This Homemade Southern Baked Mac and Cheese is unlike any other! Al dente noodles are smothered with an ultra creamy cheddar cheese sauce and tossed with my favorite quick and easy candied bacon recipe. On top, a crispy crunchy fried Green Tomato Crust is baked right in for ultimate comfort food goodness!
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
To be truthful, I'm not typically a fan of baked mac and cheese. Often times, i find that the pasta is overcooked, the sauce is bland, and the texture is dry and gross.
That's why I traditionally stick to stovetop mac and cheese recipes like this Alpine Style Mac and Cheese or this Beer Cheese Mac and Cheese.
But since I'm all about changing my game up, I decided I should give it a try. Inspired by one of my award winning dishes I made a few years ago for a Tillamook Grilled Cheese contest, I decided I'd put my Southern spin on this classic dish.
So what makes this Southern Baked Mac and Cheese different? It's topped with a crispy fried green tomato crust and studded with sweet and savory bits of candied bacon. The cheese sauce is simple yet full of flavor and is baked until bubbly and golden.
It's actually impossible not to love!
How to Make the Perfect Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
Making the perfect homemade mac and cheese is totally doable. You just need to consider these three factors and then the rest is totally customizable! So whethter you want to use macaroni noodles, bowties or shells or a blend of gruyere, cheddar or blue cheese, this guideline will help you achieve perfection!
How to avoid soggy noodles
If you're making homemade baked mac and cheese, you'll most likely want to take some extra steps to ensure your dish is texturally pleasing.
And to avoid the soggy pasta fiasco, you can use this simple fix. Instead of straining it when it reaches the al dente time frame (usually 10-12 minutes), remove it one minute beforehand (9 minutes).
Don't be scared that the pasta is too hard. As it bakes, the noodles will soften up to the perfect texture. This extra step ensures that you have the perfect textured noodle no matter which kind you choose.
How to avoid dry cheese sauce
When it comes to perfecting a cheese sauce, it's all about maintaining a rich and creamy mouthfeel. And the fix for this is quite simple, too!
As this homemade mac and cheese bakes, the sauce will undoublably absorb into the noodles. This can sometimes dry out the dish which is no bueno.
To ensure this doesn't happen, all you need to do is make a soupier, more-wet cheese sauce. All this means is that you'll need to add a little bit more cheese and dairy than you typically would with the stovetop variety.
How to get a Crispy Crust on your Mac and Cheese
Let's be real, one of the best parts of baked mac and cheese is the crust! And luckily, achieving that goal is super simple!
To begin, you'll want to grab some panko, butter, herbs and spices.
First, melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Then add in the panko and whatever herbs and spices you want. Toss everything together then pack it on top. I recommend baking it at 400 for 30 minutes. The cheese sauce will be hot and bubbly and the crust will be crispy and crunchy!
Quick Candied Bacon
If you've been following me for a while, you might remember when I shared my quick candied bacon recipe on one of my episode's of Food Network's Facebook Live. Unlike traditional candied bacon, that's cooked in the oven, mine is made on the stovetop with just a few simple ingredients.
Not only is this method remarkably faster but the cleanup is cut in half, too! So let's get to it, shall we?
- To begin, chop your bacon into tiny lardons and place them in a cast iron skillet. Turn the heat to medium and cook them down for a few minutes. You'll want them to be cooked halfway between raw and crispy.
- Next, drain out some of the fat. And if you cant get it all out, don't worry about it - you just don't want it drowning in rendered fat at this point.
- Next, add in light brown sugar, smoked paprika and a little bit of salt. Stir and cook for a few minutes more until each bacon lardon is coated in the seasoning.
- Then, add red wine vinegar and start stirring. Not only does the vinegar help bind the crispy candied coating to the bacon but it also adds a pop of acidity which makes it even more delicious.
- Continue cooking for a few more minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the bacon is coated in a shiny sugar glaze.
- Lastly, pour your candied bacon on a piece of parchment paper to let it dry and harden. You can use a spatula to space it out and to create little clusters of candied bacon goodness.
Fried Green Tomato Crust
I bet you've probably never heard of a fried green tomato crust on a mac n cheese recipe, huh? The only reason that I'm assuming this is because I googled it and couldn't find jack shit! hah!
After researching recipes for Southern baked "fried" green tomatoes, I decided that it would actually be pretty easy to turn this concept into a new way to make a mac and cheese crust.
So, the idea behind this is to chop up the green tomatoes first. Not only does it help them get softer quicker but it makes serving this dish much easier, too!
After adding the chopped green tomatoes on top of the mac and cheese, add your buttery seasoned panko mixture. Once baked, it'll still have the same tang and texture as regular fried green tomatoes.
And if you dont like fried green tomatoes, just leave them out! The crust will still work perfectly on a regular baked mac and cheese recipe!
Southern Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe:
Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese with Candied Bacon and Fried Green Tomato Crust
For the Candied Bacon
- 1 lb bacon sliced into tiny lardons
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
For the Mac and Cheese
- 3 tbsp salted butter
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 3 tbsp flour
- 3 cups half n half
- 1 tsp hot sauce
- 1 lb Tillamook Sharp cheddar grated
- ½ tsp yellow mustard
- 1 lb shells cooked 1 minute before al dente
For the Fried Green Tomato Crust
- 2 green tomatoes diced into tiny cubes
- 1 cup panko
- 3 tbsp butter melted
- 1 tsp all purpose seasoning
For the Candied Bacon
- Add chopped bacon to a cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook until slightly crispy. Drain fat.
- Add brown sugar, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt - stir and cook for one minute.
- Add red wine vinegar and stir. Cook for 4-5 more minutes over medium heat. Pour onto parchment paper and separate into clusters. Allow to cool and harden while you make the mac and cheese.
For the Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add garlic powder and a few cranks of fresh ground pepper. Whisk in flour and cook down for a few minutes until the roux is fragrant and light beige.
- Slowly whisk in half n half and hot sauce. Let the sauce begin to bubble and thicken. Stir in half of the cheese, little by little, until it’s melted and creamy. Taste and season with salt, pepper and yellow mustard if needed.
- Mix in shells then finish by mixing in the rest of the shredded cheddar and the candied bacon clusters. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
For the Fried Green Tomato Crust
- Melt butter then mix in panko and seasoning.
- Place the chopped green tomatoes on top of the mac and cheese and sprinkle with a little bit of salt and pepper.
- Add the buttery panko mixture on top and bake the entire dish for 30 minutes until bubbly and golden! If your crust isn’t as golden, you can pop it under the broiler but be sure to watch because it can burn quite quickly!
And if you'd like to save this recipe for later, pin it below!
Oh, and if you'd like some tasty cocktails to serve with this mac n cheese, check out all of our recipes here!
GCS aka Kenzie!