Ingredients That Will Seriously Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Whether it's a lingering childhood favorite or simply your go-to comfort food, there's just something so inherently delicious about good ol' mac and cheese. If you think about it, it's pretty tough to go wrong with a timeless combination of noodles and cheese. However, there are ways to step up your game on this classic. Whether it's a subtle new addition or a full-on twist, we've compiled a round-up of ingredients that will take this already divine dish to something otherworldly.


Before you get rolling, you're going to want to start with a basic mac and cheese recipe. If you don't have a go-to, Homeroom's ultimate macaroni and cheese recipe will form a reliable base for you to get creative with your ingredients. The recipe walks you through all the key steps, from selecting the right cheese to crafting a silky béchamel sauce, and everything in between. The fun part will then be up to you. Browse through some of our suggested ingredients below and create your next mac and cheese masterpiece.

Panko breadcrumbs add the perfect crunch

A breadcrumb topper may seem like a fairly standard addition to a well-executed mac and cheese. This classic ingredient adds a satisfying crunch to an otherwise soft, creamy noodle dish. But not all breadcrumb toppers are created equal. We prefer the extra crispy panko-style breadcrumbs for their undeniable crunchiness. These Japanese breadcrumbs are often found in Asian dishes, where they are used to create the perfect crust on fried and baked foods. Panko breadcrumbs are made from white bread using an electric current. They also don't absorb oil quite like regular breadcrumbs, which helps them retain their crispiness, making them the perfect crunchy topper for your mac and cheese.


For added texture and flavor, toast your panko breadcrumbs in butter or olive oil before topping your mac and cheese. You can also add some dried herbs and garlic powder for a savory twist. Don't have panko but still craving that crunch? Crumble a few handfuls of kettle-cooked potato chips over your mac and cheese before popping it in the oven.

Greek yogurt brings creaminess

The Food Network discovered that adding Greek yogurt instead of milk vastly improved basic boxed mac and cheese, so imagine what it could do to your best from scratch version? Not only does this ingredient swap add a level of creaminess not achievable with milk and cheese alone, even with a great béchamel, it also adds a subtle tang that somehow makes the cheese taste even cheesier.


In fact, if using Greek yogurt, you don't even need to cook up a béchamel sauce. Forget making a roux and simply stir in the yogurt along with your cheese and a little of that reserved pasta water until you achieve a smooth, creamy consistency. Then you can proceed with any other ingredients that you are adding or bake as you would if you had made a traditional cheese sauce. Want a super indulgent mac and cheese? Go with whole milk or full-fat Greek yogurt. If you're looking for something lighter, opt for a low or nonfat one instead.

Bacon is your bestie

Everything's better with bacon, right? And everything just so happens to include mac and cheese. This salty, savory protein adds an element of texture and a smoky flavor to your dish, not to mention a heartiness that will take it from a delicious side to the main event.


There are also so many ways to incorporate pork products into your mac and cheese. For an elevated, Italian take, layer some prosciutto on top of your near-finished dish and pop it back in the oven for a few minutes. Or, go with some crispy BBQ pork belly to really raise the bar. Feeling more traditional? Cook up a helping of regular bacon and crumble it on top of your mac and cheese or fold it in with the rest of your ingredients before baking. Turkey or plant-based bacon also works well here if preferred. Just treat it as you would any other type of bacon product.

Tomatoes go wonderfully with cheese

Tomato sauce may seem like an obvious addition given how well it pairs with cheese, but it doesn't appear very often in mac and cheese recipes and we can't figure out why. Think about it: The world has pizza, cheesy nachos with tomato-based salsa, and chicken parm oozing with cheese and tomato sauce. And who doesn't love to dip their grilled cheese sandwich in ketchup or add a squeeze of it to a bacon egg and cheese breakfast sandwich? Why not move the trend forward when it comes to mac and cheese with tomato?


The creaminess of the noodles and cheese stands to benefit from the twang of acidity that tomatoes offer, cutting through the fattiness with a bright burst of freshness. Slice up some vine-ripened tomatoes and layer them in with your noodles and cheese. Or, opt for a swirl of basic tomato sauce with Italian herbs like basil, thyme, and oregano for a pizza-meets-pasta mash-up.

Caramelize some onions

Nothing beats slow-cooked caramelized onions when it comes to the ultimate combination of salty, sweet, and savory flavors, which makes this add-on the perfect accompaniment to a simple mac and cheese recipe.


The key here is to take the time to properly caramelize your onions so you can transform them from just soft and sautéed to rich, golden brown, and sweet. It may seem like a tedious step, but we promise it will make all the difference. Once your onions are fully caramelized, fold them in with your noodles and cheese and bake the whole thing in the oven. The end result? A sophisticated take on classic mac and cheese that gives total French onion soup vibes. If you love the way these onions turn out, you can even make triple the amount you need as they freeze beautifully. That way, you can pull them out any time you want to step up a burger or grilled cheese sandwich ... or your next batch of mac and cheese.


Broccoli adds more than just flavor

Broccoli and cheddar have long been best friends, whether in a stuffed baked potato, mixing and mingling in a broccoli cheddar soup, or even atop an offbeat cheesy pizza. This green vegetable is packed with good stuff, from vitamins C, K, and A, potassium, calcium, and iron, not to mention tons of fiber and antioxidants. And, when nestled among noodles and bathed in a cheesy sauce, it (understandably) tastes heavenly.


You can either steam or blanch the broccoli so it's pre-cooked and then simply warm it through in the cheese sauce and noodles if you're not planning on baking your mac and cheese casserole. Or, chop up your broccoli into tiny florets and stir them in with your noodles and cheese sauce before popping it all in the oven. The broccoli will cook in the moisture of the ingredients as you bake the casserole. Not only does this make for a delicious, well-rounded meal, but it's also a great way to sneak in some veggies for those picky eaters in your life.

Chili crisp packs heat and texture

This trendy ingredient has been gaining popularity in the culinary world, with chefs and foodies adding it to everything from eggs to pizza and avocado toast to classic Asian dishes and even ice cream. It should come as no surprise, then, that it's the perfect garnish for mac and cheese.


Chili crisp is a fiery Chinese condiment made from oil infused with chilis and packed with crispy little bits of peppers, garlic, scallions, and sometimes other ingredients to add a satisfying crunchy texture and spicy, umami flavor. There are dozens of great chili crisp brands out there to choose from, or you can even make your own at home. When it comes to adding this to your mac and cheese, treat chili crisp like a simple condiment and add it to your serving. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, try separating the oil from the crisp and making your roux for your béchamel with it before folding in the crispy bits to the rest of the dish.

Gochujang adds unexpected depth

Made from chilis, sticky rice, fermented soybeans, and salt, gochujang is a staple in Korean cuisine and adds a rich, umami-packed depth to the simple flavors of mac and cheese. While some local supermarkets may not stock it, you can find gochujang in just about any Korean market as well as online. It also comes in a range of spiciness levels from mild to fiery hot.


Treat gochujang like an ingredient rather than a condiment when it comes to cooking with it. Add it in with your flour and butter when you are cooking the roux for your béchamel to form the base for your cheese sauce. Not only will the sweet and spicy paste add a deep, brick-red hue to your mac and cheese, but it will kick the whole dish up a notch, adding layers of heat, savory spice, and a hint of sweetness. Just beware: A little goes a long way here, so start small and work your way up!

Roasted poblanos provide a Southwestern kick

These peppers add a smoky, slightly spicy, southwestern flavor to your mac and cheese. Typically much milder than other chili peppers, poblanos are a great option for adding heat to your dish without overwhelming the flavors or sending anyone reaching for a glass of milk and some tissues thanks to the spiciness. Be careful not to confuse these peppers with jalapeños though. While both are green, poblanos tend to add a pleasant smoky, earthy flavor to dishes, whereas jalapeños are known more for bright, more herbaceous notes.


Roasting these peppers is easy. The goal is to cook the skins over a grill, under the broiler, or on your stovetop flame until they are charred and bubbly on the outside, and then let them sit in some steam so the skins come right off but leave the soft, slightly browned flesh of the pepper intact. Slice them up and toss them in with your noodles and cheese. For an added south-of-the-border touch, crumble some tortilla chips on top for a crunchy garnish.

Bring lobster to the party for elegance

Talk about the ultimate high-brow-meets-low-brow combination. In restaurants and home kitchens everywhere, lobster mac and cheese has risen in the culinary ranks and become one of the tastiest comfort food indulgences. There's just something about that rich, slightly sweet lobster meat that is a match made in heaven for decadent, creamy mac and cheese.


While it sounds pretty fancy, this delicious dish is surprisingly easy to make, no matter your skill level in the kitchen. Doable with frozen lobster tails or lobster meat pulled straight from a freshly cooked whole lobster, there are plenty of recipes out there to guide you. This lobster mac and cheese recipe is a great place to start. Serve your homemade lobster mac and cheese as a main dish with a light salad at your next dinner party and you will convince your guests that you are fit to star in the next episode of "Top Chef."

If you can't find truffles, truffle butter will do

Just as indulgent as lobster mac and cheese, truffle mac and cheese is the quintessential gourmet comfort food. This combination is equally at home on a fancy restaurant menu as it is served in a booth at your local diner. While top restaurants may greet you tableside to shave piles of white or black truffles atop your mac and cheese, you can replicate this decadent dish with truffle butter, available at many specialty food stores and online. Simply use it as you would regular butter when making your roux for the cheese sauce.


Truffle oil, sold widely at most well-stocked grocery stores is also an option. Just bear in mind that truffle oil, in many cases, contains no actual truffles. Instead, these convincing dupes contain a synthetic compound that mimics the flavor of real truffles. Some top chefs may grimace at the thought, but we believe knowledge is power. If you're ok with how your truffle oil is made, a quick drizzle atop your mac and cheese is an easy way to elevate this simple dish. Unless, of course, you can get your hands on some fresh truffles — in which case shave away!

Try the viral frozen jalapeño trend

This viral trend has been taking over our social media feeds as a fun way to spice up your pizza, but it's just as delicious on mac and cheese. Unlike roasted poblanos, the goal with grating these fresh, slightly grassy peppers on top of your meal is to add a quick kick and some brightness to your creamy noodles and cheese. Think of it as a deconstructed jalapeño popper, if you will.


This little trick is surprisingly easy. Wash a couple of jalapeño peppers and put them in your freezer for a few hours. Once the flesh is frozen, it will be easy to run the pepper over a Microplane or box grater on top of your mac and cheese just before serving or prior to cooking if you'd prefer a milder heat from the peppers. Pro tip: Make sure you wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after handling the fresh jalapeños so you don't accidentally touch your face or eyes afterward. We learned this one the hard way.

A touch of nutmeg makes all the difference

With all these additions to your mac and cheese, this simple baking spice may seem like a surprise, but trust us. This little trick will elevate your mac and cheese and is an absolute keeper. Typically added to baked goods and desserts, nutmeg actually contributes a subtle and unexpected peppery kick to your cheese sauce. It's the type of secret ingredient that will have people scratching their heads and wondering what it is that makes your mac and cheese that much better than what they've tried before.


 The key is to add this to your béchamel sauce along with your cheese to ensure the sweet and spicy notes of the nutmeg blend seamlessly with the salty, creamy notes of the cheese and milk so all is integrated into a wonderfully complex sauce. Keep in mind a little goes a long way. A few passes of your nutmeg clove over a grater, or a small pinch of the pre-grated spice should do the trick.