Welcome back to Air Fryer Bro and to another episode of bro meals!! This morning I was in my local supermarket and suddenly got the idea to make macaroni and cheese (mainly because most of the ingredients were on offer!). Then it dawned on me that I have never attempted to air fry my mac and cheese! Will macaroni and cheese even work in an air fryer? Will it crisp up enough? Will it cook faster? These are all things I intend to find out!
What’s the ‘Twist’?
You may have noticed that my title included the fact that my recipe will have a ‘twist’. This is in fact true and not click bait in the slightest 🙂 I have a confession to make! I am originally from England and over there the idea of ‘mac and cheese’ is slightly different. I imagine we got our ideas for the recipe by ‘butchering’ things we gleaned from our neighbors the Italians (although don’t tell them, they will be horrified!!).
So, ever since I was a small child, I have been exposed to the British version of mac and cheese which seems to love the idea of dumping loads of cheese on the top to give it is a nice cheesy and crispy top! Sounds healthy right! And my Mum used to love adding bacon to her version to mimic the way that Italians put pancetta in carbonara (or some other Italian ham).
To put it simply, the typical American style mac and cheese would be stove cooked and look something like this.
British macaroni and cheese is oven baked and looks like this.
Of course, this is a generalization and there will be some crossover between the two I’m sure.
But don’t worry, the way my air fried mac and cheese is cooked will be beneficial to both parties. If you are cooking something more akin to the stove top version, simply miss out the second half of the instructions.
Air Fryer Macaroni and Cheese: The Experiment!
This is when the reality hits home that this isn’t a food blog! The recipe I am using should be titled something like “air fried shortcut mac and cheese”. Of course, it would be better to make you own cheese sauce, but this was more a supermarket bought quick and easy method 🙂
The highlights were the fact I was able to snag some nice mature smoked cheese along with some pancetta. This is what influenced me to make a carbonara inspired macaroni cheese dish this time! The pasta I bought was fresh pasta, something that suits the quick cook times of the air fryer. If you want to replace this with dry pasta, you should half cook the pasta first in a pan of boiling water before you follow the directions in this recipe.
Problems I had when cooking Mac and Cheese in my air fryer!
The Philips air fryer that I am using is relatively small, so I was only able to cook enough for 2 people (3 at a stretch). I used the baking pan that came with my air fryer to make the mac and cheese. As there is sauce involved, you need something like this to hold everything together. If you don’t know what I am talking about, go view this very similar product on Amazon by clicking the image below.
If you are cooking for two people this arrangement is fine, however if you want to cook for a family you will need a much larger bucket style air fryer. Better still, you could opt for an oven style air fryer that gives you more real estate to slip an oven proof Pyrex dish into.
For more information on this new type of air fryer, you can take a look at this popular model by clicking the image below and going to take a look over at Amazon.
The Air Fried Mac & Cheese Process
1. Cut the pancetta
I finely chopped the pancetta ready to mix in with the other ingredients.
2. Mix with the pasta and cheese sauce.
As my air fryer baking pan was quite small, I didn’t want to risk mixing my ingredients in it and spilling everything all over the place (and getting told off by my wife!!). So I had the bright idea to take a bigger plastic bowl and mix the ingredients in there.
As you can see, I simply mixed the fresh pasta, ready made cheese sauce and pancetta together in the bowl. On this occasion, I didn’t pre-cook the pancetta as I knew it would have long enough in the air fryer to cook thoroughly. I also added small cubes of the smoked cheddar cheese to make the sauce cheesier. From my experience, most store bought cheese sauces can be a little on the weak side. I also added my own pepper for the same reason.
Another thing to note is that I also added a quarter of the pasta sauce jar of water to give some more liquid to steam the pasta.
3. Filling the Baking Pan
This is when we see how small my air fryer’s baking pan really is, as it was literally full to the brim! Just enough space to add some extra cheese on the top later (like the true Brit that I am).
4. The First Bake!
With everything ready to go, I cooked my macaroni cheese on 180 degrees Celsius (or 356 Fahrenheit) for 12 minutes. As my baking pan is quite deep, I wanted to make sure it had time to fully cook through. Also, my fresh pasta wasn’t going to take a lot of cooking. The end result amazed me!! Look at that lovely crisp I was able to achieve in only 12 minutes.
For our American friends, this may be where you want to step off!! You would have some pretty amazing mac and cheese right here! However, for fellow Brits (or anyone wanting more ‘bits in their dish) please read on 🙂
5. The Second Bake
I sliced some thin slices of the smoked cheese and placed on the top and air fried for another 6 minutes (at the same temperature as before). This was our final result. When serving the macaroni and cheese I simply ground some more black pepper on the top.
British people all over the world would be proud!! ha ha! Totally my cheese quota for the week!!
Can you cook Mac & Cheese in an Air Fryer?
So, after all that am I happy with the results? I would say a solid yes! The end result was tasty and both my wife and I enjoyed this meal very much. I am sure you could tell that just by looking at the pictures above!
It is clear that baked mac and cheese is a winner in the air fryer, and it cooks fast too. If you could use an oven style air fryer and a shallow dish, your cook times would be even faster I’m sure.
The only thing I would do differently would be to add more texture to the pancetta, by grilling it to a slight crisp in the air fryer first. This extra crunch would elevate the dish further in my opinion. And yes, with more time I would attempt making a cheese sauce from scratch 🙂
What do you think? Have you got any experiences cooking this dish in the air fryer? If so, we would love to hear all about it in the comments section below.