A twist on the classic dish, Bacon Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. This recipe feeds a crowd and comes together in just over 30 minutes, making it the perfect side dish for game days, potlucks, and holiday parties (or just for dinner!). Watch the how-to video for step-by-step instructions!
The Best Bacon Mac & Cheese
There’s not much that can’t be improved by the addition of bacon. It’s the secret ingredient in my award winning best chili recipe (there’s a reason it’s won over 50 first-place prizes!), the base of my ultimate potato soup, and it’s also Zach’s favorite food group. It’s the perfect balance of chewy, salty and smoky, and it’s the star of today’s bacon mac and cheese recipe.
While this recipe is inspired by my classic baked mac and cheese, it’s not just that recipe with a bit of bacon tossed. No, today’s recipe is truly next-level. We start with a bacon and butter-based roux, use a fresh new blend of cheeses (don’t skip the gouda!), toss in some smoked paprika for incredible depth of flavor (it pairs so well with the bacon), and top things off with a crispy, buttery, and bacon-infused topping.
I think you’re really going to love this one. Let’s get cooking!
What You Need
Most of the ingredients for bacon mac and cheese are to be expected (I’m looking at you—bacon, macaroni, and cheese) but there are a few others worth mentioning that make this dish a real crowd pleaser.
- Macaroni. I like to use a classic macaroni noodles, but you could substitute another pasta of a similar size and shape if you really want to. Whatever you use, just make sure you don’t overdo your noodles, or they’ll fall apart in the macaroni cheese. For best results, cook 1 minute less than the package indicates and drizzle with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. This also helps to prevent the macaroni from absorbing the cheese too quickly.
- Bacon. The star of the show! Use thick-cut bacon and make sure you cut it into small pieces. If your pieces are too large, they’ll seem too chewy and won’t distribute evenly. As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t want to use bacon, I do have instructions for a bacon-free version in the recipe notes.
- Butter. As part of our roux, butter might seem counter-intuitive when you could just use all bacon grease; however, I found that using all bacon grease gave the cheese a more oily consistency and caused it to try and separate, it just didn’t work as well. Trust me, the blend of bacon grease and butter is better! You can use either salted or unsalted butter.
- Flour. Another part of the roux, flour thickens the sauce in this bacon macaroni and cheese.
- Spices. Just a few spices elevate the flavor of this dish, rounding out the cheese and accentuating the bacon flavor. After lots of taste testing, I opt for garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard and smoked paprika (in addition to salt and pepper, of course).
- Milk. The final component in the roux, milk creates a silky base for our cheese sauce. I use whole milk, but a lower fat milk should work fine.
- Cheese. I highly recommend shredding your own cheese for this bacon macaroni and cheese. Pre-shredded cheese contains additives that prevent it from melting nicely, so if you want smooth, silky cheese, shred it yourself! I use a blend of yellow and white sharp cheddars (you can just use one if you like) and gouda to make sure the cheese flavor stands up to the bacon.
- Panko. To create a crispy, buttery top, I add some toasted panko bread crumbs to my bacon mac and cheese before baking. Make sure you use the seasoned version for this recipe.
SAM’S TIP: Bacon mac and cheese can be baked in any pan it fits in, and since it’s already cooked, you don’t need to increase the baking time. Do note that the panko topping amounts are for a 1.5 quart dish.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Bacon Mac and Cheese
This recipe comes together in just over 30 minutes, so you can have bacony, cheesy goodness fast. If you want to make it even quicker, you can skip baking and serve it right out of the pan. I suggest trying it baked though!
- Cook chopped bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove from pan to a paper towel lined plate until cooled, then crumble into small pieces.
- Drain bacon fat until you have only 2 tablespoons remaining. Add butter; once melted, sprinkle flour overtop and whisk until smooth. Stir and cook another 30-60 seconds before adding spices.
- While still whisking, pour in milk. Continue stirring until mixture is evenly combined.
- Keep stirring as you bring your mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened. You’ll know your mixture is ready when your whisk leaves a trail through the sauce. You can also test this by passing a spoon through the sauce, flipping it over, and using a finger to run down the center of the spoon. If the sauce stays put, it’s ready. If it tries to run back together, keep cooking.
- Once thickened, remove sauce from heat and stir in your cheese until fully melted.
- Add cooked pasta and just half of your bacon and stir until combined. Pour into a baking dish and set aside.
- Make your panko topping! Melt butter and then add panko and cook until toasted. Add your remaining bacon right in here for an incredible crisp, buttery, bacon-y topping.
- Sprinkle panko mixture over the bacon mac and cheese dish and cook until baked through (about 15 minutes!).
SAM’S TIP: After baking, the longer the bacon mac and cheese sits, the more the noodles will absorb the cheese and the less saucy it will be. It still tastes great, but it just keep in mind that leftovers will just be more dry than when this dish is served fresh.
While bacon mac & cheese makes a great standalone dish, I love serving it as a side to my pulled chicken, or even as the perfect hearty and cheesy companion to tomato soup (is that just me? Zach thinks macaroni and tomato soup together is weird)!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! If you like your bacon macaroni and cheese extra saucy, you can just skip baking and serve it straight from the pot–with or without the panko topping.
You can, but just make sure it’s a similar size/shape (don’t use spaghetti) and cook one minute shy of package instructions for best results.
Yes! I usually store the macaroni in the dish I plan to bake in and keep the (prepped) panko topping separate until ready to bake. Before baking, I’ll sprinkle the panko topping on top. I cover and bake at 350F for approximately 30 minutes if reheating from the fridge, using a spoon to check that the center is warmed through before serving. You will probably need to bake for less time in a shallow dish and more time in a deep one.
More Recipes You Might Like
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
Bacon Mac and Cheese
- 8 oz (226 g) elbow macaroni dry
- 8 strips thick-cut bacon uncooked and cut into pieces
- 2 Tablespoons butter salted or unsalted is fine
- ¼ cup (31 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon ground mustard
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika optional
- 3 cups (710 ml) whole milk see note for different types of milk
- 2 cups (226 g) freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese see note
- ½ cup (57 g) freshly shredded gouda cheese
For Panko Topping
- 1 ½ Tablespoons salted butter
- ½ cup (30 g) seasoned panko
- 1 ½ quart baking dish
- Preheat your oven to 350F (175C) and lightly butter a 1 ½ quart baking dish. Set aside.
- Begin cooking the elbow macaroni according to package instructions. Once finished, drain, rinse under cold water, and toss with a teaspoon of olive oil. Set aside.8 oz (226 g) elbow macaroni
- Meanwhile, place chopped bacon in Dutch oven and turn stovetop heat to medium. Cook until bacon is crisped and then carefully remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside. Once cooled, crumble or chop bacon into small pieces.8 strips thick-cut bacon
- Drain all but approximately 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease and add 2 Tablespoons of butter to the pot over medium heat.2 Tablespoons butter
- Once butter has melted, sprinkle flour overtop and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Continue to cook, stirring, another 30-60 seconds to toast the flour.¼ cup (31 g) all-purpose flour
- Add spices (salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, and smoked paprika, if using) and stir well.½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon ground mustard, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- While still whisking, slowly pour in the milk. Continue to stir over medium heat until milk and butter are completely combined.3 cups (710 ml) whole milk
- While stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened. Your whisk or spoon should leave a trail through the sauce and it should coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove sauce from heat and add shredded cheeses. Stir until the cheeses are melted and the sauce is smooth.2 cups (226 g) freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese, ½ cup (57 g) freshly shredded gouda cheese
- Add cooked, drained pasta noodles and half of the chopped bacon and stir well.
- Pour into prepared baking dish and begin preparing Panko seasoning.
- Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add panko and cook, stirring frequently until panko is toasted golden brown.1 ½ Tablespoons salted butter, ½ cup (30 g) seasoned panko
- Add remaining bacon and toss with the panko. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over macaroni and transfer to 350F (175C) oven. Bake for 15 minutes then allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before digging in.
Bacon:For a bacon-free recipe, please see my baked macaroni and cheese recipe or you may omit the bacon and use 4 Tablespoons of butter instead.
Milk:I have only tested this recipe with whole milk but it should work fine with a lower fat milk as well.
Cheese:While you may get lucky and have success using pre-shredded cheese, this often contains additives that can cause the sauce to separate/congeal. For best results, shred your own cheese. Personally I like to use a blend of white and yellow cheddar, but you can use just one type, that’s fine!
Making in Advance:This recipe can be prepared in advance, but note that as it sits in the refrigerator the pasta will absorb the cheese sauce and the results will not be quite as saucy. To prepare, follow the instructions through step 11. Allow macaroni to cool slightly then cover and transfer to refrigerator where it will keep for up to 3 days. Prepare panko topping as instructed and store separately at room temperature or in the fridge. To cook, preheat your oven to 350F and sprinkle panko over macaroni before transferring to the oven to bake for 30 minutes or until baked through and center is warm and melty.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.