Best mac and cheese mix-ins?
July 9, 2018 8:01 AM   Subscribe

My son turns 12 at the end of the month and wants a 'mac and cheese bar' for his party. I'm planning a huge batch of mac and cheese for the base and then will let the guests dress it up however they want. I'm thinking barbecue pulled pork, taco meat, sauteed onions and mushrooms but would love some other ideas of what would work well. Will be a mix of meat-eaters and vegetarians. Thanks in advance!
posted by Twicketface to Food & Drink (64 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Lobster mac and cheese is a thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:06 AM on July 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

Hot sauce!
posted by jozxyqk at 8:07 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:07 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

One that ends up pizza flavored feels like it could work? So, I guess, pepperoni, some marinara sauce?

bacon, no brainer.

I really like peas in my mac but I might be an outlier there.
posted by gaspode at 8:08 AM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

also, chorizo.
posted by gaspode at 8:09 AM on July 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

Extra cheese, different varieties.
posted by palomar at 8:09 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

A big bowl of panko crumbs fried in butter... maybe even two, one with garlic and herbs, and one plain with salt. I second bacon, and wish to throw pesto out there.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 8:11 AM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also, bacon.
posted by witchen at 8:12 AM on July 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

Tater tots.
posted by box at 8:13 AM on July 9, 2018

Will anyone there not be an eleven or twelve year old? If so you really need freshness to sprinkle on or mix in: *raw* chopped tomatoes, chives, red and green pepper.
posted by nantucket at 8:13 AM on July 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

This menu seems like a good source for inspiration!
posted by solotoro at 8:18 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I often put spicy italian sausage in mac and cheese; and/or sopressata or other types of cured sausage.

also hot sauce. sriracha-style works well.

i like arugula mixed in there. broccoli rabe would work for the adventurous youth who doesn't mind a bitter blast.

toasted pignoli.

grilled/seared shrimp might be ok but combining cheese and seafood is a weird thing.
posted by entropone at 8:20 AM on July 9, 2018

Broccoli, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, chives, bacon, chicken, sausage.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:20 AM on July 9, 2018

Am I the only one whose family recipe for mac calls for chopped kielbasa (ham in a pinch)?
posted by spamloaf at 8:20 AM on July 9, 2018

Ham and peas
French fried onions (you know, like in green bean casserole)
posted by briank at 8:21 AM on July 9, 2018

Toasted breadcrumbs (or panko, agreed), tiny croutons, and/or canned fried onions. Or tenkasu, tempura crunchies.

Sliced weenies, or sliced corn dogs.

Cut up soft pretzels, or pretzel bites.

I think if I wanted to bring an extra bit of silliness to the whole thing, I'd cook up a couple Totinos or similar very thin frozen pizzas and dice them, so you could top your mac and cheese with pizza. (But I would also eat this, for real.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:21 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Diced dill pickles are excellent in mac & cheese.
posted by Laura in Canada at 8:22 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

vegetarian sausage - the links kind - baked and sliced

homemade breadcrumbs

really good Parmesan cheese presented with a grater. Make the 12-year-olds wash their hands first!

chives - fresh - maybe in plant form. Can go in the garden or stay in a container, then harvest directly for the meal. (This is a _great_ way to link earth->food->happy for people)

sumac or za'atar

pine nuts
posted by amtho at 8:24 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Scallions, broccoli, carrots, jalapenos for the brave, green and red peppers, peas, veggie dogs, so much cheese, a variety of mushroom choices, and if you don't mind a pescatarian route, salmon and lobster meat can be really good in mac and cheese .
posted by zizzle at 8:24 AM on July 9, 2018

Seconding tomatoes - though I tend to go for roasted or sun-dried.
posted by eirias at 8:25 AM on July 9, 2018

If you've got vegetarians, I suggest adding some sauteed soy dog bits (Field Roast is unequivocally my family's favorite, and believe it or not you can buy them at Walmart in my area, so they shouldn't be too hard to find) and/or some soy crumbles (Morningstar Farms is our go-to), possibly with taco seasoning mixed in.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:28 AM on July 9, 2018

Alfalfa sprouts
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:28 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's another menu, from my favorite restaurant. You can also build your own with any of their pizza toppings.

I tend to get spinach or broccoli, with or without bacon, but it's all good.
posted by natabat at 8:29 AM on July 9, 2018

Buffalo chicken! (stolen from this menu in the mac n cheese section, scroll down, the quick link doesn't work)
posted by deezil at 8:35 AM on July 9, 2018

I have had the good fortune of living near several restaurants that specialize in macaroni and cheese. Mr. Mac's is down the street from my current apartment, and they have a huge selection. So far, I've had the Chicken Cordon Bleu, Taco Mac, Pulled Pork Mac, Blazin' Buffalo Chicken, and Chicken Parmesan; all are delicious. Cheeseology in St. Louis is sadly now defunct, but their menu is still online. The Black and Bleu was my favorite. Homeroom is a restaurant in Oakland. I've never eaten there, but they have a cookbook that I just got for Father's Day. I've made the basic recipe, and it's delicious. It's also helpful because it goes into detail about how different ingredients work together, and how to tweak your base accordingly (e.g., use blander cheeses like jack with more flavorful toppings, so that the cheese base doesn't overwhelm).
posted by kevinbelt at 8:36 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

The kid in me still loves ketchup in my mac and cheese.
posted by artificialard at 8:51 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bacos and McCormick Bacon Bits are both vegetarian! If I put them in mac & cheese, I'd want to give it a few minutes so they would sort of rehydrate a bit.

I would suggest Parmesan from the green can or at least the stuff that is already grated.
posted by soelo at 8:53 AM on July 9, 2018

The Black and Bleu was my favorite.
Bleu cheese crumbles would make for a great mix-in!
posted by soelo at 8:55 AM on July 9, 2018

cut up hot dogs is the classic.

You know what I love in a bowl of box mac n cheese? Tuna. DON'T JUDGE ME. It's low rent tuna casserole. It's delicious.

yes to peas.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:55 AM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love croutons in mac and cheese. It makes any mac and cheese taste like the fancy kind with lots of breadcrumbs on top.
posted by advicepig at 9:03 AM on July 9, 2018

Yes chives or scallions! Diced jalapeños (I prefer pickled, but fresh can be good), grilled chicken.

This thread has caused me much suffering at my lunch break as I stare at my sandwich.
posted by buttonedup at 9:17 AM on July 9, 2018

The best part of mac n cheese is the crispy cheese skin on top. So if that goes away while you are adding in your mixins (maybe by peeling it off and eating it), then the ability to add a handful of cheese on top, and back under broiler to get it back again.
posted by Ftsqg at 9:17 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like chili powder & kidney beans with my mac & cheese.
posted by belladonna at 9:18 AM on July 9, 2018

posted by poffin boffin at 9:23 AM on July 9, 2018

Roasted red peppers, green onion, red onion, tuna, capers, olives, blue cheese, guacamole, artichoke hearts, Cheetos, parsley, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chopped-up pretzels.
posted by theperfectcrime at 9:23 AM on July 9, 2018

+1 to vegetarian hot dog chunks
posted by terretu at 9:24 AM on July 9, 2018

Bush's vegetarian baked beans

Also, my roommate in college practically lived on mac and cheese mixed with tuna fish and green peas.
posted by augustinetill at 9:39 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Smashed up Cheez-its dust/crumbs

If you want to blow their minds - find some szechuan peppercorns to make their mouth all numb.
posted by TomFoolery at 9:48 AM on July 9, 2018

Hot dogs/veggie dogs, broccoli, bread crumbs (I like the crouton suggestion) are all things I regularly put in/on my mac and cheese.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:52 AM on July 9, 2018

Response by poster: Holy crap! All these great answers are making me wish his party was today instead of in a few weeks. Thanks for weighing in - this party is going to rule!
posted by Twicketface at 10:16 AM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Maybe plan to use fairly small-sized bowls because some of the combos that are wildly fun to make might not be wildly fun to eat and someone will want to 'reset' their choices?
posted by puddledork at 10:55 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

A variety of different hot sauces. Aim not for blow-your-mouth-off hot, but for a range of flavors. Frank's Red Hot tastes different from Sriracha tastes different from Cholula tastes different from…

(Here's a possible place to start.)
posted by Lexica at 11:04 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding several suggestions: Cheetos, pickles. In particular, are you in a place where giardiniera is available?

It might also be fun to get mac-and-cheese-flavored things to put on your mac and cheese, like potato chips.

And what about waffling some?
posted by spelunkingplato at 11:12 AM on July 9, 2018

For twelve year olds? Cheese Doodles.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:13 AM on July 9, 2018

Starting with the basics: make a few different cheese sauces, offer a few different sorts of pasta. Offer cooked sliced or diced potatoes, too, for anyone who wants to go the au gratin route. Rice, too, for anyone who loves cheesy rice.

Seconding the suggestion to provide small bowls so the guests can try out several possibilities.

Also: pizza rolls, probably sliced in half, would be another possible stir-in. Slim Jims or similar meat snacks. White Castles.
Walk your son down the frozen appetizer section, then the junk food section of the grocery store and let him pick out a few things he'd think would be cool to offer as stir-ins. Kids at that age will love to challenge each other regarding weird things to add to their mac 'n cheese.
posted by Lunaloon at 11:17 AM on July 9, 2018

Little fancy bowls filled with the powder from Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Jalapeno poppers.

Mozarella sticks.

(You could also incorporate the overboard bloody mary tradition into the whole thing, where you do things like 'top it with half a sandwich' and a tiny paper umbrella. )
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:27 AM on July 9, 2018

Soya sauce (sounds weird but don’t knock it until you try it)
Cut up bits of salami, sausage, etc.
posted by rpfields at 11:39 AM on July 9, 2018

Cauliflower in bite size pieces.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:40 AM on July 9, 2018

Also artichoke hearts.
posted by rpfields at 11:42 AM on July 9, 2018

I do edamame instead of peas. You can buy it pre-shelled in the freezer section of many grocery stores.
posted by itesser at 11:52 AM on July 9, 2018

Get some different spice blends to put in it. I like curry powder or old bay in mine.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:17 PM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sun dried tomato
Green peas
posted by SLC Mom at 12:46 PM on July 9, 2018

Buffalo chicken cutlets chopped up into strips, optional bleu sauce / crumble for adventurous pre-teens.
posted by athirstforsalt at 1:57 PM on July 9, 2018

Paprika, smoked, hot, or regular

2-3 kinds of mac n cheese base - white mac n cheese, sharp cheddar mac n cheese, etc.
posted by Red Desk at 3:09 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid my mom used to make mac n' cheese with tuna. Maybe it sounds gross but that shit was AWESOME.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:10 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

How about pork sung?
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:33 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Shelled edamame
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 4:34 PM on July 9, 2018

Pancetta and peas!
posted by Charity Garfein at 5:28 PM on July 9, 2018

12 year olds? Gotta have something weird to mush in there. Bits of boiled octopus? Chocolate chips?
posted by Gotanda at 8:37 PM on July 9, 2018

Peas forever. There's just something about the texture combo and the pop of freshness that works so well in mac & cheese (or any other creamy, cheesy pasta). Same with little halved cherry or grape tomatoes.

Add pancetta to the peas and you've got yourself a pseudo-carbonara.

I've also been really digging chopped mild green chiles in my mac. The kind you get in a tiny blue- or yellow-labeled can on the taco stuff aisle in the grocery store is perfect, if you don't want to faff with roast your own. They're truly mild, with no heat whatsoever.

More cheese is also always welcome. Provide a couple different kinds of shredded and crumbled cheese. The adults of a certain age and place in internet culture can make "Yo dawg, I heard you like cheese..." jokes all day.

And I'm not gonna lie, I still enjoy sliced hot dogs in mac & cheese. I've been to several mac & cheese bars that re-imagine this with fancier sausages: andouille, chorizo, kielbasa... those are also delicious in their own right. But they're not hot dogs.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:55 PM on July 9, 2018

For the crowd who enjoy pineapple on a pizza, I suggest pineapple in mac and cheese. Sounds weird, but it is suuuper tasty.
posted by BeeJiddy at 11:52 PM on July 9, 2018

Veggie chili
posted by crazycanuck at 12:59 AM on July 10, 2018

I am a long-time fan of Alton Brown's mac & cheese recipe. This sounds like a great opportunity to use his next-day recipe, Fried Mac & Cheese. Just look at those golden brown slices of crispy, creamy mac & cheese.
posted by heatvision at 3:30 AM on July 10, 2018

Pizza sauce is great mixed into mac and cheese.
posted by freezer cake at 12:19 PM on July 13, 2018

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