Bacon weave taco with mac and cheese filling

The bacon weave taco shell is quite the invention. But even harder than creating the shell itself (and let me tell you, it ain't easy!), is figuring out what exactly should go inside the shell. Let's face it, tacos and bacon don't really go together.  Taco Bell tried bacon on tacos and it failed spectacularly. Do you know what goes great with bacon? Macaroni and cheese! But we're not going with any old boxed mac and cheese, we're giving you a mac and cheese just as spectacular as your bacon shell: Beer mac and cheese.

Let's get cooking!

We're making two dishes, so we need quite a few ingredients. For the bacon weave, we need bacon — that's it. If you have an affinity for a specific kind (low sodium, maple, etc.) go for it.  

For the beer mac and cheese, we'll need an IPA beer, cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese, mozzarella cheese, whole milk, condensed milk, heavy cream, unsalted butter, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and a box of pasta of your choosing. We're going to make this in the slow cooker, so you'll need one of those, too. 

The full ingredients list is at the end of this article, along with a step-by-step recipe.

The beer mac and cheese

We're going for a cheesy and gooey mac and cheese. If you really want to hit on the cheesiness and you have the time, the slow cooker is your weapon of choice. Seriously.

To answer your question, no the milk will not curdle. The heavy cream and condensed milk will help stabilize it. Besides, our secret ingredient contains enough starch to keep it from curdling.  

Beer and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly. I often use beer when cooking, and different styles bring different flavors. To bring a bit of bitterness to the dish and balance out the cheesiness, I'm using an IPA. You can make it as bitter as you want, but I'm using a local brewery — Red Cypress Devil's Chair IPA — it has a bit of fruit taste to it that will give the mac and cheese a nice finish. 

Starting your mac and cheese

Pour the box of pasta into your slow cooker — any type you'd like. I use gluten-free pasta (because I have to) so you'll be pleased to know that yes, the gluten-free stuff works fine for this. To that, add four tablespoons unsalted butter.  If you insist on making your beer mac and cheese saltier than the Dead Sea, you can use a salted one, but don't blame me if your salt intake is through the roof.  

For taste, add a squeeze of mustard — any kind will do, but I used just a plain, yellow mustard, and a couple splashes of Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Choose the hot sauce depending on your scale of heat acceptance. Avoid Sriracha — that tends to overpower the dish and you end up with Sriracha cheese, and that's not what we're going for here.  

The dairy team

Add milk, condensed milk, heavy cream, and half a can of your beer to the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients.

Now it's time for the cheese. Add grated cheddar cheese — I grate my own because blocks of cheese are generally cheaper than grated, but it's up to you — along with Monterey jack and mozzarella. Why mozzarella? Two reasons. One, it's very stringy, and will help give the cheese an extra gooey finish, and two, it has one of the lowest salt contents for cheese, and this thing is going to be swimming in salt. Any place we can cut a corner on salt is a good thing.  

Oh, and the half beer you have left? That's for you. Enjoy!

Let's get slow cookin'

Once you get it all in the slow cooker, cook on low for two to three hours, until most of the liquid is absorbed and your pasta is cooked. Once it's done, kill the heat. If you have a warm setting you can turn it to that if you'd like. Add a half cup of cheddar cheese — that will give it a little more orange coloring and add some extra gooeyness to the top. You don't even have to stir it — just let it sit right there.  

Warning: This isn't easy

It's just bacon! It shouldn't be hard, but it is. Let me tell you, it took four attempts to get this thing right. The first one fell apart when I tried to get the shape right. The second one was under-cooked, the third one fell apart and looked very very sad (as boldly depicted above), and we finally hit pay dirt on attempt number four. There are some foods that simply don't want to spend their last moments woven together, and bacon is one of them. The combination of fat doesn't play nicely together when stacked on top of each other, and for some reason, bacon doesn't exactly like cooking in the shape you want it to. Just like when you put it in a pan and it curls up, it'll do the same to your shell.

If you choose to make a bacon weave taco shell, don't be surprised if your first attempts are… let's just say… bad. But on the bright side, all those failed attempts are still bacon, so you can totally dispose of the evidence. No one will ever know. 

The bacon weave

The bacon weave is… a weave of bacon. That's it. Take a piece of bacon — thick cut works better because it holds together more tightly — and lie it facing one direction on an elevated cooking area, like a wire rack. Then lay another piece going the opposite direction so you have an "L." That's our base. The next piece goes under the bottom of the "L," and over the top part. Keep going until you weave a little sweater of delicious bacon. I feel like I should bring it to your attention that the sweater will not keep you warm during a cold winter's night.

Cooking the shell: Part one

The key to cooking — after numerous trial and error — is to get your bacon cooked more than halfway through, but to still be able to cut a shape out of it without it falling apart due to being too crispy. If you go too long, as soon as you cut it the bacon will fall apart. If you don't cook it long enough, the bacon will be difficult to cut — because it's basically raw. So temperature management and a keen eye are the key.  

The target will be a bacon weave somewhere in the medium to medium-well range. On my oven that's 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. After that, remove the weave and create the shell. And kill the heat on the oven. This will be important for step two. The size of your shell is up to you, so find a bowl you like the size of, and trace around the bacon weave with a pizza cutter or knife to cut out a circle. You might need both — the pizza cutter works well for most of the cut, but you may need to get all surgeon-like and really get in and cut the lessor cooked parts to end up with a good circle.

Cooking the shell: Part two

Hang the bacon weave taco shell over two bamboo sticks, between two objects of the same size. I used an oven-safe pot with two handles — the idea is to catch the bacon grease in the bowl that way. But really anything you can get two sticks across will work. Throw the bacon weave back into your now-off 425-degree oven and leave itthere. Really, no heat on — just let the leftover heat finish the shell. The problem is that throwing the shell back in with the temperature going produces some uneven cooking — in other words, there will be parts of the shell that are undercooked and parts burnt. It should take 15-20 minutes to finish the shell that way — not completely crisp so when you bite into it the whole thing falls apart, but not wobbly like you're eating Jello.

The build and taste

Take the beer mac and cheese and stuff it into the shell. The advantage of leaving it in the oven whilst off and coasting to the finish is you won't burn the shell, and more importantly won't burn your hands in delicious bacon grease. If you hit the right temperature, you should be able to put the mac and cheese right in the middle, complete the fold and consume!  

So your first question is the obvious: How did it taste? Actually, pretty darn good. The mac and cheese is incredible — just a hint of the IPA beer to give it a bite, and the cheesiness really hits on every chomp. And of course there's bacon, which goes with the beer-cheese flavor. 

Are there downsides? Oh yeah. You're holding bacon in your hand — it's greasy. If your shell is too well done, it sort of falls apart on the bite, but if it's too soft it's basically limp bacon flopping all over the place. If you followed my steps, you should hit the proper shell texture, and eating this will be a breeze.

Do I really want to do this?

You have one more question: Is it worth it to make a taco shell out of bacon, and stuff it with mac and cheese? Nope. Not even close. The issues are great: You need to cut out of the center of the bacon weave, leaving you with a bunch of cut up bacon pieces — I mean, it's bacon so you can add to pretty much anything but it's a giant waste of bacon. The other issue is it's actually pretty difficult to get the taco to sit right without using an actual taco shell maker. Do you really want to drop $20 on that?

What did we learn?

Life is a series of lessons, and there are many takeaways to the bacon weave taco shell. The obvious is — we buried the lede! The beer mac and cheese is fantastic. That's the dish you should be making. 

The other takeaway is that some things just don't like to be woven. You know why they don't make leather sweaters? Because leather doesn't like to be woven. You can read all the funky, crazy recipes you'd like, but some things are better left apart — bacon and weaving is at the top of that list.

Directions

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Makes: 6-8 servings of mac and cheese, 1 taco shell

Bacon weave taco shell ingredients:

  • 1 pound of bacon

Mac and cheese ingredients:

  • 12 ounces dry macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 squeeze of mustard
  • 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes of hot sauce
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • ¼ cup of heavy cream
  • ½ can of beer (IPA is best)
  • 2 ½ cups cheddar (½ cup reserved for the end)
  • 1 cup Monterey jack
  • ½ cup mozzarella

Mac and cheese directions:

  1. Pour dry macaroni into slow cooker.
  2. Add all other ingredients except the ½ cup of shredded cheese. Stir to combine.
  3. Cook on low for 2-3 hours, until liquid is mostly absorbed and pasta is cooked.  
  4. Set slow cooker to warm and add ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese to the top, but don't stir. Replace the lid.
  5. Serve when cheese is melted. 

Bacon weave taco directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. On a sheet pan or elevated surface (like a cookie rack) make an "L" with two strips of bacon.
  3. Continue the pattern of the with one piece going up, and another going across, and weave the bacon together until you have a square and your first piece is completely woven.  
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes to partially cook the bacon (but not all the way to crispness).
  5. Turn off the oven.
  6. Remove from the oven, and place a bowl in the middle of the bacon weave, and trace with a knife or pizza cutter around the bowl to make a circle.
  7. Remove the excess bacon outside the circle.
  8. Lift the bacon circle out from underneath with kabob sticks and and place over an oven-safe bowl or pot wide enough to fit it,  or place on an oven-safe taco shell maker.
  9. Place back in your oven (now off) and let it cook to desired crispness, 15 to 20 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven, stuff with the mac and cheese, and enjoy!