If You Want to Step Up Your Mac-and-Cheese Game, Bacon Is the Answer

BY Christine Gallary, TIMEMarch 28, 2022 PRINT

Mac and cheese is already a pretty perfect food, but sometimes you just feel like gilding the lily. Should you find yourself wanting to up your mac and cheese game, I’m here to tell you that bacon is the answer.

This classic mac and cheese is loaded with bacon flavor, thanks to a combination of bacon fat and crispy bacon. It’s stick-to-your-ribs food that’s both comforting and a crowd-pleaser.

What Ingredients Do I Need for Bacon Mac and Cheese?

Plenty of Bacon: Don’t skimp! You need 12 ounces to get enough bacon-y flavor. I prefer regular over thick-cut here because the bacon cooks up thin and crispy, which is a nice contrast to the soft, cheesy pasta. And we’re not wasting the precious bacon fat. It serves as the base for the cheese sauce.

A Combination of Cheeses: Although cheddar and bacon is a classic combo, using some Monterey Jack in addition to the cheddar keeps the sauce smooth and creamy.

The Remaining Sauce Ingredients: You’ll also need milk, flour, mustard powder, and salt to make the sauce.

Macaroni: And of course, macaroni! Go with the classic shape, or small shells work great, too.

How to Make Bacon Mac and Cheese From Scratch

Start by cooking chopped bacon until it’s nice and crisp while the pasta water comes to a boil. Drain the bacon on paper towels and reserve some of the fat. Cook the macaroni, then use the same pot to make the sauce: Cook the bacon fat with flour and mustard, then add milk and simmer until the mixture starts to thicken. Add all the cheese and stir until it turns into a luscious cheese sauce.

Add the macaroni and half of the bacon to the sauce and cook until bubbling. It will seem like a lot of sauce, but trust me—the macaroni will absorb it, and no one ever complains about too much sauce in mac and cheese. (Plus, all of this sauce means that leftovers will reheat nicely.) When you’re ready to serve, top the mac and cheese with the rest of the bacon for a crispy topping.

What to Serve With Bacon Mac and Cheese

This rich dish calls for something green on the side. Go with a salad dressed in a light vinaigrette to counteract all the cheesiness, or some sautéed green beans.

Bacon Mac and Cheese

Serves 6 as a main dish; 8 to 10 as a side dish

  • 12 ounces sliced bacon (9 to 12 slices, not thick-cut)
  • 1 pound dry elbow macaroni
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard powder
  • 5 cups whole or 2 percent milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water

Bring a large pot or Dutch oven of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, cut the sliced bacon crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a large frying pan and use your hands to separate any large clumps of bacon. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 10 to 14 minutes.

Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour 1/3 cup of the bacon fat into a heatproof measuring cup and discard any remaining fat or save for another use.

When the water is boiling, add the dry macaroni and cook according to package directions until al dente. Meanwhile, grate the cheeses on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups each).

When the pasta is ready, drain. Dry off the pot and add the reserved 1/3 cup bacon fat. Heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the all-purpose flour and ground mustard powder and cook, whisking constantly, until fragrant and darkened in color, about 1 minute.

While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk. Bring to a full simmer, whisking often. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking frequently, until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the cheeses and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and whisk until melted and smooth.

Add the macaroni and cook, stirring often, until heated through and bubbling, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add half of the bacon and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. (If you’d like a thicker sauce, let sit for 2 to 5 minutes for it to thicken up.) Top with the remaining bacon.

Recipe Notes

The bacon and cheese sauce can be cooked up to 2 days ahead. Once cooled, refrigerate in separate airtight containers. Rewarm the cheese sauce in the pasta pot before adding the cooked pasta.

Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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