Fried Mac & Cheese Balls

Fried mac and cheese balls

As a kid, my mom always cooked dinner at home from scratch, she wasn’t a fan of all the artificial colors and and flavors in packaged foods, and as a curious kid, I always wondered how other families ate. I’d get little glimpses of what meals were like on the other side when I’d hang out at a friends house. Forbidden treats like Twinkies and Cheetoh’s would would come out, and the twelve year old version of me was always a bit envious.

I think the first time I had macaroni and cheese was when I was around eighteen. I was at a friends house, we got hungry, and he whipped out a box of Kraft, a can of hormel chili and some hot dogs to toss in as well. After leaving the nest for college, and left to my own devices (with an utter distrust of dorm food), Mac’n Cheese and I become good friends. Sometimes salsa would join in, while other times it would be bacon and chili. Like a drunken frat party, it was all fun and games until the hangover set in.

I’ve moved on, and it’s been years since I’ve eyed that tall blue box filled with little pasta elbows and impossibly orange cheese powder, but away from my usual Whole Foods in NYC, I was lured by an endcap display at a local supermarket. I can’t really say I miss my college years, but I figured that if I were going to revisit my early twenties, I may as well do it right; and what better way to relive youthful collegiate exuberance than to take my old favorite and deep fry it?

Having learned a few tricks since college, I made a bechamel to help bind the macaroni balls together. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d make in a dorm room, nor does it make the mac and cheese any healthier, but it does wonders for the boxed cheese flavor. When fried, the balls have a crispy breadcrumb shell on the outside with soft luscious macaroni, and cheesy sauce that oozes out from the center. The generous dusting of cheese at the end brings it all together in a cheesy, crispy, creamy mouthful that’s hard to resist.

Fried Mac & Cheese Balls
makes 8 balls
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 packed cup leftover mac & cheese (I used Kraft)

1/2 cup flour
1 beaten egg
1 cup panko (you can also use regular bread crumbs)

pecorino or parmesan cheese for serving

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture is bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat, then slowly whisk in the half and half until it is fully incorporated and there are no lumps. Return the pan to a medium-low heat stove and use a silicone spatula to continuously scrape the bottom of the pan to keep the sauce from burning. When the sauce is thick and bubbly, remove the pan from the heat and add the mac & cheese. Stir to combine, then taste for salt and adjust as needed. Cool to room temperature, then place the mixture into the fridge to harden.

Once the macaroni mixture has cooled, it will be very firm. Use a spoon to scoop out a 1 1/2″ ball, then roll it between your hands to make it round, pressing down a bit to remove any air pockets. You should be able to make about 8 balls.

Add about 2 inches of oil into a heavy bottomed pot. Turn the heat onto medium high, and watch for the temperature to reach about 320 degrees F. In the mean time, get 3 shallow bowls out, and put the flour in one, the egg in another and the panko in the third. Roll each ball in the flour to coat evenly, then in the egg (make sure it’s well coated with egg or the panko won’t stick). Lastly, drop the balls in the panko and roll around to coat evenly.

Line a wire rack with paper towels to place the balls on once they’re fried. Fry each ball, rolling them around so they brown evenly until they are golden brown and crisp. Transfer the fried mac and cheese bals to a paper towel lined rack and let them drain. Let them cool for a minute before serving, then top with plenty of grated cheese.

  • Carole Frenche

    Nasty goodness :)

  • Heather

    Marc – I think my kids would love me even MORE than they already do if I made them these for dinner! This recipe is a definite keeper for sure!! Very cool concept! Hope you’re doing well!! ~H

  • Anonymous

    The panko is so good. Nice and crunchy, crunchy, crunchy. We’re making mac & cheese this weekend, but it won’t be fried. Hmmm, next time!

  • Jean (Lemons and Anchovies)

    My mom was like yours–she didn’t serve packaged foods either. I didn’t have my first taste of the mac and cheese from the blue box until college when it was prepared for me by a friend. Years-worth curiosity was satisfied and you know what? I still don’t mind it. Great way to dress up an American icon by frying into balls. The bechamel sauce and panko are the kicker. Yum!

  • Robin @ what-about-the-food

    This is just plain fun!

  • Blog is the New Black

    Brilliant idea!

  • Rachel (S[d]OC)

    Oh my! I think my arteries clogged just reading that. Sounds so worth it though!

  • Anonymous

    Oh yum… This is so dangerous, Marc! I am guilty of still enjoying the boxed mac and cheese but I do try to buy all natural/organic (I really like Annie’s) rather than Kraft. It helps my peace of mind when I can read the ingredients without a struggle :)

  • vanillasugarblog

    oh heavens yes. why not. love to make these every once in a while. it’s worth the heart palpitations lol

  • Oui, Chef

    My kids are gonna love you for this, Marc….Really!

  • the indolent cook

    Ooh… I really want to see a cross-section shot of those beauties!

  • Rhonda

    Years ago I had leftover mac-n-cheese, I breaded it and fried it thinking I was a genius only to find out that it had already been done…I’d like to try it with a packaged mix, although artificial, the color is so enticing!

  • Nic@daydreamaboutfood

    Love the mac and cheese balls. I have a great recipe for feta and mozzarella macaroni: might deep fry this in small balls. Thanks for the idea

  • LimeCake

    Mmm these look superlative! I can just imagine the crispy exterior giving way to cheesy ooze. Yum!

  • Agnesma

    In the recipe, it calls for 1 packed cup prepared mac & cheese. What does that mean?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Cooked mac and cheese tends to clump, leaving large air pockets if you
      don’t pack it down.

      • Agnesma

        tks Marc. I will try this recipe since my grandson love mac & cheese. tks for the reply

  • Shoppejunkie

    I’m making a special mac and cheese with cream cheese for Paula Deen’s cooking contest, the Real Women of Philadelphia. Maybe I’ll pack it into balls and fry them up like these bad boys…they look delicious! Mmmmmmmm cheeesy. If you guys don’t know about the contest, it’s going on now and it’s my new obsession. Submit your recipe and compete with my famous mac and cheese (…balls)

  • Megan@Dirty Dishes Daily

    My family friend loves the mac and cheese, hot dog, and chili mix. He calls it “Beanie Cheesy Mac a Weenie”

  • Michelle

    Mmmmmm! My husband is the opposite of an adventurous eater (the list of things he won’t eat is about a mile long), and while I am constantly drooling over the foods you post, I think this might be the first recipe of yours that both he and I could drool over. :) Great photography, I just love that first photo.

  • Jessica

    Oh holy yum! These sound amazing! Next time I make my 5 cheese macaroni I know exactly what I am going to do with the leftovers!

  • jennifer laceda

    This is so wrong that it’s just so right!!!

  • My Scene and Herd

    comfort food does arancini, yum!

  • Kevin (Closet Cooking)

    So decadent and yet so good!

  • Tammy

    Oh my God, this looks and sounds sooo good! You have an amazing site by the way!
    I will try these soon- most definately!

  • Anonymous

    O Gosh that sounds sinfully good!!!!!

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  • Doretta Burns

    I have not even breaded or fried mine and I have to say that is the best bad thing I ever tasted.  My picky 3 yr old agreed.  She said, I eat with the bowl?  No dear, if I let you take the bowl there will be none for the rest of us.  Amazing what a little butter can do!

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  • Erin @ Making memories

    OH MY HECK!!!  I’m so making these!  YUM!!!  Thanks.

  • Guest827

    I made these tonight and was very disappointed. No offense. I love your photography and other recipes. However this didn’t taste good. I followed all the directions exactly as written. The only thing I didn’t do was add sugar, because even tho it’s on the ingredients, you didn’t list when / where to put it in on the directions. It was VERY milky / liquidy and grosssss. I am 99% sure the reason it was nasty was because of the half and half. That’s all I could taste, same w/ my bf. Looked great, I got a killer picture out of it. But next time [if there is a next time] I will nix the half and half completely!!! 

  • Lindsey Couch

    I made these tonight. However, I would suggest not using bread crumbs because they burn too easily in the oil. Maybe the Panko would work better. I also used milk instead of half and half which didn’t seem to affect the hold of the Mac and cheese.

  • guest

    I made these on Thanksgiving they are AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Teyrich2332

    omg!!! SOOOOO good!

  • Steph @

    Yum Yum Yum!  I didn’t have half & half on hand so I sub’d with skim milk and they were still great!

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  • Alie

    Saw these on the Chew and thought I would give them a go! Forgot the receipt so glad to see it here!There was variances of course but am sure that the end result is what we are all looking for, I like the sprinkling of cheese idea after frying.

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  • Mariana

    I just tried this and USUALLY IM NOT THE KIND OF PERSON THAT COMMENTS ON ALL CAPS BUT THIS WAS SOO GOOD THAT I JUST NEEDED TO SAY IT LOUDLY, ehr, type loudly, that is. Amazing. The use of bechamel takes the Kraft boxed unindentified-substance-they-call-cheese to another level. Genius, Marc. JUST GENIUS.

  • Maryann

    Absolutely wonderful and delicious!!! I didn’t have breadcrumbs so I crushed up some soda crackers and some salt and vinegar chips instead– worked great and tasted even better. Good with ketchup too.

  • Kevin Bergin

    Well, I know what I’m making for dinner tonight. These look incredible!

  • John Sieck

    When do you add the bechamel?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi John, in the first paragraph, it explains how to make the sauce, then says to add the macaroni and cheese. So I guess technically, you don’t add the bechamel, rather you add the Mac and cheese. Sorry if that was confusing.


  • Tony

    Hey Marc just found your blog and I like it, however, I have a question in regards to this recipe, is the béchamel really needed? I would assume if you let the Mac and cheese set a little it will be able to hold its shape with a little help from the refrig. I plan on doing these, but will add dice jalapeno and Chipotle power to give them a kick.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      The bechamel isn’t intended to make the mac & cheese set, it’s intended to keep the mac and cheese saucy. If you omit it, the macaroni will absorb most of the moisture in the cheese sauce and you’ll end up with very dry mac & cheese balls. Diced jalapenos and chipotle on the other hand sounds like a fantastic idea!

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  • Niki

    They have em at the Cheesecake Factory it’s amaaazing

  • Jeannie Adams

    Im not one ta follow recepies i just usually guess whts n it and how to make it ….but the one thing i couldnt fig out was y mine were yucky n dry n side but now i know …..thank you

  • Rebeka

    These are absolutely delicious. The only problem I had with it is that 1/2 teaspoon of salt is a bit too much for my taste. But other than that, these are just magnificent. I substituted in evaporated milk for the half and half and they still came out great. Thanks for posting such a great recipe!


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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