There’s no question that when it comes to America’s favorite side dishes, macaroni and cheese reigns supreme (#SorryNotSorry, french fries). And while classic mac and cheese, much like your beloved kiddo, is perfect just the way it is, sometimes it’s fun to mix it up. Whether you make your mac and cheese from a box, toss noodles with chopped Velveeta or whip up Grandma’s secret from-scratch recipe, these hacks will level up your mac and cheese game.
But these aren’t your boring add-in ideas like bacon, veggies or hot dogs, oh no. These are spectacular hacks that are sure to earn you the nickname Mac and Cheese Maven.
1. Mac & cheese bake with a crispy twist
Spoon your mac and cheese into a cast-iron skillet or casserole dish. Crush up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or Funyuns until you have about three-quarters of a cup, and mix it with two tablespoons of melted butter. Sprinkle the mixture on top, then bake until golden-brown.
2. Tuna noodle mac & cheese
Give tuna noodle casserole a cheesy makeover by mixing a small packet of tuna and a cup or so of defrosted or steamed frozen peas into your mac and cheese as it cooks.
3. Mac & cheese pizza
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Take it up a notch by spreading marinara sauce on a store-bought pizza crust, topping it with mac and cheese, then adding traditional pizza toppings if desired and baking it like a regular pizza. Serve it with grated Parmesan and red pepper flakes.
4. Barbecue mac & cheese
Barbecue complete with barbecue sauce stirred into mac and cheese will make you the hero of leftover night.
5. Cheeseburger mac & cheese
This isn’t your mama’s burger mac. Cook up a pound of ground beef with onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, a can of diced tomatoes and equal parts ketchup and yellow mustard (about a quarter cup). Stir it into prepared mac and cheese along with some chopped dill pickles and serve it topped with traditional burger fixin’s like lettuce, tomatoes, onions and more pickles.
6. Mac & cheeseballs
Turn your mac and cheese into a fried appetizer by shaping cold leftover mac and cheese into balls, freezing them overnight, then dipping them in egg wash and breadcrumbs. Fry them until golden-brown and serve them with marinara for dipping.
7. Mexi-mac & cheese
Stir in a couple of tablespoons of taco seasoning and some diced green chilies or jalapeños. Top it with fajita chicken or steak to make it a complete meal.
8. Apple-sausage mac & cheese
Fry up some smoked sausage, soften chopped Granny Smith apples in the grease and toss them with your fave mac and cheese.
9. Mac & cheeseburger
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Use mac and cheese in lieu of sliced cheese on your burger. Alternatively, you can create mac and cheese “buns” using the cheeseball method under No. 6 and serve it up with a burger patty and your fave burger toppers.
10. Roasted garlic-pancetta mac & cheese
Stir in some roasted garlic and crispy pancetta for a gourmet twist on bacon mac. Pour it into a casserole dish and top it with a mix of even more pancetta, Parmesan cheese, panko breadcrumbs and two tablespoons of olive oil and bake it until the topping is golden-brown.
11. Mac & cheese caprese
Spoon prepared macaroni and cheese mixed with chopped basil into a cast-iron skillet, casserole dish or individual oven-safe soufflé cups and top it with sliced Roma tomatoes and balls of buffalo mozzarella, then bake until the tomatoes are roasty and the mozzarella has begun to melt. Garnish it with basil leaves.
12. Lobster mac & cheese
Got leftover lobster or crab from last night’s date night? Use it to fancify your comfort food.
13. Buffalo chicken mac & cheese
Steam some frozen carrots and toss them with mac and cheese. Pour it into a casserole dish and top it with well-sauced boneless (cooked) Buffalo chicken. Garnish it with blue cheese and put it in the oven until the blue cheese just starts to look melty.
14. Spicy black bean mac & cheese
Stir in some drained, rinsed black beans, chopped chipotle in adobo sauce (along with a little of the adobo sauce itself) and chopped green onions.
15. Sloppy mac
Stir in leftover sloppy joe mix for a cheesy take on another classic comfort food.
16. Tortellini mac & cheese
Use your favorite flavor of stuffed pasta instead of elbow macaroni or shells for a decadent spin on the original.