Baked Mac and Cheese is one of our favorite comfort foods of all time! Elbow macaroni noodles are tossed in a homemade cheese sauce, topped with a buttery crumb mixture, and baked until hot and bubbly. Perfection.
Mac and Cheese Ingredients
- Cheese: Sharp cheddar gives this baked mac and cheese tons of flavor. The addition of gruyere to the cheese sauce in this recipe is next level but of course whatever you have on and will work just do not use pre-shredded cheese.
- Macaroni: I use a traditional elbow macaroni but any short pasta will work. Shells (or cavatappi) are great choices! Cook al dente as the pasta cooks more as it bakes.
- Topping: The most perfect buttery crumb topping is one of my favorite parts of this recipe. Add in bacon, more parm, crushed crackers… pretty much anything with crunch will work!
How To Make Mac and Cheese
To make mac and cheese you’ll follow a few simple steps to achieve perfect, ooey gooey homemade mac and cheese! Some of the cooking is done on the stove top before it is baked (like most casseroles).
- Cook Pasta: Cook the macaroni noodles to al dente (a little bit undercooked as they’ll cook more in the oven).
- Make Sauce: Make the cheese sauce by starting with a roux (butter and flour) per recipe below. Stir in milk and bring to a boil until thick and creamy.
- Add Cheese: Remove from the heat and stir in cheese until melty.
- Combine macaroni and sauce in a 9×13 pan.
- Sprinkle Topping: Combine bread crumbs (or cracker crumbs) with butter and sprinkle over mac and cheese.
- Bake: Bake mac and cheese uncovered until golden and bubbly.
How Long to Bake Mac and Cheese? Mac and cheese should be baked just until hot and bubbly, about 20-25 minutes. Overbaking will cause a dry mac and cheese.
Tips for Creamy Mac and Cheese
- Cook elbows a perfect al dente to avoid mushy noodles
- Shred your own cheese! Pre-shredded cheeses have additives that can keep them from clumping which also makes it so they don’t melt smoothly.
- Remove your sauce from the heat before adding cheese to keep it from separating or getting grainy.
- Do not overbake (or your baked mac and cheese will be dry). Once the macaroni is bubbling and heated and the topping is browned, you know it is ready. Everything is cooked, the baking is to meld the flavors and brown the topping.
- BLT: crisp bacon, sundried tomato and fresh spinach
- Spicy: Diced jalapeno or banana peppers, buffalo sauce and a sprinkle of blue cheese
- Pizza: Mini Pepperoni, Diced Green Pepper, Black Olives, Oregano and Parmesan Cheese
- Meaty: Cooked and sliced Italian Sausage (or hot dogs)
To Make Ahead
Mac and cheese is best made and cooked right away. If left in the fridge, the pasta soaks up the sauce and it can become dry.
If you do need to make it ahead of time I would suggest keeping the pasta and sauce separate. Before baking, heat the sauce over low until creamy and then mix with the pasta and bake as directed. Sadly, mac and cheese doesn’t freeze well.
Got Leftovers? Store in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
How to Reheat Mac and Cheese: Reheat mac and cheese in the oven or microwave with a little bit of milk to maintain the quality of the sauce.
More Cheesy Pastas
- Homemade Mac and Cheese Casserole – Personal favorite
- Chicken Lasagna – Creamy and delicious
- Classic Stuffed Shells Recipe – Make ahead
- Pizza Pasta Bake – Family favorite
- Easy Homemade Lasagna – So much flavor
Baked Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces dry macaroni
- ⅓ cup butter
- ⅓ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 ¾ cups milk
- ½ cup light cream
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
- ½ teaspoon seasoned salt or to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 3 cups sharp cheddar
- ½ cup gruyere cheese swiss cheese or mozzarella
- ¾ cup fresh parmesan cheese divided
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- 1 teaspoon parsley
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Combine Panko bread crumbs, melted butter, and ¼ cup parmesan cheese. Set aside.
- Cook macaroni al dente according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water and set aside.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and onion powder and cook 2 minutes.
- Whisk in milk, cream and seasonings over medium heat. Continue to stir until mixture thickens. Let boil 1 minute while stirring.
- Remove from heat and add cheddar cheese, gruyere cheese, and remaining ½ cup parmesan cheese. Whisk until melted.
- Stir in macaroni and pour into a 9x13 pan.
- Top with crumb mixture and bake 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and topping is browned. Do not overcook.