Perfectly cheesy, creamy, and gooey baked mac and cheese topped with bacon crumb topping. Bacon makes everything better and a layer of crunchy bacon and Panko topping makes this baked mac and cheese the best. A perfect, simple combination of cheeses makes this mac and cheese texture smooth and flavorful.
BAKED MAC AND CHEESE
What can be more comforting than gooey, cheesy, mac and cheese fresh and hot from the oven?! Nothing, it’s the best comfort food around.
Mac and cheese is one of those wonderful dishes that can be whatever you want it to be. It can easily be a holiday side dish or a simple side dish for a weekend dinner. Mac and cheese can be a main dish as well, especially if it’s loaded with bacon topping like this recipe.
What I love about mac and cheese is how easy it is and how fast it can be made. Simple stove-top mac and cheese can take as little as 20 minutes to make. Baked mac and cheese takes about 45 minutes to an hour but it can easily be made ahead of time.
To prepare baked mac and cheese ahead of time, simply follow all the steps up to the point of baking. Instead of baking, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap tightly and refrigerate it. You can refrigerate it for a day or so until ready to bake. Take off plastic wrap and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes.
WHAT CHEESE TO USE
We all have our favorite cheeses to put into mac and cheese and I often choose the same ones. I always make sure to get one cheese with extra flavor and one cheese that will provide gooey, smooth, and stringy texture. This combination works great for enhanced flavor and texture.
When choosing a flavorful cheese, go for sharp cheeses or ones that are known to be flavorful. Select extra sharp cheddar cheese for a great flavor kick. In addition to cheddar, you can also choose to add another flavor like Parmigiano Reggiano. Even though it doesn’t melt as well, it will add another layer of flavor. (For Parmigiano Reggiano, choose shaved because it melts better.)
Mozzarella is the best cheese for smooth cheese sauce because it melts beautifully and extra gooey. Cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese melt just as nicely.
When it comes to cheese options, choose a block of cheese over shredded. Shredded cheese is mixed with cornstarch and other separating agents that affect the texture of cheese when melted. That’s why for smooth, creamy cheese sauce, it’s best to use a block of cheese and grate it yourself.
HOW TO MAKE BACON IN THE OVEN
Preheat the oven to 425 and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, covering it entirely and up the sides. Fit a wire rack inside the baking sheet and lightly spray it with cooking spray.
Lay out bacon strips on top of the rack. For more flavor, you can brush bacon with a little mustard or just season with some black pepper.
Cook bacon for 13-15 minutes, depending on thickness of bacon. Thick cut bacon can take up to 20 minutes to cook fully.
Take the bacon out of the oven and lay the strips out on a paper towel.
Save a tablespoon of bacon grease for the topping.
HOW TO FREEZE MAC AND CHEESE
If you’re planning on freezing mac and cheese, it will be easier to prepare it in aluminum foil pan.
Cook macaroni, cheese sauce, and topping according to the recipe. Mix pasta and cheese sauce and spread it in the aluminum pan. Top mac and cheese with the bacon topping evenly.
Instead of baking, wrap the pan tightly with plastic wrap first and then wrap it again with foil. The goal is to wrap it air-tight. Label the pan and freeze for up to 2 months.
To bake frozen mac and cheese, make sure to take off plastic wrap first. Bake it covered with foil for 30 minutes and then take off the foil and bake for another 25-30 minutes. If the bacon topping is getting too crispy, place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely on top.
MAKE BAKED MAC AND CHEESE GLUTEN FREE
If you are gluten free, don’t get discouraged because this baked mac and cheese is very easy to make gluten free.
Use gluten free pasta. If you don’t have a favorite, I prefer the Tinkayada brand of gluten free pasta. Its texture is the least crumbly and tastes the most like regular pasta.
To thicken the cheese sauce, there are two options. Option one is substituting flour for gluten free flour, and option two is using cornstarch instead of flour.
If choosing to use gluten free all purpose flour, simply substitute it for regular flour and mix it with melted butter.
When using cornstarch instead of flour, it has to be mixed with cold milk first and then added to the pot to heat through. (1 tablespoon of cornstarch is enough for this recipe.)
To make the bacon topping gluten free, use gluten free bread crumbs instead of Panko.
SOME MORE PASTA RECIPES TO TRY:
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Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb macaroni pasta
- water to cook pasta
- salt to season water
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 4 cups milk (whole or reduced fat)
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese block
- 8 oz Mozzarella cheese block
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 lb bacon
- 1 cup Panko crumbs
- 1 tbsp bacon grease from cooking bacon
Cook bacon in the oven:
- Preheat the oven to 425 and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, covering it entirely and up the sides. Fit a wire rack inside the baking sheet and lightly spray it with cooking spray.
- Lay out bacon strips on top of the rack. For more flavor, you can brush bacon with a little mustard or just season with some black pepper.
- Cook bacon for 13-15 minutes, depending on thickness of bacon. Thick cut bacon can take up to 20 minutes to cook fully.
- Take the bacon out of the oven and lay the strips out on a paper towel.
Mac and cheese:
- Grate blocks of cheese on large block grater. Set aside.
- While bacon is cooking, cook pasta, and prepare cheese sauce.
- Cook macaroni al dente, strain, and set aside.
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.
- Whisk in flour and stir. Once it's combined and looks like paste, start slowly pouring in milk while constantly stirring. Keep whisking until all incorporated.
- Add cheeses a handful at a time while slowly stirring.
- Season with garlic power, salt, and pepper. Keep slowly stirring.
- Once all cheese is melted and smooth, add pasta. Stir until all completely combined. Take off heat.
- Preheat oven to 350 and grease a baking dish. Use a deep 9x9 baking dish or 9x13 baking dish.
- Spread mac and cheese in the prepared baking dish.
- Crumble and dice cooked bacon. Mix diced bacon, Panko, and a little bacon grease in a mixing bowl until evenly combined.
- Spread topping all over the mac and cheese in the baking pan.
- Bake for about 20 minutes.