Here are the best add-ins to upgrade macaroni and cheese so that this classic comfort dish is always an exciting addition to your menu! Whether you enjoy macaroni as a side dish or the main course, these mix-ins can take your cheesy pasta up a notch. Choose any of these options to enhance your mac & cheese easily!
- 1. Hot Dogs
- 2. Prime Rib
- 3. Tuna
- 4. Peas
- 5. Hot Sauce
- 6. Extra Cheese
- 7. Bacon Bits
- 8. Broccoli
- 9. Ground Beef
- 10. Sausage
- 11. Chili
- 12. Breadcrumbs
- 13. Truffle
- 14. Chicken
- 15. Cauliflower
- 16. Ham
- 17. Tomato
- 18. Spinach
- 19. Mustard
- 20. Lobster
- 💭 Tips For Choosing Mix-Ins For Mac & Cheese
- 📖 Recipe Card
- Best Add-Ins To Upgrade Macaroni And Cheese: 20+ Delicious Options To Try Today!
- Ingredients US CustomaryMetric
- 💬 Reviews
Macaroni and cheese is easily a family-favorite comfort dish in many households. With creamy and gooey cheese, tender pasta, and rich flavor, what's not to love?
Whether you like the simple boxed version or prefer to make it entirely from scratch, it is always delicious! This list contains different things you can add to your favorite mac and cheese recipes to make them extra tasty!
1. Hot Dogs
Hot dogs are a classic, kid-approved macaroni variety that adds extra protein. You can use any hot dog that you like!
You only need to slice and stir your cooked hot dogs straight into the dish.
2. Prime Rib
Making mac and cheese is one of the best ways to use leftover prime rib you may have! Since it is already cooked, this mix-in is essentially effortless!
The rich combination is deeply satisfying comfort food at its best.
Mixing tuna into macaroni is similar to an ultra-simple version of tuna casserole. Just drain a can of tuna and mix the meat into your dish.
It works great with either homemade or store-bought macaroni.
Peas are a classic pairing for many different pasta dishes (like this ham and pea pasta recipe). Both canned peas or canned peas and carrots make a great addition to your cheesy pasta.
If using frozen peas, you can boil them right in the pot with the noodles before adding your sauce!
5. Hot Sauce
Who said that macaroni and cheese couldn't have a little extra kick? Certainly not me, as I always enjoy experimenting with flavors and spice.
The cheese contains casein, which helps neutralize the spice, so you won't have to worry about an overpowering dish. Choose your favorite hot sauce to stir into your mac!
6. Extra Cheese
There is no such thing as too much cheese, even when it comes to mac and cheese. To deepen the flavor, try using various kinds of cheese, such as gouda, gruyere, or fontina.
Look at my post on the best kinds of cheese for mac and cheese for more ideas.
7. Bacon Bits
Bacon is one of my favorite macaroni additions, as it adds a smokey and salty element. You can fry up and crumble your bacon or use store-bought bacon bits.
Did you know that many varieties of store-bought bacon bits are vegan? So you can still enjoy the bacon flavor with mac and cheese, even if you are vegan.
Fresh broccoli is a popular and easy way to add extra nutrition to your dish. Besides, who doesn't love the combination of broccoli and cheese?
Adding broccoli works exceptionally well with baked mac. All you need to do is stir your florets into the dish before baking, and let the oven do all the work!
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9. Ground Beef
Cook and crumble some ground beef and add your favorite seasonings (or use any leftovers you have)! You could even use taco seasoning for some extra flavor.
Drain any excess grease, and then stir the meat into your mac!
You can use any of your favorite varieties of sausage for a fun and tasty bonus to your cheesy dish. Use cooked ground sausage or sliced-up sausage links such as kielbasa.
Once cooked, all you need to do is mix it into your dish.
Adding canned or homemade chili can turn your simple macaroni and cheese into a bold, flavorful, and well-rounded meal! It can be customized as you like, using your favorite chili recipes.
Breadcrumbs may be one of the most traditional and well-loved additions to macaroni and cheese. A thorough sprinkle of buttery breadcrumbs on top of the dish adds some texture variation with the creamy cheese!
Add breadcrumbs to homemade or boxed macaroni; it will always be a hit!
Truffle is typically associated with elegant and luxurious dishes, and macaroni and cheese is no exception. While fresh truffles come with an extremely hefty price tag, you could still incorporate truffle oil, salt, or even truffle cheese!
Truffle salt and truffle cheese can be cooked directly into your dish. If using truffle oil, add just a drizzle before cooking.
Adding shredded chicken is an excellent way to increase your protein intake and use leftovers! You can use rotisserie chicken, thighs, breasts, or anything on hand!
Cauliflower can be enjoyed as a mix-in, similar to broccoli, or used to replace pasta for a low-carb meal. Don't worry; it is as rich, creamy, and flavorful as your standard macaroni dish.
Salty chunks of ham make another fantastic protein option for your meal. You can use leftover ham or buy some straight from the deli.
Most ham at the store is already cooked, so all you need to do is dice and mix it in!
Tangy tomatoes pair wonderfully with the rich and indulgent cheese sauce. You can dice up a tomato and sprinkle it on top or toss in a can of diced tomatoes.
For a cheese-free version, check out my macaroni and tomatoes recipe!
Spinach makes an easy veggie add-in, as it complements the creamy textures that are already present. You'll want to cook your spinach before layering it and baking your macaroni, and keep in mind that it shrinks significantly (so you'll want a heaping amount of raw spinach).
If you aren't baking your dish, stir it directly into the macaroni as it cooks. However, wait until the end of the cooking time, as spinach wilts pretty quickly.
Adding mustard to your macaroni creates a new depth of flavor. There are many varieties of mustard, so you can experiment with which ones you like the best!
For this add-in, less is more. Start with a small amount and adjust it as needed.
If you want to create a luxurious and decadent macaroni and cheese dish, then lobster is what you need. I recommend adding lobster to an entirely made-from-scratch mac for the best experience.
Use your favorite type of lobster, cook it to your preferences, and stir it into your macaroni before serving.
💭 Tips For Choosing Mix-Ins For Mac & Cheese
So many different ingredients can be added to your macaroni and cheese. Consider these things when choosing which mix-ins you want to try out.
- Consider Flavors: Think about flavors that pair well with the creamy and cheesy mac and cheese base.
- Use Textures: Balance the creamy texture of the mac and cheese with contrasting textures. Crispy toppings like breadcrumbs, panko, or even crushed potato chips can satisfy the crunch.
- Incorporate Vegetables: Add-ins like diced tomatoes, spinach, or broccoli bring nutritional benefits and a fresh taste.
- Spice It Up: Consider incorporating spices to add a burst of flavor. Smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, or fresh herbs like thyme can add a delicious kick.
- Experiment with Cheeses: Play around with different cheese varieties to enhance the cheesy goodness. Gouda, gruyere, or blue cheese can bring unique flavors to the dish.
- Protein Boost: For a heartier meal, add protein such as grilled chicken, pulled pork, or sautéed shrimp.
- Condiments and Sauces: Elevate the mac and cheese with condiments or sauces. Dijon mustard, hot sauce, truffle oil, or a drizzle of balsamic reduction can provide a gourmet touch.
Which one of these mix-ins is your favorite, or have you found some new ones you want to try out? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
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📖 Recipe Card
Best Add-Ins To Upgrade Macaroni And Cheese: 20+ Delicious Options To Try Today!
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C/Gas Mark 4) and grease an 8x8 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Prepare 8 oz elbow macaroni if you haven't already, then add the cooked and drained pasta to a large mixing bowl with 2 of the 3 cups cheddar cheese and mix until thoroughly combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together 3 large eggs, 1 cup evaporated milk, ½ cup sour cream, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt.
- Fold the egg mixture and ¼ cup unsalted butter in with the pasta and cheese until evenly distributed. Then, pour everything into your prepared baking dish.
- Bake uncovered at 350°F (175°C/Gas Mark 4) for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling.
- Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheddar over the top, then pop it back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- 8 ounces of elbow macaroni is about 2 cups of uncooked pasta.
- Always use freshly shredded cheese when making macaroni and cheese. The pre-shredded bags of cheese at the grocery store are coated with cellulose to prevent the cheese from sticking or melting.
- You can butter the dish to prevent sticking. It's not required, but I have found it to be helpful.
- This is Paula Deen's signature recipe, but you can still try out some different cheeses if you prefer a variety. I recommend using at least 1 ½ cups of cheddar, but the other 1 ½ cups could be Gruyere, gouda, brie, or whatever melting cheese you like! See my post on the best cheeses for mac and cheese for more suggestions.
- To store: Once your macaroni has cooled completely, cover it with foil or transfer it to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge. Enjoy within 3-4 days.
- To reheat: Individual portions can be reheated in the microwave. Otherwise, you can pop the mac and cheese (in the baking dish) in your oven at 350°F (175°C) for 15-20 minutes or until warmed through and bubbling.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!