Barbecue Chicken with Mac n’ Cheese

Tender chicken thighs coated in sticky-sweet barbecue sauce, with a cheesy mac on the side (and some greens too) probably doesn’t sound possible for a work week meal – certainly, it would take some time to put that together. My cravings one night after work for barbecue chicken helped me to find a way. I can’t do a bucket of chicken from take-out, it’s too much food for one person and costs too much. With some clever shortcuts, it’s very simple to throw it together at home instead on any night of the week.

Why it works

If you keep a few things handy in your fridge and freezer, you can really make this any time. You need a bottle of barbecue sauce, your favorite brand. I always have a block of cheddar cheese in the fridge. I am a big fan of making a luscious cheese sauce from a bechamel, and it’s really not that hard, but for nights when I’m extra tired like this night, I discovered Velveeta cheese. Really, it’s not that terrible to keep a small block of it around, for emergencies. I freeze chicken thighs in one serving portions in Ziploc bags, so I just need to remember to leave one in the fridge in the morning before I go to work, so it will defrost by dinner. Of course, I have elbow macaroni in the cupboard. That’s it. Serve with whatever greens you have, for a balanced meal. For me, the easiest is to serve with some quickly sauteed baby spinach.

How it’s done

First set aside the cheeses and have them ready. Cook the pasta in simmering water until al dente, drain and set aside. In the same pot stir the cheeses together with some milk and a few grinds of black pepper. When smooth, stir in the cooked pasta and presto! Cheesy and creamy mac in minutes.

For the chicken, the most work is getting a boneless, skinless chicken thigh to lie flat. You will need to take a small paring knife and make a few slits into it here and there, until you have a relatively even and flat piece, but it isn’t too hard to do. Season it with salt and black pepper, and dredge in a little flour so that it develops a light crust which will hold on to the barbecue sauce better later. Then cook in a skillet in a little oil for about 10 minutes per side, until cooked through. Finish with a glazing of bottled barbecue sauce, flipping for a few minutes to heat the sauce through and get it thickened a bit so that it coats the chicken. Yum!

The last thing to do is to fry a few slices of garlic in a little olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Then rinse about four handfuls of baby spinach, drain and add to the skillet in handfuls, stirring as it wilts into the pan. When all the spinach has wilted, you’re ready to serve.

Barbecue Chicken with Mac n’ Cheese

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Servings: One

1/3 cup elbow macaroni

1 boneless and skinless chicken thigh

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

About 3 Tbsp flour, for dredging

2 Tbsp safflower or vegetable oil

Bottled barbecue sauce, about 1/4 cup or more to glaze

1/4 cup Velveeta brand processed cheese

2 Tbsp milk

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 cups, or 4 large handfuls, of pre-washed baby spinach, rinsed again and drained


Heat a small saucepan filled with salted water to a boil and add the elbow pasta. Stir so that it doesn’t stick and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and reserve on the side.

Place chicken thigh opened up on a cutting board and cut slits into it with a small paring knife until it is lying flat and in about an even thickness. Be careful not to cut slits all the way through the chicken, just do it on the surface.

Chicken thigh in one flat, even piece with salt and pepper ready and flour on the side for dredging

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the salt and black pepper. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. While oil heats, dredge the chicken lightly in some flour. Add the floured chicken to the hot skillet and cook 10 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through.

Pour the barbecue sauce directly onto the chicken in the skillet, turning to coat. Cook over medium-low heat a minute or so, turning the chicken so it gets glazed with the sauce and the sauce gets heated through. Turn off the heat and keep warm while you finish the mac n’ cheese and make some greens.

In the same small saucepan where you cooked the pasta, add the Velveeta cheese, milk and black pepper. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring with a spatula, until smooth and creamy. Stir in the shredded cheddar cheese until smooth. Stir in the reserved cooked elbow macaroni and stir to combine and heat through.

For the spinach, in a small non-stick skillet, add sliced garlic and olive oil. Heat over medium-low heat for about two minutes, until garlic just starts to turn golden. Add the washed and rinsed spinach by handfuls, stirring as the spinach wilts down into the pan. When all the spinach has wilted, sprinkle with salt to taste.

Serve the barbecue chicken with the mac n’ cheese and greens on the side.

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