Are you looking to set up a mac and cheese bar for an event you are hosting? Or maybe you just want to surprise your family with a fun meal that is easily customizable to everyone’s preferences. If you have any questions related to setting up a mac and cheese bar then we have the answers!
In this article we tell you everything you need to know about how to set up a mac and cheese bar that will blow your guests away. We start out by providing some suggestions for mac and cheese bar toppings to spark your creativity. After that, we provide more detailed information about how to choose the specific toppings that are best suited to your situation as well as tips on how to set up and arrange your mac and cheese bar.
Mac and cheese bar toppings
We recommend choosing at least one protein to add to your mac and cheese bar. Some of these proteins, such as the pulled pork and the lobster, can take a lot of time to prepare. Keep this in mind when you decide which protein to choose. You can exclude the protein if most of your guests maintain vegetarian or vegan diets.
- Buffalo chicken
- Hot dogs (sliced)
- Buffalo chicken
- Pulled pork
- Black beans
- Hamburger crumbles
Fruits & vegetables
We recommend selecting 3 – 5 fruits and vegetables as toppings for your mac and cheese bar. Some of these fruits and vegetables will require no preparation at all, whereas others will require a lot of preparation. Keep in mind the level of preparation required when choosing your toppings.
- Green onion
- Red onions
- Picked red onions
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Broccoli (raw or roasted)
Nothing goes quite as well with cheese as, well, more cheese! If you are a real cheese lover then you should make sure to add some extra cheese toppings to your macaroni and cheese bar. We recommend adding crumbly cheeses like blue cheese or salty cheeses like parmesan cheese. Try to stick to cheeses that do not melt quickly so that they will not just melt into your cheese sauce.
- Bleu cheese
- Gorgonzola cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Cotija cheese
- Feta cheese
Herbs & spices
You may also choose to add some herbs and spices to your macaroni and cheese bar. If you plan to add some herbs, we recommend using fresh herbs rather than dried herbs. Dried herbs are much more concentrated and it is easy for your guests to add too much of a dried herb and ruin their bowl of mac and cheese.
- Fresh cilantro
- Fresh chives
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh basil
- Crushed red pepper flakes
A little bit of contrast in texture is a great way to jazz up a macaroni and cheese bar. Consider selecting one of these crunchy toppings and adding it to your lineup if you want your macaroni and cheese bar to be real memorable.
- Crushed potato chips
- Crushed crackers
- Fried onions
- Fried shallots
Sauces & condiments
If you think that your macaroni and cheese bar needs a little extra flavor then you should consider adding one of these tasty sauces and condiments to your mac and cheese bar. These toppings tend to have strong flavors that can overpower the other toppings in your mac and cheese bar so we recommend choosing no more than 1 – 2 sauces and condiments.
- BBQ sauce
- Mexican crema
- Hot sauce
Mac and cheese bar topping combinations
- Mexican mac and cheese bar. tomatoes, avocado, jalapeños, black beans, cilantro, green onion, salsa, crema
- Italian mac and cheese bar. sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, parmesan cheese, red onion, spinach, pesto, prosciutto
- BBQ mac and cheese bar. pulled pork, BBQ sauce, fried onions, red onions, cilantro, crushed potato chips, coleslaw
- Meat lovers mac and cheese bar. Pepperoni, bacon, hot dog, hamburger crumbles, bleu cheese, fried onions
How to set up a mac and cheese bar
Making mac and cheese for a mac and cheese bar
The first thing you should think about when deciding how to set up your macaroni and cheese bar is what kind of macaroni and cheese you are going to use as your base. Here are some tips for choosing what kind of macaroni and cheese to use for your mac and cheese bar.
- Aim to have about 2 cups of macaroni and cheese per person. Some people will eat more than 2 cups and some people will eat less than 2 cups, but on average 2 cups per person is a safe place to start when deciding how much macaroni and cheese to use. If you know that your party tends to eat a lot of food then you can increase this amount to 2 1/2 or 3 cups, but we do not recommend going below 2 cups per person. It is better to have a little too much mac and cheese than too little.
- Don’t be afraid to use store bought mac and cheese. Setting up a macaroni and cheese bar can take a lot of work, so don’t be afraid to use pre-made macaroni and cheese for your macaroni and cheese bar. This will give you more time to focus on preparing your toppings and making sure that everything is set up perfectly.
- Don’t get foo fancy with the cheeses. When you are making mac and cheese for a mac and cheese bar, it can be tempting to use a whole array of fancy cheese in your mac and cheese base. We recommend keeping things simple and using just one or two common cheeses like cheddar and jack. The toppings should really be the star of the show and you want to make sure that your mac and cheese base does not overpower or clash with any of the toppings.
- Use ingredients that prevent you mac and cheese from curdling. You will probably want to keep your macaroni and cheese in some kind of warmer to prevent it from getting cold before your guests can get to it. Sauces that are made with cheese tend to curdle if they are kept in a high heat environment for a long period of time, so you should incorporate ingredients into your cheese sauce that will help to prevent the sauce from curdling. Starches help to prevent cheese sauce from curdling, so make sure to incorporate some flour or cornstarch into your cheese sauce. Increasing the fat content of your cheese sauce will also help to prevent it from curdling. Try using heavy cream as a base rather than whole milk. If you want to be extra safe, you can incorporate some sodium citrate into your cheese sauce. This is an ingredient that is frequently used in store bought macaroni and cheese sauces to prevent them from curdling.
How to choose mac and cheese bar toppings
Once you decide what kind of mac and cheese you are going to use in your macaroni and cheese bar, the next decision you need to make is what kind of toppings you are going to use for your macaroni and cheese bar. Here are a few key points you should think about when deciding what toppings to use for your macaroni and cheese bar.
- Time & effort to prepare. When you are choosing your macaroni and cheese bar toppings, you should keep in mind the amount of time and effort it will take to prepare your toppings. If you are making a very complicated macaroni and cheese base, then you should consider using toppings that are easy yo prepare. If you are using store bought macaroni and cheese, on the other hand, then you will have more time to prepare some more complicated toppings. If you decide to use one or two toppings that a lot of time to prepare, then you should try to accompany them with some low preparation toppings.
- Reheating instructions & temperature requirements. You should also keep in mind the reheating and temperature requirements for your toppings. If you are using a topping like pulled pork that needs to be served warm then you will need to have an additional heat source to keep your pulled pork warm. If you only have one heat source for your macaroni and cheese then you should stick with toppings that can be served cold or at room temperature.
- Dietary restrictions & allergies. When you are deciding what to include in your macaroni and cheese bar, you should also consider any allergies or dietary restrictions that your guests have. If you know that some of your guests are vegetarians, then make sure that you have lots of vegetarian friendly toppings available. If you know that someone in your group has an allergy to a topping you are considering, maybe avoid that topping.
- Cohesiveness. When it comes to macaroni and cheese bars, you are better off having a smaller and more cohesive set of toppings that go well together than a wide array of toppings that do not go well together. Think about your toppings and try to choose toppings that go well together.
How to arrange a mac and cheese bar
After you decide what kind of toppings you want to include in your macaroni and cheese bar, you should think about how you want to arrange your mac and cheese bar. Here are some considerations you should keep in mind when deciding how to arrange your macaroni and cheese bar.
- Decide whether to set up indoors or outdoors. The most important decision you have to make about how you are going to arrange your mac and cheese bar is whether you are going to set up your mac and cheese bar indoors or outdoors. If you are planning to make a mac and cheese bar for an outdoor party then it can be tempting to set up your macaroni and cheese bar outside. However, if you live in an area that has a lot of bugs then you should consider setting up your mac and cheese bar indoors to keep the food safe from the bugs. Additionally, if you have toppings that should be served warm but it is a cold day out, serving your macaroni and cheese bar indoors will help the toppings stay warm for longer.
- Keep electrical outlets in mind. You will generally need at least one electric outlet near your macaroni and cheese bar to keep that mac and cheese warm. If there are no outlets near where you plan to set up your mac and cheese bar, then you will need extension cords. Make sure you obtain and test any extension cords you plan to use at least a few days before your party.
- Group similar toppings together. It can be overwhelming walking up to a macaroni and cheese bar that has tons of topping options and having to decide what toppings you want on the spot with a long line of people waiting behind you. If you want to make things easier for your guests, you should group similar toppings together and maybe even call them out. For example, you might choose to label the left half of your table as a Mexican-inspired mac and cheese bar and the right half as an Italian-inspired mac and cheese bar and include Mexican-inspired toppings on the left and Italian-inspired toppings on the right.
- Plan your table arrangement out ahead of time. If you are making a mac and cheese bar for a party then you should put out the table you plan on using as well as the dishes you plan to serve your toppings in ahead of time to make sure that they all fit with plenty of room. There is nothing worse than finding out that your table is not large enough to fit all of your toppings just as your guests are about to arrive at your party.
- Consider labeling your toppings. As a final note, when you are deciding how you want to arrange your macaroni and cheese bar you should also consider whether you want to label your toppings. This is especially helpful if you have multiple toppings that look similar to one another
Mac and cheese bar serving equipment
Core mac and cheese bar equipment
What equipment will you need to set up your macaroni and cheese bar? Here is some of the most important equipment you will need when setting up a macaroni and cheese bar. You will need this equipment whether you are setting up a small mac and cheese bar as a special treat for your immediate family or you are setting up a large mac and cheese bar for a party or gathering.
- Slow cooker or warmer. You will need a way to keep your macaroni and cheese warm while it is sitting out on your mac and cheese bar. The easiest way to do this is to use a slow cooker (this is the one we recommend). If you also have toppings that need to stay warm then you should use a slow cooker with multiple compartments (this is the one we recommend). If you want to get really fancy, you can also use a buffet warming tray like this one. If you often host dinner parties then getting a buffet warming tray makes sense. On the other hand, if you are making a mac and cheese bar for a one off party then it makes more sense to get a slow cooker that you can use for other purposes.
- Serving bowls with lids. After you have a way to keep your warm toppings warm, you need to think about how you are going to serve the rest of your toppings. We highly recommend serving your toppings in bowls that come with lids so that you can put the lids on to protect the toppings for temperature and bugs. We generally use medium sized serving bowls like this for lager toppings and small serving bowls like this for sauces, condiments, and crunchy toppings.
- Serving utensils. You will also need some serving utensils so your guests can serve their own food out of your serving bowls. The exact type of serving utensils you will need will vary depending on what your toppings are. We recommend buying a few serving utensil variety packs to get the best bang for your buck. This way you will have a variety of utensils available for next time you entertain. We recommend having a few extra serving utensils ready in case someone drops one of your serving utensils on the floor. This is a common occurrence!
- Wide rimmed dinner bowls. You will also need bowls for your guests to eat out of. If you have people over regularly, we recommend picking up some reusable bowls that you can bring out when guests come over. We recommend buying wide stackable bowls (these are our favorite) like these to give guests lots of room to pile toppings onto their bowl.
- Labels. Finally, we recommend getting some mini chalkboard signs (these are our favorite) to label your food. Make sure to get signs with stands so that they do not fall down whenever someone bumps into your table.
Supplementary mac and cheese bar equipment
Here is some other equipment that you may or may not need to pick up depending on how you are setting your mac and cheese bar up and how many people you have coming. You may not need any of this equipment if you are just setting up a mac and cheese bar for your immediate family.
- Additional chairs and seating for guests
- Additional tables for guests
- Additional silverware
- Additional napkins
- Additional glasses
- Extension cord
Allergies and dietary preferences
If you are inviting someone you know has a food allergy or dietary preference to partake in your mac and cheese bar then you should keep them in mind when you prepare for your mac and cheese bar. In this section we will discuss some tips for preparing a mac and cheese bar for someone with an allergy and provide some tips on how you can customize your mac and cheese bar for someone with a dietary preference.
Mac and cheese bars for food allergies
Do you have someone with a food allergy coming to your party? Here are some tips for making a mac and cheese bar that is safe for someone with an allergy or food intolerance.
- Ask them what they are comfortable with. The most important thing you can do to accommodate someone with an allergy is call them up and ask them what they are comfortable with. Do not just make mac and cheese with gluten free pasta and assume that someone with celiac disease will be able to eat it. They may still become ill if you use utensils and appliances that regularly touch gluten to make the mac and cheese. Only the person with the allergy can tell you how sensitive they are and what they are comfortable with.
- Keep your packaging and ingredient labels. If someone in your party has a food allergy and you are using prepackaged ingredients such as store bought mac and cheese or pesto sauce in your mac and cheese bar then you should make sure to keep the packaging and ingredient labels from the prepackaged items. Someone with an allergy may need to look at the labels to determine whether an item is safe or them to eat.
- Buy sealed mac and cheese and toppings. If someone has a severe intolerance or allergy to a food that you regularly cook with in your kitchen, it might make sense for you to use only pre-packaged mac and cheese and toppings for their serving. This will ensure that you do not accidentally contaminate their food by cutting their toppings with a knife that has recently been used on a food they are allergic to.
- Prepare the offending toppings separately. If you are going to prepare a topping that someone in your party is allergic to, you should prepare that topping in a separate area from the area where you prepare the other toppings. You should also prepare those toppings last so that you do not have them on your hands when you prepare the other toppings.
- Serve the offending toppings separately. In addition to preparing the toppings separately, you should also serve them on a separate table at the end of the topping bar. This will ensure that that topping does not get mixed in with the other toppings.
Vegan mac and cheese bars
Making vegan friendly mac and cheese can be difficult if it is your first time doing it. If you have never made vegan mac and cheese before but you have someone who sticks to a vegan diet partaking in your mac and cheese bar, we recommend buying a store bought mac and cheese for them. The same applies if you are making a mac and cheese bar for someone who is dairy free.
Mac and cheese bars for low carb diets
If you have someone coming to your party that maintains a low carb diet, you should consider making your macaroni and cheese with Banza chickpea pasta. This pasta is much higher in protein and lower in carbs than traditional pasta. It is also gluten free, so it is great for people who avoid gluten as a preference.