A Spicy Perspective

Best Shrimp Mac and Cheese

Shrimp Mac and Cheese – Seriously the best easy recipe for (the cheesiest) homemade macaroni and cheese loaded with tender shrimp!

Bowl of shrimp with macaroni and cheese.

Why We Love This Easy Shrimp Recipe

Shrimp Mac n’ Cheese – a.k.a. poor man’s lobster macaroni and cheese – is a decadent main dish or side dish that will wow everyone at the table!

We call this the best shrimp mac & cheese because it is based on our Best Homemade Mac and Cheese recipe. Yet here we’ve added smoked Gouda along with cream cheese and cheddar, plus smoked paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. This combination gives the dish a zesty flavor that pulls out the sweet flavors of the shrimp.

Creamy, cheesy, and luscious mac and cheese with shrimp is easy to make in only 30 minutes, so it is great for those last-minute dinners that still deserve a bit of flair!

Top down view close shrimp with mac & cheese in a pot.

Ingredients You Need

  • Dried elbow macaroni – or other small pasta noodles
  • Butter – unsalted butter is best
  • All-purpose flour – to create a thick and creamy roux
  • Half & half – or whole milk
  • Sharp cheddar cheese – freshly grated off the block
  • Smoked gouda cheese – freshly grated
  • Cream cheese – softened
  • Spices – salt, smoked paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Raw shrimpcleaned with tails removed
  • Parsley – fresh

Pro Tip: Avoid the temptation to save a bit of time by purchasing pre-shredded cheese… They have anti-caking agents added which affect the taste and consistency of the cheese sauce. Also, avoid buying pre-cooked shrimp. The pasta will have the best flavor if the seafood cooks in the sauce.

Fork taking bite of macaroni with cheese from bowl.

How to Make Shrimp Mac and Cheese

First, shred both hard cheeses. Then set out the cream cheese to soften.

Place a 6-quart pot of heavily salted water on the stovetop. Set on high heat and bring to a boil. Drop the pasta into the boiling water. Stir well and cook according to the package instructions. Usually 6-9 minutes for al dente. DO NOT overcook the pasta; it should still be slightly firm. Then scoop out 1 cup of pasta water for later use, and drain the pasta in a large colander.

Meanwhile, set another 4-6 quart pot over medium heat for the cheese sauce. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to the pan.

Butter melting in a large dutch oven on the stovetop.

Then whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Continue to whisk for 2-3 minutes until the roux mixture is golden in color. This ensures even thickening without a grainy texture. If the roux is too light, the texture won’t be completely silky. So don’t try to rush it!

Once the right color is reached, add the half & half into the roux and stir until there are no clumps. Then add the softened cream cheese and shredded cheese.

Shredded cheese added to the pot.

Stir to melt the cheeses. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Lower the temperature to make sure the cheese sauce doesn’t boil.

Pour the drained pasta into the cheese sauce.

Drained noodles added to the pot with cheese sauce.

Stir to coat.

Wood spoon stirring cheesy mac in a cooking pot.

Then stir in the cleaned shrimp.

Get the Complete (Printable) Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Below. Enjoy!

Stirring raw shrimp into the cheese sauce with a wood spoon.

Stir and cook the shrimp in the sauce until all the shrimp are pink, 4-5 minutes.

If you like, stir in some of the fresh chopped parsley into the shrimp mac and cheese.

Top down view of cooking pot with wooden spoon and finished dish.

Add some of the pasta water if needed to loosen the cheese sauce.

If you like creamy mac and cheese with a smooth silky consistent texture, you are done!

The sauce does thicken a little as it cools, so if you want the sauce a little saucier, stir in ½ cup of the reserved pasta water.

Wood spoon holding spoonful of cooked shrimp with macaroni and cheese to camera.

Serving Suggestions

Enjoy shrimp mac and cheese warm with extra parsley sprinkled on top.

The richness and creaminess of the dish makes it great to serve with a crisp green salad on the side.

It’s also delightful as a decadent side dish or to serve at potlucks!

Final in pot view of macaroni and cheese with shrimp sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Frequently Asked Questions

But, really… Does cheese go with shrimp?

Oh yes, absolutely! It just needs to be done right… Check out our Easy Shrimp Quesadilla, Southern Shrimp Toast, and Hot Cajun Shrimp Dip recipes for even more shrimp and cheese goodness!

What type of pasta is used for mac and cheese?

We use classic elbow macaroni noodles in this recipe. However, feel free to use other small pasta noodles you prefer! Small shells (conchigliette), penne, or another hearty noodle that holds sauce well.

What is a good spice for mac and cheese with shrimp?

This version uses a combination of garlic powder, smoked paprika, and a hint of cayenne pepper for a spicy kick. You can changes this up and replace these individual spices in your shrimp mac and cheese with Old Bay seasoning or cajun seasoning (or blackening seasoning) – store-bought or homemade. You can also include onion powder, ground mustard, or dried herbs if you like.

How long do leftovers last in the fridge?

Leftovers will keep well for up to 2 or 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat briefly in the microwave, heating in short 20-second bursts at 50% power.

Bowl with serving of shrimp mac & cheese, fork taking a bite from the bowl.

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5 from 3 votes
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Best Shrimp Mac and Cheese Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Seriously the best easy recipe for (the cheesiest) homemade macaroni and cheese loaded with tender shrimp!
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Shred both hard cheeses. Then set out the cream cheese to soften.
  • Place a 6 quart pot of heavily salted water on the stovetop. Set on high heat and bring to a boil. Drop the pasta into the boiling water. Stir well and cook according to package instructions. Usually 6-9 minutes for al dente. DO NOT overcook the pasta; it should still be slightly firm. Then scoop out 1 cup of pasta water for later use, and drain the pasta in a large colander.
  • Meanwhile, set another 4-6 quart pot over medium heat for the cheese sauce. Add 3 tablespoons butter to the pot, then whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Continue to whisk for 2-3 minutes until the roux mixture is golden in color. (This ensures even thickening without a grainy texture. If the roux is too light, the texture won’t be completely silky.)
  • Whisk the half & half into the roux, stirring until there are no clumps. Then add the cream cheese and shredded cheese. Stir to melt the cheeses. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Lower the temperature to make sure the cheese sauce doesn't boil.
  • Pour the drained pasta into the cheese sauce and stir to coat. Then stir in the shrimp. Stir and cook the shrimp in the cheese sauce until all the shrimp are pink, 4-5 minutes. Add some of the pasta water if needed to loosen the cheese sauce.
  • *If you like creamy mac and cheese with a smooth silky consistent texture, you are done! The sauce does thicken a little as it cools, so if you want the sauce a little saucier, stir in ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Serve warm with a sprinkle of parsley.

Notes

Leftovers will keep well for up to 2 or 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat briefly in the microwave, heating in short 20 second bursts at 50% power.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.75cup, Calories: 452kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 20g, Fat: 26g, Saturated Fat: 16g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 7g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 86mg, Sodium: 655mg, Potassium: 251mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 865IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 430mg, Iron: 1mg
Course: Main, Main Course
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Sommer Collier

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4 comments on “Best Shrimp Mac and Cheese”

  1. Pingback: Favoritos del viernes – foodiecrush – Tricks and Tips

  2. Yum – I love the the shrimp with the Mac and Cheese! So good and everyone loved it! Great recipe. 10/10

  3. I love that you call this the poor man’s lobster mac and cheese :) All I know is it’s delish! Creamy and loaded with shrimp!

  4. My daughter loves Mac and Cheese as well as shrimp so as soon as I saw this I knew I had to make it for her. She loved it and asked if we could make it for her birthday!