This recipe for the Best Baked Mac & Cheese Ever is super creamy – not dry like some homemade mac and cheese can get.
It’s cheesy. Oh yes. Verrrry cheesy.
It’s rich, ooey and gooey, with a brown and bubbling top and gloriously creamy interior.
And, yeah – in my humble opinion, it’s the best baked mac and cheese recipe EVER. Seriously.
I say it’s the best macaroni and cheese recipe ever not because I have tried every single mac and cheese recipe in the world (though I have tried many) (and wouldn’t it be an incredibly noble cause to try every single one?!)
Rather, it’s because whenever I take a glorious melty bite, I simply cannot imagine a better classic mac and cheese.
I can also say it’s the best macaroni and cheese recipe ever because this one is tweaked from someone else’s recipe – I grabbed the recipe from someone named Bev, who shared her recipe on Food.com. Thank you eternally, Bev!
Being a mixed carnivore-and-veggie household, sometimes I like to serve this baked mac and cheese with some crumbled bacon that the carnivores can drop over the top.
(Buuuut it’s also plenty perfect without.)
Macaroni and cheese ingredients
If you’ve ever wondered how to make homemade mac and cheese, here you go!
- Pasta: First, you pick your pasta. Elbow macaroni is a the classic choice, of course, but shells, penne, or rotini are delicious too.
- Cheese sauce: You make your cheese sauce by first making a roux – cooking flour, seasonings, and butter together. Then, drizzle in the milk. The flour thickens the milk into a glorious béchamel sauce – a classic French sauce made from butter, flour, and milk. And theeennnnn … remove from heat and add the cheese. Some people like to top their baked mac and cheese with breadcrumbs, but for this recipe, I love how it forms a brown and bubbling top in the oven without bread crumbs. Feel free to add if you prefer! Make it your own!
How to make a roux for mac and cheese
A roux is simply a mixture of fat (butter here) and flour, usually in equal measures, which is cooked together in order to remove the raw, floury flavor. For macaroni and cheese, you make a fairly light roux by cooking it for about three minutes. Then, milk is added to the roux to make the béchamel (or white) sauce.
First, start by melting the butter.
Then add the flour and seasonings and …
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon in a figure-8 motion, for three minutes. This one looks a bit darker than a classic roux might because of the smoked paprika.
Then, to make your white sauce (or béchamel), add the milk slowly, whisking the entire time, and cook until bubbly and thick.
Aaaand then add your cheese for your glorious macaroni and cheese situation.
There’s your base for the best baked mac and cheese recipe ever!
There are loads of mac and cheese recipes out there, with fancy embellishments and uber creative spins. But his isn’t one of those – it’s a classic baked mac and cheese that’s simple enough to appeal to everyone. Readers report entire families devouring this stuff on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter! BUT it’s also a great jumping-off point if you want to make it your own (check the FAQs for more ideas!)
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make it ahead of time?
Yes! I will assemble it up to the point of baking and refrigerate for up to 48 hours before it’s time to bake it. However! Your mac and cheese might not be quite as creamy as if it had gone straight into the oven. It will still be delicious, but that’s a downside.
Can you freeze mac and cheese?
Yes, I have frozen it with success! I make it up to the point of baking, cover well, and freeze right in the pan. Then I bring it out and let it thaw at room temp for an hour or so, and then into the oven. Just like making it ahead and refrigerating it, the result isn’t quite as saucy. But still delish.
Do you use bags of shredded cheese or freshly grated?
I definitely prefer freshly grated, as pre-shredded cheese can result in a grainier sauce. That said, the convenience of pre-shredded cheese can’t be denied! And a mac and cheese with pre-shredded cheese is better than no mac and cheese at all. So do what works best for you!
What can I add to mac and cheese for flavor?
I love adding seasonings to the roux to amp up my mac and cheese. This one has smoked paprika for – yep – a smoky note. And I love how dry mustard powder helps emphasize the cheesy flavor. Some readers like to add a hefty pinch of onion powder, others love a bit of nutmeg. If you like heat, adding jalapeños is delicious (get my Jalapeño Mac & Cheese recipe here).
You can also tweak the flavor by varying the cheeses. Readers report using smoked cheese for tons of sultry goodness (one reader reported using smoked cheddar, smoked gouda, and smoked gruyere. Yum.) Other readers have added mozzarella or jack for some stretchy goodness, creamy havarti, parmesan (loads of flavor!), or prefer to go with extra-sharp cheddar.
Do I have to use 2% milk?
No! Whole milk will do just fine; the result may be a bit thicker though.
Can I double this recipe?
Yes. I (and many others) have doubled this recipe with success – no changes needed other than a bigger pan!
More Mac & Cheese Recipes
- If you’re vegan, this Ridiculously Creamy Vegan Shells & Cheese or Super Creamy Vegan Stovetop Mac & “Cheese” will totally hit the spot.
- Veggie Lover’s Stovetop Mac & Cheese makes it a full-meal deal with broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.
- Stovetop Butternut Mac & Cheese with pureed butternut squash and heavy whipping cream makes the most decadently creamy mac and cheese you may ever have.
- Jalapeno Mac & Cheese and Southwest Mac & Cheese lend a spicy spin!
The Best Baked Mac & Cheese Recipe Ever
- 8 ounces macaroni ( or other medium tubular pasta (like penne or conchiglie)* (1/2 pound or about 1 and 3/4 cups))
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika ((plus more for sprinkling on top))
- 2 1/2 cups 2% milk
- 3 cups shredded medium cheddar cheese ((approx. 12 ounces) **)
- Boil the pasta JUST until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and return to the pan you boiled it in. Set aside. (Mix in a little butter to keep the noodles from sticking if it’s going to be awhile before you make the sauce)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the flour, salt, dry mustard, pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika. With a wooden spoon or whisk, stir constantly for three minutes.
- Add the milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Continue to stir constantly until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5-8 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add 2 cups of the cheese, stirring until melted. You’ll reserve the last cup of cheese for topping. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and toss gently until all of the pasta is coated.
- Add half the pasta to a two-quart casserole dish (I like a tall 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish). Sprinkle on half the cheese. Add the rest of the pasta. Sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, then dust lightly with the smoked paprika.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the mac and cheese is bubbling and browning on top.
- Serve, topping individual servings with parsley or cooked, chopped bacon if desired.
This Macaroni and Cheese is freaking amazing. I’ve made this so many times in the last year, that I’ve got the dang recipe memorized. This easily gets made at least once a month, either for myself and the hubs or for someone in need of a meal. Seriously, its amazing. I’ve sent quite a few people this way! So basically, thanks Karen! You’ve helped me convince people that I have some type of cooking skills, when in reality, this is all I can make! 😛
If I hate mustard can I just skip it or should I try and use something in its place?
Yes, you can absolutely skip it – it just might not have quite the flavor without it.
This is a great recipe and and old standby in our family I’ve been making it this way for over 40 years . This is the FannyFarmer recipe. Over the years, I’ve tweaked it a little to avoid some of the pitfalls of cooking with a roux. First thing , try just a smidge less flour. Start whisking as soon as you add the flour. Go slow making sure to totally incorporate all the flour. Then let it cook a little until the flour starts to take on the lightest beige color. Add the liquid and whisk continuously until it starts to thicken. A word on cheeses.. The harder (sharper) the cheeses, the greater chance it will separate. Use a mild cheese till you get the hang of it. Amish style mild Swiss is a wonderful addition once you feel confident in your technique.
These are such awesome tips! Thank you so much, Barbara!
Ahhh. I made this for the first time today and it turned out so well. Instead of a 8 by 8 square pan I used just 9 inch circular pan and sharp cheddar instead of medium. It didn’t get as crispy as I wanted but god it was good. I don’t think I can go back to the old box kind!
This looks so good! Do you think using white cheddar would be good?
I made this today for Christmas and it was a hit! I used a larger pan cause that’s what I had on hand so I only had a single layer, but it didn’t matter. Cheesy goodness! The whole pan was gone quickly. Lol so easy to make. This will definitely be my go to Mac and cheese recipe from now on.
I’m so glad you liked it! 🙂
I’m not the greatest cook but I followed this recipe and the family was impressed. They called my mac and cheese “SLAMMIN'”
OMG, this was amazing the 2nd time I made it. I did something wrong the 1st time, and it was dry. Decided to try it again, and Im so thrilled I did. My boys went crazy over it and are begging me to make it again a week after Christmas. I plan on using this recipe for the rest of my life!! LOVE it!
I’ve tried to make this twice and each time I got a gritty texture when finished baking. I followed the directions to a T, the flavor is great, but the texture makes it inedible. I rarely cook and feel like it’s something small I am doing wrong…maybe something related to mixing the flour, butter, and milk.
My other theory about the grittiness is related to the cheese. I used the recommended “medium cheddar cheese”, but I used the Albertson’s store brand called essentials or something like that. Should I use more of a premium cheese? I assumed there wouldn’t be much difference.
And just to clarify, for step 4, I whisked the flour, milk, and other required ingredients for the recommended time until it turned it into paste.
Any and all thoughts welcome. Thanks! 🙂
Our family has been on a quest for the best macaroni and cheese recipe for years and although it’s one we really enjoy, your recipe may have just ended it! I doubled it, used 4 year old cheddar and it was beautiful and sooo delicious. Browned crunchy bits on the top, luscious velvet cheese sauce and ‘ronies below. Thank you!
To the person having trouble with the roux, maybe try whisking in heated milk.
White or yellow cheddar cheese???
Either one should work just fine.
I’ve tried half a dozen recipes, this by far was the best! Creamy cheesy and still decent the next day. To the one that found it gritty when your butter and flour (roux) is like a crumbly texture then you add the milk till its like a cream soup, not pasty. Good luck. That sauce is a base for most cream soup and sauces.
Try fresh garlic with onions also spring onions when layering the cheese
I tried to mix in some healthier stuff by pulsing a 1/4 cup of broccoli in a mini food processor, and mixing it in after I added the cheese. Maybe it’s like getting a diet coke with your super-sized McDonald’s meal, but it made me feel a little better. Plus, the kids never batted an eye.
Thanks for this! The other mouth in the house said it was the Best. Ever. And we’ve been trying a lot of recipes. I made a double batch (to use the whole box of pasta). This more than doubled the amount of time to make the roux, and to thicken the roux+milk mixture. Patience paid off!
Also, I’ve found that multiple kinds of cheeses give greater depth of flavor (if one likes the cheeses to begin with):
1 cup store-brand pre-shredded Mexican blend
1 cup -year aged Vermont cheddar, grated
1 cup orance supermarket cheddar, grated
1 cup Gruyere, grated
2 cups Fontina, grated
Thanks again for this – it'[s a keeper.
So glad you liked it! Love the cheese ideas – thanks!
NOT even close to best mac and cheese way to much milk, way to much. It just doesn’t taste right.
I am sorry, but my family did not like this. My 16 year old said that the microwave stuff was better than this. I may have done something wrong but I do not know what. I made the roux the same way I do for other recipes without any problems and I used the ingredients called for. The only thing I did different was that I used 1% milk because that is what my family is used to. I wish we had enjoyed it as much as the others seem to have.
Just made this recipe.. I added some minced peppers for a little bit of a kick. it turned out fantastic.
I just made this to freeze and use this weekend for some house guests and I’m worried I screwed it up. I doubled the recipe which brought my milk to 5 cups and although everything was doubled, it looked way to soupy as I poured it into the pan. Will all that liquid be absorbed? it looks like it is going to be way too soupy to serve. Just curious if it was suppose to look like that and, if not, should I just dump the whole thing. Not sure if anyone is still posting here but I would sure appreciate it. Thanks!
It does seem like a lot of sauce at first, but the pasta tends to absorb it. By the time it sits and bakes, it should set up nicely. I have noticed that freezing can make it a tad drier, so keep that in mind.
My search is over–I found a delicious Mac & cheese recipe!!! This is so good!!
We LOVE this mac and cheese. I started making it last summer while my mother in law was dying of cancer. It was her favourite dish and could only handle soft foods. I always double the recipe as I only make it for a special occasion. Had a problem with it only once where it was grainy. Research told me it was because the sauce mixture was too hot when I added the cheese. Now I always remove the pan from the stove and let it sit a minute or two before adding the cheese. Never a problem since then. Thanks for a great recipe! I follow it exactly using medium cheddar and topped with some old. Sometimes I add buttered bread crumbs to the top but really doesn’t need the extra calories, its delicious enough as is. I’ve always hated the boxed kind, there is no comparison.
This is still my go-to. I have never found a better recipe! You changed my life! Hahaha thanks for the recipe!
Sorry but this was probably the worst mac n cheese I’ve ever made. More like mac and cheese soup.
I always add some grated nutmeg to the bechamel and add several different kinds of cheese. (Whatever cheese is on hand… feta, provolone, gouda, mozzarella>) Breacrumbs browned in butter also adds a bit of crunchy texture.
Love those ideas – yum. 🙂
Made this last night and it turned out Amazing!! We hadn’t tried the smoked paprika before and it was SO good. The bacon went perfectly with it. We have 5 kids and every time I make a new recipe I ask them if I should keep it or toss it. They spoke up real quick, “Keep it!” Thank you!! =)
To the people who say it is coming out like soup, you’re doing it wrong. This recipe is so creamy and I love it. I’ve made numerous attempts with other recipes and they came out so dry, it was like eating only pasta because the sauce cooked out while baking. The key is patience. You can’t whip this up in a matter of minutes like the box.
I made this last night and this was by far the best oven baked macaroni and cheese recipe!! Super cheesy! When I was finished making my sauce and tossed the macaroni in it, my kids wanted to taste it before I put it in the oven. They were about to eat it all! After it was baked, I was scared it was going to be dry but it wasn’t at all. My family devoured the macaroni. They want more tonight, lol!
We have made this recipe several times with different cheese combos and it always turns out great.
I am planning to bring it to work for a pot luck next week and would like to know about making it night before and baking it the next morning…..hate to get up an hour early. Has anyone done this and is it still as good? This will be the first time anyone at my new job will be tasting my cooking so I really want it to be a success!! Thank you!!
Made this exactly how the recipe says…easy, delicious, and sauce thickens beautifully! That doesn’t always happen when trying some recipes that require thickening. I used real bacon crumbled for my topping after it came out of the oven. I did “kind of” miss a bread crumb topping, but the bacon is the next best thing! My family really liked this recipe! This is a definite keeper! Thanks for sharing!
I have made this twice and love it — so glad I found this recipe! In fact, I’m making it for a crowd this weekend. Just wondering if you’ve ever tried cooking it in a large roaster oven / slow cooker type thing? We’re going to a family reunion and there’s just one very small oven at our disposal, which will be taken up by a ham. I ordered a roasting oven to try this in — have you ever tried that and if so, how did it turn out? Thanks again for the recipe and all the comments and tips about how to make it. Never again will I buy the boxed stuff!
I’m so glad you like it! I’ve not tried it in a roasting oven so I’m not much help. I bet it will turn out well as long as it doesn’t cook for too long. If you do try it please report back if you can!
I love this recipe! I’ve made it a few times over the past couple of months and my family loves it. I only ever use 1% milk and it still comes out great. Thanks so much!! I add just a small touch of cayenne pepper to the roux as well as some parmesan to to the cheese mixture. Delicious.
Ooh, love the touch of heat! Good call!
I have made this so many times and it is always gone. Thank you for sharing this recipe, I’ll never make a different one. It’s is by far the best recipe ever
I just made this for a side with chicken cutlets with dinner. Let me just say Bravo! I followed the recipe to a T and it turned out as advertised. I will not make Mac & Cheese any other way…my wife usually handles it but no more! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing this great recipe! I’m pregnant and I was craving homemade Mac n cheese. I’ve made this 3 weeks in a row now!
Is the cheese supposed to look curdled like that? I think I would prefer a more smooth sauce. Any suggestions?
I made this recepie and it was a huge hit!! I didn’t have paprika or mustard so I subsituted that for a little garlic powder and used 2 cups of mild cheddar and 1 cup of sharp cheddar for the sauce and sharp cheddar for the topping. I’ve never made baked macaroni and cheese before.. But I’m soo glad I did. This has been some of the best tasting macaroni and cheese I’ve tasted EVER! I’ve already shared the recipe with my sister and look forward to experimenting with different cheeses.
Ok so i normally don’t post,but for this i had to….made this last night to go with our barbecue ribs, and baked beans…this dish outshined the whole meal…i have tried countless mac and cheese recipes..all promising to be the “best”…most have been very disappointing, so
I’ll admit i was a little skeptical, however this one truly delivered! This mac and cheese is spot on! Bravo,my search is over,this will forever be my go to mac and cheese! Thank you!
I knew I had to try this recipe when you specifically expressed concern about dryness.Who wants dry mac? Yuk. Anyway, it finished baking about 30 minutes ago, and it turned out so well! I added panko bread crumbs as a topping and broiled it on high (watching it very carefully) at the end of the baking time. This gave it a little crispness and good color.
I love this recipe. I make it with almond milk just to cut back on the dairy for sensitive tummies, and it turns out amazing. For sure a fall favourite, I’ve made this countless times!
This is THE BEST. I’ve made it several times, for special occasions and holidays. Everyone raves!
I see your new star-rating but can’t find where to go to actually rate it. I’ve made this and it *is* the best and easiest mac & cheese ever. Thanks for the recipe!
Hi Sharon, the star rating should be right below the round image within the recipe. Please let me know if you still can’t see it – we’re still working out the kinks! Thank you for your comment and I’m so glad you like the recipe!
We looked for a great Mac and cheese recipe to make crab Mac and cheese (I’m a crab fisherman) generous portions of fresh dungeness crab added to this recipe is a knock out! Thanks for a great recipe!
My kids love this mac n cheese. I make it every Thanksgiving and they ask for it in between too. I always have to look it up, but this time I decided to print it out so I will always have it. Thank you!
Growing up, we never had macaroni and cheese at the holidays, but the boyfriend asked for it a couple years back, and this is what I made. I have now made this recipe at every major holiday since then, Easter 2013.
It is absolutely THE BEST. I can’t imagine not including it on a holiday menu now. It is easy, and the results are killer. I’ve tweaked it in various ways to suit various tastes (adding garlic, cayenne, etc). I’ve used penne (penne and cheese blew my mind) as well as macaroni. I’ve done different types of cheese. I’ve doubled it. I’ve made parts ahead. Always a winner.
As written or tweaked, you will be so happy you chose this recipe. Seriously. Make this stuff. Eat this stuff. You will be showered with praise.
Thank you, Karen Raye.
What a wonderful comment! Thanks so much, Toni, and happy holidays to you. 🙂
Thank goodness this went to moderation!!! Please delete my last comment.
I am so embarassed.
THANK YOU KAREN!!!!!
What app are you using for your recipes and your star ratings? I noticed Google has started using this more in mobile results and my nerdy side is wondering if this is a wp plugin or something else? PS this recipe looks like cheesy deliciousness! Trying it tonight. Thanks for all you do! 🙂
Ha, it’s okay! My developer added the star ratings to my site – I actually have no idea how she did it! I believe though that the EasyRecipe plug-in still includes star ratings. I think they’re really nice to have – I know I myself rely on them quite a bit!
I went to the grocery to get all the ingredients for this recipe and came across some fairly priced chorizo! Wanting to add it to the Mac & Cheese. Would you suggest cook separately and all to the mix when assembling for the oven? would love some insight!
Hi Debbie, I have not tried chorizo in this recipe but I think adding it in like you were thinking – cooking separately then adding it to the cheese sauce/pasta before baking should be the way to go! 🙂
I just had to leave a comment bc I just made this mac n cheese recipe for my bfs work potluck and OMG! The best recipe for oven baked mac and cheese! I will be making it again for my potluck! To those saying it came out horrible, you are definitely doing something wrong. THANK YOU KAREN!
This is A WONDERFUL Mac & Cheese Recipe, Thank you
I made this last year for thanksgiving and it was sooo delicious. I’m planning on making it this year too! This weekend I’m doing some experimenting with the cheese. Trader Joe’s has this cheddar and gruyere hybrid cheese that’s delicious. I’m sure it’ll be amazing for this! 😀
If anyone was wondering, the mac and cheese turned out AMAZING!
I made this one night a few years ago now, and my husband instantly proclaimed it “his favourite food ever.” I’ve since made it for neighbourhood get-togethers and potlucks. Never, ever, ever has it failed to get the response that is one of my three favourite compliments: “Can i have that recipe?” In fact, we’ve had to make a rule: we’re only allowed to have it once a month, and only in months that have an “r” in them. (To quote Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, ” Because what’s life without a bit of whimsy?”) Without this rule in place, my husband would request this weekly if not daily. As it is, he can barely get to the beginning of the month without getting excited…especially in August, which he keeps calling AR-gust. I share your recipe (via this website) often. on behalf of myself, my husband, my neighbours and my students, THANK YOU. *we add just a bit of Velveeta because it makes the sauce stable even if one “accidentally” adds too much cheese.
Wow, what a ringing endorsement! Thank you for the wonderful comment. I might just have to start calling August “AR-gust” – ha. So funny! So glad you all love the recipe. It is a definite keeper! 🙂