Kick this classic comfort food up a notch by spiking it with jalapeños, hot sauce, pepper flakes, and cayenne. Although if you’re the spice-averse type, you can cut back or eliminate any or all of these elements without sacrificing any rich, cheesy awesomeness.Angie Zoobkoff

Blue casserole of spicy macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs on top and sliced of jalapeno peppers.

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

5 / 2 votes
What can you do that’s new to mac and cheese? What about adding 1.) red pepper flakes, 2.) hot sauce, 3.) cayenne pepper, and 4.) jalepeño pepper? This spicy macaroni and cheese is creamy, rich, and spicy.
David Leite
Servings8 servings
Calories473 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour


  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 3 2 1/2 oz jalapeños, 2 seeded and chopped, and 1 thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups 2% or whole milk, warmed
  • 2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon dry mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon store-bought or homemade hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup fresh plain, whole wheat, or panko bread crumbs (21 g)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste


Prepare the oven and pan

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) ovenproof casserole or baking dish.

Prepare the penne

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, add the penne, and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain well and return to the pot.

Make the sauce

  • Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir in the garlic and chopped jalapeños and cook until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring almost constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Mix the pasta

  • Add 1 cup of the cheese, the mustard powder, hot sauce, and red pepper flakes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the drained pasta and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

Bake and serve the pasta

  • In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cayenne, and 1 cup of cheese. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the cheesy pasta. Bake until bubbling and golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes.
  • Top with sliced jalapeños and serve immediately.

Adapted From

Secrets of the Southern Table

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 473 kcalCarbohydrates: 58 gProtein: 18 gFat: 19 gSaturated Fat: 11 gMonounsaturated Fat: 5 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 51 mgSodium: 280 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 7 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2018 Virginia Willis. Photo © 2018 Angie Mosier. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This spicy macaroni and cheese is SO good! I love macaroni and cheese and just could not wait to try this one out. It is so cheesy and creamy—the addition of the jalapenos and a few other spices gives it just enough of a kick to elevate it to something out of the ordinary. I was unable to get fresh jalapenos at this time of the year, as I live in a small town that is completely encapsulated in ice until early April. So I substituted pickled jalapenos with little trouble; the heat and flavor didn’t really seem to be compromised. I will definitely be making this again, most certainly before the sun comes back. The mild heat and sharpness of the cheese make this a perfect winter comfort food.

I made this spicy macaroni and cheese on Valentine’s evening for my sweetie and myself. He was feeling a little ill with a cold and I was ambitious! He came home and was so surprised by the kind of spicy scent in the air. To say my hubby loves his spicy food would be an understatement. He was stoked I was making something with some spice! And honestly this dish turned out fantastic! The decadent sauce had just the right amount of spice for me because I am not a huge fan but even pleased my spicy loving husband. Which is a rare feat. I have never made homemade mac and cheese with Gruyere cheese before and let me tell you, I will be doing that again. It was fantastic. Everything about this dish was perfect. The recipe was perfect. I have absolutely no corrections. It was easy to follow and ended with a delicious perfect product! This has been my favorite recipe test recipe by far. Just such a comforting and delicious meal!

For anyone who enjoys spicy, the combination of spicy and macaroni and cheese is not to be missed, and this recipe fits the bill. The great thing about it is that you can crank up (or down) the heat level to your liking. The use of Gruyere cheese rather than cheddar or jack is a genius move because while giving the dish depth of flavor, it doesn’t compete with the heat. And for those who turn their nose at the thought of Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese with mac ‘n cheese, there’s no need to. The lushness of the Gruyere really just gives the dish an umami-ness and doesn’t overpower it. The recipe calls for 2 cups of cheese—a good amount—but there’s nothing wrong with adding more.

Spicy yet also gentle, thanks to the gruyere cheese. Creamy on the inside, and gently golden brown on top. Lovely flecks of green on the inside that add a nice visual counterpoint to the beige of the pasta and the cream color of the cheesy sauce. Red jalapenos could work nicely too, for the visual, or a combination of both, especially seasonally. I used big fat jalapenos, whole milk (of course!), a fairly nondescript generic hot sauce, panko bread crumbs for extra crunchy oomph, and a trio of tries to get the baking dish sizing correct. When I tried to use a dish that looked like the photo, I didn’t feel there was enough surface area for the amount of cheese and panko topping, so I created more surface area by using 2 approximately 8-by-8-inch baking dishes.

Homemade macaroni and cheese, in all its variations, can never be bad, but recipes with overly strong flavors are not comfort food for me, and mac and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods. For me, this dish straddled a line between being delicious and being too forcefully seasoned. Maybe I’m losing my capacity for enjoying spicy foods as I get older, but this was just at the limit of how much heat I can tolerate comfortably. And that was with going a bit light on the seasonings. So “delicious” won. I realized after the casserole was in the oven that the pepper flakes were still on the counter. (Homer Simpson: “D’oh!”.) This spicy macaroni and cheese was plenty hot without them, however, and with only 1 jalapeno (the 2 I bought were enormous) and 1 scant teaspoon of cayenne. I used Cholula for the hot sauce, which is comparatively mild but flavorful. Typically I do use mustard in cheese sauce but not a full tablespoon for a pint of milk. I didn’t taste it as a separate flavor in the finished dish, but my husband—who is not fond of mustard and typically doesn’t pick up on the amount I use in sauces—immediately said: “There’s mustard in this.” I’ll go a bit lighter on the mustard next time—maybe half a tablespoon. There will be a next time, however, a next time when I will not forget the pepper flakes and will probably dial the cayenne back to 1/2 teaspoon so I’m just using a combined teaspoon between the two ingredients. I want to stay on the “delicious” side of that fine line. Gruyere was a perfect cheese to match with this combination of ingredients.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This spicy macaroni and cheese is outstanding! Macaroni and cheese is winter regular on our table. My family considers themselves connoisseurs of the dish. We have had many successful macaroni and cheese dishes that had different types and combinations of cheeses, mixed with shrimp, lobster, or buffalo chicken and with a combination of vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes. It’s easy enough to make as a weeknight dish, but exciting enough to serve to company, which I did, and served it with grilled ribeye steaks and salad. My company had a variety of tolerance to spice. While I love my food extra spicy, there is a point where it can ruin the appreciation and distinction of other flavors. We used one large jalapeno and the spice was not too overwhelming for mild palates and still had a nice kick. As with other macaroni and cheese dishes, it could be made a bit in advance and then baked to accommodate the timing of your meal. The only bread I had on hand were onion rolls, and wow, they made a great topping!

    1. Christina, I am so delighted that we passed the family connoisseurs’ test for mac & cheese. It really is one of the best dishes ev-ah!