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.
I make this occasionally and I will be making it for Thanksgiving. Thank you for this amazing recipe. My wife and I can’t get enough of it!
Thank you David! I’m so glad you and your wife love it!
Hi, I wanted to try to make this recipe ahead of time for thanksgiving and then bake the day of to avoid crowds at the stove. Is this going to affect the end quality? I’ve made the recipe several times before, just never ahead of time and refrigerated. Help!
Hi Jill, I’ve made it ahead of time and it has turned out. It’s just not quite as creamy. So as long as you’re okay with that, it should work out just fine!
Hey I am wanting to try this recipe for Thanksgiving this year but I’m going to make it in a 3 qt. dish instead of 2. Would I need to change the recipe for this? I figured I would have to add more of each ingredient to convert the different size dishes but what about the baking time?
It will still work out fine! It will just be a little flatter, and the baking time might be a little less.
Can this recipe be doubled to serve 12 or more – would milk cheese and flour be doubled?
Hi Cynthia, yes, just double all of the ingredients and you should be good to go!
I’m back for the 3rd year in a row to grab this recipe (yes, I’ve saved copies other places but I like to check the source every so often). This is my go-to recipe for pot lucks and family dinners this time of year. No matter where I bring it it always gets demolished!. I’ve double, tripled and qudrupled the recipe.
Thanks for this, Kare. Because of it my friends, family and co-workers all think I’m a real cook. lol
Haha, thank you! So glad you like the recipe. 🙂
I found this recipe to be way too cheesy, so I doubled the noodles the 2nd time I made it and it was perfect. Just the right amount of cheese, but not too much.
I have been using this for the pass few years and it is always a hit. Tip, if you don’t want to bake this, use half or leave out the flower. Oh, and for you meat people, bacon is always a hit! Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Hi just wondering if it works the same if you double the recipe? Does anything need to be adjusted or can you just double everything up? Thank you! Looking forward to making it for dinner tonight
Hi Bree, just double everything up! 🙂
Took a risk and made this dish for Thanksgiving with my husband’s family – who are all great cooks. It was a huge success and everyone had seconds. Great recipe! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Karen! I’m in the process of making this tonight for a potluck, but am a little confused on the cheese amount. I feel slightly stupid asking this, but about how many ounces of cheese is 3 cups? I know ounces are different depending on what type of dry ingredient you are using, so I just don’t know exactly how much cheese to use. I bought a 32 ounce pack of cheddar just to be safe. I initially converted cups to liquid ounces (which is 8 ounces to 1 cup), but that seems like a bit much, especially since I’m tripling the recipe. Help? Thanks!
Hi there, no question is stupid! I should provide ounces in my recipe (and I will update it soon to reflect that; so I appreciate you pointing this out). 3 cups shredded should be just about 12 ounces of cheddar. Hope that helps!
Doubled the sauce, added heaps of chopped spinach, bacon, chopped cauliflower and tomatoes (pregnant so adding veg to everything)= DELICIOUS! =This will be my go-to now, thanks a lot from NZ 🙂
Oooh, love how you loaded it up!
PS: Congratulations on your pregnancy!!! 😀
Lol….I know this is off subject but it looks like a baby chic on the fork of the picture. The mac looks good though. Hehe!
Oh goodness, I’ve never noticed that before! Slightly disturbing! 😉
Don’t do it. Worst mac& chews i’ve ever tasted & very expensive for the results. Almost tempted to throw out the rest but s little ketchup should help?
So sorry you feel that way! I’m confused about not only how it turned out to be the worst but also how it was so expensive? I find it’s a pretty inexpensive recipe. If you ever want to troubleshoot what might have gone wrong I’d be happy to help.
Girl you clearly did something wrong! Because anyone who likes Mac & Cheese would have to love this. Not to mention that out of all the other comments yours is the only negative one. It’s not that different than any other homemade mac & cheese, just not dry!
Any advice on reheating if I made it last night for an event today. Don’t want to dry it out please help
I make it up to the point of baking then refrigerate. Then, the next day, I bake it. Hope it turned out for you!
Hi there! This recipe looks great, so thank you for helping with my decision as to what to make for Christmas lunch this year. That being said, I plan on doubling this recipe, so what pan would you suggest using? Would a 9×13 work?
Thanks so much!
Hi Christina, yes, when I double the recipe, I use a deep 9×13 and it’s plenty! 🙂
I want to double this recipe and freeze half to take for Christmas. Is it possible to freeze and then reheat in the microwave? My Mom has a small oven and won’t fit with a ham in the oven.
I noticed you put the bacon on at the end after you baked it. Could you add the bacon before baking so the cheese melted around it during the baking process?
Sure. I just add it at the end 1) to keep it crispy and 2) I’m a vegetarian so only the meat-eaters get the bacon.
Was wondering if I could double the recipe for Christmas party?
Hi! I make a large batch of Mac and Cheese for my family for Christmas Eve every year (approximately 25-30 people). I’m going to try your recipe this year but I have a couple questions (if by chance you happen to see this before tomorrow…!!! If not, I’ll wing it!)
First question, would you quadruple it? making 2 pounds of macaroni? I always end up making WAY too much because it’s not the only thing on the menu….. Or do you think I should use 3 pounds?
And knowing that, does everything else just multiply in the same way? (I know that with some recipes it seems that you don’t always multiply every ingredient the same….)
Thanks for any help you can give me!
Has anyone tried topping it with breadcrumbs? I have unseasoned Panko i’d like to use. I don’t want to mess up the recipe but I love the crunch.
I’ve topped with breadcrumbs; Panko are the best! I like to combine them with a little melted butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper, then just sprinkle them on before baking.
Making this for the second time! My picky eaters LOVE it! Thanks!!
Made this for lunch today! Absolutely delicious! Thanks for sharing such an easy recipe to make. I’m a student and have very limited cooking skills, supplies, and budget. I was able to make this for about $6-$7 and will get 3 or 4 meals out of it. I’m even looking forward to having the leftovers for the next few days.
Wonder how this would taste with almond flour and almond milk?
I made this last night and was skeptical at using only using half a box of pasta. I would say it feeds about 3 adults… so if you have more than that in your family (or kids who eat like adults) then double the recipe! I was also skeptical at using so much cheese. I usually only use 8 oz for a whole box of pasta. So yes this dish is quite fattening but you know what? EVERYONE thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m talking picky eaters who usually snub their nose up at everything! So that is saying something! Anyways I will definitely make this for many more years to come! Thanks!!
I just want to say thank you! I first stumbled upon this recipe back in 2011 on your old website, and have been looking for it for a few years. Somehow I came upon a post on this site talking about the Hazel Bloom blog and I hoped and prayed it would be on here!!!!! This mac and cheese is the best I’ve ever had and I’m so glad to have found this recipe again.
I have a few suggestions…
1. Don’t rinse your pasta, the starch thickens the cheese sauce and helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Instead, just take it off the stove and drain it a minute earlier than you would have.
2. Shred your own, good quality cheese. Don’t buy the pre-shredded packaged stuff.
3. Heat the milk before adding it to your roux. Don’t boil it but get it nice and hot in the microwave or a sauce pan and add it in slowly.
I’m thinking of making this tomorrow, but my two biggest complaints with Mac & Cheese are dryness and blandness. You seem to have the dryness covered, I’m just concerned about the cheesiness. Is medium cheddar strong enough to actually taste the cheese or should I go with a strong one?
I definitely taste the cheese but I don’t think you could go wrong with sharp cheddar, either. 🙂
Hey, I’m not good at math so how would you tailor the sauce to 12 oz of pasta? They don’t sell 8 oz packages at my grocer
Never mind, I figured it out. Multiply it by 1.5
Just one cheese? Where’s the rest? Seems like recipe is missing a few ingredients
OMG! Always looking for the best mac and cheese recipe. Sometimes they seem grainy, sometimes they’re too strong, too weak, too cheesy, too whatever. Made this for bunco nite and when I say EVERYONE raved about it – I’m not kidding. By far the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten. Perfection in my mouth. And I’d like to compliment the recipe writer. By letting me know approximately how long it would take for the sauce to thicken – it really helped. Also, by mixing the spices with the butter it immediately thickened and I thought I did something wrong – but I waited the whole 3 minutes like it said, and it was amazing how it transformed. If you seriously follow the directions, you will have the most delicious mac and cheese ever. I doubled the recipe. Perfect for a 9×13. Who needs bacon?!?!?
this hands down was the BEST most incredible made me look like a gourmet cook recipe ever! it was so good he forgot about our earlier disagreement…i may have to infuse this into my webinars..!!! love THANK YOU~!
Best Mac and Cheese we have had yet.
I just made this for the first time. I actually 1.5x the salt when I saw it was supposed to be 1/2 a tsp and it still came out pretty bland. Probably will tweak next time – I also added 3oz more noodles and still had way too much sauce.
Any chance you could tell me the sodium content facts please?
Hi Emily, this tool is great for calculating nutrition on recipes and includes sodium info: https://www.caloriecount.com/cc/recipe_analysis.php
I’ve made this three times now with one small addition that my husband RAVES about. Caramelized cauliflower right in with the pasta! I’d been working more veggies into his diet and with this he doesn’t mind one bit!
Also for those who are commenting that it’s not cheesy enough: taste your cheddar. I’ve made it with three different qualities of cheese and you can really taste the difference between a good aged cheddar and a brick of Kraft. Not that it has to be expensive. Some of the best cheese I’ve found was pretty cheap!
Oh my goodness the caramelized cauliflower – that sounds amazing!
How do you make the Caramelized cauliflower?
I came across this recipe a year ago and it has become my family favorite. I carmalize onions before adding the ingredients for the sauce. It adds a little more flavor.
Does this have to have cheddar cheese, or can I use American cheese and get the same results?
This is my go-to mac n cheese recipe. I use 1/3 pepperjack cheese and 2/3 cheddar. Just adds a nice kick without being spicy.
Hi Kare… I just wanted to thank you for this delicious Mac recipe. I am making it for about the 10th time today because everyone here loves it so much. It is one of our most requested family faves! The best comfort food ever…
I found this recipe a while ago and I have to say my family loves it. Its my go to when they wants mac and cheese, Its so easy to make so delicious and no extra additives is what I love about it. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.
Hi Vi, thank you so much for your nice comment! I’m so glad your family loves it. Success! 🙂
I usually have to tweak recipes to get them to my liking, but not this one! I have made this both as-is and gluten free (gluten free macaroni noodles and gluten free all purpose flour – 1:1 swap, all measurements the same), and it is AMAZING both ways! No changes needed, and it is packed-full of flavor and cheesy goodness.
Yay! So glad you like it!
Made this tonight. Followed directions to a ‘T’ and it came out perfect. My husbands new favorite and thats hard to top for him. The best part, my 2 year old ate it and went for seconds! Amazing! lol I didnt have bacon but I had a few pieces of ham bits that I put on top and it was really good. With or without toppings its still a winner here. Thank you.
Looks delicious! I’m planning on using aged cheddar, adding sautéed onions and cooked drained spinach to my mac n cheese. ??
Would substituting gruyere cheese for half the cheddar be a problem?
I have purchased it already.
It should not be a problem – I’m sure it will be delicious! 🙂
I can’t judge the recipe as is, cause I made my own adjustments and additions ?
Doubled the recipe
Added half a container of spinach(cooked and well drained)
Half of an onion sautéed
Used good quality aged cheddar( Collier’s Welsh Cheddar) and Monterey Jack
I made this twice the first time with an decent aged cheddar, and still added spinach and onion and I found it a bit bland. I really think using a tasty good quality cheese really takes this mac n cheese to another level!!
I just want to say that I’ve made this the last 2 years for Thanksgiving and Christmas and it is amazing. My husband requests it each time!
The first year I made it, when I told my MIL and GMIL what I was bringing they said “ohh.. We don’t usually DO that. Maybe the KIDS will eat it though…”
Well due to your FABULOUS recipe, both GFIL, husband, and husbands uncle ate the CRAP out of it (along with all the kids) proving them WRONG that mac and cheese is only for kids!
Hmph! Loved the look on their faces when my 13×9 was EMPTY.
Ha! 🙂 Love it.
Did now like this recipe at all !! Time wasted!! Will never make it again.
Hi Judith, can I help troubleshoot what might have gone wrong? What didn’t you like about it?
It’s been a couple of years I found this receipe and it is still my favorite mac n cheese !
I’ve made this a bunch of times- just love it. We usually use a mix of sharp and medium cheddar. No bacon. Love it.
So simple but so good! I prefer my mac and cheese to be crispy without having to use breadcrumb. This was perfect!