This easy homemade Baked Mac and Cheese recipe is the ultimate classic comfort food. We’re talking decadent creamy macaroni with the most incredible cheese sauce. Total soul-food and always a crowd favorite!
Homemade baked Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite dishes in the world, if not my all-time favorite. To me this is what comfort food is all about, but I don’t like just any mac and cheese, it cannot come from a box. In my opinion, macaroni and cheese is all about the cheese sauce. The more cheese the better.
The only question to be asked though is are you a crunchy top fan? Personally I prefer an extra layer of cheese on top of my mac, then just pop it in the oven until all that cheese melts and it’s nice and bubbly. You also want to make sure that the sauce to macaroni ratio is just right, because nobody wants dry macaroni.
Everyone needs a mac and cheese recipe in their cooking repertoire, so here’s my recipe that’s quite simple to make and it really doesn’t take more effort than opening a box of the pre-made stuff.
Ingredients In Mac And Cheese
Here’s what you’ll need for this awesome mac and cheese recipe:
- Elbow Macaroni
- Salt & Pepper
- Mix of Cheese such as Provolone and Cheddar
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Smoked Paprika
What Type Of Cheese Should I Use
Use a classic sharp cheddar cheese, this is always a crowd pleaser. You can use a white cheddar if you want a lighter color to your sauce. Add different cheeses, especially a good melting cheese such as mozzarella, provolone, fontina, gouda, asiago, brie or gruyere.
How Do You Make Mac And Cheese
The Roux: Don’t let the name scare you, it’s simply a French term for something that’s quite basic and simple. Roux, pronounced “roo”, is a mix of equal parts melted butter and flour, whisked together and cooked for a couple minutes over medium heat. This Roux is the start of any cheese sauce, and its purpose is to thicken the sauce. To it, milk is whisked in, and the end result is a creamy and rich bechamel sauce.
The Cheese Sauce: The bechamel is just the start of the cheese sauce, to which we add plenty of cheese. The key to a good cheese sauce for your mac and cheese is obviously the cheese. I always choose one cheese for flavor, and one cheese for gooey stretchiness. You can add as many different types as you want, as long as it equals 6 cups in total.
I also like to add Worcestershire sauce to my cheese sauce, think of it as your je ne sais quoi secret ingredient. Trust me on this one, a little goes a long way and it will add another flavor dimension to your sauce.
Bake Until Bubbly: Once your sauce is all done and you’ve added your macaroni, I like to add more cheddar cheese on top and another one of my secret ingredients, smoked paprika. Not only does it give your mac and cheese a gorgeous color, but it also adds a little smokiness to it.
Once all that is done, pop that skillet in the oven and bake it for about 15 minutes until the cheese melts and you can see the sauce getting all nice and bubbly.
What Can I Mix Into My Mac And Cheese
The options are endless here!
For meat, try these:
- Pulled pork
- Shredded chicken
- Ground beef, pork, chicken, or turkey
- Lobster, crab, or shrimp
For veggies, try these:
- Bell peppers
- Butternut squash
Tips And Tricks
- Choose the right type of pasta: While I used elbow macaroni for a classic version of this recipe, any small shapes will work. Preferably tubular shapes such as penne, rigatoni, or ziti.
- Undercook your pasta: Cook about one minute less than what the package instructions say, this will avoid a mushy mac and cheese.
- Start with a Roux: Equal part butter and flour, cook this together for a minute or two to remove the raw flavor from the flour. This is the easiest and best way to make a cheese sauce, you’ll always end up with a creamy and rich sauce.
- Don’t buy pre-shredded cheeses: I recommend shredding your own block cheese, because pre-shredded cheese usually has added ingredients which prevent the cheese from melting properly. This will result in a grainy texture to your sauce!
- Taste as you go: Always taste your sauce as you go, the cheese sauce needs to pack in flavor, so taste often and adjust with seasoning such as salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, even a bit of mustard powder or cayenne pepper for a bit of a kick.
- Lots of sauce: You might feel overwhelmed when you’re mixing the noodles into the sauce because there is so much of it. Don’t worry! It will turn out perfect. The noodles will absorb some of the sauce as everything bakes. We want it to come out of the oven still nice and saucy, not as a noodle block.
- Don’t over bake: If you over bake you’ll end up with mushy macaroni. You want to bake it only until the cheese on top melts and you see the sauce bubbling and it starts to get golden around the edge. Only bake for the recommended time.
- Give it a topping: As you can see here, I like to keep my toping nice and simple. Some extra cheese broiled to bubbly perfection is how I picture my dream mac and cheese. If you want it crunchier, you can mix 1 cup breadcrumbs such as Panko, with 3 tbsp melted butter and 1/4 tsp salt. You can also add some paprika, herbs, and/or parmesan cheese to this topping. Sprinkle all over your mac and cheese before popping it in the oven.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I freeze mac and cheese?
While technically you can freeze mac and cheese, I don’t recommend it because after you thaw it out and bake, the creamy consistency is gone. However if you really wan to freeze it, before the baking step, transfer the mac and cheese to an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw it out, then transfer it to a skillet or 9×13 inch baking dish and bake it as instructed.
Do I have to bake the mac and cheese?
Absolutely not! I like my mac and cheese unbaked as well, but there’s something to be said about a cheesy bubbly sauce.
Do I have to cover the mac and cheese with foil before baking?
No, do not cover it. If you cover it, it will steam the inside instead of giving it a crunchy topping.
Can I make mac and cheese on the stovetop?
Yes, try this recipe for an easy stovetop mac and cheese.
What do I serve with mac and cheese?
Here are some great dishes to serve with your mac:
More Macaroni Recipes To Try:
- Chili Mac and Cheese
- Deviled Egg Macaroni Salad
- Easy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Chicken Alfredo Pasta Bake
- Macaroni Salad
Looking for more recipes? Follow on…
Baked Mac and Cheese
- Prepare the oven: Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees.
- Boil the pasta: Boil the macaroni according to the package instructions, then drain it and set aside.
- Make a roux: While the pasta cooks, add the butter to a large skillet that’s oven proof or a Dutch oven and melt over medium heat. Once the butter has melted whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture is lightly browned. This will remove the raw taste of the flour. Whisk in the salt and pepper.
- Add milk to the roux: Add the milk and whisk to remove lumps. You can add it all at once or a bit at a time whisking rigorously until smooth.
- Add cheese and Worcestershire sauce: Add the provolone cheese and half of the cheddar cheese and whisk until smooth. Add the Worcestershire sauce and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
- Cook sauce: Cook over medium-high heat until the sauce starts to thicken and bubble, should take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Add macaroni: Add the cooked macaroni to the skillet and stir it until combined. Top with remaining cheddar cheese and sprinkle smoked paprika over the cheese.
- Bake: Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the top starts to brown and sauce gets bubbly.
- Serve: Serve while warm.
- Crunchy Topping option: Combine together 1 cup breadcrumbs such as Panko, with 3 tbsp melted butter and 1/4 tsp salt. Sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese and bake as instructed. If using this crunchy topping add all 4 cups of cheddar cheese to the sauce.