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mac and cheese
Pork, Side Dishes, Spicy

Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

by Nick

One of my favorite things to see at a restaurant is a good macaroni and cheese dish that’s baked in individual cast iron dishes. The cast iron distributes the heat well so the mac and cheese is baked evenly and the edges are really crispy and delicious.

The problem of course is that I don’t have any mini cast iron dishes laying around to bake my mac and cheese in.

But I do happen to have one really large cast iron skillet that I figured would work just as well! You could put a ton of add-ins in this dish to make it your own. Lobster? Poblano peppers? Go crazy. I kept this version pretty standard though.

Yield
Serves 6.
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 8 ounces bacon
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 5 dried arbol peppers, crushed (or 2 Teaspoons red pepper flakes)
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 Cups whole milk
  • 16 ounces cheese (I used 8 ounces of Monterey Jack and 8 ounces cheddar cheese)
  • 1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 Cup bread crumbs (optional)
  • Salt and  Pepper
  • Maybe a drizzle of olive oil

Helpful Equipment

Directions

1) Cook macaroni according to package instructions and set aside.

2) Cut up bacon into 1/4 inch cubes and cook in cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until very crispy and browned.  If bacon appears dry, drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

3) Remove bacon from pan and add onions and crushed peppers or red pepper flakes.  Cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes, stirring continuously.  Remove onion mixture and combine with bacon.

Do not wash the skillet, but set it aside for later.

4) In a medium saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour over medium heat.  Cook until the roux is a light brown mixture, about 5 minutes.  Continue to whisk and slowly pour in milk.  Once all the milk is incorporated, whisk until smooth and turn the heat down to low.

5) Whisk in shredded cheeses and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

6) Combine cheese sauce with elbow macaroni and stir in bacon mixture.  Pour the macaroni and cheese back into the cast iron skillet and top with grated Parmesan and/or bread crumbs.

7) Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes until cheese is browned.

8) Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Prepping the Ingredients

I used some bacon and spicy Arbol peppers to give some flavor to the macaroni and cheese. Cooking all this stuff in the cast iron skillet that you eventually bake the mac and cheese in also seasons the skillet.

Start by chopping your bacon into pieces and then cook it in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the bacon is really crispy. If you want, add a drizzle of oil to the pan to get the bacon sizzling.

While the bacon cooks chop up an onion and also crunch your dried peppers if you’re using them. You can also just use red pepper flakes though.

flavorful

The flavor party.

When the bacon is crispy, take it out of the pan and add your onion and dried peppers. Cook them in the bacon grease until the onions are soft. Then mix everything together and set it aside. Whatever you do, don’t clean or wipe out the skillet! That said, if there’s a pool of grease left over, pour out some of it. You just need a coat of oil.

cooked

Lots of flavors here.

Also, while this is happening, cook the elbow macaroni according to the package. I would recommend under-cooking it by a minute or two or else your mac and cheese might be a bit soggy.

Making the Cheese Sauce

This cheese sauce, like any good cheese sauce in my opinion, is based on a Roux which is just a mixture of flour and butter.

Start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s melted, add your flour to the butter and start whisking! It’ll bubble a bit and start to turn slightly tan. If you’ve never made a roux before, it isn’t that hard. Just remember not to let it sit for too long or it’ll burn.

After about 4-5 minutes of cooking your roux should be a nice light tan/brown color. Like this:

roux

The Roux is on!

Once it gets that color, slowly start whisking in your milk. This is the only tricky part of making a cheese sauce like this. If you add your milk too fast, then you can’t whisk all the roux in evenly so you’ll end up with a lumpy sauce. Don’t worry about it too much though, just don’t dump in all your milk at once and you’ll be fine.

Once all the milk is in the pot, it should have the consistency of a light gravy.

Then whisk in all your grated cheese and season with salt and pepper. The longer you stir it on the burner, the thicker it will get.

This was a really good cheese sauce!

cheese

Maybe my best cheese sauce ever!

The Skillet

Remember that skillet that you cooked the bacon and onions in? I really hope that you didn’t wash it. Here’s my dirty pan ready for baking!

cast iron

My favorite thing.

Back to the Macaroni

Once your cheese sauce is done, stir it into your drained macaroni. To be completely honest, this was very delicious just like this. If you don’t want to bake it or don’t have a cast iron skillet, it’s perfectly acceptable to serve it just like this!

creamy mac and cheese

You could eat it like this.

Baking the Dish

Assuming you do want to bake it though, stir in your bacon/onion/pepper mixture and then pour all of it back into your cast iron skillet. My skillet is a 15 inch skillet and it fit perfectly.

I didn’t have any bread crumbs around or I would’ve added some on top, but I did have some Parmesan so I grated some of that on top. I figured it would brown up nicely as well.

ready to go

Accidentally no bread crumbs!

Bake this for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. The mac and cheese should have a nice browned crust. Be sure to let it cool for 5 minutes or so before serving it up!

slice

This is hard to beat.

If you’re intimidated by any part of this recipe, just remember that it’s really hard to go wrong with mac and cheese. Even if your sauce is a bit lumpy or if you overcook the macaroni a bit, it’s still going to be delicious. You’d have to work to make this dish not delicious.

I really liked baking it in a cast iron dish because of the crispy edges, but like I said, you could definitely just serve this up as a creamy style mac and cheese dish also.

Bust out your cast iron and give this a shot!

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20 comments on “Cast Iron Mac and Cheese

  1. This looks so yummy! I love my cast iron skillet dearly and what better way to honor it eh?! This might just be tomorrow's dinner! :D

  2. This was awesome. I made it with panko crumbs along with the parm as the topping. My kids are not wild about onions and peppers so I only used bacon – everyone loves bacon! The top was nice and crispy along with the edges… brown and crusty. I was afraid it was going to be too saucy when I started dumping it into the cast iron, but it was perfect.

  3. I made this Saturday night for some friends I was having over for dinner and they absolutely loved it! I really like the kick from the red pepper flakes, and of course bacon makes everything better. :D

  4. life changing mac and cheese!

    I made this last night, and in the moments immediately following the final closing of the oven door, I began to notice something was different in the universe. Family descended on my kitchen to sample the cheesy deliciousness history in the making; old friends not seen in years sauntered through my door to sneak a bite from the freshly-made, cast-iron shrine to cheese and pasta; strangers felt strangely compelled to take the long way home to follow escaped aroma to its macnation and cheesery source. All then stayed beyond their invitation, until the last morsels had been consumed, and disappointment filled the skillet where the cheesy-licious event had occurred.

    Although I was forced to field their pleading interrogations by appropriating ownership of the recipe to the demigod macheesmo, I am now excitedly writing a thesis on Irresponsibly Allocated Resources: Methods of effective macaroni and cheese capture and storage. I expect the nobel committee will take notice

  5. I got a cast iron skillet for Christmas and used it for the first time tonight: mac n cheese is in the oven! Thanks for the recipe! Can’t wait to taste!

  6. I was just talking with my wife today about making maccaroni and cheese in a cast iron skillet and I just happened to find yours. It looks wonderful. My largest skillet is a 12 in. I wonder if the recipe would work well without any overspill. I know I’ll try it anyway, and if it works out I’ll try in by 12 inch 3 leg Dutch oven in the fire pit. Well good cookin’

    1. Hey Jon, should work fine in a 12 inch skillet. I’m almost positive that that is the size I used actually. Good luck!

    2. I just made it in a Lodge 10″ deep skillet (3″ deep). Nearly filled it up but I still had room to heap on breadcrumbs and Parm. My only other edit to the recipe was two fresh jalapenos for the peppers.

  7. Going to try this recipe this weekend… My family loves a really creamy macaroni and cheese… Do you think I should increase the milk to 4 cups to be sure it stays really really creamy during the baking of the macaroni and cheese??? Or will that throw the whole recipe off??? Thank you…

    1. Hey Cheryl, it’s pretty creamy as-is. I would say that if you want it just creamy, you can serve it without baking it! Baking it gives it that kind of crusty/rustic topping which I personally love. If you just want a creamy stovetop mac though, just stir it together and skip the baking . Good luck!

  8. This. Was. Incredible.
    So simple and SO TASTY. Thank you so much for sharing! Does cutting the recipe in half work for less servings? I have mountains of mac-n-cheese on my stovetop now…

    Not complaining. ;-)

    1. Hey Lucy! Glad you liked it. You could absolutely cut the recipe in half but you would just want to probably use a smaller skillet or a smaller baking dish for the baking part. ;)

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