Crispy Mac and Cheese Bites

published Oct 26, 2021
Mac and Cheese Bites Recipe

These irresistible, bite-size globes of tender mac and cheese are blanketed in ultra-crunchy panko coating and fried to golden-brown perfection.

Makes32 bites

Prep20 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 35 minutes

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fried mac and cheese balls stacked on a blue plate with a fork on the side
Credit: Kelli Foster

Just when you thought mac and cheese couldn’t possibly get more irresistible, I present you with mac and cheese bites: Bite-size globes of tender mac and cheese blanketed with a ultra-crunchy panko coating, and fried to golden-brown perfection. Consider it the ultimate crowd-pleasing appetizer for game day and the greatest way use up your mac and cheese leftovers (looking at you, Thanksgiving leftovers!).

How to Make Mac and Cheese Bites

  1. Choose your mac and cheese. Start by either making a batch of mac and cheese (recipe below), using leftovers, or opting for store-bought mac and cheese. If using leftovers or store-bought mac and cheese, you’ll need about five cups or two pounds of mac and cheese. 
  2. Chill. Once it’s cooled completely, place the mac and cheese in the fridge to firm up, so it’s easy to scoop into balls and holds its shape. 
  3. Shape. Scoop the mac and cheese into two-tablespoon portions and press into a ball. A two-tablespoon cookie scoop makes easy work of this step.
  4. Freeze. This small, but important step ensures the balls stay together and makes them much easier to coat. 
  5. Coat. Dredge the balls in flour, dip in beaten egg, then coat with panko breadcrumbs.
  6. Fry. Working in batches of six, fry until golden-brown.

What Type of Pasta Should I Use for Mac and Cheese Bites?

Small pasta shapes, like elbow macaroni or small shells, are the best choice for mac and cheese bites.

Credit: Kelli Foster

Best Dipping Sauces for Mac and Cheese Bites

When it comes to serving, my top recommendation is sprinkling the mac and cheese bites with a little bit of flaky salt right after cooking. These crunchy, cheesy bites are amazing eaten as is, but if you can’t resist a good dipping sauce, BBQ sauce, fry sauce, aioli, or even doubling down on cheese with queso are all good ideas.

Mac and Cheese Bites Recipe

These irresistible, bite-size globes of tender mac and cheese are blanketed in ultra-crunchy panko coating and fried to golden-brown perfection.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 35 minutes

Makes 32 bites

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the mac and cheese (optional):

  • 8 ounces

    dried elbow macaroni

  • 1 ounce

    cream cheese

  • 4 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup

    whole milk

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the mac and cheese bites:

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 2 cups

    panko breadcrumbs

  • 6 cups

    canola or vegetable oil (48 ounces), for deep-frying

  • Flaky salt (optional)

Instructions

Make mac and cheese (optional):

  1. Bring a Dutch oven or large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add 8 ounces dried elbow macaroni and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Meanwhile, cut 1 ounce cream cheese into 1/2-inch cubes and grate 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (2 cups).

  2. Drain the macaroni. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in the same saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and whisk to combine. The mixture will look like wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to dry out, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1 cup whole milk until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 1 to 2 minutes.

  3. Remove from the heat, add the cream cheese and cheddar cheese, and stir until smooth. Return the macaroni to the pan and stir to coat. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Assemble and fry the mac and cheese bites:

  1. Scoop the mac and cheese into 2-tablespoon portions, press into a ball, and place on a parchment or wax paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.

  2. Place 1 cup all-purpose flour in a wide, shallow bowl. Lightly beat 4 large eggs in a second wide, shallow bowl. Place 2 cups panko breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a third wide, shallow bowl and whisk together.

  3. Heat 6 cups canola or vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until 350°F. (If you don’t have a candy or deep-fry thermometer, you can test to see if the oil is hot enough by placing a small amount of the mac and cheese in the hot oil. It should rise to the top quite quickly and bubble intensely if the oil is hot enough.) Meanwhile, form the mac and cheese bites.

  4. Working with one at a time, dredge in the flour until completely coated, shaking off any excess, then dip in the eggs, and finally coat with panko. Return to the baking sheet.

  5. When the oil is ready, fry in batches of 6: Add the mac and cheese bites and fry until golden-brown and beginning to float, about 3 minutes. Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel lined-plate or baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining mac and cheese bites. Sprinkle with flaky salt, if desired, and serve warm.

Recipe Notes

If not making mac and cheese, you can substitute about 5 cups or 2 pounds of store-bought or leftover mac and cheese.

Make ahead: The mac and cheese can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in a 350ºF oven until warmed through, about 10 minutes.