks like beige mush once its mixed into the cheese sauce. But it tastes much better than the color beige looks.

  • Variation: add a can (or frozen block) of chili to cheese sauce
  • Cheese: sharp cheddar or white cheddar
  • Noodle: a small noodle like macaroni or radiatori
  • Notes: top with favorite chili toppings like Fritos, green onions or avocado

4. Cheeseburger Mac

I loved Hamburger Helper as a kid. Have you had any recently? It’s so salty you can hardly choke it down. Make your own and experience the nostalgia without all the dehydration.

  • Variation: add a pound of browned & drained ground beef
  • Cheese: sharp cheddar
  • Noodle: macaroni
  • Notes: I LOVE breakfast sausage in mac & cheese instead of beef

5. Bacon Jalapeno Popper Mac & Cheese

This version has been my absolute favorite recently! It may be my new Super Bowl go to. Jalapenos, bacon & cream cheese make this incredibly sinful and perfect for keeping warm in cold weather. Y’all know I love my Aldi finds, but for this mac & cheese, spend the extra buck and buy Cabot white cheddar. Then shred those arms shredding cheese. It’s worth it. You can call it a workout and feel better about your carb loading tendancies.

  • Variation: cut milk down to 1 cup, add 4 oz cream cheese, 6 slices of bacon, and 1 cup sliced jalapenos
  • Cheese: white cheddar
  • Noodle: shells or cavatappi
  • Notes: top with parmesan

6. Chipotle Mac

I thoroughly enjoy this one with or without chicken because southwest seasonings go with everything IMO. I use the same blend I use in turkey burgers, but you could mix up your own variation or use some taco seasoning.

  • Variation: add 1 tablespoon of seasoning blend + 2 cooked and cubed chicken breasts
  • Cheese: Mexican blend
  • Noodle: macaroni or cavatappi
  • Notes: for an extra kick add some chipotle hot sauce when you add the other spices


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Whats your favorite way to eat mac & cheese?


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