This creamy, homemade bacon mac and cheese recipe is made on the stove in one skillet, with an option to make it baked-style! A fast, easy weeknight meal.
This post was sponsored by Safeway. I was compensated for this post and for developing the recipe. However, all opinions below are completely my own. You can get all the products featured in this recipe at your local Safeway!
I’ve made numerous variants of mac and cheese in my kitchen. They range from a cheeseburger pasta recipe which is basically a mac and cheese meets hamburger helper sort of dish to a rather glorious chard and smoked gouda mac and cheese that I wrote when I first started blogging (it’s such an embarrassingly written post with terrible photos, please don’t judge me). I have at least two or three other mac and cheese recipes in my kitchen arsenal that I have yet to write up. But it’s my easy bacon mac and cheese recipe that I want to chat about today!
You make it on the stovetop. It’s done in one pan, including the macaroni, meaning no pre-cooking and draining the pasta! You can eat it right then and there, if you like a super creamy stove-top style mac and cheese. But I’ve also added an option to cover it with bread cubes and bake it in a screaming hot oven for 10 minutes to get the convenience of stove top and the crunch of a baked-style mac and cheese. It’s the sort of one-stop-shop of creamy bacon mac and cheese and it comes together fast! With minimal effort, this homemade mac and cheese with bacon recipe is absolutely worth it.
I wasn’t really thinking about mac and cheese when I went on a tour at Cobram Estate’s olive farm with Safeway last month. The weather was warm and luxurious, the folks at the event were friendly and inviting, and the olive farm felt like I was walking around the countryside of Tuscany. The walk through their facilities was equally fascinating.
We watched the machine freshly harvest olives, then get transported to the processing plant. There, they were mashed and smashed! Then we sampled freshly squeezed olive oil which was insanely peppery and vibrant. And finally we did a taste test of various different olive oils, including an “competitive” brand that (spoiler alert) tasted like crayon. Just FYI, if the olive oil tastes oily and like crayon, it’s gone bad (or, quite possibly, it was never good to begin with)!
Of course, no Safeway tour is complete without food. Cobram Estates teamed up with Boar’s Head and used their cheese and meat to make some excellent dishes, including a focaccia crostini with turkey breast, an arugula and apple salad with herb chevre, a fall vegetable gratin with ham, a Hawaiian-inspired fried rice, and a grilled delicata squash stuffed with pancetta and sage.
We washed it all down with Dasani’s naturally flavored sparkling waters which cut through some of the richness of the food without any cloying sweetness.
The day ended with even more food, this time right near a lake, where we feasted on cheeses and charcuterie from Boar’s Head as well zero-proof cocktails made with Dasani Sparkling water and juices. As someone who needed to drive home afterwards, I appreciate the chance to drink something non-alcoholic that wasn’t just a regular sugary soft drink. And now I’m slightly obsessed with Dasani’s lime sparkling water!
Once I hit my local Safeway I found out that Boar’s Head isn’t just deli meat. Their charcuterie and cheese selection is extensive! And that’s when I realized I need to make mac and cheese. It’s the sort of classic dish that works on a holiday dinner table as part of a buffet, or as an easy simple weeknight meal. Being able to make it in one skillet, means it’s doable for anyone, anytime! Pair it with one of Dasani’s sparkling waters to cut the richness and you have the perfect evening in.
What makes this recipe so fast, easy, and speedy?
This recipe uses one skillet and doesn’t require you to pre-cook the macaroni in water! That’s right, the macaroni is cooked right in the skillet with milk. No boiling water, no draining the pasta! The starch from the macaroni helps thicken the sauce and keeps the cheese from breaking and getting oily.
How to make Bacon Mac and Cheese
This recipe uses just one pan to make it! I prefer a 12-inch cast iron skillet but you can use any 12-inch or larger skillet or saute pan. If you plan on doing the optional oven baking at the end to give it some crispy edges and bread cube topping, use an oven-proof pan.
First you fry up the bacon in the skillet until it’s crispy. Then you drain the bacon and move it to the paper lined bowl. Wipe out the skillet but don’t clean it. Add some olive oil, sauté some chopped onions and minced garlic then add the uncooked macaroni to the pan! Add milk and cook the pasta in the pan with the onions and garlic.
Once the pasta has cooked and absorbed the liquid, add the cheese, the bacon and some parsley and even more milk that has a little cornstarch and mustard dissolved in it. Heat until the sauce has thickened and you’re done!
BUT, if you want, you can top the mac and cheese with olive oil tossed bread cubes and parsley. Toast in a hot oven (500°F or whatever the hottest your oven will go to) for 10 minutes and you’ve got a baked mac and cheese with bacon, complete with crunchy topping and crispy edges.
Do I have to use olive oil? Can’t I just use the bacon grease?
I tested this recipe with olive oil and with bacon grease. And as much as I love bacon, the bacon grease is actually is TOO rich and heavy for this mac and cheese. I could only really eat one or two bites. That’s why I opted to drain it out and use olive oil.
Can I use different cheese instead of Cheddar and Monterey Jack?
I picked sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese because they give a classic mac and cheese flavor. Sharp cheddar mellows out when it is added to the creamy mac and cheese so I opt for sharp over medium or mild cheddar. Monterey Jack is a creamy buttery cheese that melts really well. It’s a great counterpoint to the Cheddar.
That said, if you do want to experiment with different cheese in this dish, go for it! I’d pick a more robust flavored cheese to substitute for the Cheddar and one that melts well and is creamy for the Monterey Jack. Here are a few suggestions.
For the Cheddar cheese try substituting and equal amount of:
- Colby cheese, a softer, milder cheese with a sweet nutty flavor.
- Havarti Cheese, a semi-soft buttery and melty cheese
- Aged Gouda Cheese, buttery and nutty in flavor
- Smoked Gouda Cheese, smoky with almost a meaty flavor
- Edam Cheese, a salty nutty Dutch cheese
- Dubliner, a cheese that has the sharpness of Cheddar, the salty bite of Parmesan and the nutty sweetness of Swiss.
- American or Velveeta, a classic creamy, smooth and melty favorite for mac and cheese
For the Monterey Jack try substituting and equal amount of:
- Swiss Cheese or Emmental, a sweet and mildy tangy cheese
- Gruyere Cheese, fruity and earthy with a lot of savory umami without being overpowering.
- Fontina Cheese, a mild and earthy cheese with hints of mushroom
- Muenster cheese, mild and melty
- Gouda (young), mild and smooth with a slight sweetness
- Mozzarella, a mild stretchy cheese
- Provolone, a slightly sweet mild and buttery cheese that melts well
- Taleggio, a washed rind cheese that smells funky but is actually mildly nutty in flavor
Can I substitute or leave out the bacon?
Sure! You can totally leave out the bacon and make this mac and cheese vegetarian. Just skip frying up the bacon in the beginning and use a little more olive oil (I’d increase it to 2 tablespoons) to cook the onions and garlic.
Other ingredients you can add to make it vegetarian including adding:
- Mushrooms, cook 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms in the beginning in 1 tablespoon of olive oil instead of bacon, the remove from pan and fold in at the end in place of the bacon.
- Bell peppers, add 1 diced bell pepper, the color of your choice, with the onions and garlic.
- Cauliflower florets, steam 3 cups of cauliflower and fold into the mac and cheese in the end instead of bacon.
- broccoli florets, steam 3 cups of broccoli and fold into the mac and cheese in the end instead of bacon.
- Caramelized onions, caramelized sliced onions first, then add garlic and proceed with recipe.
- Butternut squash or pumpkin, use a 15 ounce can of butternut squash or canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling). Add it in after the cheese has melted.
- Kale, chop leaves from 1 bunch and discard stems. Fold in at the end to wilt into the mac and cheese.
You can also substitute out the bacon for another meat if you’d like. Here’s a few suggestions:
- Spanish Chorizo sausage, diced 8 ounces and added in the end.
- Diced Pancetta, cook 8 ounces of pancetta like the bacon, drain and fold into mac and cheese the end.
- Diced Pepperoni sausage, fold 8 ounces into mac and cheese the end.
- Chopped ham, fold 2 cups of chopped ham in at the end.
- Ground Beef, cook 8 ounces of ground beef in the beginning, drain and wipe out then fold in at the end.
Can I use pre-cooked bacon?
Absolutely! Just crumble or chop the bacon and fold it in at the end.
Can I use pre-shredded cheese?
I don’t recommend buying pre-shredded cheese for mac and cheese. Pre-shredded packaged cheese is often coated with a powder that prevents clumping. This powder ALSO prevents the cheese from melting properly and you’ll get a lumpy sauce. Instead take the extra 2 minutes to shred the cheese. It will taste better, and it will melt better as well!
How long can you store mac and cheese leftovers?
You can store mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator comfortably for 3 days. You might be able to stretch it longer to 4 or 5 depending on how cold your fridge is. Or you can freeze it in an airtight container or resealable ziplock bag for up to 1 month!
How do you reheat mac and cheese?
The easiest way to reheat mac and cheese is the microwave! Just place the mac and cheese in a microwave safe bowl, and heat in 30 second bursts, stirring the mac and cheese until hot.
You can also reheat the mac and cheese in a 350°F oven, covered with aluminum foil for 45 minutes. Then remove the cover and bake an additional 10-15 until it is hot all the way through and the bread cubes crisp up on top.
If you like this bacon mac and cheese recipe, check out some of these other recipes that feature cheese!
- Cheeseburger Pasta
- Beer Cheese Dip
- Grilled Double Cheese Cheeseburger
- Handheld Ham and Cheese Pie
- Chard and Cheese Tart
- Pimiento Cheese Deviled Eggs
- Ham and Parmesan Waffles
- Olive, Green Onion and Cheese Beer Bread
And check out some of these recipes featuring bacon in them!
- Bacon, Mushroom, and Peas Pasta
- Asparagus, Bacon, and Mushroom Risotto
- Bacon Pancakes
- Bacon, Mushroom, Spinach, Chard Frittata
- The Best Belgian Waffles with Bacon inside!
- Classic Wedge Salad
Bacon Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese base
- 8 ounces bacon chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Cobram Estate California Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil preferred
- 1/2 yellow onion chopped, about 3/4 cup
- 2 cloves garlic minced, about 1 tablespoon
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese shredded,
Boar’s Head Sharp Wisconsin Cheddar preferred
- 6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese shredded,
Boar’s Head Monterey Jack Cheese
- 4 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard or 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- If you want a baked-style mac and cheese, preheat your oven to 500°F (or the closest temperature your oven goes to if it doesn't reach 500°F). If you prefer your mac and cheese more stovetop-style with an extra creamy sauce, skip this step.
- Place the chopped bacon in a 12-inch skillet (cast iron preferred but not necessary). If you are going for a baked-style mac and cheese, make sure the skillet is oven-proof. Heat on medium high, and cook the bacon until it is crispy. While the bacon is cooking, line a heat proof bowl with a paper towel. Once the bacon is done cooking, move the bacon to the bowl and drain the fat into a heat proof measuring cup.
- Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and tongs, but don’t clean it. Add the olive oil.
- Add the onion and garlic. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften and look translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Don’t let the garlic brown or burn.
- Once the onion and garlic has softened, add the uncooked macaroni, milk, salt and pepper to the pan. Increase the heat to high until the milk starts to boil. Lower the heat until it is at a simmer, and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until all the pasta has absorbed the milk, about 8 to 10 minutes depending on the pasta. The pasta should be al dente or even a little more firm. That’s OK.
- Turn off the stove or remove the pan from the heat. Add a handful of the cheese to the skillet and stir it in until it melts. Continue adding more cheese, stirring and folding the macaroni, only adding more after the initial cheese has melted.
- Once all the cheese has been incorporated in, fold and mix in the parsley and the drain bacon.
- Combine the sauce ingredients together in a glass measuring cup with a fork. Pour into the skillet. Return pan to the stove or turn the heat back on to medium. Cook the mac and cheese, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- If you’re serving the pasta directly from the stovetop, taste the pasta. If it is still too firm, continue to cook the mac and cheese, stirring constantly, until the pasta is al dente. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
- If you like your mac and cheese baked-style, don’t worry about cooking the pasta more on the stovetop. It will cook more in the oven. Toss all the topping ingredients together, making sure all the bread cubes are coated with olive oil. Sprinkle the bread cubes and parsley evenly over the top of the mac and cheese. Place in the oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the bread cubes are golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes or so before serving.