4 Cheese Mac with Honey Pepper Chicken

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!

Applebee's 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken | Even better than the restaurant version, this creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken | http://thechunkychef.com

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!

Applebee's 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken | Even better than the restaurant version, this creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken | http://thechunkychef.com

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

Applebee's 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken | Even better than the restaurant version, this creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken | http://thechunkychef.com

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.

Applebee's 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken | Even better than the restaurant version, this creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken | http://thechunkychef.com

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!

Applebee's 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken | Even better than the restaurant version, this creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken | http://thechunkychef.com

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!

Applebee's 4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken | Even better than the restaurant version, this creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken | http://thechunkychef.com

4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken

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!
4.6 from 19 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Servings 4 -6 servings
Calories 1509


  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 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
  • 1 lb chicken tenders - trimmed of any excess fat
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 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
  • 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)


  • BACON:
  • Cook bacon in your preferred method, and set aside to cool.
  • Add all ingredients to a large resealable plastic bag and shake to combine.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Enjoy!


1. Recipe adapted from HellthyJunkFood
Author The Chunky Chef
Tried this recipe?Mention @the_chunky_chef or tag #thechunkychef!

If changing the recipe serving quantity, the recipe plugin will change the ingredient values for you, but it does NOT change the written instructions, those are manually added and not subject to a slider/button. You will have to extrapolate that multiplication to any amounts listed in the instructions.

For example: if an ingredient calls for 4 cups, and you doubled the recipe, it will automatically change to 8 cups. In the instructions, if I say “use 4 cups of cheese”, you will have to realize that since you doubled it, you use 8 cups, not 4

This is the PERFECT Applebee's copycat recipe! Creamy 4 cheese mac and cheese is topped with a sweet and sticky honey pepper chicken. #copycat #applebee's #honeypepper #chicken #fourcheese #macandcheese #dinner #recipe




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Recipe Rating

59 comments on “4 Cheese Mac with Honey Pepper Chicken”

  1. Just made this tonight. DELICIOUS!! The whole family loved it. Thank you so much for the recipe. The only change I would make is to omit the vinegar in the sauce, I only added 1 tbsp but the boys could smell it so they wouldn’t try the sauce (picky boys). However, with the chicken breading alone my son said I have to make it that way every time now! Oh, and they are both saying how much they can’t wait to eat leftovers tomorrow 😋 

  2. Hate to say it but this tastes nothing like Applebee’s 4 cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken

    • Well we all have different taste buds, but I’m surprised, as we love this homemade version, as do many other readers who’ve left comments! It’s also possible Applebee’s has changed their recipe since 2016.

  3. I’m not a good cook by any means. But I made this recipe thinking it couldn’t be better than the restaurant version. Boy was I wrong!!! I did alter it by adding all the wedges of cheeses rather than what it called for, and it’s absolutely amazing!!! I sent this recipe to everyone I know and told them they have to make this. Thank you so much for this recipe. Absolutely amazing.

  4. I just made this tonight and it was definitely worth the hassle! I followed someone else’s advice in the comments by only using 2 tablespooons of apple cider vinegar. I think next time I’ll use a little less celery seed as it was a little overpowering but still this recipe turned out amazing and definitely better than Applebee’s version! 

  5. I’m a cheater and just used boxed white Mac n cheese and breaded chicken tenders. Came here for the sauce. So thank you! Done in 15 mins 😬

  6. Great treat! I made this for my spouse’s birthday. He loved it and said it was better than what you get from the restaurant. It’s definitely not an all the time treat, but it’s perfect for those special days when calories don’t matter!

  7. This recipe was spot on! We ended up going with a jalapeno pepper and used shredded boneless chicken breast cooked in an instant pot instead. Thank you so much for this recipe. My husband absolutely loves it!!!!

  8. I look forward to trying this! Ever since Applebee’s changed the pasta shape for this dish, it just doesn’t taste the same.

    • I completely agree with you! This dish has changed recently. Now that they are using penne instead of cavatappi, it definitely changes the dish. But I feel like maybe they made some other adjustments also to alter the recipe. I do understand that the ingredient list is lengthy, and maybe that is why…lots of moving pieces to the dish. I do adore going to Applebee’s when I want some comfort food at a decent price (Honestly I do prefer fine dining, but I have a weakness for Applebee’s…hello, sweet Asian chili boneless wings – oh how I love you!) but the past few times I have ordered this dish, it has come to my table cold! That is disappointing. I read an article recently that said you should not order a restaurant’s most popular dish, as they make it ahead of time and it just sits. Perhaps that is the reason, but I was sad…but leftovers the next day were certainly delightful!

  9. This is really good! The vinegar was pretty strong. Next time I will try 2 TBSP instead of 4! My husband said this is so much better than Applebee’s!

    Thanks for sharing! 

  10. The best recipe I’ve tried, and I’ve done a few. I’m obsessed with this meal and when my local Applebee’s closed unexpectedly, learning to make it was a must!! Typically I don’t like Mac and cheese as leftovers but something about adding the extra honey pepper into it makes it reheat beautifully and taste good the next day. Yes make this!!

  11. How much oil do you use to cook the chicken in and what kind of oil?

    Should the cheese be shredded?

  12. This is mine and my hubby’s go to when we go to Applebees. Since I love to try new recipes I thought I’d give this a try. When you see the recipe kinda scares you a bit lol (that’s why I held off for so long lol) but like you said definitely worth it. Applebee’s who?!?!? Thank you for sharing. definitely going to add to my go to recipe. Just delicious.  

  13. I’m allergic to pineapple. Do you think I could sub the pineapple juice with orange juice without changing the flavor too much?

  14. I never comment anywhere but I had to say how excited I am to try this recipe!! My fiance has a newfound obsession with this dish from Applebees but getting it a few times a week isn’t very budget friendly. The best part is I already have everything that this calls for except the chicken and buttermilk so our pockets will be happy! Thank you so much for this amazing recipe!! I will definitely be trying it this week 🙂

  15. This is my favourite recipe! I love how the cheese sauce thickens like no other version. However, every time I make this dish the Pepper Sauce never thickens, even a little. What am I doing wrong or should I be adding something?

    • I’m so glad you love it!! The honey pepper sauce doesn’t thicken very much, since you have to be able to toss the chicken in the sauce, but if you’re wanting it to thicken more to your liking, you could whisk 2 tsp water and 1 tsp cornstarch in a small bowl, then add that to the sauce as it simmers the last 5 minutes or so. That should thicken it some 🙂

  16. Hi! My hubby and I made this tonight and we LOVED it! But I had 1 question- my cheese turned out veryyyy cheesy. Like i felt like it didn’t coat the noodles like Mac and cheese should…i’m not sure where I went wrong!!

    • You made the rue wrong you may have added too much flour or butter mixture and not enough milk was added, giving you a thick or over cheesy sauce

      • Add more milk. Not heavy cream, but regular milk. That’s what I did. It thinned it out. Just add little by little to the consistency you’d like. 

  17. This recipe tasted exactly like the restaurant version! It was a family effort pulling it all together but it was worth it. We forgot the Anaheim chili and the bacon but it was delicious any way. I also order this at Applebees and was so happy to find it tasted like a restaurant quality meal. It is a decadent treat. I am looking forward to trying some more of your recipes!

  18. Oh my gosh… I haven’t made a meal this delicious in a LONG time!! Definitely worth the time and the effort, I’m keeping this recipe as a favorite

  19. I tried the mac n cheese part of this recipe last night and it was amazing! Tasted just like the Applebee’s one! I’m so happy it made a bunch! Left overs are the best! I will be making this mac n cheese recipe a lot now!

    – Cassie // ZombieGoddess Beauty

  20. Hi! I’m so excited to make this tomorrow night! I just wanted to ask a few annoying questions XD

    I’m feeding about 6 people (including myself), and these guys can EAT~ do you recommend doubling this recipe, or does this make an adequate amount for about that many?

    How many minutes did you fry the chicken on each side? I have a bad habit of either under cooking or overcooking, so i want it to be perfect like yours! 🙂

    Thank you so much! Cant wait! 😀

    • Hi Kayleigh! No questions are annoying, I promise 🙂 The people you’re making this for, sound like my kind of people… who love to EAT!! I would say to probably double it just to be on the safe side… plus, leftovers taste pretty yummy, so if there’s any left, you’ll be able to enjoy that the next day 🙂 Frying chicken can be tricky… and I’m sorry to say I can’t give you an exact time, as it all depends on the temperature of your oil, consistency of the heat on your stove and how you cut the chicken. As long as your oil isn’t too hot (if you test it with a small piece of breaded chicken first and it turns golden brown really quickly, then it’s too hot), and it browns evenly and more slowly, then it should take between 2-4 minutes per side. The most accurate way to tell when it’s done is to test one of the bigger pieces of chicken with a meat thermometer. Chicken should be cooked to about 165 degrees F to ensure it’s fully cooked 🙂 I really hope you LOVE this dish… it’s one of our favorites!!

      • I cannot believe how *accurate* this recipie tasted to the restaurant meal. I have no idea how you chefs do it with these copycat recipes, but omigosh it was so delish!! And they were able to back for thirds! Thank you so much for sharing this recipie; funny note, I forgot the lemon in the sauce, and didn’t even realize until we were all full, but it was so delicious! Thank you!! I will definetely look forward to trying your other recipieside ??

  21. How much oil do you fry the chicken in?

  22. Is the 1/2 TBSP butter correct? Most of the other copy cat recipes say 1/2 stick

  23. I have had the Applebees version of this recipe, which is amazing. I just made this recipe tonight for dinner and it was fantastic…my husband -who is very particular- went back for seconds and commented on how good the pepper sauce was! Thanks for posting this recipe!

  24. Me and my sister tried this dish at Apple Bee’s about 3 months ago And we loved it so much we ordered some more to go 🙂 , What I love about this dish it’s so full of flavor. I was told it’s one of Apple Bee’s most served dishes ! Since I have moved there is no Apples Bee’s near me at all the nearest one is like 2 hours (My heart scattered :/ ) , but I am glad I came across this recipe now I can make my own anytime I want to !!!!

  25. This looks absolutely decadent! My husband would love this dish!

  26. I’ve never had Applebee’s version, but now I’m certainly craving yours! WOW this looks GREAT!

  27. Amanda, this recipe is out of this world amazing! Five stars!

  28. How have I never tried this!?? It looks SO seriously delicious!

  29. Wow! This sounds fabulous! It will be like a flavor bomb went off in your mouth!

  30. I haven’t had this dish at Applebee’s, but am so tempted to try it at home. Your gorgeous photos make it look so tempting!

  31. I love the look and sound of this dish. Total comfort food, for sure. I also love the tips to make preparing it easy – perfect for our busy evenings.

  32. I’ve never had it but I so want to try now! It looks magical.

    And I’m just in awe of these photos. Like always when I visit your blog! Do you have a picture of your setup, by any chance? Lighting baffles me and you always have the most amazing light in your pictures!

  33. Oh wow! This recipe has so much flavor jam-crammed into each bite, and so many wonderful textures, too! And you know I’m all about easy prep and shortcuts – I just love your tips for making this recipe even easier! Totally helpful for busy weeknights!