This Vegan Buffalo Mac and Cheese is plant-based creamy, spicy, hearty comfort food – and it’s easy! I wanted to make it as simple as possible, and definitely no more involved than making regular mac. You’ll see that using plant-based alternatives to the usual ingredients is key to making this a no-muss, no-fuss recipe.
Vegan Buffalo Mac and Cheese Ingredients
Feel free to jump to the full recipe, but here are useful notes about the ingredients you will need to make this Vegan Buffalo Mac and Cheese recipe:
- Vegan Cheeses: Again, I wanted easy! On my grocery store run I picked up all of the flavors of cheese I’d normally use – colby jack, cheddar, parmesan – but their plant-based variations. You can use shredded cheddar to mix into the sauce, but I believe using a block of “cheddar” cubed really made the sauce creamy and “cheesy.”
- Oat Milk: Any plant-based milk is just fine. I’d warn you against Almond milk because it’s not great for the environment, but it’s your kitchen, not mine.
- Vegan Butter: You can use oil, but the creaminess vegan butter lends can’t be replaced.
- Nutritional Yeast Flakes: Folks say that it tastes like cheese, but I disagree. It’s got a very unique, savory flavor and I could understand why people would compare it to cheese, but it’s “nutty” more than “cheesy” to my tastebuds. It comes in powder and flakes, and you can use whichever kind you prefer. You can also omit this and throw in additional fake cheese.
- Vegan Chick’n: My freezer is almost always stocked with plant-based nuggets and tenders for my vegetarian kid to snack on. I used a 1lb bag of tenders.
- Onion, Garlic: The only vegetables we’re chopping up for this dish are these two aromatics, for flavor. No potatoes, yams, or carrots here. That seemed too complicated for a recipe I wanted to be quick and easy.
- All-purpose flour: The second half of our roux, vegan butter being the first.
- Buffalo Sauce: It’s not Buffalo anything without the sauce!
- Garlic Pepper, Seasoned Salt, Turmeric, Ground Mustard, Salt, Paprika, Pepper: We don’t ever skimp on the flavor around here, but some of these are for color! We use very small amounts of turmeric and paprika to get that wonderful gold-orange hue you expect from most mac and cheese recipes.
- Elbow Macaroni Noodles: I like the small ones for this. If you feel like substituting another type of noodle, go ahead! Just be warned that if you post it on the internet someone is probably going to comment that it’s nOt AcTuAlLy mAc AnD cHeEseEeEe.
- Equipment: I wanted to make this dish as close to one-pot as possible. If you omit the chick’n, it is! To build the sauce and bake the macaroni I used a wide, enameled cast-iron braiser. I also used a cutting board, knife, wooden spoon, spider strainer, measuring equipment including a scale to weigh the flour, and a cheese grater.
How to Make Vegan Buffalo Mac and Cheese
Full instructions are included in the recipe below, but here is a basic overview of what you’ll need to do, along with some important tidbits to help you make the most of this Vegan Buffalo Chick’n Mac and Cheese:
- Prepare the chick’n and macaroni. The plant-based tenders I used call for baking in the oven. I baked them according to package directions but only for 10 minutes. They have a texture similar to kiddie chicken nuggets inside, and I didn’t want them to dry out during the mac and cheese bake. You’ll probably want to make similar adjustments for whatever kind you use. Boil the macaroni in salted water until al dente. If you time it properly you can use a stainless steel spider strainer to transfer it from the pasta water to the sauce. If you don’t have one or the timing doesn’t allow it, make sure to reserve some of the pasta water.
- Saute the aromatics and build the roux. Melt the butter in the bottom of your dish, and when it starts to foam a bit add the onion. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over them, and saute until they begin to soften and become translucent, then stir in the garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the garlic is very fragrant. Sprinkle the flour over the surface and use a flat (roux) whisk to stir everything together. It will form a very thick, clumpy paste. That’s good! Move it around as best you can for a few minutes to cook out the flour taste.
- Build the sauce. Reduce the heat and whisk in the oat milk one cup at a time. Make sure it’s completely incorporated – there should be no lumps except the onions and garlic – before adding the next cup. Once it’s all combined, add the seasonings, nutritional yeast, and the cubes of vegan cheddar. Let the sauce simmer gently, stirring occasionally until the cheese has melted completely. Toss the chick’n in buffalo sauce at this point and set it aside. If you’re going to add the extra buffalo sauce to the cheese sauce directly for more buffalo flavor in the Vegan Buffalo Mac and Cheese, do that now.
- Add the noodles and chicken. Now, add the cooked macaroni. Stir it in, and observe the consistency. If the sauce is tight and thick, almost clumpy, and the noodles don’t seem completely coated in sauce, stir in a few tablespoons of pasta water. Do this as many times as needed to loosen it. We’re looking for a creamy, melty, Kraft boxed mac consistency both at this point and at the end. Once you’re satisfied, fold in the chick’n, reserving some for the top. Smooth it out so it’s distributed across the pan in an even layer with the back of your wooden spoon.
- Top with cheese, chick’n, and bake. Sprinkle the whole bag of vegan Colby jack evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Grate some vegan Parmesan over the top. Next, dot the top with the remaining buffalo chick’n. You can add more Parmesan here, or pop it straight into a preheated 425°F oven. Bake it for 10 minutes or so, just until the cheese is melted and bubbling around the edges.
In the near future, I’ll be posting a recipe for a regular ol’ Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese recipe, but in the meantime, it’s super easy to make this with real dairy and meat.
- Swap out the plant-based milk and butter for their everyday dairy options. Use whole milk if you can. You can omit the nutritional yeast flakes.
- Use real chicken, whether you make it yourself or you buy a bag of fried cutlets from the frozen section of the grocery store. The popcorn chicken included in my Copycat KFC Famous Bowl recipe is a good option!
- And of course, use real cheese! The same types called for in the recipe, or different ones if you like. No one knows your tastebuds as you do!
Let me know what you think if you make this recipe, and if you’re up for a challenge, try my Carolina Reaper Mac and Cheese! It’s an even spicer option.Print
Even the omnivores might enjoy it.
Vegan Cheese Sauce:
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 C yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 cup vegan butter
- 1/2 C (about 65 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 C unsweetened oat milk
- 1/4 C nutritional yeast flakes
- 8 oz. vegan Colby jack, shredded
- 7 oz vegan mature cheddar, cubed
- 1/4 C vegan parmesan, shredded
- 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp seasoned salt, to taste
- 1/2 tsp cracked black Peppe
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
Macaroni and Cheese:
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 1 lb vegan chick’n tenders, prepared to package directions
- 1/2 C buffalo sauce
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe braiser over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to soften and become translucent.
- You’ll want to start boiling the noodles while you’re making the sauce. Do this according to package directions but remove them a few minutes before they become al dente, and reserve about a cup of the pasta water.
- Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, then sprinkle the flour over everything. Stir together. It will form a very thick paste: stir that around as best you can for about 4 minutes. We’re cooking the flour taste away, so don’t skip this step.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisk in the oat milk about one cup at a time. Make sure it’s completely incorporated – the only lumps should be garlic and onion – before adding more.
- After the sauce has been built, it’s time to season it. Add all of the dry seasonings along with the nutritional yeast. Whisk it in thoroughly.
- Stir in the cubes of vegan cheddar next. Let the sauce simmer gently, stirring occasionally until the cheese is completely melted. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, as needed.
- At this point, you’ll want to coat your chick’n in the buffalo sauce and slice it into bite-sized pieces. Set it aside.
- Add the cooked macaroni to the sauce. Stir it in completely and consider the texture. If the sauce is tight and thick or dry and clumpy already, stir in a few tablespoons of pasta water to loosen it. We’re looking for a creamy, melty American cheese-like consistency.
- Stir in 2/3 of the chick’n (you can also stir in the extra buffalo sauce if you like) and spread the macaroni out evenly in the pan. Sprinkle all of the vegan Colby jack over the top, and grate parmesan over it. Arrange the remaining chick’n over the top. Grate on more vegan parmesan if desired and bake for 10-12 minutes at 425°F, just until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- To get the most out of this recipe, read the post above it!
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