Home » Side Dishes » Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Baked macaroni and cheese doesn’t have to be complicated with layers of ingredients to be the soul-warming food you crave. This homemade baked macaroni and cheese is my most favorite and  has pleased crowds, small families, kids and picky eaters alike–give it a try and you’ll see why.

Jump to Recipe
a skillet of baked macaroni and cheese on a table with plates and forks

Sometimes you buy that glowing yellow macaroni in the box. Your kids like it, but it glows like the kryptonite they used in the old Christoper Reeve Superman movies.

That’s not normal people.

Five Stars! ⭐️

Get 7 top-ranked reader favorite recipes right to your inbox

    Unsubscribe anytime; Your email is never sold.

    And I hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing real in that box either.

    I hate feeding it to my kids and I dare say that you hate it too. But I can also guess you don’t know many other alternatives. Sure, you can get a box of Velveeta and melt that over some noodles. That works too, but that stuff doesn’t even need to be refrigerated. It’s mystery cheese.

    So if you’re looking for the real deal, the old school baked macaroni and cheese the way your grandma might have made it–this is it.


    Key Takeaways


    • Stir constantly so the sauce doesn’t split and keep the heat down low.
    • Use strong flavored cheeses like Swiss and sharp cheddar grated from a block and never bagged pre-shredded.
    • Make sure to taste the sauce before baking and adjust with more salt or a dash of red wine vinegar to your preference.
    • You can make this mac and cheese up to three days in advance and bake it later.
    • It will get dry and mushy in a slow cooker. I don’t recommend one.

    Can I make this macaroni and cheese ahead and bake it when I’m ready?

    Yes you sure can. Just let it cool down, put some plastic wrap right against the surface of the mac and cheese (to keep it from forming a skin) and stick it in the fridge.

    If you have a few minutes to bring it out and let it warm slightly before you bake it, do that. But if you can’t, just bake it till the center is hot and the edges are bubbling.

    Can I freeze macaroni and cheese?

    I get asked that a lot and my answer is always no.

    As the pasta and cheese sauce sit, it will thicken and when you thaw it and bake it, the creamy consistency is just gone. It’s thick and gloppy.

    Plus if you freeze it and it’s still a bit warm, water crystals will form and then thaw into your dish and could make it separate when you bake it.

    Besides, it’s so fast to make, there’s not really a reason to freeze your macaroni and cheese.

    four steps to making baked macaroni and cheese, first melt the butter and add the flour, second add the milk and stir constantly until thick, third add cheese and finally add pasta and toss to coat.

    Tips for the best macaroni and cheese you’ll ever eat

    Feel like you may still need some help? If you have time, jump over to this post for the juicy details: 18 Secrets to the Richest, Creamiest Mac and Cheese You’ll Ever Eat or focus on these tips:

    • Never stop stirring your milk once it hits the pan. If your skillet is too hot or you walk away and for a minute you could scorch the white sauce and it will curdle. It doesn’t really hurt the taste, but it will look sort of clumpy. Some readers have called it “grainy”. It only takes 5 minutes. Just hang out and stir until that sauce is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon.
    • Use good cheese in your baked macaroni and cheese. That means avoiding bagged, pre-shredded cheeses because they contain cellulose (an anti-caking agent) that can cause your cheese not to melt as it should.
    • Try to choose a melting cheese and a flavor cheese for the best flavor and texture in your baked macaroni and cheese. Sharp cheddar and Swiss are my favorites but you can go as bold as you want!
    • Taste as you go. Taste your cheese sauce before you add your pasta. Is it bland? That can be because of the cheese you used or even the kind of salt you seasoned with. If it doesn’t have enough flavor, add a pinch more salt, stir it in and taste it again until it suits you.
    • Feel free to add more pasta if you want to. Some people say that this recipe doesn’t have enough noodles in it, but I’ve never had that problem. And yes, you should cook your pasta before adding it to the cheese sauce.

    Try a dash of vinegar for more zing

    Because of the fat in the dairy, mac and cheese often needs some acid to bring the flavors to life. I love adding 1-2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar to the sauce before stirring in the pasta. Avoid strong vinegars like apple cider or white distilled.

    Do I have to bake my macaroni and cheese?

    Not if you don’t want to. You can actually eat it right from the pan or just stick it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top if you’d rather.

    It works just as well and is a great shortcut when you are running low on time.

    How can I dress up my macaroni and cheese?

    This baked macaroni and cheese may be the most versatile dish ever.

    Add in some red pepper for kick, any cheeses you like (Fontina is glorious in here), add veggies like broccoli and chopped chicken and it’s a one-dish meal even.

    Or BACON. Hello. Yeah. Make some garlic bread crumbs for the top if you want some crunch and throw those on. It’s really endless. I use this recipe for the base of these ham and sage creamy noodles.

    How to measure pasta for this recipe

    This recipe is written by volume (cups) and sometimes people think that since a cup is 8 ounces (ounces is a weight measurement) that they can simply use 12-16 ounces of pasta or go by the weight of the dry pasta written on the box.

    You’ll end up with problems if you do this.

    Please follow the volume instructions and measure your pasta dry in a measuring cup meant for dry items (not a liquid one).

    Small pastas like ditalini or little wagon wheels can go up to about 2 cups and be fine in the recipe, and large ones like bow tie or cellentani can as well. If you will stick to elbow pasta until you get the hang of things you’ll be better off.

    I’ve made this recipe with every pasta shape on the market and if you will measure in cups, your recipe will be just right.

    How to double baked mac and cheese

    Simply double the recipe below (look for the 1x, 2x or 3x on the right side of the recipe to double or triple the ingredients). Then place it in a 9×13. The bake time should be close to the same. Just bake until the center is hot and the edges bubble.

    What should I serve with my macaroni and cheese?

    Avoid the temptation to make more starchy foods (like potatoes) with your mac and cheese. Instead, try:

    Other macaroni and cheese recipes you’ll want to devour:

    Baked Macaroni and Cheese

    A traditional mac and cheese. Bake it with your favorite cheeses, veggies or meats for a one-dish wonder.
    Prep Time 15 minutes
    Cook Time 40 minutes
    Total Time 55 minutes
    Servings 6 people
    Author Rachel Ballard

    Ingredients
      

    • 1 1/2 cups dry elbow macaroni shells or cavatappi
    • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
    • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
    • 2 cups milk not skim
    • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
    • 2 cups shredded cheese I like 1 cup each of sharp cheddar and Swiss

    Instructions
     

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    • Bring a pot of water to a boil; add a generous sprinkling of salt the pasta.
    • While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a skillet or pot large enough to hold the pasta when it’s done.
    • Add the flour and stir over medium heat until the mixture is lightly browned; 1-2 minutes.
    • Add the milk and whisk to remove any lumps and add the salt and pepper.
    • Cook over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble. About 6 minutes.
    • Stir in the cheese and whisk until smooth and melted. Turn off the heat.
    • When the pasta is almost done but still firm, drain it and add to the sauce.
    • Stir the pasta into the sauce and bake in a greased 2 quart dish (or an 8×8 pan works pretty well) 20-25 minutes until browned and bubbly. You can also skip baking it if you want it super creamy and just put it under the broiler to brown the top (keep an eye on it) and then serve. 

    Notes

    Note 1: The thinner the dish, the less the bake time. I used a cast iron skillet and mine was done in 25 minutes. A thicker dish like a 2 quart casserole will take 40 minutes.
    Note 2: To make ahead, cool the pasta and cheese sauce once they have been mixed together, cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to bake. Up to two days. Bake until hot in the center and bubbling around the edges. 
     

    Nutrition

    Calories: 395kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 16gFat: 21gSaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 514mgPotassium: 222mgFiber: 1gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 685IUCalcium: 373mgIron: 0.9mg
    Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
    Course Side Dish
    Cuisine American
    Keyword baked mac and cheese, baked mac and cheese recipe, baked macaroni and cheese, macaroni and cheese

    Similar Posts

    1,595 Comments

      1. Hi Susan, if you mean in the recipe itself, the 2x 3x buttons only increase the ingredients and don’t alter any other parts. I do cover pan size in the body of the post. –Rachel

    1. I was going to make this but the pasta seems like a very small amount. If you’re going by measuring cup, 1 3/4 is less than 25% of a box of pasta. Is that right? I found a similar recipe with same amount of cheese/milk/butter as yours but it required a whole box of pasta, so I used that instead. Am I wrong? Are you really only using 1 3/4 cup of pasta with this? According to the side of a pasta box, that’d be about 2 servings out of the box.

      1. Hey Carla–are you thinking about this from an ounces perspective because that can be confusing. This recipe works by volume and not weight. A serving here is 1/2 cup of cooked pasta and we are measuring this dry then cooking it. So 1 3/4 or even 2 cups is 3 to 4 servings at least. It’s always a perfect amount of pasta as long as you are using a standard size elbow noodle. Large noodles like bow tie or full size penne usually needs 2 cups of dry pasta. Let me know if that helps.

    2. 5 stars
      This has been my family’s favorite for a while now! Good quality cheese is really key – I use aged cheddar and smoked Gouda and it’s always a hit!

    3. I followed this recipe to a T and it was not good. I don’t know what I did wrong but it had zero cheese taste. Any and all tips welcomed.

      1. Hey Jill–there are plenty of solutions! First it’s important to note that if you have been eating boxed or store bought mac and cheese, homemade can feel a little discouraging because your brain is waiting for the hit of additives and chemicals that are in the store bought kind. When those don’t come, the brain says “bland” but it’s just a trick. 🙂

        If that’s not your case, then absolutely feel free to crank up your cheese choice. A lot of people make the mistake of using very mild cheeses like baby Swiss, Monterey Jack or Mozzarella which really have no flavor. Try a sharp or extra sharp cheddar next time and grated parmesan. That will give you a big hit of flavor! Also try adding a teaspoon or two of red wine vinegar and then taste your sauce and see if it needs more salt for your personal preference.

        –Rachel

    4. 4 stars
      I was looking for a recipe that was very basic and easy. I needed one that only included real milk in the ingredients, because I did not have half/half or evaporated milk as all the other recipes required. Besides, I would rather not have canned products or products with sugar in my baked mac and cheese. I cooked in covered with aluminum, removed it after 20 minutes and added more cheese on top. Then baked it an additional 10 minutes. My daughter liked it and so did I except I added more pepper!

      1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Cande. You can certainly add a lot of different flavors and ingredients to this recipe–and I don’t want sugar in mine either. –Rachel

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Recipe Rating




    About the Author

    Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.