This Baked Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese recipe is the ultimate rendition of the beloved cheesy casserole. Two kinds of cheese melt together in a spicy, creamy sauce. Meanwhile a kicked up crust of panko, crumbled blue cheese, garlic, and Buffalo sauce takes things up a notch. You'll never need another buffalo mac and cheese recipe after trying this one!
(This recipe for baked buffalo chicken mac and cheese was originally published in April 2011 in honor of my birthday, but was updated with new photos and content in 2020)
There are countless ways to make buffalo macaroni and cheese. You can bake it in a casserole or try a stove-top version. Additionally, you can make it vegetarian without the chicken, and simply have a spicy cheese sauce for your macaroni.
I personally prefer including chicken for a heartier, more filling meal. Even the chicken can be prepared in a variety of ways.
The buffalo chicken component
I've seen some people bread and fry the chicken for their macaroni and cheese, but this feels like a wasted step. The crust will get soft and soggy once you mix it into the cheese sauce. It can also be messy.
Other recipes layer shredded buffalo chicken in between layers of macaroni. This doesn't do it for me either. That seems more like lasagna than mac and cheese. I want my buffalo chicken all mixed up in the cheesy goodness. No separation of chicken and macaroni and cheese. A totally cohesive flavor bomb.
I typically season chicken breasts or tenders with salt and pepper and cook them in my toaster oven until cooked through. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees F. When the chicken is cool enough, I shred it. Easy peasy. For this recipe you can also use shredded store-bought rotisserie chicken, or other leftover cooked shredded chicken.
Why is this the ultimate buffalo chicken mac and cheese?
I prefer this recipe over others for a variety of reasons. First, the macaroni to chicken ratio is spot on. It's mostly mac, but there is still a generous amount of chicken in there. I also really enjoy the crunchy, thinly sliced celery. It adds color and texture, and is a traditional counterpart to buffalo chicken. It totally works!
Perhaps most of all, my favorite part of this baked buffalo chicken mac and cheese recipe is the crust! I use a double panko crust to really set this buffalo macaroni and cheese apart from the rest. Panko is a Japanese style bread crumb which is super crunchy.
I use it two different ways for the topping. The first is panko with garlic, blue cheese, and buffalo sauce. Then finally I add a layer of straight-up panko simply tossed in olive oil. Crunch and flavor all around.
As written, this mac and cheese is moderately spicy. You can add even more hot sauce on top or use extra spicy hot sauce if you want to go up in flames. That's all about personal preference.
How to make it
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook your desired pasta shape about half the length of time suggested on the box. Drain and set aside. It will continue to cook in the oven. The shapes I recommend for this recipe include elbow macaroni, cavatappi/cellentani, and rotini. They are all universally versatile shapes for macaroni and cheese!
You can use bottled, prepared buffalo sauce or easily make your own. Melt together butter and hot sauce if you are making your own buffalo sauce for this recipe. Set aside ¼ cup of this sauce for the topping, then toss the remaining sauce with your shredded cooked chicken. You can also add your sliced celery to that bowl, as it all gets mixed in at the same time.
Heat 4 cups of milk (I use low-fat) in a saucepan just until simmering. Don't let it boil over! Remove it from the heat once it's hot.
In the same pot you used to boil your pasta, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add ¼ cup of flour and whisk to combine (PHOTO 1). This mixture is called a roux, and it is what will help thicken your sauce. Don't brown the roux at all, you want it to remain a pale blonde roux as the French would call it.
Pour in the hot milk, a little at a time, and whisk it into the roux until smooth (PHOTO 2). It's important to do this slowly and keep whisking because if you don't, you'll end up with lumps. Once you've incorporated all the milk, keep whisking for about 7 to 10 minutes until you see it noticeably thicken. It should bubble slightly, and simmer, but do not let it come up to a full boil.
Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and whisk in shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, a little at a time (PHOTO 3).
After whisking in all your cheese switch out your whisk for a silicone spatula or spoon, or wooden spoon. The sauce should be thick, cheesy, and decadent (PHOTO 4).
Stir in the cooked, drained macaroni followed by the buffalo chicken and sliced celery. The mixture will be very saucy.
Transfer to a greased 3-quart (13-by-9-inch) baking dish or divide into smaller baking dishes, based on your preference. Drizzle the top with half the reserved Buffalo sauce.
Next make the panko crust. In a small mixing bowl add ½ the panko bread crumbs, minced or crushed garlic, and crumbled blue cheese.
Use your fingers to cut the blue cheese into the crumbs the same way you would when making biscuits or pie dough. Treat the cheese like butter.
Once you have a crumbly mixture with some blue cheese chunks and many smaller bits, drizzle the remaining buffalo sauce over the mixture and toss to combine.
Sprinkle evenly over the top of your buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese. You're halfway there!
Then in the same small mixing bowl add the remaining panko and toss with a little olive oil. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the top of the casserole. There's your amazing double panko crust!
Bake in a 400 degree F oven until bubbly and golden, about 25 minutes. Wait about 10 minutes or so before serving to allow the mac and cheese to cool slightly and the sauce to set.
The sauce will be luscious and thick! The result is truly decadent, spicy but not too spicy, and quite satisfying. It doesn't taste super heavy or rich (to me at least) believe it or not, and I think it helps that I use a low fat milk rather than whole milk or half and half. Use whatever you prefer. It will be delicious regardless!
I recommend grating your own cheese from a block instead of using pre-shredded cheeses. Pre-shredded cheeses contain anti-caking agents. If you want 100% real cheese, shred it yourself.
If you're making this baked buffalo chicken mac and cheese for a less people, you can easily halve this recipe if you prefer. You may also make the full recipe, and divide into 2 smaller baking dishes (about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ quarts capacity each) and freeze 1 unbaked and bake the other.
Some people cook their frozen mac and cheese right out of the freezer. I have never had much success with this because it takes a really long time to cook (I think I'm just impatient), and doesn't cook as evenly from my experience (especially if it's a really large baking dish!). You can certainly try it, but if you can plan ahead I recommend thawing your casserole overnight in the refrigerator.
Once your casserole is thawed, cover it tightly with foil (if it isn't already--remove the plastic wrap if it's still in there) and bake it at 350 degrees F until bubbly and heated through. Using a lower temperature will help it cook more evenly since its cold heading into the oven.
The amount of time this takes is really dependent on the size of your baking dish. It should take 45 minutes to an hour if you thawed it or longer if it's still somewhat frozen. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees F. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to brown the crust.
Other macaroni and cheese recipes you may like
- Älplermagronen (Swiss Alpine Macaroni)
- Macaroni and Cheese Primavera
- The BEST Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Mac and Cheese with Chorizo and Poblanos
- Stove-Top Macaroni and Cheese
- Kid-Friendly Mac and Cheese
- Deliciously Trashy Mac and Cheese with an Extra Hit of Mustard and Pickled Jalapeños
Other buffalo recipes you may like
- Buffalo Deviled Eggs
- Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Fried Green Tomato Benedict with Buffalo Hollandaise
- Buffalo Chicken Quiche
- Easy Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
- Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Shells
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Baked Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese
- 12 ounces short pasta (such as elbows, cavatappi, cellentani, rotini)
- ¾ cup Frank’s red hot sauce
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ½ cups cooked shredded chicken from 2 chicken breasts
- ¼ cup flour
- 4 cups low-fat milk heated to a simmer
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 ounces white cheddar cheese grated
- 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese grated
- 3 stalks celery thinly sliced
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 clove garlic minced or crushed
- ⅓ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Add salt and the pasta, and cook until just shy of al dente, about half as long as the box suggests (it will continue cooking in the oven). Drain and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, heat the hot sauce and 2 tablespoons butter, and swirl together to incorporate. Reserve ¼ cup of the buffalo sauce and set aside. Add the remaining sauce to the shredded chicken and mix well. Set aside until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in the same pot used to boil the pasta. Add the flour to make a roux and whisk until it is nice and smooth. Cook for a couple minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor, but do not allow the roux to brown. Add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between each addition, until all of it has been added. Cook, constantly whisking, about 7 to 10 more minutes on medium heat until thickened, allowing it to bubble and simmer, but not come up to a full boil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and whisk in the shredded cheeses, a little at a time until completely combined.
- Once the cheeses are all combined and melted, add the pasta and stir to coat. It will be very saucy. Fold in the celery and shredded buffalo chicken. Pour the pasta mixture into a greased 3-quart shallow baking dish. Drizzle ½ of the reserved buffalo sauce over the top.
- Add ½ cup of the panko to a small mixing bowl and add the garlic and blue cheese. Use your fingers to cut the blue cheese chunks into the panko as if you’re making biscuits, yielding a mixture of pea-sized blue cheese/panko chunks. Add the remaining buffalo sauce and combine. Crumble the mixture over the top of the casserole.
- In the same small mixing bowl, add the remaining panko and olive oil and mix to combine. Distribute the panko mixture over the pasta. You now have a double crust of blue cheese-buffalo-panko crumbs, and regular panko crumbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until nice and bubbly, and golden brown. Allow the pasta to rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving, as it will be extremely hot and also need a few minutes to set.
- If using bottled Buffalo sauce in place of hot sauce, use ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the prepared Buffalo sauce and skip the first part of step 2 (mixing with melted butter). Reserve ¼ cup of the Buffalo sauce for the topping, and toss the remaining sauce with the shredded chicken.
- This recipe can easily be halved. You can also bake it in smaller baking dishes, or individual portions in oven-proof bowls, large ramekins, or small individual sized casserole dishes.
- To freeze: cool completely, then wrap the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil.
- To bake frozen mac and cheese: thaw overnight in the refrigerator (or don't), cover it tightly with foil (if it isn't already--remove the plastic wrap if it's still in there) and bake it at 350°F until bubbly and heated through. The amount of time this takes is really dependent on the size of your baking dish. It should take 45 minutes to an hour if you thawed it or longer if it's still somewhat frozen. The internal temperature should be 165°F. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to brown the crust.
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*