Macaroni and cheese is a dish I have loved since childhood. It is the ultimate comfort food. Who doesn’t like pasta slathered in cheese sauce?
I make it for my kids now too. Whether made from the beloved box mix, a frozen box, from scratch, or ordered at a restaurant, mac and cheese is super versatile and can be made to anyone’s taste.
If you’re looking to add some additional protein, vitamins, flavor, or excitement, there are so many mac and cheese toppings to try. The possibilities are endless.
Here, I’ll review and give you some ideas for meat, vegetable, and other delicious ways to top your mac and cheese.
Best Mac and Cheese Toppings
When you want to turn a bowl of macaroni and cheese into an indulgent treat or a satisfying, complete meal, try some of these toppings on their own or mix and match.
Lobster can seem a little indulgent for home; for most people, cooking a whole lobster is out of the question.
However, many groceries stores sell frozen cooked lobster. Lobster is sweet and tender and makes a great mac and cheese topping for a special dinner.
Boil your own pasta and make your own cheese sauce for something extra divine.
Scallions add a pop of color and freshness to your mac and cheese.
Cut off the roots, then slice and top. The white part of a scallion tastes like mild onion, and the darker green part gives it that finishing flavor.
Use with any mac and cheese and combine with almost any other topping.
You can use canned corn, fresh, or frozen.
Roast some fresh corn on the cob, then cut the kernels off into your mac and cheese, or toss in a can of creamed corn when you’re mixing it for a bowl full of cheesy, corny, creaminess.
The acidity of tomatoes cuts through the fat of cheese and is an excellent way to lighten up a macaroni and cheese.
Experiment with baking sliced tomatoes on top of a pan of mac and cheese, tossing in a can of diced tomatoes, or topping with a few grape tomato halves tossed in salt, pepper, and oil.
Cauliflower has become a trendy miracle vegetable proving that there is nowhere it doesn’t belong.
You can toss some crumbled cauliflower florets, toast them with oil, and coat your mac and cheese like you would breadcrumbs.
Or, simply season and roast cauliflower and spoon it on top of mac and cheese.
Some people even make gluten free mac and cheese with only cauliflower as a pasta substitute!
Whether you use frozen or fresh shrimp, sauced shrimp or fried, jumbo prawns, or the little guys, shrimp goes with a lot of unexpected flavors.
If you like the idea of lobster but don’t think the kids will appreciate it, try topping the next premium box of mac and cheese you make with shrimp.
Beans add protein and texture. They are a great mac and cheese topping for vegetarians, and there are different kinds of beans to add.
Try pinto beans for a Tex-Mex flair. Black beans are an excellent choice for a slightly bolder taste and chew.
I like tossing a can of seasoned chili beans or baked beans, mixing it in the mac and cheese, and serving bread on the side, like nachos.
This is a classic combination whether you pull your own pork or purchase it that way.
Sprinkle some sauced pulled pork over the top of your oven-baked mac and cheese for its last few minutes in the oven.
The pork will crisp up without drying while the sauce spreads a delicious layer over the melted cheese.
Hotdogs sliced over mac and cheese make an excellent, quick, low-stress dinner that the kids and kids at heart in your family will love.
Fry the hotdogs on the stovetop until they take on some color and additional flavor.
After tossing them on the mac and cheese, hit them with a little extra shredded cheddar.
I’ll take bacon any way I can get it. Imitation bacon bits have a lot of flavor and texture and are a good option for a vegetarian.
Store-bought bacon bits are good too. My favorite is cooking up some thick bacon strips nice and crispy and crumbling them over the top of my mac and cheese.
For a deconstructed cheeseburger, brown a pound of roast beef while your macaroni is cooking.
After the mac and cheese is done, drain the excess fat from the beef and combine it with the mac and cheese.
It’s great on its own, but it is also fun to experiment with other burger toppings like pickles, red onion, and even a little squirt of mustard.
Mushrooms are full of minerals and add a kick of umami flavor to anything they’re a part of.
You can sprinkle canned or cooked frozen mushrooms onto your favorite mac and cheese.
I also love to mix it up by pan-frying baby Bellas in butter and adding them and a jar of Alfredo sauce to my macaroni noodles.
Mac and cheese toppings can be anything you have sitting in the pantry.
Add bean sprouts to your mac and cheese for an unusual freshness and satisfying crunch. Toss some on top of the mac and cheese on the plate.
Before baking, you could also spread a layer of bean sprouts and additional cheese on top of your mac and cheese.
What’s better than cheese on cheese?
My favorite way to use Cheez-Its to top mac and cheese is in place of bread crumbs for an oven-baked variety.
They go just as well though crumbled and sprinkled on at the table. This is one the kids will enjoy!
If you’re not sold on hotdogs or want a slightly more sophisticated take on them, you cannot go wrong with Kielbasa as a mac and cheese topping.
The meaty, smoky flavor of this type of sausage plays well with traditional or unconventional cheese sauces.
Slice the Kielbasa and fry it up in coins before adding it to the mac and cheese for maximum yumminess.
Fried chicken and mac and cheese are another classic combination.
If you’re a little bored of the leftover bucket of chicken in your fridge, whip up some mac and cheese, pull the chicken and all its friend goodness off the bone and toss it over your mac and cheese.
Top with a little hot sauce if you dare.
Again, ham and cheese is classic. Salty ham works perfectly with fatty cheese.
It’s a great way to use ham left over from a holiday or a brunch.
If it’s the day before grocery shopping and you’re in a pinch, you can dice some of the kids’ lunch ham and add extra protein and flavor to your mac and cheese.
Sometimes, all you need on top of your mac and cheese is more cheese.
Grated parm adds saltiness and contrasts nicely with a cheddar or American mac and cheese sauce.
Let it snow over your mac and cheese with a shake of Parmesan. If you have a leftover wedge of parm in your fridge, grate it right over your steaming mac and cheese.
Grilled onions have a sweetness and sharpness that cuts through the fat of cheese while adding to its richness.
Topping mac and cheese is a great way to use leftover grilled onions or a great way to use up onions you’ve had hanging around for too long.
They are delicious alone but also go well with almost any other topping.
Jalapeños are a great fresh way to add of kick of spice and flavor.
You can use canned jalapeños or slice up some fresh ones. Cut down the heat by removing the seeds and ribs from the peppers.
Top with jalapeños, toasted bread crumbs, and dollops of cream cheese for jalapeño popper mac and cheese.
Roasted Red Peppers
Try topping it with roasted red peppers to add a sweet smokiness to your mac and cheese.
You can find them in a jar or make them in your oven or over a stovetop if you have a gas range.
They’re great on their own or when paired with Kielbasa and smoked paprika.
Another way to elevate your everyday mac and cheese is with truffle oil.
While you can put it in any mac and cheese, I think it works best with a white cheese sauce that combines white cheddar and Gruyère.
A little truffle oil goes a long way, so use a careful hand. It also works well with mushrooms and chicken.
Best Mac and Cheese Toppings
- Pulled Pork
- Bacon Bits
- Ground Beef
- Bean Sprouts
- Crumbled Cheez-Its
- Fried Chicken
- Diced Ham
- Grated Parmesan
- Grilled Onions
- Roasted Red Peppers
- Truffle Oil
Whether you’re craving macaroni and cheese or making it because it’s all you have in the house, it is a versatile and delicious dish made more so by simple ingredients you might already have.
I hope this list of mac and cheese toppings has inspired you to try some of these toppings or to experiment with your own. Check out our favorite cheese to use for mac and cheese as well!
For more comfort food favorites, check out the best chicken wings in America!