There is nothing quite like diving into a big plate of baked mac and cheese. It is a nostalgic experience that brings some much needed comfort to a stressful day. This buffalo baked mac and cheese is no exception. It combines the magic of a cheese sauce with the tongue tingling properties of buffalo sauce and tops it all off with crunchy breadcrumbs.
And look, if you need to take a few deep breaths after your long day, I have provided a video of guided meditation below. By which, of course, I mean a clip of cheese sauce being folded into pasta. You are welcome.
Mix and match your favorite cheeses. For this recipe, I usually use a mix of cheddars - sharp, white, black pepper, habanero, and 3-pepper have all made appearances - and parmesan. I've listed what I think are the best cheese options below but that need not limit your creativity. Choose your cheeses with your heart.
- Cheddar: The classic. If I am going to splurge on anything for mac and cheese, it is a nice sharp cheddar. For some variety, use a mix of aged, sharp, mild, or white cheddar cheeses.
- Gouda: Mac and cheese with gouda is for fans of smoky flavor. It adds an extra layer of interest to the dish.
- Parmesan: I use parmesan mixed into my breadcrumbs to add a pop of salt. And yeah, I sometimes double down and throw it into the cheese sauce also. Frankly, there is never too much parmesan for me.
- Asiago: This is basically parmesan's well-bred cousin. It is sweet and nutty and can only be made in specific regions of Italy.
- Other options: Gruyere, 3-pepper cheese, pepper jack, fontina, mozzarella
So, I called this mac and cheese because I literally never use macaroni for this dish. If you use a nickname, it doesn't have to accurate, right? Now, of course if macaroni is your jam, absolutely use it. If not, I've noted some other options below. See an image dictionary of pasta shapes.
- Macaroni (obviously)
- Penne rigate
The Buffalo Sauce
I am a sucker for a good buffalo sauce. For this dish, I prefer to use my own buffalo sauce recipe, rather than a store bought option. In my fully biased opinion, my recipe has a wider depth of flavor and is well balanced. That being said, if you have a favorite buffalo sauce or it just sounds hard and you don't wanna, then go ahead and use store bought.
This recipe actually makes enough cheese sauce for 2 pounds of pasta. Therefore, you can either make a double batch of pasta at once or freeze the extra sauce for your next mac and cheese based emergency.
Absolutely, simply follow the recipe up to the baking step. Cover the baking dish and place in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Take the mac and cheese out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before baking.
While you can freeze the dish fully put together, the pasta does not maintain its shape and texture. Therefore, I recommend freezing the cheese sauce by itself. To re-heat the sauce microwave in 45 second increments, mixing in between. Add a tablespoon or so of milk as needed to thin the texture.
Now get that buffalo mac and cheese baking, sit back, and remind yourself that it's ok to temporarily mask your stress in cheese.
Baked Buffalo Mac and Cheese
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup shredded parmesan
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Mac and Cheese
- 1-2 lb pasta of choice Depending whether you want to make a double batch or save the extra sauce for later.
- 3 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup mild beer
- 2 cups 2% milk
- ¼ cup buffalo sauce see notes for recipe link
- 4 cups shredded cheese mix of choice cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, asiago, pepper jack, etc.
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Mix all bread crumb ingredients in a small bowl.
Mac and Cheese
- Pre-heat oven to 400 °F and coat a 9 x 13" baking dish (or two if you are making a double batch) with cooking spray.
- Cook pasta according to box directions. Add 1-2 tablespoon of salt to the water before mixing in the pasta. After draining the pasta pour it directly into the baking dish(es).
- Meanwhile, start the roux. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low. Whisk flour into the butter and continue to whisk frequently for about 1 minute.
- While whisking, carefully pour in the beer and allow to heat for about 2 minutes. If the beer starts to foam too much, turn down heat and lightly mix. Then, mix in milk and buffalo sauce.
- Bring mixture to a simmer. Keep an eye on the sauce at this point because the beer may foam up. Mix gently to reduce any excess foam.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low again. Wait until the mixture stops simmering; you want the milk to cool slightly before the cheese is added. While mixing add in cheese 1 cup at a time. Allow the cheese to melt into the milk mixture before adding more.
- Season the cheese sauce with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Taste cheese sauce and adjust to taste. The cheese sauce should be a little salty because it will taste less salty after baking.
- Combine the pasta and sauce. Pour a little less than half of the cheese sauce over the pasta in the baking dish(es). Use a spatula to fold the sauce into the pasta. Add more sauce as desired. The pasta should be coated with a little excess sauce because it will bake down.
- Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top of the pasta. If you prefer a slightly moister bread crumb, you can add thin pats of butter over the top of the bread crumbs before baking or melt 1 tablespoon of butter and mix it in with the crumb before sprinkling.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top of pasta is lightly browned.
- If you made a single batch, freeze the extra sauce in a medium freezer-safe container. When you are ready to use the sauce, heat it slowly in the microwave, adding 1-2 tablespoon of milk as needed to thin it to the proper viscosity.