Buffalo Mac & Cheese

BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE ON YOUR TABLE IN 20 MINUTES!

This Buffalo Mac and Cheese is spicy stove top mac and cheese meets hamburger helper for the BEST comfort food that is a meal-in-one! It boasts a rich, creamy, cheesy sauce spiked with Buffalo Sauce, layers of spices, cream cheese, sharp cheddar and mozzarella for the ultimate creamy, cheesy sauce with completely customizable heat – WITHOUT making a roux, heavy cream or butter! I’ve included instructions on how to make this Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe lighter, how to customize, how to make ahead and how to freezebecause you are going to want to make this buffalo mac and cheese ALL the time.

(Updated recipe photos; original recipe 7/14/2014)

a cheesy spoonful of buffalo mac and cheese

Buffalo Mac and Cheese Recipe

I confess.  The blue box mac and cheese was my go-to in college (and maybe just a little beyond) when I needed something quick and easy.

And I know we all need something quick and easy (and creamy!) once in a while – okay, a lot and a while, so I giddily bring you this 20 minute, super quick and easy Buffalo Mac and Cheese! 

This Buffalo Mac and Cheese is part mac and cheese, part hamburger helper  – does comfort food get any better?!  It’s so packed with flavor and creaminess, you won’t believe you can create such deliciousness in such a short amount of time.

This beefy Buffalo Mac & Cheese is guaranteed to please everyone in the household.  In fact, I’m not sure who is going to love this pasta more…

  • Your family?  Because its creamy, cheesy, beefy and spiked with cumin, paprika and hot sauce.
  • Or You?  Because it takes less than 20 minutes to prepare AND its crazy delicious!

Even if this Buffalo Mac & Cheese didn’t take only 20 minutes to make – you and your family would still love it!  It’s the ultimate creamy comfort food that will have you licking the creamy, cheesy buffalo sauce off your plate – literally!

a spoon stirring buffalo mac and cheese recipe

Lighter BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE

Not only is this Buffalo Mac and Cheese irresistibly delicious, but it’s made lighter without heavy cream or butter OR the hassle of making a roux.  My secret ingredient? Creamed corn! 

The creamed corn adds the perfect body to the sauce without adding any fat and pairs perfectly with the robust seasonings.  I use this culinary hack often and it is AH-mazing and undetectable in this application.  In fact, I asked my foodie critic connoisseur if he could guess the secret ingredient – and he had no idea!

In addition to using creamed corn, you can make this Buffalo Mac and cheese even lighter by:

  • Use less cheese. I have made this Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe with just one cup of cheese and it’s still fabulous – obviously less cheesy but still crazy flavorful.
  • Omit cream cheese. I have also made this Buffalo Mac and Cheese without any cream cheese and with only 1 ½ 2 cups cheese and it’s still fantastic! It is far less creamy but it delivers all the flavor.
  • Beef substations. Omit the beef, swap it for chicken like in my Chicken Buffalo Mac and Cheese or use ground turkey. If using turkey, I suggest swapping the salt for beef bouillon and then adding salt to taste.
up close of the best buffalo mac and cheese recipe

WHAT BUFFALO SAUCE SHOULD I USE?

What transforms this mac and cheese recipe into BUFFALO Mac and Cheese is the addition of buffalo hot sauce.  Buffalo Sauce isn’t just any hot sauce.  It is the spicy hot sauce served with wings and is essentially hot sauce with the addition of melted butter, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic.  I use it all the time in recipes like:

So, if you buy a bottle – it will not go to waste! For this Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe, I use Frank’s hot WINGS Sauce -NOT their Frank’s original sauce.  You’ll want to look for “Wings” on the label.  The Wings sauce is spicier, smoother, richer, rounder and less of a pure cayenne punch – it is just plain more delicious in my opinion (hello butter!). 

You can use a different brand of Hot Wings Sauce, but try and use Buffalo Wings Sauce and not just hot sauce or it won’t taste the same or as intended.  If you choose to use another hot sauce, you will want to add more to taste because the wings sauce is quite spicy.

top view of the best buffalo mac and cheese recipe in a skillet with blue cheese

What Pasta is best for Buffalo Mac and Cheese?

  • recommended pasta:  my favorite pasta shapes for Buffalo Mac and Cheese are rigatoni, cellentani/cavatappi, and fusilli.  Any medium, corkscrew pasta will work well.  
  • pastas types: you can use classic pasta, whole-wheat pasta, or gluten free pasta.

HOW TO MAKE BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE

You are going to LOVE how easy this Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe is to make!  Here’s how:   

  • Cook pasta.  Make sure to not overcook your pasta.
  • Brown beef.  The beef is optional.  If not using, you can just omit it and proceed with sauteing the onions or use onion powder. 
  • Make buffalo cheese sauce:
    • Stir in creamed corn and all seasonings
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by adding creamed corn to beef
  • Stir in buffalo wings hot sauce and milk
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by stirring in buffalo hot wings sauce and milk
  • Stir in cream cheese until melted
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by stirring cream cheese into sauce
  • Followed by cheeses one a a time over LOW heat until melted
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by stirring mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese into sauce
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by stirring until smooth
  • Add pasta!  Stir in pasta until well combined.  Add additional milk or hot sauce if needed to reach desired consistency. 
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by stirring in pasta
  • EAT! Garnish with blue cheese, parsley and/or more hot sauce to taste.

BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE VARIATIONS

  • More Cheese:  this Buffalo Mac and  Cheese recipe is nice and cheesy but it has less cheese than other recipes (like my Million Dollar Mac that has 5 cups!). You are welcome to add the recommended amount of cheese – then add more to taste.
  • Cheese Varieties:  you can mix up the cheeses.  I’ve paired cheddar with mozzarella but you could also swap in Monterrey, pepper Jack, Gruyere and even American.
  • Protein:  the ground beef is optional.  You can swap it with  ground turkey, 2 cups rotisserie chicken or omit all together. 
  • Veggies:  I’ve added poblano peppers, bell peppers, zucchini, peas and broccoli to this Buffalo Mac and Cheese in the past but you can add virtually any of your favorite veggies.
showing how to make buffalo mac and cheese by stirring until well combined

TIPS FOR BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE

  • Don’t overcook pasta!  Pasta should be cooked al dente– meaning it should still be a little firm in the center/ have a “bite” to it.  
  • Stop pasta from cooking.  Strain and rinse your pasta with cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook. 
  • Prevent pasta from clumping.  If you’re not using the cooked pasta right away, toss it with a little olive oil.  This will prevent it from sticking together.
  • Hot WINGS Sauce:  make sure you’re using Buffalo hot WINGS sauce and not just original hot sauce – you can taste the difference.
  • Customize Heat: you can add more or less depending on how spicy you like it at your house.  Remember you can always add more hot sauce but it is hard to take it away so start with less.
  • Blue Cheese:  the blue cheese is optional but I love the added tang that cuts through some of the heat.

HOW SPICY IS THIS BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE?

The beautiful thing about making your own Buffalo Mac and Cheese is you can customize the heat.  Individuals can even add more hot sauce to their own individual servings.

In this Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese recipe I find 3 tablespoons Franks Buffalo Hot Wings Sauce is average heat, 4 is if you like things a little spicy (this is what I use) and 5 is for the very spicy lover.

up close top view of buffalo wild wings mac and cheese garnished with blue cheese

CAN I ADD PANKO TOPPING?

Absolutely!  I love buttery, crunchy panko! I make my panko extra crispy by tossing it in butter first  and toasting instead of spraying with cooking spray – seriously culinary changing.  

TO MAKE Panko Topping: 

Directions:  Melt butter in olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add panko and stir to coat. Continue cooking until crumbs become golden brown. Evenly sprinkle over Buffalo Mac and Cheese.

WHAT TO SERVE WITH BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE?

We love this Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese with a big salad or any of the following:

up close of creamy buffalo mac and cheese

CAN I MAKE BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE AHEAD OF TIME?

Yes! You can completely make this Buffalo Mac and Cheese ahead of time and reheat it in the oven or the stove until hot and bubbly.  If you make the mac and cheese ahead of time, make sure the pasta is short of al dente so it doesn’t seep up the sauce or get mushy when reheated.

TO REHEAT ON THE STOVE:

  • Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until warm throughout.
  • You may want to add additional milk for a creamier consistency.

TO REHEAT IN THE OVEN:

You can reheat Buffalo Mac and Cheese in an oven proof skillet or transfer to a 9×13 baking dish.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir in a couple tablespoons of milk for creamier consistency.
  3. Cover with oven-proof lid or foil.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, stir, uncover, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until completely heated through.
  5. For extra cheesiness, you can top with additional cheese when you remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes or until melted.
up close of a cheesy spoonful of buffalo wild wings mac and cheese

CAN I FREEZE BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE?

Yes!  This Buffalo Mac and Cheese freezes better than many dairy-based pastas because of the use of creamed corn instead of heavy cream.  That being said, there is always the disclaimer that the cheese sauce can become a little grainy.  So, freeze expecting delicious, just not creamy perfection.  

HOW TO FREEZE BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE: 

  • Take care to cook pasta al dente.
  • Transfer combined Buffalo Mac and Cheese to a freezer safe, oven proof container (like a 9×13 casserole dish) because we will bake from frozen.
  • Let cool on the counter for one hour.
  • Cover dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill completely before freezing (this will prevent an unpleasant texture).
  • Cover dish tightly with a second layer of plastic wrap all the way around the dish followed one layer of aluminum foil.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to eat,  Do NOT defrost first (defrosting makes for mushy pasta). 
  • Remove plastic wrap from 9×13 baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
  • Bake covered at 350 degrees F for one hour.
  • Uncover and bake an addition 15-30 minutes or until hot in the center.

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up close of easy buffalo mac and cheese

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Buffalo Mac & Cheese

This Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe can be on your table in 20 minutes! This recipe is spicy stove top mac and cheese meets hamburger helper for the BEST comfort food that is a meal-in-one! It boasts a rich, creamy, cheesy sauce spiked with Buffalo Sauce, layers of spices, cream cheese, sharp cheddar and mozzarella for the ultimate creamy, cheesy sauce with completely customizable heat - WITHOUT making a roux, heavy cream or butter! I've included instructions on how to make this Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe lighter, how to customize, how to make ahead and how to freeze - because you are going to want to make this buffalo mac and cheese ALL the time.
Servings: 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cellentani pasta
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp EACH salt, pepper
  • 1/2 tsp EACH cumin, paprika
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 14.5 can sweet creamed corn
  • 3-6 tablespoons Frank's hot WINGS Sauce not their regular hot sauce
  • 4 oz. Cream Cheese cubed, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated mozzarella more or less to taste
  • 1 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar more or less to taste
  • 1/2 cup milk

Instructions

  • Cook pasta al dente in generously salted water. Drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, brown beef and onions until cooked through. Drain any excess grease. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds. Stir in seasonings and creamed corn.
  • Add softened cream cheese and stir until melted over medium heat. Stir in milk and hot sauce and warm through (start with less hot sauce and add more to taste later). Stir in cheddar until melted followed by mozzarella cheese until melted over LOW heat.
  • Stir in in pasta until well coated, adding additional milk if needed to reach desired consistency. Taste and add addition buffalo sauce, salt, pepper, etc. to taste. Garnish with blue cheese and parsley if desired.

Notes

  1. HOW TO MAKE LIGHTER BUFFALO MAC & CHEESE 

  • Use less cheese. I have made this Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe with as little as  one cup of cheese and it's still fabulous - obviously less cheesy but still crazy flavorful - so feel free to use less than the 3 cups listed.
  • Omit cream cheese. I have also made this recipe without any cream cheese and with only 1 ½ 2 cups cheese and it's still fantastic! It is far less creamy but it delivers all the flavor.
  • Beef substations. Omit the beef, swap it for chicken or use ground turkey. If using turkey, I suggest swapping the salt for beef bouillon and then adding salt to taste.

HOW TO MAKE PANKO TOPPING (optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Melt butter in olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet.
  2. Add panko and stir to coat.
  3. Continue cooking until crumbs become golden brown.
  4. Evenly sprinkle over Buffalo Mac and Cheese.

MAKE AHEAD BUFFALO MAC AND CHEESE 

Make sure the pasta is short of al dente so it doesn’t seep up the sauce or get mushy when reheated.
TO REHEAT ON THE STOVE:
  • Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until warm throughout.
  • You may want to add additional milk for a creamier consistency.
TO REHEAT IN THE OVEN:
You can reheat Buffalo Mac and Cheese in an oven proof skillet or transfer to a 9x13 baking dish.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir in a couple tablespoons of milk for creamier consistency.
  3. Cover with oven-proof lid or foil.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, stir, uncover, and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until completely heated through.
  5. For extra cheesiness, you can top with additional cheese when you remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes or until melted.

HOW TO FREEZE MAC AND CHEESE

This Buffalo Mac and Cheese freezes better than many dairy-based pastas because of the use of creamed corn instead of heavy cream.  That being said, there is always the disclaimer that the cheese sauce can become a little grainy.  So freeze expecting delicious, just not creamy perfection.
  • Take care to cook pasta al dente.
  • Transfer combined Buffalo Mac and Cheese to a freezer safe, oven proof container (like a 9x13 casserole dish) because we will bake from frozen.
  • Let cool on the counter for one hour.
  • Cover dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill completely before freezing (this will prevent an unpleasant texture).
  • Cover dish tightly with a second layer of plastic wrap all the way around the dish followed one layer of aluminum foil.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to eat,  Do NOT defrost first.
  • Remove plastic wrap from 9x13 baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
  • Bake covered at 350 degrees F for one hour.
  • Uncover and bake an addition 15-30 minutes or until hot in the center.
 

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12 Comments

  1. Therese says

    This has been a FAVORITE at my freezer parties for 2 years!!! It’s in my freezer right now!! Can’t wait to try it with ground beef. Your recipes are my go to favorites for my freezer meals. 🙂 No one has been disappointed!! Thank you for all your hard work creating these yummy dishes and making my life little easier! 🙂

    • Jen says

      YAY! That’s so awesome this Buffalo Mac and Cheese has been a favorite for so long! It has always been one of my favs so I thought it was time the pics were a updated to entice more readers to try it ;). I love that you still do your freezer meal parties – such a great idea and so helpful. I’m so happy my recipes have all been hits! Thanks Therese! xo

  2. brandi says

    You forgot to mention adding the cream corn w/the seasonings in the printable instructions. I made this tonight & it was amazingly delicious!!! For the last 4 months we have made ONLY your recipes- especially the salads, for dinner! Your recipes are amazing, full of flavor, and I am so beyond happy I found you! Thank you Thank you Thank you !!!!!!!!!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for pointing that out Brandi- just fixed it ;). I LOVE hearing you have been making and loving so many of my recipes – that’s awesome! I’m thrilled you’re loving them!

  3. Tricia says

    Love your recipes, would like to make this next. I am in France and cannot get Franks Hot Sauce
    or creamed corn if you can suggest alternatives i would be very grateful.

    • Jen says

      Hi Tricia, you can use any cayenne based hot sauce to taste – just make sure to start with less then add more. As far as a replacement for creamed corn, you can make your own (but that kind of defeats the purpose of the ease of creamed corn), or I would make a roux. After you brown the beef and onions, add 3 tablespoons butter/oil and 3 tablespoons flour, cook together with beef) for 1 minute then turn heat to low and whisk in 2 cups milk. Simmer until thickened then continue with recipe. I am assuming those measurements are about right, but you may need to add additional milk at the end to thin. I hope this helps!

  4. 2pots2cook says

    Twenty minutes ? I’m in. Spicy version ! Thank you so much !

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome! I hope you love it as much as us!

    • Danielle says

      If anyone is like me and bought hot sauce rather than wings sauce just melt tbsp of butter and mix with 4 tbsp of hot sauce!

      This was so easy and delicious. You’re my go-to for recipes.

      • Jen says

        That’s fabulous advice, thanks so much Danielle! And thank you for the kind words, I’m honored I’m your go to for recipes! xo

  5. Sarah Teeters says

    Thank you so much for this recipe! This is my go-to meal when I know I have a busy week at work! I make a huge batch just for myself for one dinner and then I have lunch for the rest of the week! Never has a meal warmed up so well in the microwave and may even, just a tad, taste better the second time around!

    Thank you for making it so easy and SO DELICIOUS!!

    • Jen says

      I love hearing this buffalo mac and cheese is a repeat favorite – you have great taste ;)! What a great idea to make a big batch and enjoy it throughout the week. Thanks Sarah!