The BEST Mac & Cheese Recipe EVER! Outrageously cheesy, incredibly creamy, and topped with a crunchy breadcrumb topping, this mac and cheese recipe is definitely a keeper. Rich and creamy cheese sauce melted over tender noodles, for the ultimate in cheesy deliciousness! Perfect for a comforting dinner or as a holiday side dish!
Love comfort food? Also check out my Sloppy Joe Casserole and Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole!
Baked Mac and Cheese
This dish is pretty much the definition of comfort food. In fact, there are so many different recipes available, I was initially hesitant to post this one. However, once you try this one, you’ll see why I HAD to post it! The ooey gooey cheesiness in each and every bite! The breadcrumb topping that makes any mouth water. The tender noodles perfectly coated in cheesy goodness. Combine pasta and cheese together…yep, I am game! My fav! This dish is one that can be brought to any potluck, picnic, or outing. Perfect served as a main dish or side dish, even enjoyed reheated a few days later!
Why you should make this recipe
- Foolproof: If one of your favorite things is pasta and you are a cheese lover, you need to have a great recipe for baked mac on your back pocket! Ditch the blue box and try this! You’ll never go back!
- Family Favorite: Mac and cheese is loved by everyone. This simple recipe for delicious mac is always a big hit. Kids can’t resist it and adults can’t stop eating it! In fact, this recipe is one of my most requested dishes to bring to any family gathering!
- Flavor: This homemade macaroni and cheese recipe is rich, creamy, and flavorful. The crispy, golden brown Panko topping takes classic macaroni to new heights!
Ingredients needed for Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Pasta– I LOVE using shells and elbows in this recipe, however, choose your favorite
- Butter– I use unsalted so I can control the salt myself, however, unsalted/salted both works great
- Cheese– shredded cheddar cheese, try to avoid pre-packaged
- Salt/Pepper– adjust to taste
- Breadcrumbs– I use Italian seasoned, use whichever you prefer
How to make Mac and Cheese
If you’ve never made homemade mac and cheese before, it can seem a bit daunting. But don’t worry, I’ll break it down and you’ll see its easy peasy!
- Boil pasta in water according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, add butter to a large skillet.
- Once butter is melted, whisk in flour. When flour is dissolved, add in salt and pepper.
- Slowly whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth and mixture has thickened. Remove from heat.
- Drain water from pasta once cooked and put pasta into a greased 9 x 13 pan.
- Sprinkle cheese on top of pasta evenly.
- Pour milk mixture directly on top of cheese and using a spoon, toss to coat.
- Using same skillet as before, melt remaining 2 tbsp. butter and stir in the breadcrumbs.
- Sprinkle evenly on top of macaroni.
- Place pan in preheated oven, 325 degrees, for about 15 minutes!
Tips for the best homemade baked mac and cheese
- Use block cheese and shred, do not buy the pre-shredded cheese. The pre-shredded cheese is great for so many things but not macaroni and cheese. It’s pre-coated to avoid clumping in the bag and won’t melt properly. You need to shred it yourself for the best result otherwise you’ll end up with a grainy texture.
- Cook your pasta to slightly less than al dente, about one minute shy is perfect. Since you’re baking this in the oven a bit, it will finish cooking at that time and not be soggy. Afterall, no one wants soggy macaroni, right?!
- Elbow or Shell pastas are my go-to since they hold up better with the sauce. Try to avoid fragile noodles that can fall apart (ex. egg noodles).
- The cheeses – use your favorites! My personal favorites are the cheddar and/or gruyere in this recipe, but you can be very creative with the cheese selection here. Mozzarella, gouda, smoked gouda, Swiss, Monterey jack, Colby jack, Colby.
Variations of Mac and Cheese
If you want to take this classic Mac and cheese to the next level check out these great options.
Bacon– Yep! You read that right! Cooked, crumbled bacon is the perfect addition to this dish. Plus, with bacon, how can you go wrong, right?!
Veggies– Feel free to add in some cooked broccoli or peas to get your veggies in. I love adding in some broccoli to ours because my kids are so focused on the cheesy goodness, they forget all about the greens in their meal!
Spice it up– do you love a little heat? Feel free to add jalapenos or hot sauce to yours! If adding hot sauce, splash on desired amount just prior to serving! If adding jalapenos, those can go on after baking OR be stirred into the cheesy mixture!
Topping– if you don’t have breadcrumbs, you can also use crushed Ritz crackers! Melt about 2 tablespoon butter with 1 cup of crushed Ritz crackers for a tasty topping option.
Cheese- Feel free to load up the cheese (or different cheeses) on top! Maybe try a few different combinations.
Freezing and Storing
This dish freezes perfectly! Just before baking, allow to cool completely. Place contents in a freezer friendly container and freeze up to 3 months.
If storing leftovers, simply place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- From frozen: Bake from frozen at 350 degrees F for 70-80 minutes or until warm throughout.
- From thawed: Cover the mac and cheese with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake it at 325ºF for 20 minutes or until heated through.
Making Mac and Cheese ahead of Time
This dish is BEST when made and served right away as it does lose a little creaminess when baked later. I suggest doubling the sauce if making ahead of time to ensure creaminess when it’s time to serve!
- Make as directed (but do not bake), transfer to baking dish and cool completely. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate 1-2 days ahead.
- Before baking, let dish sit on counter for 30 minutes.
- Bake at recipe temperature for 25-35 minutes, until hot and heated through.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese: What Kind of Cheese Should I Use?
I use different cheese combinations almost every time I make this mac and cheese recipe but the one I always come back to is sharp cheddar and Gruyere. Other cheeses that work: Mozzarella or Pepper Jack for a little zip. American and Velveeta as well for a creamier cheese sauce. I tend to use whatever I have in the refrigerator!
Love pasta? Check out these other great recipes:
Lemon Spaghetti: a quick and easy pasta dish bursting with lemon, Parmesan, and garlic
Creamy Baked Ziti: Alfredo and Spaghetti sauce combined over tender noodles in this creamy dish
Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti: Garlic, Butter, and Parmesan combined into a flavorful sauce
Chicken Piccata Pasta: all the flavors of chicken piccata, now in pasta form
Cheesy Creamy Chicken Spaghetti: classic chicken spaghetti that is comfort food at its finest
Creamy Homemade Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb pasta *I use shells, but elbows work too
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup flour *all purpose
- 4 cups milk
- 6 cups cheddar cheese *shredded
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- Boil pasta in water according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, add butter to a large skillet. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour.
- When flour is dissolved, add in salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth and mixture has thickened. Remove from heat.
- Drain water from pasta once cooked and put pasta into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle cheese on top of pasta evenly. Pour milk mixture directly on top of cheese and using a spoon, toss to coat.
- Using same skillet as before, melt remaining 2 tbsp. butter and stir in the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle evenly on top of macaroni.
- Place pan in preheated oven, 325 degrees, for about 15 minutes! Serve!
Recipe updated 10/4/2022