Having mac and cheese for dinner is the ultimate comfort food. And although some people would argue pasta and cheese are all you need, to make it healthier or more complete, you may want to add meat.
Adding a bit of meat into the dish can totally transform this from a quick snack to a hearty meal without a lot of headaches, hassle, or extra effort.
Of course, picking the right meat to add to your mac and cheese is a big piece of the success puzzle.
Choose the right meat to complement your dish and you’ll elevate all of the individual ingredients, perfectly combining the savory flavors of the meat you’ve chosen with the gooey, cheesy goodness of mac and cheese.
Choose the wrong meat, though, and you’ll end up pretty unhappy with the results – and so will your dinner guests!
What Meat Goes with Mac and Cheese for Dinner?
To help you decide what meat goes with mac and cheese, we have broken this down by the types of meats that pair the best.
Red Meat That Goes with Mac and Cheese
Beef plays very well with macaroni and cheese, and not just hamburger either – though hamburger mixed into mac and cheese built a $100 million plus business in Hamburger Helper!
There’s something about the rich, savory, meaty flavor of beef that goes so well with mac and cheese. Ground beef is inexpensive too (shoot for 80/20 mixtures whenever possible), but there’s no reason you couldn’t thin-slice flank or skirt steak and add it to your mac and cheese dish, either.
Mac and Cheese Recipe Ideas with Beef
Pork might not have the upfront savory flavors that beef does, but it still adds savory and balance to your mac and cheese that would have been missing otherwise.
Swapping out ground beef for ground pork is another great idea. But, make sure to season it with lots of salt, lots of pepper, and garlic. Otherwise, it may be a bit of a blander option. Other folks like to make pulled pork – with or without barbecue sauce – that eventually gets added to their mac and cheese recipe.
Mac and Cheese Recipe Ideas with Pork
Poultry That Goes with Mac and Cheese
Chicken can work well with mac and cheese, too – especially if you’re going to braise it, pull it, and then sort of folded back into the mac and cheese itself.
A lot of people really like to make “pulled chicken”, slather it in hot sauce – your favorite out-of-the-bottle hot sauce or a custom concoction with just the right amount of spice – and then add that directly to mac and cheese.
Finish it off with a little bit of cream cheese, a little bit of blue cheese dressing, and maybe even some more hot sauce and you’ve got something really special on your hands.
Mac and Cheese Recipe Ideas with Chicken
Turkey will work in any mac and cheese recipe. It’s almost a 1:1 placement for chicken but healthier.
Buffalo turkey with enough flavoring can be as good as Buffalo chicken, and it works just as well when you’ve mixed it up into your mac and cheese dish!
Mac and Cheese Recipe Ideas with Turkey
Seafood That Goes with Mac and Cheese
It might sound a little weird at first to think about adding seafood into your mac and cheese, but there’s just something about this combination of gooey, salty cheese, perfectly cooked pasta, and shrimp that just works so well.
Shrimp you’ll want to grill for sure – that’s the only cooking method that’ll have these shrimp really stand up to the bolder flavors in mac and cheese – but then you can decide to add them whole or add them in chunks.
Either way, you’ll add delicious ocean flavors that work surprisingly well with the salty, cheesy flavors of the dish.
It’s kind of tough to track down when lobster mac and cheese was “invented” – some people say it was first described in the French Laundry cookbook in the early 1890s – but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter.
Heavily inspired by dishes like Lobster Newburg, we are glad that whoever decided to stretch their culinary muscles a little bit come up with the inspiration for lobster mac and cheese.
Cured Meat That Goes with Mac and Cheese
Cured meats – especially those that have also been smoked – go really, really well with mac and cheese.
Ham in particular elevates mac and cheese dishes in a way you might not have expected at first, adding in a salty, smoky, sometimes sweet kind of flavor that mac and cheese lack on its own.
You’ll be adding some flavor dimensionality but you’ll also be adding some serious protein into your dish as well!
Bacon goes with just about everything so it should come as no surprise whatsoever that you can successfully fold bacon right into your favorite mac and cheese dish – any mac and cheese dish – and come away very happy with the results.
Smoking, salty, and crunchy this is the perfect addition to the topping of mac and cheese or something that gets worked right into the core of the dish itself.
Italian sausage and hotter sausages in general tend to be more successful with mac and cheese than sweeter sausage options for one reason or another.
There’s just something about the little bit of heat and a little bit of bite that hotter sausages bring to the table. That doesn’t mean you can’t add sweet sausage if that’s what you prefer – it’s just that the flavor of the finished dish is going to be a little bit different.
Cook the sausage (browning it quite a bit) before you slice and add it to the mac and cheese, though. Otherwise, you’ll end up pretty unhappy with the results.
4. Hot Dogs
Hotdogs – yes, good old-fashioned hotdogs – are a perfect companion for mac and cheese.
There’s a reason, after all, that moms all over the world break out a pack of hot dogs and a box of mac and cheese to feed their kids in a pinch. These two always work well with one another, as separate components of a meal or mixed in together in a single dish.
Try it before you turn your nose up at it. You might be surprised by just how much you enjoy hotdogs with mac and cheese
Final Thoughts on what meat goes with mac and cheese
Most meat (with some exceptions) can be used in a mac and cheese dish. The best options are of course the classics of beef, pork, and chicken. However, seafood can also be considered. Smokey ham and bacon are some of the easiest pairings if you are in a hurry.
Try the combinations we highlighted above the next chance you get.
Don’t be surprised if they quickly become regular mainstays of your dinner-time rotations!