Stovetop Pepper Jack mac and cheese is easy-to-make comfort food that can be on your table in 20 minutes! Made with tender elbow macaroni smothered in a spicy cheese sauce made with 2 kinds of cheese, and all done in one pot for a creamy, cheesy, weeknight dinner or side dish with a kick!
Can you ever really have too many mac and cheese recipes?
I’ve made slow cooker mac and cheese, mac and cheese in a mug, stovetop macaroni and cheese, and buffalo macaroni and cheese, to name a few. So, I’m going to go with no, you can’t have too many. Let’s add one more!
Pepper Jack mac and cheese is still a classic comfort food but with a spicy twist. We’re using Pepper Jack cheese, mozzarella, and red pepper flakes instead of the traditional cheddar cheese. It’s creamy, cheesy, and a special spicy mac!
If you aren’t a fan of too much heat you can easily adjust the spice level. Plus, the fat in the dairy helps to minimize the spice (like when you drink milk after eating spicy food), so you’re getting a lot more of the flavor than the heat.
We’re making this rich and melty pepper jack mac with a cheese sauce starting with a roux and it’s still crazy easy to make!
Everyone loves to see a big dish of comforting mac and cheese on the table, whether as a main dish or as a side, and this is about to become everyone’s new favorite!
Why you’ll love Pepper Jack Macaroni & Cheese
Creamy, Cheesy, and Melty – Homemade mac is a favorite comfort food of just about everyone I know.
Super Easy – It’s all done in one pot, with a simple roux, shredded cheese, and macaroni, ready in 20 minutes!
Family-Friendly – Everyone loves a bowl of mac and cheese and because you can adjust the spice level to your liking it’s great for the whole family.
Easy Weeknight Meal – It’s quick and easy to make any night of the week. You can add protein to make a complete meal, enjoy it as is for a meatless dinner option, or use it as a side dish for all your main meals!
Tools you’ll need
Below is a list of the simple ingredients you’ll need to gather to make this recipe, why you need them, and possible substitutions. Scroll all the way down for the full recipe card with measurements.
- Noodles – Elbow macaroni noodles are the noodle of choice for classic macaroni. You can use whatever kind of short or medium pasta you prefer. Fusilli, penne, bowtie, or conchiglie are also good options.
- Butter – Using unsalted butter allows you to control the amount of added salt, however, if you are using salted butter, you would add less later on. Use what you’ve got. The fat melted makes part of the roux, the base of the entire cheese sauce.
- Flour – Along with butter, all-purpose flour makes the roux which is what thickens the cheese sauce.
- Milk – This gets added to the roux and turns from a paste into a creamy mixture. I use at least 2% milk to have a rich and creamy consistency. Heavy cream or whole milk can be used as well.
- Salt & Black Pepper – To taste.
- Red Pepper Flakes – Just a pinch for medium heat. Use more or less as desired.
- Cheeses – Both pepper jack cheese and mozzarella cheese should be grated fresh from a block of cheese to melt nicely and evenly into the sauce. Pre-shredded cheese just doesn’t melt the same.
How to make Stovetop Pepper Jack Mac and Cheese
This section shows you how to make this recipe, with process photos showing the steps to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
- Step One: Cook the noodles according to package directions to al dente. This is usually 1 minute less than “done.” Just so that it has a bite to it and won’t be mushy by the time it’s coated in the cheese sauce. Also, make sure to generously salt the boiling water to help flavor the pasta. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Step Two: Melt the butter over medium-high heat in the same pot. Once bubbly, whisk in the flour 1 Tablespoon at a time, making sure to cook each addition fully. Cook until the flour is no longer raw and it’s turned into a thick and pale yellow paste. This is the roux.
- Step Three: While constantly whisking, slowly add in the milk. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture is thick and creamy. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes then remove it from the heat.
- Step Four: Stir in the cheese until fully melted and smooth. Add the cooked pasta back into the cheese mixture and stir until all the noodles are fully coated. If it’s too thick for your liking, add a little extra milk to thin it. Enjoy!
What to serve with spicy pepper jack mac
I could eat a bowl or two of this mac and cheese and call it a day. Load me up with all the carbs and cheese!
As much as I love it on its own, I also think it makes the perfect side dish for grilled meats and BBQ staples all summer!
We also have it with slow cooker meatloaf instead of mashed potatoes sometimes!
Tips & Suggestions
- Make it milder. You can swap the amounts of each cheese to use more mozzarella and less pepper jack if you’d like. Or you can use half and half of each. Alternatively, you can use a completely different kind of cheese altogether! Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Colby Jack, and Swiss are great melty cheeses that can be used with a mix of pepper jack cheese or in place of.
- Make it hotter. A dash of cayenne pepper, more red pepper flakes, or even more Pepper Jack cheese can all be done to make it as spicy as you’d like. You can also add diced jalapenos to the mix.
- Add protein. Shredded chicken, diced leftover ham, or crispy bacon bits can be added for extra protein and loads of flavor.
- Veggies. Want to sneak in some vegetables? How about some broccoli, cauliflower, corn, green onions, or red bell peppers?
- Extra seasoning. For extra flavor in your cheese sauce, try adding garlic powder, paprika, ground mustard, or even some dried herbs.
How to reheat and store Pepper Jack Mac and Cheese
How to store leftovers
Leftovers will need to be kept in an airtight container. Allow it to cool completely before closing the lid so that the residual heat doesn’t add excess moisture inside.
How long will pepperjack mac last in the fridge?
Up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Can I freeze homemade macaroni and cheese?
You can! Once again, allow it to cool completely. If you are freezing a lot, feel free to portion it into different freezer-safe containers so you only need to thaw what you’ll eat. Either way, mac and cheese will keep frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
How to reheat stovetop mac and cheese?
You can reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop on low. Once it has cooled, the cheese sauce will thicken and absorb into the pasta noodles. You may need to add a splash of milk or even broth to loosen it up into a smooth creamy cheese sauce again.
Is pepper jack the same as monterey jack?
Pepper jack is a type of Monterey Jack cheese. It is a semi-soft cheese that has the added spicy flavor from jalapenos, habaneros, and other peppers and spices.
Can I add a breadcrumb topping?
Definitely. You’ll need to transfer it to a casserole dish or buttered baking dish and spread it out into an even layer. Top with a Panko breadcrumb and melted butter mixture (and more cheese if you want) and place it under the broiler for about 4 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
What if I can’t find Pepper Jack cheese?
You can actually make your own substitute! That is if you can find Monterey Jack instead. Then mix that with minced jalapeno peppers and you’ve got a great alternative. Otherwise, use any of your other favorite melty cheeses instead.
Can I make this dish ahead?
You can make it up to a day in advance, but no more than that. Reheat it on the stovetop with a splash of milk and serve once heated through and creamy.
One-Pot Pepper Jack Mac and Cheese
Need more mac and cheese recipes? Try these:
Best Macaroni and Cheese (with a secret ingredient)
Click here for my entire collection of macaroni recipes.
Originally published June 10, 2013