Bacon-Jalapeño Stovetop Mac and Cheese Recipe

A supremely gooey and cheesy mac and cheese gets a healthy hit of savory smoke and spicy chile heat.

A bowl of bacon-jalapeño mac and cheese.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Why It Works

  • Starting the pasta in cold water works just as well as adding it to already-boiling water, plus it cooks faster and uses less energy.
  • A combination of several thickeners and emulsifying agents—cornstarch, evaporated milk, eggs, and American cheese—ensures an extra-gooey texture with real cheese flavor.
  • Replacing some of the butter from the original recipe with bacon fat gives the entire dish a smoky, bacon-y flavor.

I can count the number of times I've been involved in physical violence over food with two fingers on one hand. When I was 10 years old, I threw one of the metal legs of a mini trampoline at my older sister's door because I was convinced it was her fault that my tube of Life Savers Holes candy ended up full of broken bits after I'd thrown it at her and missed earlier. The second time was when I was working in a professional kitchen and pissed off another line cook so much that he threw an avocado at me. It splattered against the wall like green zombie guts. I can't remember why he was mad at me, but I'm sure that was my fault, too.

Point is, we've all been angry about food at some point or another, right? The only real solution is to just make more of the good stuff so that there's less to be angry about.

Take, for instance, bacon jalapeño mac and cheese. I've seen what deprivation can do to a person, and it's not pretty. Luckily, hot, fresh, gooey, creamy, spicy, bacon-y macaroni and cheese is just about 20 minutes away, and get this: It's easy enough that I'll bet you can make it even when you're drunk and angry. I know, because I just took six shots and watched videos of people toasting bagels just to put myself in the right mood to test this theory. The bacon-jalapeño mac and cheese came out perfect (and my mood was immediately soothed).

Once you've got the basics of gooey stovetop mac and cheese down, the rest is easy. In my stovetop mac and cheese recipe, I rely on the gooification powers of a number of excellent emulsifiers to keep my sauce creamy. Evaporated milk as a concentrated source of milk protein. Cornstarch for its thickening properties. Eggs for their ability to help sauce cling to noodles. A touch of American cheese for the added emulsifying salts that help my sharp cheddar melt smoothly.

The only real extra step is incorporating the bacon and jalapeños. I started by frying diced bacon in a skillet until it was completely crisp, then I added some diced jalapeños off-heat. I started off with straight-up fresh green jalapeños, but found that a mixture of fresh red jalapeños (Fresno chiles or plain green jalapeños will also work fine) and some diced pickled jalapeños offered brighter flavor, along with a pleasing acidity. After adding the chiles, I used some of the liquid they gave off to scrape up browned bits of bacon from the bottom of the skillet.

Once that mixture was concocted, I cooked my pasta by barely covering it with lightly salted water and bringing it to a boil (a much faster and more effective way to cook pasta than boiling it in a huge volume). Meanwhile, I mixed together my evaporated milk and eggs and tossed my cheeses with cornstarch.

My standard recipe calls for quite a bit of butter to be added to the noodles after cooking, but here I replaced a good chunk of that butter with the rendered bacon fat from the skillet, which gives the entire dish a smoky aroma, even when you aren't getting any of the individual bits of crispy bacon in your mouth.

Overhead view of a bowl of bacon-jalapeño mac and cheese.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

There you go. I bet you can feel yourself calming down already.

A bite of bacon-jalapeño mac and cheese is lifted toward the camera on a fork.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

October 2015

Recipe Facts

Active: 25 mins
Total: 25 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

Rate & Comment


  • 8 ounces diced bacon

  • 1 to 2 red or green jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced

  • 1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeno peppers

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon Frank’s RedHot or other hot sauce

  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard

  • 1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

  • 8 ounces American cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 chunks


  1. Cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring, until completely crisp, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh and pickled jalapeños, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Set aside. Remove some of the mixture to a separate small bowl and reserve for garnish.

    Bacon and jalapenos are cooked in a skillet.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  2. Place macaroni in a large saucepan and cover it with salted water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to keep pasta from sticking. Cover pan, remove from heat, and let stand until pasta is barely al dente, about 8 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, whisk together evaporated milk, eggs, hot sauce, and mustard in a bowl until homogeneous. Toss cheeses with cornstarch in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.

  4. When pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to saucepan. Place over low heat, add butter, and stir until melted. Add bacon/jalapeño mixture (including bacon fat), milk mixture, and cheese mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese is completely melted and mixture is hot and creamy. Season to taste with salt and more hot sauce. Serve immediately, topped with reserved bacon/jalapeño mixture.

    The evaporated milk mixture is added to the cooked pasta, bacon, and jalapeños.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt


To reheat the pasta, add a few tablespoons of milk to the pan and cook, stirring gently, over medium-low heat until hot.

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
566 Calories
36g Fat
36g Carbs
23g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 566
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 36g 47%
Saturated Fat 17g 85%
Cholesterol 150mg 50%
Sodium 994mg 43%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 13%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 10g
Protein 23g
Vitamin C 9mg 45%
Calcium 733mg 56%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 458mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)