We Tried Mario Lopez’s Bacon and Cheddar Macaroni Casserole

Mario Lopez might be best known for hosting TV's Extra and his role in Saved By the Bell, but did you know he's a cook, too?

I’ve been following Mario Lopez since before I can remember. I watched all the Saved By the Bell episodes (recorded on my best friend’s VCR, of course) after soccer on the weekends. Since the early ’90s, he’s hosted several popular shows, but I’ll never forget my childhood crush on A.C. Slater.

So, when I had the opportunity to interview Mario about his partnership with Undeniably Dairy, I jumped at the chance! I talked to him about cooking at home and alongside his wife and kids on their YouTube channel. Mario loves how cooking connects his kids with food, encouraging them to try new things. More than that, cooking together is a strategy employed at Casa Lopez to put down the devices and be together without any distractions.

When I asked him about the one food that got his kids running to the table, he said it’s his Bacon & Cheddar Macaroni Casserole. I’ve made a ton of macaroni and cheese in my life, but I knew I had to give his version a try.

Mario Lopez’s Bacon & Cheddar Macaroni Casserole

Ingredients

All ingredients lined upTaste of Home

  • ¾ pound whole grain elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup low fat (1%) milk
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 2 slices cooked turkey bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread, pulsed in a food processor (or ½ cup bread crumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Initial Thoughts

I was pretty excited to see cheddar cheese AND cream cheese on the list. Cream cheese has long been one of my secret ingredients to making the creamiest sauces, so I was stoked to see that Mario makes his the same way! Other than that, the ingredients were pretty familiar for a crunchy-on-the-top, creamy-on-the-inside baked mac and cheese.

The Cheese Sauce

Adding cheese to the sauceTaste of Home

First things first: I preheated my oven to 375° F and cooked the macaroni according to the package directions. I didn’t rinse it with water or drizzle it with oil after straining it because that affects the sauce’s ability to cling to the starches later. By the time I was ready to add it to the sauce, it had started to stick together a bit, but it didn’t cause any problems.

Next up, I made the sauce by sautéing the onion in the butter with the salt and pepper. I decided to make my macaroni casserole a one-pan dish, so I used my favorite cast iron skillet to do all the cooking. After about 5 minutes, the onion was nice and softened and I added the flour. It seemed like such a small amount of flour, but I went with it. (Spoiler: It totally worked out.)

Once the flour was fully cooked (about 5 minutes later), I added the milk while whisking continuously. When the sauce became thick and bubbly, I turned off the heat and slowly whisked in the cream cheese and cheddar until everything was fully melted. Then, I stirred in the nutmeg, bacon and chopped tomatoes and the sauce was complete.

The Bake

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I stirred in the cooked macaroni, and then covered the cast iron skillet with aluminum foil. It went into the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I combined the bread crumbs with the Parmesan cheese, parsley and olive oil to make the breadcrumb topping. If you have kids that won’t eat the green stuff, feel free to skip the parsley. Once the macaroni was nice and bubbly, I removed the aluminum foil, topped it with the breadcrumbs and baked it (uncovered) for another 20 minutes.

Here’s a look at our Test Kitchen’s secrets for best-ever macaroni and cheese.

The Results

Finished casserole in skilletTaste of Home

The finished product was golden brown and looked completely delicious! I wanted to dive right in, but it’s much (much) easier to serve if you give it 5 to 10 minutes to cool before cutting into it. After what seemed like an eternity, I portioned out a pie-shaped slice and plopped it on a plate with a side salad.

This is easily one of the best mac and cheese casseroles I’ve ever had! The combination of sharp cheddar and cream cheese gives the sauce a rich flavor and a silky texture, while the tangy tomatoes and smoky bacon balance things out perfectly.

Slice of finished casseroleTaste of Home

All in all, I’d say Mario Lopez’s macaroni casserole is definitely worth making again. Next time, I think I might sneak some vegetables into the mix (a cup of chopped spinach or broccoli comes to mind), but it’s definitely a great way to get a protein-packed, calcium-rich meal. I might even make Chrissy Teigen’s banana bread for dessert!

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.