Do you know which meats pair best with the classic combination of macaroni and cheese?
You might think that an ultimate comfort food such as mac & cheese wouldn’t need pairing, but there are selections of proteins available that can surprisingly turn an ordinary plate into a gourmet masterpiece.
From hot dogs to grilled steak, this article will show you fifteen ingredients that go beyond basic bacon and even more ways to use them in order to create a tantalizing meal.
Everything from simple flavors for weeknight dinners to a more sophisticated options for special occasions is included.
Read on for a whirlwind tour through the world of what meats go with mac and cheese.
What Meats Go with Mac and Cheese? 13 BEST Options
Mac and cheese is usually considered a cheese-driven dish; however, adding in the right types of meat can turn this classic into a protein-packed meal.
From chicken to bacon to sausage, there are many great cuts of meat that can be cooked and added to mac and cheese for an extra punch of flavor.
The following are some of the best options for making an elevated version of this favorite comfort food.
Chicken is an iconic combination for mac and cheese, and it’s a good place to start since it’s such a universally loved protein.
Plus, chicken goes with almost any flavor you can imagine.
It pairs well with very mild-flavored cheeses like cheddar and Mozzarella, but also stands up to stronger flavors, like blue cheese or smoked Gouda.
You can use cooked rotisserie chicken or quickly cook your own by sprinkling it with salt, pepper, and garlic powder before searing in some butter or olive oil over medium heat until cooked through.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding aromatics like fresh herbs or spices for even more flavor.
For a simpler version of this classic dish, simply top cooked macaroni with crumbled boiled eggs for a delicious protein boost.
Pork is an excellent meat to enhance the flavor of traditional macaroni and cheese.
For a smokey, savory flavor kick, try using shredded or diced smoked pork or bacon in your dish.
There is no wrong way to eat pork – it can be cubed, pulled and shredded for good-old-fashioned American cooking on a country grill or oven-roasted with crispy skin for an upscale dinner party.
Or you can try adding cubes of barbeque pork with your favorite bbq sauce as a topping for a tasty twist on the classic entree.
No matter how you prepare it, pork adds great flavor complexity and richness that simply compliments any type of macaroni and cheese.
The traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and stuffing would not be complete without a side of mac and cheese.
By substituting turkey for the usual beef, you can recreate the holiday dinner in a delicious mac and cheese dish.
Turkey is a leaner option than beef, so you don’t have to worry about adding unnecessary calories or fat to your meal.
Plus, there are so many different ways to prepare this meat that your mac and cheese recipes can get even more flavor.
Try baking some diced turkey breast and stirring it into the mixture when you add your other ingredients.
Or, try grilling up some thinly sliced turkey cutlets before adding them in – they give an unbeatable smokiness to the dish.
Bacon is one of the most popular and well-known meats to add to mac and cheese.
Need we say more? Bacon pieces are full of flavor and offer a great salty, smoky taste that takes mac and cheese up an extra notch.
Plus, its crispy texture makes it the perfect addition to creamy macaroni pasta dishes.
For an even richer taste, use bacon with cheese like cheddar or smoked gouda, which will complement its smokiness.
You can also play around with different flavors of bacon such as applewood-smoked or peppered for variety.
Don’t be afraid to get creative – you’ll be sure to impress your guests with this tasty combination.
Sausage is the ultimate go-to ingredient for adding flavor and texture to your meal, and it works great in mac and cheese.
Choose from a range of flavors like beef, pork, turkey, or Italian for an extra savory smack in your mac and cheese.
Whether you’re preparing your macaroni from scratch or using a store-bought mix, adding some sausage to the mix will make it that much tastier.
This hearty meat can be chopped up or crumbled into small pieces and added directly to the dish.
For added crunch, you can also try deep frying chunks of sausage before adding them to the mac and cheese; this will give it an even better taste.
So go ahead and break out that sausage grinder or pick up some slices at the grocery store — with its slow-cooked goodness infused into your cheesy pasta, you’ll be coming back for seconds.
Beef is often the king of mac and cheese recipes—it is hearty and can stand up to the other ingredients.
Ground beef has a unique flavor, as it brings out more of the masala spices, while larger chucks provide a textured feel.
Depending on preferences, you might use one of these two cuts to liven up your mac and cheese:
Ground Beef: Ground beef works great in creamy versions of mac and cheese recipes as it absorbs some of the creaminess that surrounds it.
It’s also good for preparing sloppy Joe-topped dishes such as tacos or burgers.
Steak: Steak is perfect for creating thick, savory sauce-based dishes with lots of complex flavors.
This cut works well with pepper jack cheese or sweet onion varieties like yellow onion or caramelized onion for a lightly bitter or smoky finish.
You could also toss in some mushrooms or peppers if you want a stronger bite from your dish.
For our vegan friends out there, tofu is a delicious add-in for mac and cheese – and it brings all the same creamy, nutty, cheesy flavor as its meaty counterparts.
If you can’t find pre-crumbled tofu, it’s easy to make by simply boiling some extra-firm tofu and mashing it with a fork until it reaches the right texture.
You can also add nutritional yeast to boost the cheesy flavor further.
Then, just mix it in with your cheese sauce and you’ve got delicious vegan mac and cheese ready to go.
And if that’s not enough, tofu is packed full of protein and other nutrients so you can feel great while eating your favorite comfort food.
Fish is a slightly unusual meat choice for mac and cheese, but it can make for a unique flavor.
Salmon, haddock and cod are all excellent choices for adding a different angle to your mac and cheese.
The fish should be cooked before adding it to the dish — most types can be baked or fried according to the recipe you’re using.
If you’re looking for something even more out of the ordinary, try choosing an unusual fish such as trout, bass or grouper.
You can also use smoked fish for extra flavor.
Be sure to check with your local health department about advisories against eating certain kinds of fish from local streams or lakes before trying these recipes.
Shrimp can be a great addition to your mac and cheese as it offers a unique taste and texture.
It is quite light in color too, so it won’t overpower the cheesiness of the dish.
To prepare shrimp for use in mac and cheese, peel (or devein) them, then sauté with garlic, butter, salt, pepper, and maybe some chopped parsley.
Make sure not to overcook them—shrimp should only need a couple of minutes in the pan before they’re done.
After that, just toss them into your pot of cooked macaroni.
Steak is one of those meats that many people like to pair with mac and cheese.
It’s often served as a side for a casual lunch or dinner.
Steak and mac are both stand-alone stars, but together they make an indulgent feast.
Make sure to select good quality steak for the best flavor.
For example, look for U.S. -Cut ribeye steak for the richest flavor profile; New York Strip steak for a milder, yet still flavorful taste; or slow-cooked chuck steak for a more budget-friendly option.
Salmon is an excellent source of protein and one of the healthiest fish you can consume.
Its flavor adds a creamy completeness to any mac and cheese, which comes in especially handy if you’re not a fan of seafood or want to explore different proteins.
With its intense color and mild yet distinctive taste, salmon is a great partner for SHARP cheddar cheese or blue cheese.
Try combining it with some savory herb-infused breadcrumbs, like rosemary, oregano and thyme for even more flavor.
Rabbit meat is a wild game meat and can be hard to find in stores, but it makes an excellent pairing with macaroni and cheese.
The lightness and delicate flavor of rabbit can provide an unpredictable yet tasty option for adventurous cooks.
Rabbit should be cooked at a low temperature to avoid drying out, making it an ideal ingredient for slow cookers, as well as some old-fashioned stovetop versions of macaroni and cheese.
For those who have access to rabbit, try adding diced bodies and boneless tenders to your recipe – they’ll add a unique flavor that will have your friends raving.
For an adventurous twist on mac and cheese, venison can provide an amazing gamey flavor to the creamy cheese dish.
While it is most certainly not found in the traditional mac and cheese recipe, this hearty cut of meat can take the classic dish to a whole new level.
Venison has many health benefits that make it a great option for those who want to enjoy all the classic flavors of mac and cheese with a hint of adventure.
High in protein and low in fat, venison is nutrient-rich, containing high levels of iron, zinc, and B vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin and niacin which are important for metabolism production.
Venison also boasts an impressive vitamin profile with balanced levels of vitamin A, K and several B vitamins as well as selenium — an antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation and improve digestion.
Venison paired with creamy mac play off each other nicely providing complimentary flavors to the cheesy sauce.
For best results use ground venison or diced cubes from your local butcher shop – searing them beforehand will help lock in the moisture – uncut chunks can tend to dry out when cooked for longer periods at higher temperatures due to the lean composition of the meat.
Then simply add cooked venison pieces into your already prepared mac & cheese before baking or enjoy as a comforting one-pot meal.