The Dad’s Ultimate Buffalo Mac & Cheese With Crispy Chicken Skin

Jump to the InstaRecipe if you’re in a rush and/or don’t want any Dad Advice! 

Note- DDD is a little behind its Instagram posts after the big move, but hopes to catch up with 3 Dad Dinner Diary posts this week- this is the second of the three.

Another Note- Hoping that actually writing down that there will be three post this week will actually result in three posts this week- a free Dad Tip; writing down a goal helps bring it into focus to make it happen.

March 03, 2022.  Dear Kids– For last month’s Super Bowl, I let everyone pick out their favorite “snack” for the game and, while the rest of the family went with Impossible Sliders, Guacamole and Chips and Dad’s Dinner Diary Seoul Food Ssammiches, I decided I wanted Buffalo Mac and Cheese.  The only thing in my way, was I had never made Buffalo Mac and Cheese before, but that wasn’t so much an obstacle as it was an opportunity to create exactly what I wanted.

Let me be right up front, this is a total Dad recipe- Chicken Skin and Cheetos, need I say more?  I particularly like the bright contrast of the pickled carrots and celery leaves to the cheese sauce, the tenderness of the chicken from poaching it in the milk to be used in the cheese sauce and the ear shattering crispness, not to mention the taste, of the chicken skin. The combination of flavors and textures hit all the right notes and, as meaty as it is, it can, nevertheless, continue to sing in a meat free, roasted pepper rendition as detailed in The Lecture.

As far as feedback on the finished recipe- it was very high praise indeed. The oldest of you two plant eaters was even nice enough to avoid the meat to taste the cheese sauce and declared it “Paneralicious!” GM liked it, of course, but I didn’t think Mom, who is not shy about feedback, liked it so much. As soon as Mom tasted it, she told me I couldn’t post the recipe- I figured because she thought it wasn’t good- but how could that be? Turns out, Mom thought it was so good she wanted me to keep it a secret to win a contest one day, although she didn’t mention what type of contest. So, I hope that these reviews get you inspired to make this dish and don’t forget to read the recipe over a few times before you do- you’ll be happy you did!

Diet:  Meat Eater, Vegetarian Option

Prep Time: 25  minutes

Cook Time:  45 minutes

Servings: 4-6 (or 2-3 for The Dad)


Quick Picks

  • 1 cup peeled and grated carrots
  • 1 cup celery leaves, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar 
  • 1/4 cup or so water
  • Kosher salt to taste

Buffalo Mac

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon Frank’s Original RedHot Sauce
  • 4-6 skin on, bone in chicken thighs or 2-3 skin on, bone in chicken breasts (about 1.5-2 lbs)
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste 
  • 2 cups whole milk or half and half
  • 3 tablespoons of Frank’s Original RedHot Sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed 
  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon chicken fat from cooking chicken
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 5 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded from a block
  • 3 ounces American Cheese slices
  • 4 ounces pepper jack, shredded from a block
  • 1 cup Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos, crushed
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese


Another Note- Can You Believe It! This version of Mac & Cheese certainly isn’t as easy as DDD’s Lucky 7 Mac & Cheese With Chip Dust Roulette  and writing this recipe gave me a little headache. To be honest, it made me wish I was a bit more AV savvy because a video would have done a better job showing you the involved method and pan shuffling to make the recipe. I also know how you kids would much rather watch a video than read- not that there’s anything wrong with that, even if reading is fun-damental. Nevertheless, I think this recipe is good enough to put in the effort to make and to put up with detailed directions that follow. I hope you take the time to read over the recipe, Notes and Pictures with explanation in advance if you are interested in this recipe because I think it’s essential to making the recipe work- I thank you in advance, although I’m guessing you may have stopped reading already because even this note is pretty long.

Play “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley and march right into the kitchen and get to cooking this amazing creation.  

1. Quick Picks. Add carrots to a small bowl- mix with 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 tsp. salt and water to cover. Repeat in separate bowl with celery leafs. Set aside, but check seasoning before using.

2. Attack The Mac. Cook elbow mac as package directs. Drain, toss with 1 tbsp Frank’s Original RedHot Sauce and set aside.

3. Making the Cheddar Better. If you haven’t already done so, it would be a good time to grate the cheddar and jack cheese while the elbows cook.

4. Finger Lickin’ Chicken. Not a Note- a PSA- There should be no lickin’ of chicken fingers unless the chicken is cooked- if it’s not, wash your fingers!

  • Set Up Pan To Poach Chicken. Mix together milk, 3 tablespoons Frank’s and garlic clove in a shallow pot with lid, large enough to hold chicken in a single layer and bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat. You will poach the chicken in this pan once you sear it and remove the skin.
  • Sear and Skin Chicken. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and sear in oven safe skillet or similar pan on both sides until golden brown, 10 minutes or so a side.
I apologize in advance if this gets a little tricky, but hopefully the pictures will help. This is what the stove set up should look like at this point- the cooked mac in hot sauce waiting in the wings; the chicken in the process of searing (the cheese sauce will be made in this pan after the chicken is seared and removed) and the milk mixture is about to come to a gentle simmer (the skinned chicken cooks in the milk mixture, which will be strained and used to make the sauce) .

Place seared chicken on plate and set skillet, with chicken skin, aside to make cheese sauce. Remove skin from each thigh in one piece- set aside on small baking sheet.

Skin on a baking sheet waiting to be finished in the oven.
  • Poach The Chicken. Add skinned chicken on bone to pot with milk mixture, cover and gently simmer, turning chicken over half way through, until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Return chicken to plate and pull meat off into small pieces- discard bones. Set milk mixture aside for sauce- the milk mixture may separate if it was simmered too vigorously- don’t worry, you’ll be straining the mixture and it will all come together when you make the sauce.
Finally, the chicken before pot is covered to poach it- once covered, adjust heat to keep gentle simmer. Once the chicken is cooked, it will be shredded on a plate and the milk mixture will be strained to make the cheese sauce in the skillet in which the chicken was seared. Also, you can see the sauce is a bit separated, but the roux and cheese slices will remedy that when you make the sauce.

5. Cheesy and Easy. Set up lower and middle oven rack- preheat oven to 400°. Discard all but 1 tbsp. chicken fat from skillet you used to sear the chicken and add 1 tbsp butter. Place skillet over medium heat, melt butter and stir in flour- stir for a few minutes to toast the “roux” (fancy French name for cooked flour and fat). Carefully pour reserved milk mixture through a fine mesh sieve (the sieve will collect garlic and any milk solids) into skillet and stir to combined with roux. Adjust heat to simmer and stir until sauce thickens. Stir in grated cheddar cheese, American cheese slices, pulled chicken with juices and elbow mac until the sauce is nice, smooth and gooey.

Just look how the roux and American Cheese gets everything all nice and creamy- eat your heart out Panera!

6. For The Win With Bubbling Mac and Crispy Skin. Top Mac with pepper jack cheese. Place skillet on middle rack and chicken skin on sheet on lower rack to bake, flipping skin after a few minutes, until Mac is bubbling and skin is crispy- keep and eye on everything as the mac and chicken will have different cooking times. Chop up skin for garnish.

7. Don’t Stop Until You Top. Top Mac with crumbled blue cheese, chicken skin, crushed Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos, pickled carrots & celery and an artistic drizzle or two of Frank’s.

For a cool presentation, pour Mac & Cheese into a cast iron skillet after Step 5, cover with pepper jack to melt and get bubbly in oven and finish with toppings, as directed in recipe. You ask, “Why didn’t you just use a cast iron skillet to sear the chicken and make the sauce in the first place?”- I was worried it would discolor the sauce.


Frank’s Original RedHot Sauce.  This classic hot sauce made an appearance in DDD’s Buffalo City Chicken, but I neglected to mention that this has become the dominate hot sauce for all things Buffalo- and a whole lot more, as many folks, like The Dad, use it for their everyday hot sauce. There are certainly hotter hot sauces, but I think Frank’s strikes a nice balance of hot and sour. Not a Note, but a- Warning: there are several varieties of Frank’s Hot Sauces, even a “Wings” variety- don’t believe the hype- the “Original” is all you need. Still, this is America, so use whatever hot sauce or variety you like best- after all, you’re the one doing the cooking and eating.

Mac & Cheese Through The Generations.  I grew up eating and loving a mac and cheese that my Mom/your Granny would make often on Catholic No Meat Fridays. It was a chunky affair- my best guess was Granny made it with chunks of Cracker Barrel Cheese tossed with cooked elbow macaroni and whole milk, with no “emulsifiers” (a concoction, like a roux, heavy cream or sodium citrate to make opposites attract into perfect harmony) to make it creamy. There was no Kraft in our house or Panera back then, so I had nothing to compare it to- no matter- I loved it, separated milk solids and all and there was nothing better than getting a big chunk of gooey cheese in most every bite.

Then, as an added bonus, I was introduced to southern style mac and cheese in my late teens thanks to the generosity of two of my best of friends’ Moms who grew up in the Carolinas. One of my friends would joke that the secret ingredient in his mom’s Mac & Cheese was “government cheese”, which I’m sure was filled with emulsifiers, so that actually makes sense. Whatever it was in that Mac & Cheese, it was amazing and also seemed to defy logic by being both chunky and creamy at the same time.

It’s a wonder with all that good Mac & Cheese love in my life, I really never made you two kids homemade Mac & Cheese all that often, relying on the Kraft and Panera people, as many Dads do, to fill your stomachs and guide your judgment that a good mac and cheese has to be especially smooth. As for me- I like all styles, but thought that with all the chunks from the chicken and toppings going on in this recipe, going with a creamy version would be best and it didn’t hurt that I knew you kids would especially like the sauce.

The Wonderful Secret of American Cheese.  This recipe gets its creaminess from a double shot of “emulsifiers” that bring the cheese and milk into perfect harmony- the cooked flour and butter (“roux”) and the American Cheese slices that contain the easy, cheap and magical emulsifier “sodium citrate” cherished by many molecular gastronomist (those who cook with modern, nerdy techniques) for the creamiest of cheese sauces.

The Good Sear.  It’s good to know how to sear meat and vegetables- searing caramelizes the natural sugars in meats or vegetables, forming a rich brown surface crust that amplifies the savory flavor of the finished dish and makes everything taste better. For a proper sear, start your pan at a higher heat, adjusting the heat if the pan cools or becomes too hot. You need to be patient to build up a tasty brown crust, so don’t go touching, poking, prodding or flipping your food too soon.  Just remember to keep and eye, ear and nose on anything you sear and adjust the heat accordingly if you see the food getting too dark or not dark enough; hear no sizzle or too much sizzle; or smell burning or don’t smell deliciousness. Not only does being patient before you flip give you golden brown deliciousness, it also insures a tear free release- flip too soon and any flavor you have developed will be stuck to the bottom of the pan, which is sad. As an added bonus, in the case of searing the chicken skin in this recipe, much of the fat is rendered out in the process (wait- could this be healthy?) and even more as it finishes crisping in the oven.

Now that’s some good searing right there- resist an early flip of the chicken in the pan as it messes with a good sear and can pull the skin off the chicken!

In A Hurry? If you have the time to cook your own chicken you should, but if you don’t there’s is no harm in using the meat from a rotisserie chicken- many recipes do. Just follow the above recipe with the following changes- pull the skin off the rotisserie chicken and set that up on a baking sheet to crisp up when you put the Mac & Cheese in the oven; skip Step 4, use 2 tablespoons of butter for the roux; and add the milk and hot sauce (omit the garlic clove) directly to the roux.

Vegging Out- Hold The Chicken- Not As Easy As It Sounds- Chickens are Fiesty, Joked The Dad.  Yes, this recipe is a little Dad Indulgent and I’m not saying I can make it vegan (OK- I can, but don’t want to), but I can and will make it vegetarian.  I think swapping out the chicken meat for about 2-3 cups roasted hot peppers, like jalapeno, and/or sweet peppers, like bell peppers, makes the most sense, with the added bonus of a pimento cheese vibe. As for the chicken skin- how about crispy mushrooms and/or onions? The Cheetos also aren’t vegetarian, so omit or sub in a favorite crunchy vegetarian snack you like. Also, without the chicken fat, use 2 tablespoons of cow or plant butter to make the roux. Oh, and don’t forget to use vegetarian cheeses– I can personally attest to the quality of Boar’s Head vegetarian American cheese, if you can find that in the deli case.

© 2022 All rights reserved.  Dad’s Dinner Diary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: