Enjoy a Cajun take on everyone’s most beloved creamy, indulgent pasta dish with this favorite crawfish mac and cheese! Tender crawfish tails are tucked into delicate pasta with the most decadent cheese sauce to make the ultimate crowd-pleasing meal. When only Cajun comfort food will do, you’ll devour every bite of this savory, spicy Southern mac and cheese.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Savor a taste of New Orleans: Nothing says the Big Easy like a big crawfish boil with all the fixings, a bowl of hearty crawfish gumbo and now this Cajun mac and cheese. You’ll love how the Cajun-spiced cheese sauce adds extra Louisiana flavor to go along with those crawfish tails.
Crafted with cheese fanatics in mind: Not only does this dish boast a three-cheese sauce, but we also layer shredded cheese between the pasta to make an even more luscious meal.
Make-ahead option: Mac and cheese is great for preparing ahead of time for easy entertaining.
Dried macaroni: Elbow macaroni is the classic choice, but you can just as easily substitute it for another shape. Cavatappi, shells, rigatoni, rotini or penne also work just as well.
Crawfish: You can use leftover crawfish tails from a boil or buy pre-cooked, frozen crawfish. If you can’t find frozen crawfish tail meat at your standard grocery store, I’ve had luck at Whole Foods. They’re also available online.
Cajun seasoning: I’m partial to my homemade Cajun seasoning, but if you have a favorite store-bought spice blend, feel free to use that. Creole seasoning also works fine.
Heavy cream: For the most indulgent mac and cheese, I recommend heavy cream over half and half, though you can substitute them in a pinch.
Whole milk: Whole milk has a much richer flavor than a low-fat variety. Like the heavy cream, you want whole milk for best results.
Cheeses: This three-cheese blend includes cheddar, Gouda and Gruyère.
Step 1: To begin, we bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the macaroni.
We cook the macaroni just two minutes shy of the package directions. The noodles will finish in the oven, so we don’t want to cook them to a perfect al dente just yet. When the noodles finish, we drain and reserve them for now (photo 1).
Step 2: Meanwhile, we melt some butter over medium heat and cook the panko crumbs until they turn a beautiful golden brown like so (photo 2).
Step 3: Just like that, it’s time to prepare our roux-based cheese sauce. For this step, we melt some butter in a skillet and add the garlic for a quick 30 seconds. We now whisk in the flour and continue whisking for about three minutes to remove the raw flour taste (photo 3).
Step 4: At this point, we’re ready to slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream to make the cheese sauce base. Once it’s nice and smooth, we stir in the Cajun seasoning and Dijon mustard (photo 4).
Tip: I recommend starting with 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning and adding more to taste. Since I used my homemade Cajun seasoning blend, I used 2 tablespoons, but every blend varies in salt content and spice level.
Step 5: Now that the sauce is perfectly warm, we turn off the heat and stir the cheeses until they melt (photo 5).
Step 6: From here, we pour the creamy cheese sauce on top of the partially cooked pasta and crawfish tails in a large mixing bowl and stir until the pasta is well-coated (photo 6).
Step 7: Let’s now assemble the macaroni and cheese. We spread half the pasta mixture into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish, top with half the remaining shredded cheese (photo 7), spread the remaining macaroni over the cheese and then finish with more shredded cheese and panko crumbs (photo 8).
We pop the crawfish macaroni and cheese into a 325-degree F oven and bake until the sides turn hot and bubbly. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
For the perfect finishing touch, I like to garnish this dish with a little fresh parsley for a pop of color and sprinkle more Cajun seasoning on top. Some hot sauce on the side would also be nice for an extra kick. Now grab a spoon and devour the most decadent baked crawfish pasta.
Want to make this spicy crawfish mac and cheese recipe ahead of time? Let’s show you how to do just that.
- Rinse the macaroni after cooking. This isn’t necessary if serving right away.
- Store the macaroni, cheese sauce, crawfish and shredded cheese in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to two days.
- When you’re ready to bake, pop the cheese sauce in the microwave and warm until it’s a liquidy, creamy consistency again. If needed, you can add a splash of milk.
- Mix together the macaroni, cheese sauce and crawfish and assemble as originally directed.
- Place the dish in the oven and bake. You might need another five minutes or so — just keep an eye out for those bubbly sides.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Macaroni and cheese is at its best when it’s freshly baked, and that’s definitely what I recommend for company. But that doesn’t mean you won’t love the leftovers for a nice lunch.
You can keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. With proper storage, it should last for about three or four days.
To reheat, you can simply pop it in the microwave. The pasta will absorb some of the sauce as it sits in the refrigerator, so you may want to stir in a splash of milk. While it won’t get it quite as creamy as freshly baked mac and cheese, it will still help get some of that original texture back.
Absolutely, simply serve immediately after stirring in the crawfish, and you have yourself a delicious Cajun stove-top mac and cheese. If you prefer a stove-top mac and cheese, I definitely recommend serving it right away.
This happens when you overcook the noodles, which is why you want to stop boiling two minutes shy of the box directions. Of course, if you decide to make a stove-top version as noted above, you’ll want to cook the macaroni for the full time as specified.
You can typically get 1 cup of grated cheese from a 4-ounce block. That means you’ll want about 8 ounces each of cheddar, Gouda and Gruyerè.
Variations and Substitutions
Love experimenting with recipes? I’m right there with you. Here are a few fun ways you can tweak this base recipe.
- Add slices of andouille sausage for even more Cajun flavor.
- Swap panko crumbs for crushed Ritz crackers to add a buttery touch.
- Substitute one of the cheeses — as long as it’s a good melting cheese, it should work just as well.
- Use this as a base for other meats, like shrimp, chicken, lobster, crab or bacon.
- Give it an extra spicy kick with sautéed jalapeños.
- Instead of baking, turn this into a smoked crawfish mac and cheese — it adds a whole other layer of flavor.
Don’t skip browning the panko crumbs: They won’t turn golden brown in the oven and require quick toasting to get that appetizing color. Those pale white crumbs just don’t look nearly as appealing, and we eat with our eyes. Besides, toasting anything in butter always makes it better.
Keep the sauce at a simmer, not a boil: Boiling milk can cause it to break, which makes for a grainy sauce.
Use room-temperature milk and whole milk: Cold dairy can seize when added to a roux. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or simply warm it in the microwave for one minute.
Shred your own cheese: Pre-grated cheese is covered in a substance that prevents clumping. While that’s great for keeping those cheese strands separated, the cheese doesn’t melt quite as nicely as it does when you grate it yourself.
Given the crawfish addition, you’ll love pairing this mac and cheese with a crisp pale ale. This gives you the perfect balance of hops and malt. While the hops help accentuate the Cajun spices, the malt offers a sweeter, bread-like counter. Plus, it’s nice and bubbly to stand up to that rich cheese sauce.
If wine is more your style, try an off-dry riesling. With this wine, you get an acidic kick to cut through the cheese, and it brings a sweet touch to balance the spice like the malt does in our beer pairing.
For some serious Cajun comfort food, everyone will rave over this very best crawfish mac and cheese. You’ll want to make it every opportunity you get.
Get More Cajun Recipes
If you love this recipe, please leave a comment with a five-star rating — or simply hit the five-star button in the recipe card. Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter, and you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok.
Favorite Crawfish Mac and Cheese
- Large pot
- Cheese grater
- 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish
- 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon salted butter divided
- ½ cup panko crumbs
- 4 garlic cloves minced or grated
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy cream room temperature
- 2 cups whole milk room temperature
- 1-2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
- ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 cups cheddar cheese divided
- 2 cups Gouda cheese divided
- 2 cups Gruyère cheese divided
- 2 cups crawfish tails
- Freshly chopped parsley for garnish, optional
- Hot sauce for garnish, optional
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the elbow macaroni two minutes less than what the package directions dictate. Drain and reserve in a large mixing bowl.
- While the water boils and the pasta cooks, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the panko crumbs and stir to coat. Continue to cook, stirring every so often, until the panko crumbs turn golden brown. Remove from heat and reserve.
- Melt the remaining ½ cup butter in the pot over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk constantly for about three minutes.
- Slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly to create a smooth mixture. Season with Cajun seasoning and Dijon mustard. Start with 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning and add more to taste. Bring to a simmer, whisking frequently. Do not boil as that can cause the milk to separate and leave you with a grainy sauce.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in 1 cup cheddar, 1 cup Gouda and 1 cup Gruyère until the cheese melts and becomes one cohesive mixture.
- Add the macaroni and crawfish to the pot with the cheese sauce. Stir to coat.
- Pour half the mac and cheese into a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Layer half the remaining cheese on top. Pour the rest of the macaroni on the cheese layer and top with the last of the cheese. Sprinkle the browned panko crumbs on top.
- Bake until hot and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley, hot sauce and more Cajun seasoning. Enjoy!
- Store leftovers in an airtight container for three to four days. You can reheat in the microwave. Feel free to add a little additional milk or cream.
- Let the milk and heavy cream sit at room temperature. If the liquid is too cold, the roux can seize. Set the two at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking or give them a quick 1-minute trip to the microwave.
- Shred the cheese yourself for the creamiest texture.
- For 2 cups of grated cheese, you'll need about 8 ounces of each cheese.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.