Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese combines rich mac & cheese with bold and spicy jalapeno peppers. Top the creamy, cheesy macaroni with a crispy panko topping before baking in the oven until bubbly and golden.
Ready in Under an Hour – You can have this homemade baked mac and cheese on the table in no time.
4 Types of Cheese – Super rich and creamy!
Customizable Spice – You can easily adjust the amount of spice in this recipe.
Ingredients For Jalapeno Mac and Cheese
Pick up some fresh jalapenos and some pantry staples to make baked jalapeño popper mac and cheese from scratch.
Elbow Macaroni – You can really use any small cut pasta. Elbow is traditional, but shells and rotini also work well.
All-Purpose Flour – Used for thickening the cheese sauce.
Spices – Ground mustard, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
Milk – Whole milk will give a richer sauce, but you can use a lower fat milk instead.
Cream Cheese – Gives the sauce an extra creamy consistency and helps to keep it from breaking.
Cheeses – Shredded sharp cheddar, American cheese, shredded Parmesan cheese.
Bacon – Cooked and crumbled.
For the Topping: Panko breadcrumbs, salted butter, dried parsley, and thinly sliced jalapenos
How To Make Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese
Be sure to check the recipe card below for full ingredients & instructions.
Prep – Start by preheating the oven and spraying a large (3qt, 13×9-inch) baking dish with cooking spray.
Cook the Pasta – Cook the macaroni for 1-2 minutes less than the package directions. This is so the pasta doesn’t overcook when baked in the oven. Drain the noodles and set aside.
Make the Cheese Sauce – Saute diced jalapenos in butter then add flour, ground mustard, and garlic powder. Slowly add milk until the sauce bubbles, then lower the heat and stir in salt, pepper and cream cheese. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. This is key to the cheese sauce not breaking! Stir in the remaining cheese bacon and macaroni.
Add to the Baking Dish – Pour the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish. Mix up some panko breadcrumbs with butter and parsley and sprinkle that on top. Finally top with some bacon and fresh sliced jalapenos.
Bake – Bake the jalapeno mac and cheese in the oven for about 20 minutes until bubbly and the top is golden. Cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Can baked mac and cheese be prepped in advance?
You can prepare it in advance! Follow the recipe as directed but do not add the panko topping or bake. After adding to the baking dish, let cool completely, then cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for 1-2 days. When ready to bake, let it sit at room temperature while the oven preheats, top with the panko topping, and bake like normal. It may take a few more minutes to get bubbly and golden.
What kind of pepper is a jalapeno?
Jalapeno is a chile pepper. It is medium in size and adds spice to any dish! To reduce the heat, you can remove the white membranes and seeds.
What is the best cheese to use for mac and cheese?
I love to use a blend of cheeses – such as cheddar, american, and parmesan. But other great options are gruyere and monterey jack. It’s best to buy blocks of cheese and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese contains an anti-caking agent that doesn’t melt well.
This can be served either as the main dish or as a side! If you’re serving it as a main, I recommend pairing it with some greens. Like a big green garden salad or green beans.
Vegetarian – You can easily omit the bacon to make this recipe vegetarian friendly.
Adjust the Spice Level – If you really like spice, you can leave some of the whites and seeds in the jalapenos.
Add Chicken – For more protein, you can stir in about 1-1.5 cups of shredded chicken. It’s also quite tasty with some Slow Cooker Pulled Pork on top.
Storage – Leftovers can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Reheating – Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave or in the oven to crisp up the topping. If it seems dry, you can add a splash of milk or cream. If your microwave has the setting, I highly recommend reheating at 50% powder.
Cool Slightly before Serving – I know it’s difficult to wait, but letting it cool for 5-10 minutes helps the sauce thicken up so it’s easier to serve.
Undercook the Pasta – When boiling the pasta, you want to undercook the noodles by 1-2 minutes so they don’t overcook when baked in the oven. Drain the pasta just before it’s “al dente.”
1cupAmerican cheesecut into small chunks (or 8 ounces sliced cheese)
½cupfreshly shredded Parmesan cheese
½poundbaconcooked crisp and crumbled, a handful reserved for topping
1-2jalapenothinly sliced, for topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a large baking dish (3 quart/13×9-inch) with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
Boil a large pot of salted water and cook macaroni about 1-2 minutes less than the package directions suggest. Drain pasta and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat, then add diced jalapenos. Cook, stirring often, until softened; about 2-3 minutes. Add flour, ground mustard and garlic powder and whisk until the flour is cooked down and golden in color; 2-3 minutes.
Gradually pour in the milk/cream, continuing to whisk until the sauce begins to bubble. Turn down the heat to medium-low, then stir in ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper and cream cheese, until fully melted. Turn off the heat and move the pot off the burner. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Stir in Cheddar, Parmesan and American cheeses until they are completely melted and fully incorporated. Stir in most of the bacon (reserve some for topping) and the macaroni, then pour into the prepared baking dish.
Combine 1 tablespoon melted butter with the panko and dried parsley in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the macaroni. Top with reserved bacon and the sliced jalapeno.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until pasta is completely heated through and top is crispy and golden. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
This recipe makes a fairly large amount, depending on how you plan to serve it. As a meal, it will easily serve 8 people. As a side you can feed 10-12. Storage – Leftovers can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.Reheating – Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave or in the oven to crisp up the topping. If it seems dry, you can add a splash of milk or cream. If your microwave has the setting, I highly recommend reheating at 50% powder.
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Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.