The Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese

LAST UPDATED: May 06, 2021 | PUBLISHED: Jul 03, 2013 | By:

This is an easy, creamy baked mac and cheese recipe made in minutes with just a few staple ingredients! Make the BEST baked macaroni and cheese with very little hands on time.

Homemade Mac and Cheese is the best! There’s just no comparison. Fortunately making it from scratch is quicker and easier than you think!

This classic dish is so versatile – there are so many ways to mix things up!

A serving of baked macaroni and cheese on white plate

What’s in Baked Mac and Cheese?

  • Pasta – Use your favorite shape! Classic elbow noodles, corkscrew, cavatappi, fusilli or cellentani are all perfect for mac and cheese.
  • Butter – Salted or unsalted, your preference.
  • Garlic – Minced (bought in the produce section of your grocery store for a shortcut) or freshly minced garlic cloves.
  • Flour – All purpose flour to make the roux.
  • Milk and Heavy Cream – Evaporated milk can be substituted to provide creaminess without the fat.
  • Cheese – Cheese is the main ingredient in this easy dish, so it’s important to let it shine. Use a block rather than pre-shredded for the creamiest mac and cheese. I like to use a combination of white cheddar and gruyere, but you can use Monterey jack, mozzarella, gouda, parmesan, and even soft cheeses including brie, cream cheese, blue cheese and goat cheese.
  • Seasoning – Salt, pepper, paprika and onion powder.

Optional Topping

  • Panko – Fine bread crumbs toast to make a crunchy crumb topping.
  • Oil – Melted butter, olive oil or canola oil.
  • Parmesan – Fresh grated parmesan adds a hint of toasted cheesy flavor to the crumb topping.

Variations

  • Top with crushed Cheetos or Doritos just before serving – this is one of our kids’ favorite ways to enjoy mac and cheese! It’s unbelievably good!
  • Add protein – ham cubes, prosciutto, bacon, sausage, ground beef, baked chicken and lobster all go well with mac and cheese!
  • Add veggies – caramelized onions, sautéed peppers, roasted mushrooms, the options are endless!

How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese From Scratch

  1. Prep – Preheat oven and grease baking dish.
  2. Boil Pasta – Slightly undercook noodles, drain and set aside.
  3. Optional Crumb Topping – In a small dish, combine panko, parmesan and oil.
  4. Make Sauce – Create a roux, add cream and bring to a low boil, remove from heat, fold in cheese, seasonings, and prepared pasta. Toss with sauce and top with optional panko mixture. mac and cheese on stovetop
  5. Bake – If you add the bread crumb topping, bake until bubbly and golden brown. Otherwise it’s ready to serve!

Serving Suggestions

  • Garnish with herbs – thyme, parsley, chives and green onion are all great additions.
  • Serve in your casserole dish or dutch oven.

Tips

  • Use high quality, freshly shredded cheese for your baked macaroni and cheese. It yields a creamier consistency, guaranteed.
  • Slightly undercook pasta so noodles don’t tear when combining with cheese. You’ll especially want to undercook if you’re adding additional time in the oven!

Make Ahead

To make this baked Mac and Cheese recipe ahead, prepare and instead of putting it in the oven, cover and refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months before baking. 

To reheat from frozen, thaw in the fridge and bake as directed.

Shortcuts

  • Make in a dutch oven for an easy one pot meal!
A big helping of baked macaroni and cheese on a white plate on a marble surface.
Why is mac and cheese grainy?

Grainy mac and cheese is usually the result of adding cheese to a bubbly mixture, breaking emulsifiers and coagulants in cheese down.

Remove mixture from heat before folding in cheese. Add cheese slowly for best results. It can also be caused by using low quality or pre-shredded cheese.

What is the best cheese for mac and cheese?

Cheddar, gruyère, gouda, brie, goat cheese, parmesan, brie and even blue cheese!

How to Store

  • Room Temperature – Serve up to 2 hours.
  • Refrigerate – Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to three days. Add a touch of heavy cream or milk to reheat.
  • Freeze – Store in an airtight container in the freezer up to three months. Transfer to refrigerator to thaw before reheating.

What to Do with Leftovers

Dietary Considerations

  • Gluten Free – Omit bread crumbs and use gluten free pasta
  • Nut Free
  • Vegetarian
wooden spoon scooping baked macaroni and cheese out of a white casserole dish

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More Easy Cheesy Recipes

mac and cheese piled on plate

Mac and Cheese

Author: Julie Blanner
Creamy Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food! This easy recipe is great for dinner or as a crowd pleasing side dish! It's topped with crunchy, buttery breadcrumbs for irresistble texture and flavor!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Bake Time 30 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Entree, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 12
Calories 679 kcal

Ingredients
  

Pasta

  • 16 ounces pasta

Crumb Topping

  • cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter melted or olive oil or canola oil
  • ½ cup parmesan grated

Sauce

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 cups cheddar cheese shredded
  • 2 cups gruyere shredded
  • teaspoons onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9×12 casserole dish.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta. Prepare noodles al dente. Drain, drizzle with oil to prevent sticking and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine panko, butter or oil and parmesan. Set aside.
  • Melt butter in large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute.
  • Whisk in flour. Whisk continuously until golden, about 1 minute.
  • Gradually whisk in milk and heavy cream until smooth. Whisk about 5 minutes.
  • Add onion powder, paprika and pepper.
  • Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in cheeses until smooth.
  • Fold in pasta. Stir until well combined. Transfer to casserole dish or bake in dutch oven.
  • Spread panko mixture evenly over the top.
  • Bake approximately 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Notes

Make In a Slow Cooker

  1. Eliminate heavy cream and add 1 can evaporated milk.
  2. Whisk milk, flour and seasonings in a 5-6 quart slow cooker.
  3. Add uncooked pasta and 4 cups of shredded cheese.
  4. Cook on low until pasta is tender, approximately 3 to 4 hours.
  5. Cover and cook until cheese is thoroughly melted.

How to Store

  • Room Temperature – Don’t leave out more than two hours.
  • Refrigerate – Store in an airtight container up to three days refrigerated. Add a touch of heavy cream or milk to reheat.
  • Freeze – Store in an airtight container up to three months in the freezer. Transfer to refrigerator to thaw before reheating.

Nutrition

Calories:679kcalCarbohydrates:41gProtein:28gFat:45gSaturated Fat:26gCholesterol:132mgSodium:624mgPotassium:278mgFiber:2gSugar:5gVitamin A:1321IUVitamin C:1mgCalcium:652mgIron:1mg
5 from 2 votes
Did you Make This Recipe?Mention @JulieBlanner
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