If you love Applebee’s 4 cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken, you absolutely have to try this homemade version that tastes even better!
Ultra creamy and savory homemade 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with incredibly crunchy buttermilk fried chicken tenders, glazed with a lip-smacking honey pepper sauce. A mouthful to say, but once you try one bite, you’ll be too busy chowing down to worry about the name!
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Have you ever had the 4 cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken from Applebee’s? If you have, you know how INSANELY delicious it is! Every single time we go to Applebee’s, I order it… with no shame lol. And ever since that first bite, I’ve been meaning to come up with a great copycat version… because let’s face it, I can’t eat out all the time, but I still crave that dish like no other!
This is one of those times, where I honestly think the copycat version is better than the original! However, it’s been a little while since I’ve had the 4 cheese mac and cheese from Applebee’s, so I can’t be absolutely certain on that one.
I freely admit that this is a recipe that is pretty time consuming, with a lot of ingredients and steps… don’t let that fool you though. Trust me, after the first bite, it’ll ALL be worth it! But if you wanted to save some time and work, here are some time savers:
Ways to Make 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken Easier:
- Boil your pasta ahead of time – just toss it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together and keep it in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- Make your cheese sauce ahead of time – keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to reheat.
- Mix up your seasoned flour ahead to time – keep it in an airtight container on the counter.
- Use pre-made frozen chicken tenders instead of homemade – it won’t be quite as flavorful, but will save you a few steps.
- Cook your bacon ahead of time
- Use pre-made seasoned flour instead of homemade
In the restaurant, this dish is served with a breadstick on the side, so feel free to do that if you’d like… but since I’m watching my carbs, I figured the pasta and breading on the chicken was more than enough lol.
If you’ve followed some of the other copycat versions of this recipe, there’s one way that mine deviates… I use an Anaheim pepper in my cheese sauce. The reason for that, is that whenever I’ve had this dish at Applebee’s, it always has diced pepper in it. Although I wonder if that’s a regional thing, or maybe just certain cooks put it in, because I’ve never seen anyone else mention the pepper lol. So feel free to omit that completely if it’s not what you’re used to.
I really hope you give this copycat 4 cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken a try! It’s long and involved… certainly not a weeknight meal… but SO worth it! The creamy sauce contrasted with the crunchy chicken works so beautifully with the savory cheese sauce and sweet glazed chicken!
Some Helpful Tools For This Recipe:
Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven – hands down, my favorite pot to fry in!
5″ Spider Strainer – Safely remove fried foods with ease (this is also great for pasta!)
House Autry Seasoned Flour – If you don’t want to make your own, this is a great alternative!
4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken
- 6 slices thick-cut bacon
- SEASONED FLOUR:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3 Tbsp paprika
- 1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 Tbsp dry mustard
- 1 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 Tbsp seasoned salt
- 3/4 Tbsp black pepper
- 1/2 Tbsp celery seed
- 1/2 tsp dried ginger
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- FRIED CHICKEN:
- 1 lb chicken tenders trimmed of any excess fat
- 2 cups buttermilk
- HONEY PEPPER SAUCE:
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup pineapple juice
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or less, to taste
- 4 CHEESE SAUCE AND PASTA:
- 1/2 stick butter (4 Tbsp)
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 Anaheim pepper diced (can substitute with jalapeno or poblano)
- 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese
- 1/4 tsp dried basil
- Black pepper to taste
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- 1 box dried cavatappi pasta (or other short cut pasta) (1 lb)
Cook bacon in your preferred method, and set aside to cool.
Add all ingredients to a large resealable plastic bag and shake to combine.
HONEY PEPPER SAUCE:
Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to LOW and simmer for 20 minutes, or until thickened slightly. Set aside to cool a bit.
Place chicken tenders in a large bowl and pour buttermilk into bowl. Turn chicken to coat each piece in buttermilk.
Let marinate while you prepare other things.
Add oil to large heavy bottomed pot and heat to 350 degrees F.
Shake excess buttermilk from chicken tender, then drop into the bag with the seasoned flour.
Shake gently to coat in flour. Repeat with remaining chicken tenders.
Add tenders, 2-3 at a time, to the hot oil and fry for several minutes per side, until dark golden brown and cooked through.
Remove from the oil and place on a wire cooling rack (with paper towels laying underneath to catch the excess grease). Repeat with remaining chicken.
4 CHEESE SAUCE AND PASTA:
While chicken is frying, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add pasta and cook until al dente (according to package directions).
Drain pasta and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
While pasta water is coming up to a boil, add butter to a saucepan and melt over MED-LOW heat.
Add garlic and diced pepper to the pan and saute for 2 minutes, until softened.
Add in flour and whisk to combine. Mixture will resemble very wet sand.
Pour in heavy cream while whisking, and whisk often for 5 minutes, or until thickened.
Sauce should coat the back of a spoon.
Add in cheeses, one at a time, and stir to melt.
Season with pepper and basil and stir to combine.
Toss cooked pasta with cheese sauce and add to serving bowl.
Toss fried chicken tenders with some of the honey pepper sauce, and place several chicken tenders on top of the mac and cheese.
Sprinkle with crumbled bacon, minced fresh parsley, and an optional drizzle of the honey pepper sauce.
1. Recipe adapted from HellthyJunkFood