Fried Mac and Cheese Bites

Melty, crisp, and wildly fun to eat, this finger food may just be your new favorite appetizer.

Fried Mac and Cheese Bites
Photo: Will Dickey
Active Time:
1 hrs 25 mins
Chill Time:
3 hrs
Total Time:
4 hrs 25 mins

Creamy and rich, like the classic dish, but with all the crisp edges your family fights over, Fried Mac and Cheese Bites are the best of all worlds.

Start by whipping up the traditional recipe, but with a couple substitutions. Use white Cheddar and Monterey Jack for an extra tang to cut through the richness of the fried bites. Instead of baking the pasta and cheese, scoop into bites, and coat with an egg-and-panko mixture before deep-frying to golden brown and gooey goodness.

Make sure to grab a candy thermometer to prevent the bites from burning. No other fancy equipment is necessary. You can fry in any high-walled pot. For example, a cast-iron Dutch oven is ideal for holding heat and preventing splatters.

Ideal for any gathering, whether an engagement party or Super Bowl, this appetizer won't last long on the buffet table.

Which Cheeses Are in Mac and Cheese Bites?

This recipe for mac and cheese bites calls for white Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, but other cheese combos like mozzarella and Parmesan, or pimento cheese and white Cheddar would also work. Swap in whichever cheese combos you prefer.

Though hard, melting cheeses work well for the ooey-gooey texture you want out of this recipe.

What Is Panko?

Open a can of panko, and you'll see slivers of white bread, dried and baked with an electric current—basically panko is ultra-crispy bread crumbs. Often favored in Japanese cooking and frying for the intense crunch the ingredient provides when coating foods, you can find panko in the world cuisine section of your grocery store in a canister.

Dried breadcrumbs are easily swapped in for panko; crushed Ritz crackers or crushed potato chips work, too.

How to Make Mac and Cheese Bites

The first steps of these Fried Mac and Cheese Bites will be familiar to anyone who has made a homemade macaroni and cheese recipe before. You'll make the rich cheese sauce, but instead of baking the pasta dish, you'll head straight into the bites-making process.

Read below for a more in depth tutorial of how to make mac and cheese bites.

Step 1. Make the sauce

A bechamel sauce is made from white roux and milk. It's a white roux because unlike the roux used for gumbo, this one isn't allowed to brown. It stays light and creamy.

Milk is added and then the sauce is cooked until thick, but remember, you aren't browning this roux, just cooking it so there won't be any raw flour taste.

You'll start by adding flour to melted butter in a saucepan. Stir constantly with a whisk to prevent clumping. Then, add the milk. Keep whisking so the roux and milk will be well incorporated. You'll simmer the sauce for a few minutes until it begins to thicken. Stir constantly to prevent hot spots and burning.

early stages of bechamel sauce
Will Dickey

Once the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, it's time to add the cheeses, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Stir regularly to help the ingredients melt and turn smooth. When the sauce is well combined, take the pan off the stove. Gently fold in the cooked macaroni noodles.

beschamel sauce for mac and cheese
Will Dickey

Step 2. Chill and scoop

Now that you have the macaroni and cheese mixed up, you're going to skip the step of baking it and head right for the fridge.

That's right, spread the mac and cheese mixture into a 13-x 9-inch baking dish, then cover it, and chill it in the fridge for at least 3 hours. (Overnight or up to 24 hours is okay, too.)

After it's fully chilled, remove the pan from the fridge. Grab a two-tablespoon scoop from your drawer, and start scooping these mac and cheese bites. Place each bite on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until you have 36 mac and cheese balls.

scoops of mac and cheese
Will Dickey

Step 3. Coat in panko

Whisk together a quick egg wash: Combine the eggs and a bit of water in a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, pour the panko bread crumbs. Finally, in a third bowl, sprinkle the remaining flour. Set up a 1-2-3 chain of bowls so you can make the dipping process for these Fried Mac and Cheese Bowls a seamless operation.

First, dredge each mac and cheese bite in the flour. Shake off the excess flour. Then, dunk the ball in the egg wash. Finally, roll the bite in the panko, and place it back on the parchment paper-lined baking tray. You may have to press the panko into the mac and cheese bites just a bit, but it'll stick reasonably well with the egg wash. Repeat with each of the bites.

When you've coated each bite with the panko coating, wrap the baking sheets with plastic wrap, and place them back into the fridge for 30 minutes. This will help keep the bites solid during the frying process.

coating mac and cheese bites in panko
Will Dickey

Step 4. Fry

While the mac and cheese balls are in the fridge, go ahead and preheat the oil you'll use for frying. We like frying in a Dutch oven because the high walls help prevent oil splashes, and most Dutch ovens are big enough you can get several bites in each round of frying.

After the 30 minutes of chill time, remove the trays from the fridge. Check your frying oil with a candy thermometer to be sure it's hot enough. If it's too cold, the balls won't sizzle, and they'll likely fall apart. Too hot, and they'll burn before the inside melts.

When you've reached 350°F, drop six to eight mac and cheese bites into the oil. With a wooden or metal spoon, turn the balls occasionally to help them fry on all sides.

Once the outsides are golden and crispy and the insides are melty and gooey, use a slotted spoon to remove the bites from the oil. Place them on a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and repeat the frying process with the remaining bites until all are cooked.

Fried Mac and Cheese Bites
Will Dickey

Can You Make Mac and Cheese Bites Ahead of Time?

Like most fried foods, mac and cheese bites are best immediately after cooking. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for two to three days, but the crisp coating will turn softer once refrigerated.

Alternatively, prepare the mac and cheese bites to step four of the recipe, and stop before frying. Store the mac and cheese bites in the fridge or freezer, depending on how far in advance they were prepared. One to two days in the refrigerator is fine. Otherwise, store the mac and cheese bites in the freezer until frying. Fry immediately from frozen.

Can You Reheat Mac and Cheese Bites?

Reheat mac and cheese bites in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes at 400°F or in the air fryer at 350°F for 5 minutes. It is not advised to reheat mac and cheese bites in the microwave. They'll turn soggy and may fall apart.

How to Serve Mac and Cheese Bites

Serve alongside a bright and acidic tomato-based dip like the Pomodoro Dipping Sauce, which will help balance the salty richness of the cheese. Or go with the classic Comeback Sauce that combines spicy heat from paprika, hot sauce, and chili sauce with a cooling, creamy mayo.

Editorial Contributions by Alexandra Emanuelli.


  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

  • cup (about 1 1/2 oz.), plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided

  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk

  • 8 oz. white Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

  • 8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • ½ tsp. black pepper

  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper

  • 8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked according to pkg. directions

  • Vegetable oil

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 Tbsp. water

  • 2 ½ cups panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)


  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer over medium-high; simmer, whisking often, until mixture is slightly thickened and lightly coats back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low; add Cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, stirring constantly until cheeses melt and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in macaroni (mixture will be thick).

  2. Spread mixture evenly in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing plastic wrap directly on surface; chill until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

  3. Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a large Dutch oven; heat over medium-high to 350°F. Meanwhile, scoop 1 portion macaroni mixture into your hands using a 1-ounce (2-tablespoon) scoop, and roll into a ball. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat process with remaining macaroni mixture. (You'll have 36 balls total.)

  4. Whisk together eggs and water in a shallow dish. Place panko in a second shallow dish, and place remaining 1/3 cup flour in a third shallow dish. Working with 1 ball at a time, dredge in flour, and shake off excess. Roll ball in egg mixture; let excess drip off. Roll in panko, pressing to adhere. Return ball to baking sheet. (Balls can be loosely covered with plastic wrap, and chilled until ready to fry, up to 30 minutes.)

  5. Fry macaroni balls in 6 to 8 batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown on outside and hot and melted on inside, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined baking sheet to drain. Serve immediately.

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