Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. Spicy mac and cheese from the pressure cooker.
My kids haven’t been this excited about a blog recipe for a long time. As jaded teenagers with a food blogger dad, they have the world weary attitude of a hard-boiled detective. “Taco night? Let me tell you about that taco night back in ’12…”
But, the questions haven’t stopped since they saw this week’s menu on the refrigerator whiteboard. “Is today Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese day? When is Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese Day? You said today was Buffalo Mac and Cheese Day! Where is it?”
This recipe is adapted from my most viewed recipe of all time, Pressure Cooker Macaroni and Cheese. Like that recipe, I pressure cook the noodles in just enough water, use evaporated milk to replace the thickening from flour whisked into milk (a bechamel sauce), and stir in a lot of shredded cheddar at the end as my cheese sauce. If you're looking for some other buffalo chicken style recipes, check out my Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Wings recipe and my Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Soup.
- Vegetable oil
- Boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into ½-inch thick strips (“Stir Fry” cut)
- Fine sea salt
- Elbow macaroni
- Evaporated milk
- Franks RedHot original sauce
- Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Crumbled blue cheese
See the recipe card for quantities
How to make Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese
Brown the chicken: Heat the vegetable oil in an Instant Pot set to Sauté Mode - High until the oil is shimmering. Sprinkle the chicken with ½ teaspoon of salt, then add it to the pot and cook until it is browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes.
Pressure cook the chicken and pasta for 4 minutes with a quick release: Stir the macaroni, water, and 1½ teaspoon salt into the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any stuck bits of chicken. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes in an Instant Pot, electric PC, or stovetop PC. (Use "Manual", "Pressure Cook", or "Pressure Cook - Custom" mode in an Instant Pot) When the cooking time is done, quick release the pressure and remove the lid.
Stir in the sauces and cheese: Leave the Instant Pot in Keep Warm mode (turn the heat down to low under a stovetop PC). Add the butter, evaporated milk and Franks RedHot, and stir until the butter melts. Stir in the cheese one large handful at a time, and keep stirring until all the cheese melts.
Top with breadcrumbs and blue cheese, and broil (Optional): Pour the macaroni into a 3 quart broiler-safe baking dish, and sprinkle the panko bread crumbs and blue cheese over the top. Broil the macaroni and cheese until the bread crumbs are toasted, about 5 minutes - but it really depends on your broiler. Serve and enjoy!
Chicken Strips vs Chicken Fingers
If you can't find Stir Fry cut chicken, cut it yourself. Buy boneless chicken breasts or chicken thighs, and cut crosswise into ½-inch thick strips. Or, use chicken tenders. They cook the same, but they're a bit bigger, and don't mix into the mac and cheese as well.
If you have 2 cups of shredded leftover chicken you can substitute that for the uncooked chicken breast. I love to use leftover rotisserie chicken for this.
Buffalo Sauce - Homemade vs Store Bought
Buffalo sauce is a simple, two ingredient recipe: butter and Franks RedHot sauce. This recipe is not sponsored by Franks RedHot, but it is the key ingredient. Sure, you can use any hot sauce, but the flavor of Franks RedHot and butter is the Buffalo wings flavor. If you have a bottle of buffalo wing sauce, use it to replace the butter and Franks RedHot sauce.
Change the Heat
You can cut the Franks RedHot in half to reduce the heat level, or double it to increase the heat. (Or, substitute an extra-hot wing sauce for the Franks RedHot and butter.)
Bread Crumb and Blue Cheese Crust
The last step is optional, but a good one - garnish with toasted bread crumbs and blue cheese. I spread panko bread crumbs over the top of the mac and cheese, scatter crumbled blue cheese on top, and brown it in the oven. I prefer panko to regular bread crumbs because of the larger, crispier pieces of bread, but if all you can find are regular crumbs, they will work.
If you’re anti-blue-cheese, you can skip it - the recipe will still be great - but I always have blue cheese with my buffalo chicken wings, so I miss it when it's gone. When I'm serving picky eaters, I'll pass the crumbled blue cheese at the table instead of adding it to the crust.
Or, if you can't find blue cheese, a drizzle of blue cheese dressing after the crust is browned will work.
If you like Ranch Dressing with your buffalo wings, you can drizzle it on after browning the bread crumbs, either to replace the blue cheese, as another layer of flavor. Or, pass the ranch dressing at the table for your diners to add as a topping.
If you have chicken broth - especially homemade chicken broth - you can use it in place of the water for extra-rich mac and cheese. If you use store-bought broth, try to get low sodium broth, and skip the fine sea salt that's added with the pasta and water.
What to do if quick release starts spraying starch?
This happens occasionally with this recipe - quick releasing the pressure throws the pot into a boil, and the steam from the quick release includes a lot of starch. When this happens I (Carefully!) close the pressure valve and let the pot sit for 5 minutes before trying again. That usually gives the pot enough time to cool down from the rapid boil, and stop spraying starch. (If it's not enough time, I give it another 5 minutes, and that almost always solves the problem.) If spitting starch happens, make sure to thoroughly clean your pot lid and pressure valve.
What to serve with Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese
This is a one pot meal, so all it needs is a salad on the side. When I feel fancy, I also cut up some celery sticks, the traditional buffalo wing side dish.
Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. Spicy mac and cheese from the pressure cooker.
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 12 ounces (¾ pound) boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into ½-inch thick strips (“Stir Fry” cut at my local grocery store)
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
- 4 cups water
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 4 ounces (½ cup) Franks RedHot original sauce
- 16 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- More Franks RedHot for topping
Bread Crumb Topping (optional)
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
- Brown the chicken: In an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, heat the vegetable oil using Sauté mode until the oil is shimmering. (Use medium heat with a stovetop PC). Sprinkle the chicken with ½ teaspoon of salt, then add it to the pot and cook until it is browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes.
- Pressure cook the chicken and pasta for 4 minutes with a quick release: Stir the macaroni, 4 cups water, and 1½ teaspoon salt into the pot, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any stuck bits of chicken. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes in an Instant Pot, electric PC, or stovetop PC. (For an Instant Pot, use Manual or Pressure Cook mode, and set the time to 4 minutes.) When the cooking time is done, quick release the pressure and remove the lid.
- Stir in the butter, evaporated milk, Franks RedHot sauce, and cheese: Leave the Instant Pot in Keep Warm mode (turn the heat down to low under a stovetop PC). Add the butter, evaporated milk and Franks RedHot, and stir until the butter melts. Stir in the cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly and waiting for the current handful to melt before adding the next handful.
- Top with breadcrumbs and blue cheese, and broil (Optional): Pour the macaroni into a 3 quart broiler-safe dish, patting it down to level out the surface. Sprinkle the panko bread crumbs over the macaroni and cheese in an even layer, then scatter the blue cheese on top of the bread crumbs. Broil the macaroni and cheese on high until the bread crumbs are toasted, about 5 minutes - but it really depends on your broiler. Keep checking the bread crumbs – they go from pale brown to burnt in a flash.
- Serve: Pass the Franks RedHot at the table so your diners can add more if they need it. Enjoy!
Want to use buffalo wing sauce instead of straight Franks RedHot? Replace the 2 tablespoons of butter and ½ cup of Franks with ⅔ cup of buffalo wing sauce. (The original Buffalo sauce was a 50-50 mix of Franks RedHot and butter - I’m upping the Franks ratio in this recipe to balance out all the ingredients.)
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Weeknight Dinner
- Method: Pressure Cooker
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese, Pressure Cooker Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese
I portion leftovers into 2-cup containers. Leftovers last in the refrigerator for a few days, and can be frozen for up to 6 months.
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