Bacon mac & cheese uses four sharp cheeses mixed with bacon and topped with a buttery Ritz cracker coating for rich, indulgent flavor.
Where do I even start? I adore this recipe. It’s a cheese lover’s dream come true. First and foremost, it’s loaded with tons of creamy, melty cheese. Literally there is over a pound of cheese in this recipe. Not to mention it has bacon mixed with the noodles AND on the topping. Gives me heart eyes just thinking about it! It’s baked so all the rich flavors set in. Which makes it really hard to wait for it to cool when it comes out with cheese bubbling over the top of the golden brown buttery coating.
We do Thanksgiving at my sister and brother-in-law’s in Atlanta, and they always serve mac and cheese as a side. It’s become a new tradition for our family and now I can’t imagine not having it! My brother-in-law is the one in the kitchen, and I swear his food gets better every year. Like last year when he introduced us all to Alton Brown’s game changing green bean casserole. As much as I look forward to the food, Thanksgiving will be extra special this year because I get to meet their new baby girl, my first niece! Which means I’ll have to practice holding a fork and a new born because I’m calling dibs on holding her as often as possible. 😉 With the holiday quickly approaching, I thought it was due time I put my own spin on a new family favorite side…BACON MAC & CHEESE.
The most important part of homemade mac and cheese, in my opinion, is the quality of the cheese. Which is why I want to warn you that mac and cheese can be surprisingly pricey to make. If I had an adviser of sorts, they would probably ask why I’m giving you a reason not to make it. Sorry, cant help be honest! I remember in my younger college years, seeing a mac and cheese recipe on Pinterest. I wrote down the ingredients and headed to the store to get what I needed. And that’s when I first realized that gruyere is a bit more expensive than Kraft cheddar. LOL. I am by no means saying that you need to get a $20 block of cheese, but if you’re on an American cheese budget, I felt it appropriate to give you a heads up.
As the recipe title states, I used four different cheeses in this recipe. Sharp cheddar, aged gruyere, smoked gouda, and asiago. All strong cheeses that pack some seriously delicious flavor, especially when melted. I love this combination, but lets talk about variations as there are a million different kinds of cheese produced. The aged gruyere and the asiago provide the strongest flavors. For aged cheese, I wouldn’t use a cheese aged more than 6 months. You’ll have a harder time melting down a cheese older than that. If you cannot find aged gruyere or want a cheaper option, regular gruyere will do the job, but may not pack the same punch. If you absolutely hate one of these cheeses, or for some reason cannot find one, I would suggest subbing it for extra sharp cheddar. Sharp cheddar is the base of this recipe. It melts down really easy, and provides a good flavor base for funkier cheeses like gruyere and asiago. If you have questions just comment below, and I’d be more than happy to help!
As far as difficulty goes, I’ve heard people having troubles with macaroni dishes, but this bacon mac & cheese is truly easy. If I’m working by myself, I like to make my bacon and cook my pasta before I start the sauce. Cook your pasta to al dente and your bacon in a skillet to your liking, and then chop your bacon into bits. I like to use just a liiiiiittle bit of the bacon grease for the Ritz topping. I drain the grease but don’t clean the skillet. Melt the butter, then add the crushed crackers to the skillet so they can get a little golden.
Next we make a bechamel. A bechamel is a French term for a white sauce that’s made from roux (equal parts butter and flour) and milk. It’s called a mother sauce, because it is a sauce base/starter. Start by melting butter in a large sauce pan, and then stirring in the flour until it is combined. Continue to whisk while you slowly pour in all the milk. The roux is what makes the sauce thick. Tip: make sure your cheese is shredded before you start so that you can pour it in as soon as you’re sauce is ready.
And that’s it! Bacon mac & cheese is simple and sure to be a crowd pleaser! Especially with this crazy good Ritz topping…
For other awesome Thanksgiving sides, check out my grandma’s Mashed Potatoes Supreme.
- 1 lb cavatappi pasta
- 8 tbsp butter
- ½ cup flour
- 3½ cups milk
- 8 oz sharp cheddar
- 6 oz smoked gouda
- 6 oz gruyere (I use 6 month aged)
- 6 oz asiago
- 6 slices thick cut bacon
- 2 packagaes Ritz crackers
- Preheat oven to 375° and grease a 9x13 baking dish.
- Boil pasta to al dente, drain and set aside.
- Cook bacon in a large skillet per package instructions, cut into chunks and set aside.
- Drain grease from skillet but don't rinse your pan.
- Add 3 tbsp of butter to skillet and melt.
- Crush Ritz crackers and add to the skillet.
- Let them get lightly browned and toasty, then remove from heat.
- Add ¼ of your cooked bacon to the toasted Ritz crumbs and set aside.
- Grate all your cheese so that it is ready to go, and then set aside.
- In large pot, melt the remaining 5 tbsps of butter over medium high heat.
- Whisk in flour until it forms a paste.
- Continue to slowly move the roux/paste around the pot until it becomes a golden color, about 2 minutes.
- Slowly add in milk, whisking constantly until thickened.
- Add grated cheese, turn heat to low, and whisk until it is completely melted.
- Add cooked pasta into the cheese sauce and the rest of your cooked bacon.
- Pour into your baking dish and top with the Ritz crackers and bacon.
- Bake for 20 minutes.