Prepare a cheesy dish with a touch of spice with this Honey Pepper Chicken Mac and Cheese recipe. It’s the perfect dish to have for lunch or dinner when you want a high-quality meal in no time.
Applebee’s Four Cheese Mac and Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken
If you’re a frequent visitor of Applebees, you’ve probably had the chance to try their tasty four cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken. If you like it, would you be happy to know that you can make it right at home?
If so, follow this simple Honey Pepper Chicken Mac and Cheese recipe. It’s super simple, leaving you with a flavorful dish that you can serve as a side or eat as an entree, whichever you prefer.
Why You’ll Love This 4 Cheese Mac with Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders:
- It’s Cheesy: If you’re a fan of cream, cheesy pasta, you’ll love this dish because it’s extra cheesy.
- It’s Delicious: The ingredients combined to make this meal pair perfectly together to create something that tastes amazing!
- Easy to Make: No need to feel like you must have culinary skills to make such a fantastic meal. It doesn’t take much time or effort to whip up this tasty dish that your friends and family will love.
Trademark Note: In the spirit of transparency, I want to note that this is a copycat recipe for an existing product. Applebee’s is a proprietary brand that I want to acknowledge and give credit to.
Honey Pepper Chicken Mac and Cheese is creamy, cheesy, and has the perfect touch of spice added to it from the honey pepper chicken. If you’re looking for a restaurant-quality meal at home, this is an excellent choice.
How to Make Honey Pepper Chicken Mac and Cheese
Be sure to see the recipe card below for full ingredients & instructions!
- Put your sauce ingredients in a pan, set on medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and let simmer for up to 20 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat, placing it off to the side.
- Add buttermilk to a bowl, combine your flour with spices, and prepare your oil for frying the chicken.
- Heat your oil, dredge your chicken in buttermilk and flour, and toss in the oil, cooking for roughly four minutes per side.
- Set the chicken off to the side on a plate with paper towels.
- Boil your pasta on one burner and saute your butter and garlic in a skillet on another burner.
- Whisk your flour into the skillet, add heavy cream, and continue whisking for around five minutes.
- Add your cheese, salt, and pepper to the flour mixture, and then pour cheese sauce over the cooked pasta.
- Toss your chicken into the honey pepper sauce you made at the beginning.
- Portion your mac and cheese into several servings, topping it with the chicken.
The best way to tell if your oil is at the right temperature is to invest in an instant-read thermometer. Otherwise, you can stick a wooden spoon in the oil. If the oil starts to bubble around the wooden spoon and the bubbles begin to float up, it is hot enough to fry in. If it’s bubbling too vigorously, the oil is too hot!
Chicken tenders are fully cooked when the breading is golden and crisp and the tenders register 165°F internally. This will take about 6-8 minutes total.
You can, but they will not be as crisp and will not hold up as well once sauced. To bake these chicken tenders, set a wire rack on a standard baking sheet. Once the chicken has been dredged, place the pieces on the wire rack with space between them and bake at 375°F for about 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Yes! Use any short pasta shape, such as farfalle or macaroni.
Honey Pepper Chicken Mac and Cheese is a flavorful dish that children and adults can enjoy. If you like to order this when you visit Applebees, now you can make it at home, saving money and time while enjoying a wholesome meal.
Make Ahead Instructions
To save time, prep these steps ahead:
- Pasta: Cook the pasta 1 day in advance. Toss in olive oil to prevent sticking and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Cheese Sauce: Make the cheese sauce 1 day in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Gently reheat over the stove before mixing with the pasta.
- Honey Pepper Sauce: Prep the honey pepper sauce 1 day in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Gently reheat before tossing with the cooked tenders.
- Bacon: Cook the bacon 1 day in advance to save time!
Store leftover honey pepper chicken mac and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I recommend storing the sauced chicken and mac and cheese separately until ready eat.
I don’t recommend freezing this dish fully assembled, and I don’t recommend freezing the honey pepper sauce at all. To freeze the components, follow these instructions:
- Chicken: Allow the chicken tenders to cool to room temperature. Do not toss them in the honey pepper sauce. Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet for 1 hour, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating and saucing.
- Mac and Cheese: Cool the mac and cheese to room temperature, then portion into airtight containers or Ziplock bags and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Mac and Cheese Variations
Spice up your mac and cheese with the following:
- Use your favorite cheeses in place of the Mozzarella, Parmesan, Pecorino-Romano, and Asiago. Replace one or all of the cheeses to suit your tastes.
- Add ½ teaspoon garlic powder or onion powder for an umami boost.
- Add ⅛-¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or a few dashes of hot sauce to spice it up!
Feel free to create different variations of this tasty meal. For example, if you don’t have soy sauce, you can use liquid aminos. If you want to add extras to this dish, go for it, such as chopped broccoli, which will taste good with the pasta, cheese, and sweet and spicy chicken.
If you’ve made this recipe, please be sure to let us know by leaving a star rating or a comment below. Enjoy!
Honey Pepper Chicken Mac and Cheese Recipe
For the Honey Pepper Sauce
- ⅔ cup honey
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- ⅓ cup pineapple juice
- ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce see note
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛-¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
For the Chicken Tenders
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons ground paprika
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders
For the 4 Cheese Macaroni
- 16 ounces penne pasta
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
- ½ cup shredded Asiago cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 slices cooked bacon crumbled, for garnish
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- Breadsticks for serving
For the Honey Pepper Sauce
- Place all of the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes, until thickened slightly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.⅔ cup honey, ⅓ cup brown sugar, ⅓ cup pineapple juice, ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ⅛-¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
For the Chicken Tenders
- Preheat a deep fryer or large, heavy-bottomed pot to 350°F. Set a wire cooling rack over paper towels. Set aside.
- Set up a dredging station. Add the buttermilk to a large bowl. In a second large bowl, whisk together the flour, paprika, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper.1½ cups buttermilk, 1½ cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons ground paprika, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- Toss the chicken tenders in the buttermilk to coat. Allow excess buttermilk to drip from each chicken tender before dredging them through the flour mixture, rolling them to coat.2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders
- Working in batches of 3, add the tenders to the hot oil and fry for 4 minutes per side, until golden brown 165°F internally.
- Use tongs to remove them from the oil and place on the cooling rack to drain.
For the 4 Cheese Macaroni
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain, rinse, and return the pasta to the pot, tossing it with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.16 ounces penne pasta
- In a saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 45-60 seconds.¼ cup unsalted butter, 2 cloves garlic
- Whisk in the flour until light golden and bubbling slightly. Pour in the heavy cream while constantly whisking, then continue to whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 2 cups heavy cream
- Add in the cheeses, one at a time, stirring until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese, ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, ½ cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, ½ cup shredded Asiago cheese, Salt and pepper
- Add the cheese sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta and toss to coat.
- Place the fried chicken tenders in a clean bowl and toss them with some of the honey pepper sauce.
- Portion out the macaroni and cheese on serving plates, top it with several chicken tenders, sprinkle everything with crumbled bacon, and garnish with some fresh parsley, if desired. Serve with the remaining honey pepper sauce and some warm breadsticks, if desired.6 slices cooked bacon, Fresh parsley, Breadsticks
- Soy Sauce: Use an equal amount of tamari or coconut aminos for a gluten free alternative.
- Nutritional information does not include breadsticks.