Winter is the time for comfort food, and few dishes are as comforting as mac n’ cheese. It’s a classic dish that’s easy to make, and is a surefire hit with family and friends. But if you’re looking to add an extra layer of deliciousness, then today’s recipe is for you, because we’re kicking up the basic mac n’ cheese formula with three different cheeses, crisped bacon, and buttery onions.
This delicious variation on the classic mac n’ cheese dish is incredibly easy to make and is the perfect comfort food for these icy winter months. The buttery sautéed onions add a unique sweetness to the dish, balancing out perfectly with the bacon. Meanwhile, the combination of cheeses create a layered and complex flavor profile. All of this comes together in an unabashedly decadent richness, that will have everyone coming back for seconds.
While this mac and cheese is certainly hardy enough to stand on its own, it’s best served alongside things like seared steaks or juicy burgers to create a full meal, particularly with sides like winter green salads, or warmed spinach sauteed with roasted nuts and breadcrumbs. Mixed roasted vegetables and hearty stews are also ideal pairings.
So if you’re ready to make some delicious winter comfort food, then read on. I’ll be providing you with an ingredient checklist, as well as some tips for making today’s mac and cheese your own, along with some bacon pointers – yes, bacon pointers. Now let’s get cooking!
What You’ll Need – The Ingredient Checklist
Your Preferred Macaroni. Purely preference. Elbows are the standard for mac and cheese, but personally I prefer penne. For a truly a ‘hardy’ mac and cheese, consider a substantial noodles such as rigatoni.
- Butter. You’ll want to use unsalted for this recipe.
- Yellow Onion. The onion is a matter of preference. Yellow is the standard for this type of recipe, but sweet or red onions will also work just fine.
- Garlic. We want fresh garlic for this recipe, and we want it diced up nice and fine.
- All Purpose Flour. The go-to for making a roux. Unless a recipe specifically calls for baking or bread flour, use all-purpose.
- Whole Milk. Fat is flavor, and whole milk brings the fat. It provides a richer and creamier texture for the sauce, and since it contains more fat and proteins than skim milk, that also means more flavor overall. The additional fat also helps to prevent the cheese from separating and curdling in the roux.
- Cheddar Cheese. I’m using sharp white cheddar.
- Gruyere. I find this plays deliciously with the cheddar. Gouda would also work great if you prefer. Conversely, mozzarella also plays nicely with cheddar. Experiment, mix and match to find your personal favorite combination.
- Parmesan. I do suggest grating your own as it tends to have an overall better flavor, and this is important as the grating cheese will otherwise risk being ‘lost’ with the cheddar and gruyere.
- Bacon. Competing with the cheese to be the star of the show is the bacon. See the tips below for making the best bacon possible!
- Salt. Plain table salt is all you need for this recipe.
- Pepper. While you can certainly use pre-ground, I’d suggest fresh ground. For best results, grind it in a mortar and pestle. Using a mortar and pestle greatly enhances the pepper’s aromatics. Don’t ask me why, just trust me and see for yourself.
- Parsley. The parsley is purely for garnish. Cilantro works perfectly as well.
Tips for Making the Best Mac n’ Cheese
Some of these will be controversial, especially the first one, but here are my tips for making the best mac and cheese ever, and for making today’s mac and cheese your own.
- The Cheese Matters. Two points here. Don’t use pre-shredded (yes, I went there), and avoid ‘cheese product’ cheeses. Why avoid pre-shredded? Air. Once the cheese has been shredded, ‘more of the cheese’ becomes exposed to air, and this causes the cheese to begin breaking down. Pre-shredded also leaks away moisture, meaning that on balance pre-shredded tends to be dryer. Thus, for the best mac and cheese possible, start with whole cheese.
- Diversify your cheese. As in life, variety is flavor. Use a combination of cheeses for the best flaresults. A combination of cheeses, such as cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, Gruyere, ricotta and Parmesan, will not only provide a richer and more complex flavor profile, but also a variety of texture.
- Don’t Skip the Roux. As we’re doing in this recipe, always start off with a basic roux to thicken the cheese sauce. A roux is a mixture of equal parts butter and flour cooked together. This ensures that your cheese sauce is perfectly creamy and thick.
- Cream and Cream. In what might be called ‘layering the fat,’ use a combination of milk and cream to make the cheese sauce. Do this at a ratio of about two parts milk and one part cream. This will give the cheese sauce a luxurious richness.
- Don’t Mix and Go. While it can be tempting to simply mix the noodles into the cheese sauce and then serve, instead bake the mac and cheese in the oven. This will give the dish a golden, crunchy crust.
- Make it More than Cheese. While the cheesy goodness is assuredly the star of the show, remember to add in extra flavor. Use a combination of garlic, onion, herbs, spices, and toppings.
- Toppings. Speaking of toppings, consider dusting the top of the mac and cheese with things like breadcrumbs to give a bit of ‘crunch’ that will contrast beautifully with the gooey interior.
Getting the Bacon Just Right
These pointers are ‘not’ just for this recipe. These pointers are for any time you make bacon. Yes, I’m helping you up your bacon game!
- Find a bacon you like. The difference in flavor between brands of bacon can be considerable, so find one you prefer, and use that. The difference largely comes to two factors; the quality of the pork itself, and the smoke recipe. Each brand sources its pork differently, and then utilizes unique smoke recipe or smoking method to produce its bacon.
- Use cast iron if you have it. Use a heavy skillet for making bacon, and the best choice here is cast iron. First off, the heavy material helps reduce the amount of grease splatter. Second, cooking the bacon in cast iron will it helps ensure that the bacon doesn’t stick. Finally, the cast iron will naturally lend a mildly smoky flavor to the bacon, meaning you get a tastier result simply by virtue of the pan you’re using.
- Medium-High Heat. Cooking the bacon at too high a temperature will result in burnt bacon. Cooking at too low a temperature will result in bacon that cooks up ‘soggy. Medium-high is the sweet spot that gives you crispy bacon.
- Flip It. Be sure to flip the bacon a few times to ensure even cooking.
- Drain it (optional). This is a matter of preference, but if you don’t want that extra grease, set the bacon on paper towels after it has cooked to remove the excess grease. Wrap the bacon, press gently, and you’re done. Conversely, there are recipes (such as sauces, burgers, or even mac and cheese) where the additional grease might be desirable in the recipe for added flavor.
- Liquid Smoke. If you’re looking for (even more) smoky flavor, add a few drops of liquid smoke to the bacon while it’s cooking. The liquid smoke will permeate through the grease, and seep into the bacon as it cooks. Note: Use a good quality liquid smoke, one that really is made from smoke, as opposed to artificial flavors.
- Maple Syrup. For a sweet and savory flavor, brush a little maple syrup on the bacon while it’s cooking. Note: Only do this with all natural, real maple syrup.
- Brown Sugar or Molasses. Conversely, to really double down on the ‘smokiness,’ but with a touch of ‘sweet,’ consider sprinkling some brown sugar on the bacon before cooking for a sweet and crunchy texture. You might also consider drizzling molasses over the bacon. Depending on how sweet you want the bacon, molasses or brown sugar is, at least to my taste, an ‘either or’ situation.
- Bring the heat. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a spicy kick. This also brings a nice ‘chili flavor’ to the bacon.
- Combination. For a slightly sweet and smoky flavor, brush the bacon with a mixture of brown sugar, smoked paprika and garlic powder.
Winter Mac n’ Cheese
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Main Dish
- Cuisine: American
- 1 lb. pasta of your choice
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 6 slices of bacon, cooked and then crumbled
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 2 cups of whole milk
- 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup reserved for topping
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cook the bacon and set aside.
- Cook macaroni according to package instructions and set aside.
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper (about 1 teaspoon each).
- Add the crumbled bacon.
- Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
- Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth. Do not let it brown.
- Reduce the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cheeses, and stir until they have melted into the sauce. Fold in the macaroni.
- Sprinkle the reserved Parmesan plus extra fresh ground black pepper over the top.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.
- Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro and serve. Enjoy!
Keywords: mac n cheese, macaroni, comfort food, cheese,
And that right there is one of my favorite winter time recipes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed bringing this recipe to you.
If you made this recipe, or have any suggestions for this or future content, let me know in the comments below, I love hearing from you.
Claudia Lamascolo says
My grandkids will love this and it looks fantastic!
Samantha Donnelly says
This is one of my all time favourite comfort foods and something I have not made from scratch for a very long time
We are always on the look out for comfort food and recipes that are pretty straightforward. My daughter would love this one.
The best winter recipe so far. Im so glad I came across your site.
Lovely recipe here. This will be my new favorite.
Rhian Westbury says
I’ve tried making many different mac and cheese recipes at home but never made a great one. I’ll have to give this one a go x
Mac n Cheese all the time yesss…My favorite dish for sure! I can’t wait to make your recipe, I can’t wait.
Melissa Dixon says
I love a good macaroni and cheese recipe! This looks like a great one to try out.
Melanie E says
This is such a lovely recipe. I love mac and chees but have yet to try it with bacon. I bet that adds so much flavour.
Jasmine Martin says
Oooo this mac and cheese looks very tasty. I would definitely eat this all Winter. I just know it tastes amazing.
Melissa Cushing says
This look absolutely delicious and I pinned this one to make for me and my family. We love Mac and cheese and this new to me recipe is the perfect addition to my weekday menu!
It’s always a good time for mac and cheese. Having some seasonal flares makes it enjoyable all year round. Delicious.
Such a cozy dish! With all that cheesy goodness, it’s the perfect comfort food for winter.
I made this delicious Mac and cheese last night for dinner and the kids want it again tonight. It was an absolute winner. I’m saving the recipe and definitely making it again super soon.
Claudia Krusch says
It looks amazing! Perfect comfort food! Can’t wait to make it for my family!
Pure comfort! The three types of cheese are what make it!
Lauren Michael Harris says
You absolutely can not go wrong with gruyere and bacon in mac and cheese – this was incredible! I could eat this every day!
My new favorite version of mac and cheese! This is the only way I am making it now!!
Mac and cheese is one of my comfort foods. Your recipe sounds mouthwatering. Going to give it a try this weekend.
Ooooh! Mac and cheese. I’m drooling over this recipe. I know it’s supposed to be a side, but a big bowl of this and Netflix, can’t think of a better time. lol.
Such a delicious and comforting meal! I made it already twice and my family asked me to make it again 😉
This has so much cheese in it! It has to be amazing. I love the winters spin on it!
I love mac and cheese. I can eat it any time of the year, and it never disappoints. So good!