This vegan bacon mac and cheese is made with a simple dairy-free beer cheese sauce that uses a potato carrot base and NO cashews. The cheesy flavor and ooey gooey texture will blow your mind! To finish it off, we top our vegan mac and cheese with coconut bacon crumbles. It’s also a fairly healthy mac and cheese recipe that’s easy to make gluten-free and includes an oil-free option.
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Have you ever been to a vegan mac ‘n cheese contest?
Although there aren’t any of these events happening in the midst of 2020, we have very fond memories of the vegan mac and cheese contests we entered in Baltimore + Philly over the past 5 years.
The recipe we’re sharing today is one of the 2 recipes we’ve taken to a vegan mac and cheese contest (and a winning one at that!).
Inspired by our popular vegan beer cheese soup recipe, we think you will be delighted!
Because bacon and beer are always a winning combo (when it’s vegan, at least).
Let’s get into it…
What do you need to make vegan bacon mac with beer cheese sauce?
First thing’s first: Let’s talk about the ingredients you’ll need to make vegan mac and beer cheese!
For the vegan beer cheese sauce, you’ll need:
- Potatoes, carrots, onion – These will create the color and texture base for our sauce!
- Olive oil – For vital fats and LUSH texture
- Yellow mustard + German-style mustard (like a stone ground mustard)
- Vegan chicken-style bouillon powder
- Fresh garlic
- Nutritional yeast
- Tapioca starch – This will create texture magic and get the sauce all ooey gooey!
- Salt + pepper
- And of course, BEER!
Then, to put it all together for the vegan bacon mac and cheese, you’ll need…
- Pasta – Macaroni noodles or small shells are our go-tos.
- Vegan bacon – We LOVE using our coconut bacon salt for this recipe!
Does this vegan mac and cheese taste good?
I wanted to include an answer to this question because we get a lot of comments (some relatively angry) from people who “just can’t believe” potatoes and carrots can come together for one awesome cheese sauce.
And to an extent, I get it. I see a lot of potato-carrot-cheese sauces out there that really miss the mark. This is usually for a few reasons:
First, many of these recipes are attempting to make a low-fat, whole foods version of cheese. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you’re after. But, you need fat in a cheese sauce for it to really take on that cheesy mouth-feel which is why we added the olive oil to this recipe.
Second, you have to emulsify the olive oil fully in the blender. Blend everything on HIGH for a full 1-2 minutes until the texture goes from chunky/gritty to smooth/shiny. This is a freaking game-changer.
And lastly, I think potato-carrot-cheese sauce gets a bad rap when it’s not flavored with anything to add that fermented cheese taste. You can add this taste with a lot of different ingredients like miso paste, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut brine, etc. In this recipe, the beer, yellow mustard, and stone ground mustard act as the fermented flavor.
Follow these tips, and your potato carrot cheese sauce will come out like that box of Kraft mac and cheese you grew up eating!
For the veggies (potatoes, carrots, onion):
I wouldn’t recommend replacing the carrots here; they’re pretty vital to the color of the sauce.
You could technically sub cauliflower for the potatoes, but it will be a different texture because the potatoes add more starch to thicken up the sauce. Adding about 1 tsp more tapioca starch could help this.
For the olive oil:
To make this oil-free, replace the olive oil with raw cashews or sunflower seeds. To do this, add the cashews or sunflower seeds to the pot to boil with the rest of your veggies. If you’re making the sauce this way, you will definitely need a high-powered blender or food processor like a Vitamix. And please note: If you use cashews, the sauce is no longer nut-free.
For the bouillon powder:
We use our homemade bouillon powder for this recipe, but you can use any vegan-friendly chicken-style bouillon you like! Do NOT skip this part though because it’s what adds a large portion of the flavor to this dish. If you’re using bouillon cubes, use 1. If you’re using bouillon paste, use ½ Tbsp.
For the tapioca starch:
Tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour) gives this sauce a very distinct gooey texture that is unmatched by other starches we’ve tried. However, you can still make this recipe with something like cornstarch or maybe even arrowroot starch. Just be aware the texture may be a bit different.
For the garlic:
For the nutritional yeast:
This is another ingredient I would not recommend skipping, and please note nutritional yeast is not the same thing as Brewers yeast or the yeast you use to make bread. They are not interchangeable. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that adds a nutty / cheesy flavor to the sauce. This is a staple ingredient in vegan pantries, and you can easily order it online!
For the beer:
The alcohol does cook out of this recipe, but if you do not want to make it with the beer, I would sub 1 cup water + 1 Tbsp bouillon powder + 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar. That would account for the liquid and flavor pretty well! You can also make this cheese sauce with a non-alcoholic beer if that floats your boat.
To make this dish gluten-free:
Simply use your favorite gluten-free beer and gluten-free pasta!
Notes on Beer
Is all beer vegan-friendly?
Not all beer is vegan-friendly, and that’s for a couple of reasons. Obviously, some beers will contain a substance that is not vegan – like honey or dairy products. That one is pretty easy to spot in the name or ingredients.
But there are some sneaky ways different alcohol isn’t vegan-friendly which usually have to do with the filtration/fining process (involving the use of fish bladders and weird things like that…I know, gross.)
How to Check if Your Beer is Vegan:
Your best bet is to either email the company directly or check Barnivore.com. Barnivore is a resource with a collection of email responses people have gotten directly from companies themselves, stating whether or not their products are produced using animal products.
Keep in mind: Brands change their practices over time and Barnivore is not a perfect resource, but it’s the best resource out there right now for those who wish to avoid animal products!
What Beer You Should Use
A German pilsner or golden lager are your best bets in this recipe. And thanks to Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian/German Purity Law of 1516), these beers are always vegan-friendly!
What Beers to Avoid
Darker beers WILL change the color of the soup and have a heavier “beer taste”, so if you don’t want that, I’d stick to the pilsner or golden lager.
Avoid heavy stouts and porters for this vegan bacon mac and cheese as their flavors AND colors would tend to overwhelm instead of complement the dish. Also avoid fruit beers for obvious reasons.
How to Make Vegan Beer Cheese Sauce for Mac and Cheese
Step One: Boil the veggies.
Get a large pot of water boiling and add your diced veggies. Cover the pot and let them boil for about 15 minutes, or until they are fork-tender.
Step Two: Blend the sauce ingredients.
Next, you’ll strain the veggies and add all the cheese sauce ingredients (except that beer!) to your blender or food processor. Blend it on high for a full minute or two until the texture goes from gritty to smooth and shiny.
Step Three: Bring it all together.
Pour your sauce back into the large pot, whisk in the beer, and bring it to a boil. You’ll let the sauce simmer uncovered until it reaches your desired consistency, usually about 10 minutes.
Be sure to stir often as your sauce simmers. If it gets too thick, add a little more water. Then, taste and adjust your seasonings as you see fit and fold in the cooked pasta!
How to Serve This Vegan Bacon Mac with Beer Cheese
If you’re looking for a store-bought vegan bacon, we like the brands Sweet Earth + Lightlife. Also, we find that MANY commercial bacon bits are “accidentally” vegan, so check the ingredients at your local grocery store!
For an added bonus and mega delicious points, serve this mac n cheese with some soft pretzel rolls or maybe turn the rolls into pretzel bowls and scoop in the mac n cheese like we did for the photos in this post. PURE HEAVEN.
How to Store Vegan Mac and Cheese
In the fridge:
Leftover vegan mac and cheese will keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
How to freeze vegan beer cheese sauce:
We do not recommend freezing the pasta IN the sauce, but we highly recommend freezing the sauce separately. Freeze it in an air-tight container, leaving at least an inch or two of space at the top for the sauce to expand as it freezes. Stored like this, the sauce should be good for at least 4-5 weeks.
How to reheat frozen vegan cheese sauce:
Set the cheese sauce on the counter to defrost (or the fridge but it will take significantly longer), and once defrosted, heat it up in the microwave or on the stove at a low heat, stopping to stir and scrape the bottom as it heats. You may need to give it a little whip with a fork or whisk, but the texture should come back to life easily!
More Vegan Recipes for Cheese-Lovers:
When you make this vegan bacon mac and beer cheese, let us know! You can rate the recipe and leave a comment below or tag us in your creations on Instagram, so we can collectively swoon over this amazing vegan mac n cheese!
If you’re not already following along, we are @theplantpowercouple with the “the”.
Vegan Bacon Mac and Beer Cheese
For the beer cheese sauce:
- 3 cups peeled and diced potatoes
- ½ cup peeled and diced carrots
- ½ cup peeled and diced yellow onion
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil**
- 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
- 2 Tbsp stone ground mustard
- 1 Tbsp vegan chicken broth powder
- 4 - 6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
- 1 Tbsp sea salt
- 1.5 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup beer***
- BOIL: Get a large pot of water boiling and add the diced potatoes, carrots, and onions. Cover the pot and let the veggies boil for about 15 minutes or until they are fork-tender.
- SIMMER: Pour your sauce back into the large pot and turn the heat to high. Whisk the beer into the sauce, cover, and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove the cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes or until your desired thickness is reached. If it gets too thick, add a little more water.
- SERVE: Then, taste and adjust your seasonings as needed. Stir in your cooked pasta, taste/adjust again. Serve in a big bowl or pretzel bowl sprinkled with vegan bacon!