Think Outside the Box: 17 Macaroni and Cheese Recipes

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Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt, Morgan Eisenberg, Vicky Wasik

While I'll always have a special place in my heart for Kraft mac and cheese, I'm more likely to make it from scratch these days—homemade stovetop mac is almost as easy as the boxed stuff, anyway, and way tastier. I'm perfectly happy with plain mac and cheese, but we've got variations packed with flavorful mix-ins like bacon, chicken, black beans, and spinach. If you're more into baked mac and cheese, we've got you covered, too. We've even got a few surprises! (Hint: Get out your waffle iron!)

Stovetop Mac and Cheese Recipes

Ultra-Gooey Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

This recipe is about as close as you'll come to replicating the Blue Box at home, only it's better. To nail the gooey texture we use cornstarch, evaporated milk, and eggs. American cheese helps with the texture, too, but feel free to mix it with a more flavorful melting cheese, like cheddar.

3-Ingredient Macaroni and Cheese

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If that recipe is just a little too much effort for you and you're thinking about reaching for the box instead, try this one on for size. It's got fewer ingredients than the stuff you can pull of the shelf, and all of them are pantry staples. Is it better than the ultra-gooey stovetop version? No, but you cannot beat the work-to-results ratio. And it really is almost as delicious.

Easy Stovetop 'Nduja Mac and Cheese

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Photograph: Vicky Wasik

If you're willing to increase your ingredient count to four, this simple stovetop mac and cheese follows the same steps as Kenji's quick three-ingredient take, but enhances the flavor with a generous dollop of 'nduja, a funky spreadable Italian salami. The 'nduja melds into the sauce effortlessly, adding a meaty, spicy undercurrent to the classic.

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Vegan nacho cheese is an oxymoron, but our vegan nacho "cheese" sauce is freakishly close to the real thing. We use the same base of shortening, potatoes, and cashews, as the vegan nacho cheese sauce, but we swap in some more macaroni-appropriate ingredients, like paprika, mustard, and tomato paste. A dab of miso paste also ups the savoriness.

Bacon-Jalapeño Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

This mac and cheese variation is made with smoky, meaty bacon. We replace some of the butter in the base recipe with rendered bacon fat and we mix in a generous dose of both fresh and pickled jalapeños to cut through all the meat and cheese.

Bacon and Pimento Macaroni and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

We use bacon in this recipe, too, along with chopped pimentos—if you've ever wanted an excuse to eat pimento cheese with a fork, this is it. Instead of strips, we like to use slab bacon cut into thick, slightly chewy lardons.

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

It might not be for everyone, but this is one of my favorite macaroni and cheese variations. We already use Frank's in our basic mac and cheese recipe—this recipe takes that addition to its logical conclusion by adding shredded, cooked chicken meat and crumbled blue cheese.

Green Chili Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

This mac and cheese uses chilies three ways—we stir in chopped canned green chilies (or freshly roasted ones if you want to be fancy) and salsa verde, plus we used spicy pepperjack instead of the cheddar cheese we normally use. We also add chicken—store-bought rotisserie chicken works fine, but homemade poached chicken is even better.

Cheeseburger Macaroni and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Once you've familiarized yourself with cheeseburger dip, it's no stretch of the imagination to toss in some noodles. That's basically what we do here, making mac and cheese with ground beef, scallions, and Ro-Tel tomatoes. If, for some reason, Ro-Tel isn't available where you live, you can substitute one can each of diced tomatoes and diced chilies (although you can always order Ro-Tel tomatoes online).

Fully Loaded Pizza Macaroni and Cheese

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

The first steps in pizza-fying mac and cheese are to take care of the cheese and the sauce. That means replacing the cheddar with mozzarella and a little parmesan, then adding tomatoes and basil. You could stop there, but we go all in, loading the mac up with Italian sausage, pepperoni, soppressata, black olives, and pepperoncini.

Macaroni and Cheese With Chickpeas and Spinach

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

Loaded macaroni and cheese doesn't have to be meaty. For this vegetarian recipe we bulk up mac and cheese with canned chickpeas, and stir in a few cups of roughly chopped spinach. A handful of chopped artichokes wouldn't be out of place, either, if you feel like adding them.

Macaroni and Cheese With Black Beans and Chipotle

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

This Southwestern-inspired macaroni and cheese similarly combines pasta and legumes. Mix in canned black beans and chipotles in adobo (both the chilies and the sauce), then add a minced fresh chili or two if you want it extra spicy. Scallions and cilantro brighten the dish up—we stir in some towards the end of cooking and save the rest for a garnish.

Cheddar Mac and Cheese With Peppadew Peppers

Photograph: Jennifer Olvera

This stovetop mac and cheese relies on regional favorite Merkts cheese spread. We mix the spread with sharp cheddar and Peppadew peppers to make a creamy, flavorful mac. Can't find Merkts? Feel free to substitute any spreadable pub-style cheese, or even just Velveeta.

Baked Mac and Cheese Recipes

Baked Macaroni and Cheese Casserole With Cheddar and Gruyère

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

I grew up on the stovetop variety, but I've grown to appreciate baked mac and cheese—especially for its crispy top. This classic recipe uses a cheddar-packed béchamel, plus grated Gruyère. You can use other semi-dry cheeses like Swiss and Fontina, if you'd prefer. The crunchy topping is simply panko mixed with melted butter and seasoned with salt.

Modern Baked Mac and Cheese With Cheddar and Gruyère

Photograph: Vicky Wasik

Our stovetop macaroni recipes use American cheese for its supremely gooey texture. American's meltability comes from sodium citrate. These days you can order food-grade sodium citrate online, meaning that any cheese can be made into a super-gooey sauce. That's the key to this creamy macaroni and cheese, which walks the line perfectly between baked and stovetop mac.

Mac and Cheese Variations

Cornbread-Coated Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese Wedges

Photograph: Morgan Eisenberg

Leftover macaroni and cheese is notoriously hard to reheat, but if you get creative it's totally possible. In this recipe we sandwich leftover mac with leftover pulled pork, wrap it all in cornbread batter, then fry it up. Served with extra sauce on the side, these will make the previous day's barbecue pale in comparison.

Macaroni and Cheese Waffles

Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt

For something less labor-intensive but still delicious, waffled macaroni and cheese is the way to go. We layer slices of cold mac and cheese with extra cheddar and stick them in the waffle iron. Cook them long enough and the cheese turns into a crispy crust, while the interior stays gooey. Serve with hot sauce and—if you feel like getting a little crazy—maple syrup.