The winter months can feel long and unforgiving, and it’s easy to fall into a food slump. This hearty pulled pork mac and cheese, jazzed up with BBQ sauce and spicy honey ketchup, might be just the ticket you need to wake up your tastebuds.

We know what we like, what tastes delicious and fills us up with that warm feeling — whether it’s the actual warmth of the food, or of nostalgia from when our own parents made these familiar, comforting dishes during our childhood and adolescence. But when your kids grow out of the toddler stage, when they seem to want the same meal every night regardless of practicality, and instead start complaining, “This again?” you have to keep the family happy. You have to try and mix it up a little.

Let’s face it, mac and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods, a favorite with kids from toddler age through adulthood. It’s filling, gooey and rich, savory, and the one thing we often forget about it — versatile. Mac and cheese can be a vehicle for all sorts of delicious things, from unique meats to your favorite vegetables (and even secret vegetables, if you’re trying to outwit a picky eater.)

Every family has a time-honored recipe, yet we always welcome a new one. My grandmother’s version, which my mom and I still make, is one of the simplest I’ve seen, layered with stewed tomatoes and slices of American cheese and baked. It comes from a time when the family couldn’t afford to be as cavalier with things like milk and butter, so while I turn to that dish for the simple comfort of childhood memories, I usually prefer a cheese sauce. I’m pretty sure my grandmother would have, too.

As I mentioned before, it’s easy to get in a rut with meal-planning, when you want to make something hearty and filling, but you don’t want to make the same thing over and over. That’s why I like to try combining some of my family’s favorite dishes to make new ones. Sometimes that’s not practical, and other times it can end in disaster.

In this case, baked mac and cheese can find new vitality with a hearty, tangy layer of tender, crock pot pulled pork in the middle and a drizzle of sweet and spicy honey ketchup over the top. BBQ Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese is the kind of dish that’s so meaty that it’s as welcome on a family dinner table as it is around a widescreen TV, watching the big game. It’s barbecue fusion, in a way, combining spicy, saucy shredded meat with one of its best companion dishes.

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