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.
Is it 1 3/4 cup cooked or uncooked pasta?
I really think this is the best mac and cheese ever. Really yummy. =)
Not much of a Mac & Cheese cook – rarely eat it either. That’s about to change!
This recipe was so very good. Creamy, cheesy, and easy. Top was brown and bubbly when it came out of the oven Spouse was enjoying the aromas coming from the kitchen as it was baking. He really enjoyed dinner this evening!
I will be making this again! Thanks for a tasty recipe!!!
Yay! So glad it was a success. 🙂
This is far and beyond my favorite Mac&Cheese recipe I have ever used. I use 1c sharp cheddar, 1c mild cheddar, 1c smoked Gouda. Then regular paprika instead of the smoked kind. Then I mix diced ham into the Mac & cheese before I bake it. Thank you for sharing this with the world! I will make this many more times to come!
This is the best Mac and Cheese I’ve ever eaten! Yum, yum!
This is the BEST Mac n Cheese recipe, I’ve ever tried. It’s gooey, it’s creamy, the cheese sauce is delish!!!!
The first day I made it, I sent the recipe to my daughter in TN. We’ve been making it for over 2 yrs. now, and love it every
time!!! Thanks for the recipe.
Love it! Thanks so much for your comment and review. So glad you like it!
Thanks for this fabulous recipe, I surprised my wife with it and we both loved it. I’m not sure if the above quantities would feed six, it tastes so good everyone will want a second helping.
I was curious how I should make, if preparing for a crowd of 30 people? Can I make the same way x5. However, I’d need more casserole dishes….hmmm?
I loved this recipe and it is going to be my go to for mac and cheese. Got a good topping recipe for it. Melt 2 tbs butter mix in 3/4 cup breadcrumb and 3/4 cup shredded cheddar.
This was the best! But it made way more sauce than needed. I used 3 cups of bow tie pasta.
I substitute gluten-free macaroni and flour. Sorghum flour works great. Rice flour is good. Almond flour does not work. For me the recipe works much better with a teaspoon of garlic powder. Rave reviews.
Thanks so much, Donald. Great ideas for making this gluten-free.
I am planning to use this recipe for the smoker.. lower temp and longer cook time. Any suggestions or experience smoking this recipe??
I made this for a work Christmas party in December 2016 and it was a huge hit! So much so that I’ve now been dubbed the designated mac and cheese maker of the office lol. This recipe is delicious and relatively simple, even for infrequent cookers like myself. Highly recommended!
How well does it reheat in microwave? Need for work potluck.
Do you cover it or not when put in the oven?
Can I bake this in a 4 quart crock pot?
This is the best mac n cheese recipe I have ever tried! I’ve just never tried it in a crock pot!
Mac and cheese can get kind of weird in the Crock Pot so I’m not sure I’d recommend that. I think it might get dry and the pasta overcooked – but then again I’ve never tried it so you never know! 🙂
Damn son that’s some fine macaroni. When I first saw the sauce to pasta ratio I thought there was way too much sauce but the pasta absorbed the excess in the oven no problem.
Has anyone refrigerated the mac n cheese before baking it? I wanted to precook this the night before so I could just pop it in the oven the next day. I wasn’t sure if I could put it in the oven straight from the fridge or if I should let it reach room temperature first. Thanks!
I do this a lot. 🙂 The result is a tad drier but still delicious. I do let it come to room temperature before baking.
Just like the name says! The best macaroni and cheese recipe ever! My kids loved it! Thanks for sharing this fantastic recipe!
So glad your kids loved it 🙂 Thanks Sharon!
Thank you for your recipe. As my children love mac and cheese, I make it fairly often – and have come to add an an onion and garlic into the cheese sauce. (Chop onion and cook in butter until soft – add garlic and cook a bit more – then add the flour, milk, etc.) I have found these 2 additions take mac and cheese to new heights!!
Made this. Only had 3/4 of the pasta, after reading the comments, this should be perfect. In fridge now, then 30 on counter and cook.
Turned out creamy and great taste.
Tried recipe….. believed it would be good so I doubled it for dinner party. It was a hit and without a doubt. “the best Mac &cheese ever!!!!!!! Thank you 😆
Have you ever tried freezing this recipe? I’m planning out freezer meals for my maternity leave and I’d love to include this. I make it fresh all this time for my husband and I.
Hi Malorie, yes I do freeze it now and then! I bring it out and let it thaw in the fridge, then bake as usual. The result is a tad drier than if you don’t freeze it but it’s still delicious!
Yes, last time it came out creamy and tasted great! This time, I added the bacon into the cheese sauce, stirred the whole thing together, sprinkled on the regular paprika which was all I had, will bake in a few hours. Kitchen clean again, awaiting dinner with the other normal people now.
Best mac and cheese ever!! Thx for the recipe.
Hi That looks amazing- any reason you didn’t just bake it in the cast iron skillet you mixed it in?
I have done that in the past, makes things easy peasy. Sometimes a casserole dish makes for a nicer presentation. 🙂
Hi, I am making this tomorrow for a crowd of 20. Any recommendations for tripling the recipe? I’m using shells , because that’s what I have…
Just triple all of the ingredients and you should be good! Shells will be delicious.
All I have is radiatore, do you think it would work?
I don’t know what I did wrong, but when doubling this recipe, the cheese sauce was wayyy too liquidy. Maybe I didn’t make the right measurements, or didn’t stir it for long enough, but I was really excited for some ooey,gooey mac and cheese. This recipe didn’t work out for me.
This recipe is amazing! I’ve been making it for my family for a few years and have shared it with various friends. Last night I took it to our extended family’s Christmas celebration, doubling the recipe. It was a hit and I got so many compliments. The pan disappeared in no time. Thank you so much for sharing this one as it’s my go-to recipe now. So very good!
Woo hoo, love it! Happy New Year! 🙂
The. Best. (Add hot chilis and green onions on top)
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Has anyone had success using whole milk rather than 2%?
Yes, I used whole milk rather than 2%. Works like a charm and the creaminess, mmm.
I’ve never used anything other than whole milk and never had issues.
I use 1 cup whole milk and 1 1/2 of cream.
I’m another one of those people who try recipe after recipe in search of a great macaroni & cheese. Many of them have been good but nearly all (except the one I make with Velveeta cheese but my husband doesn’t like velveeta) have been too dry for me to really enjoy them.
I enjoyed the creaminess & moist mac & cheese. This recipe is a keeper. I will make it again.
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Wow this is the best mac n cheese recipe ever! We live in a major city and have gone to the best mac n cheese restos and this is most definitely the best , thank you!
I look forward to trying your other vegetarian recipes too!
I’m so glad you liked it! Thanks Ann! 🙂
This is now our Best Ever Mac and Cheese Recipe also. Yummy good.
Hei! I am unsure about the amount of macaroni to use, the internet tells me there is a weight difference between a cup of elbow macaroni and a cup of medium tubular pasta. I only use elbow macaroni(quite small) how many cups should i use??
Also i was wondering if it makes n big difference if use normal cheddar instead of medium?
I found this recipe in 2013, and have been making it ever since. I have, however, made several tweaks over time to the recipe to make it better. The first, and most important is to increase the butter to 1/4 cup. You are making a roux, and they should be equal parts fat and flour. I also use a full 3 cups of cheese in the sauce (increasing the fat in the roux makes this possible). To make the sauce extra creamy, add in 3/4 tsp of Sodium Citrate with the milk. Not required, but it really improves the texture.
For flavor, I also add bacon (pre-cooked and added to the macaroni at the same time as the sauce) and 4-5 jalapeños (added with the milk). Using shells instead of macaroni really helps it to hold onto the sauce.
This recipe also freezes super well. Line your pan with parchment paper, put the Mac and cheese in, and freeze (do not bake before freezing). Pull out of the pan, wrap, and store in freezer till needed. If you put the top cheese on before freezing, you can bake from frozen, but the bake time is about double. I’ve kept it in my freezer successfully for about a month (I can’t keep myself from eating it longer than that!) it tastes just as good as fresh made.
Thanks so much for the ideas, Colette! <3
Excellent!!! Now my official mac and cheese recipe!
I have made this before but I would like to know if it freezes well.
It freezes pretty well. I will make it up to the point of putting it in the oven then freeze, bring to room temp, and proceed with baking. I will say that the final product ends up a bit drier, but still delicious!
Followed this recipe to a T; Blah, no flavor. Not impressed at all.
I was looking for The Best Mac & Cheese recipe and I found it here. My family loved it.
You can’t go wrong with this one!
I did make a few personal changes to my preference.
Enough ground hot pepper to add a touch of heat. (¼ tsp of real hot)
• 1 cup milk
• 1 ½ cups heavy cream
• 3 cups grated cheese. (one each of smoked cheddar, smoked gouda & smoked gruyere)
• ½ cup of fresh grated parmesan for topping
That combo of cheeses sounds out of this world!
This Mac and cheese is really good. I have tried so many recipes and don’t like any of them as well as this one. I followed the exact recipe and it came out perfect! Thank you!
Woohoo! Thanks so much for the review. 🙂
As someone who has tried many “best” mac and cheese recipes, I agree with this recipe being the best mac and cheese I’ve ever made! My goodness, I can’t stop eating it! Even my picky son loves it.
Tweaks: I added bacon to the bechamel sauce, onion powder and white pepper. And I used mostly cheddar cheese but also added havarti, mozzarella and parmesan.
Thank you for sharing such a truly amazing recipe!
Hi Dee! So glad you like the recipe. Your additions sound AMAZING.
For the gluten free , option they should add that even if the pasta is gluten free, the all purpose flour still has gluten that can cause blowding etc. to someone that has allergies..
Thank you SO much for mentioning that. I have fixed the recipe to remove the gluten-free option.
This Mac and Cheese turned out good – the ratio of sauce to mac is spot on – but I found it needed a few tweaks to enhance the flavours. I used gruyere and mature old cheddar, and added mustard powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, (didn’t have paprika) and nutmeg. Also topped with panko & grated cheese for a more crunchy topping.
I’ve never been a Big Mac and cheese person but this was amazing. I used an 8oz block of extra sharp Cracker Barrel cheese that I shredded myself, maybe a cup of shredded Gouda, and another cup of regular cheddar cheese that I shredded as well. Followed this recipe to the T and it was perfect. The only thing I added to the milk mixture was a teaspoon of onion powder and a good punch of nutmeg. Definitely make sure to cook the pasta one minute under what the box says for al dente. I used Trader Joe’s macaroni shells (16 oz bag so I doubled the ingredients since this recipe calls for 8oz of pasta) and it was beautiful. Their macaroni worked really well because they are a larger kind of macaroni. Then to top off all the yummy goodnesss I had the brilliant idea of chopping up some already cooked bacon and added that with some panko to a food processor and blended until the bacon was the same size as panko. Sprinkled it on top of the Mac and cheese after it was done and returned it to the top rack of the oven for a few minutes. Delish!
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