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.
It looks simply awful…
One of the major factors of good mac & cheese is texture; smooth and creamy
this looks granular, gritty, and not smooth.
I select cheeses with good flavor but that will not interfere with the creaminess of the finished product.
any cheese that melts smoothly yet still has a good or distinct flavor as desired will be a good consideration.
Personally, because of creaminess and smoothness, I do NOT like bread crumbs, bacon, or anything that disrupts the textural harmony of the smooth cheese on the properly cooked pasta.
Just my opinion.
Why are you compelled to post your “opinion,” and do it in such a nasty way, instead of just moving on? Especially as you’ve based your opinion on a photo, without actually making the recipe?
I must say, the moderator is much kinder to you than I would be in allowing an ad hoc (and uninformed, as you haven’t made it) comment to remain on the site.
As a professional chef and pastry chef, my own INFORMED conclusion, after making this with a young cook as her first time following a recipe, (which she chose), is that the ratios in her formula are indeed correct, and the cheeses she chose have very good melting qualities. Even for a young tween aspiring chef, this turned out beautifully.
As for your dislike of breadcrumbs, that’s great. No need to announce it, and in such dismissive tones.
Thank you! ❤️
I made this for my family for Easter and it was a massive hit. My fiance says it’s the best mac and cheese he’s ever had. I jazzed it up by with some smoked cheddar but it would still have been perfect if I used all “regular” cheddar. Definitely going to be my go-to for potlucks and holiday gatherings in the future!
Yay! Thank you for coming back and reviewing, and I’m so glad everyone liked it! Love the idea of smoked cheddar.
I’m making this for the first time today. After reading the great reviews I can’t wait to taste it. One question, should the casserole dish be buttered a little (although the recipe doesn’t say you need to)?
I don’t butter it but it wouldn’t hurt if you want to give it a go! 🙂
This is the best mac and cheese recipe out there- Thank you for posting. It was so easy to make and my family loved it
Hi Tilly, thank you so much for your review! I’m so glad you and your family loved it.
Best macaroni! I will have to double the quant6next time. My family of 7 with 3 teenagers devoured it.
We ate it with steamed broccoli on the side, just lovely.😋
I need this mac and cheese in my life asap!! it sounds so incredible, all the wonderful flavors i love. Totally pinning for later. I have a dinner this would be perfect for 🙂
My family is in love with this dish and I love how easy it is!!!!! I’m pinning and making!Love this recipe.easy and simple .i will definitely try it.
Great, easy recipe! Even the kids love it!
On a few occasions, we didn’t bake it. The cheese sauce is really good and we were in a hurry to eat.
Since a friend made this for us for dinner, I had to have the recipe. Since then, it has been the ONLY recipe I will use for mac & cheese! It’s sooooo delicious!
This Mac ‘n Cheese rocks sister!!! I have made it a few times and my husband and I just love it.
Thanks for much for sharing and God richly bless you.
This has been my go-to mac and cheese recipe for years, and nothing has come close to its perfection. The flavors and gooeyness are second to none! I have tried at least dozens of mac and cheese recipes at a multitude of restaurants over the years, and still nothing comes as close to magical as this. Bless you (and Bev) for sharing this recipe and making the world a better place.
Hi Becca! Thank you so much for your glowing review. You rock!
I loved it. Amazing macaroni. I crave new good recipes and this went right into box of recipes. It was awesome and I would definitely make this revipe again. Loved it. Thanks so mich for sharing ths recipe. Favorite macaroni recipe.
Hi Bethany! Thank you so much for the review. I’m so glad this one was a keeper for you!
Love this recipe! Stumbled upon it a few years ago and it’s definitely my go-to. Only tweak I’ve made is using a mix of half sharp cheddar and half monterey jack (sharp cheddar for flavor, jack for a more gooey-stretchy texture). Been making it with regular paprika for a while because I didn’t have smoked (and added a little onion powder for extra flavor instead), but I just tried it last night with smoked paprika and hoooooollllly moley… where has this stuff been all my life? Soooo good, can’t believe how much extra flavor it added. Thank you so much Kare!
Hi Jess! I have been really behind in comments – I’m so sorry it took me so long to reply to this! Thank you so much for coming back and rating the recipe and sharing your tweaks! Sounds delicious. Glad the smoked paprika was a winner with you! It’s a game-changer for sure, one of my favorite ingredients of all-time. 🙂
Do you use bags of shredded cheese or freshly grated?
I use freshly shredded. I’ve had mixed results with the bagged varieties.
I made this today and the flavor was amazing! When I mixed the pasta and the sauce, it was super creamy and smooth. After baking, it was gritty. Do you know what can cause this or have any suggestions for making it smooth?
I also live at over 7,000 ft. Elevation… if that matters!
Can I use normal milk instead of 2%? Would the quantity remain the same?
Whole milk? That should work. It might make a slightly thicker ultimately drier sauce.
Thanks for the yummy Mac recipe, simple and delicious !
Please let me know if you have a website that I can refer to as my husband is vegetarian as well.
Hi Kim, glad you loved this recipe! My website is KitchenTreaty.com, come on back and visit anytime! 🙂
We found this recipe mid 2019 on a cold winter Sunday (mid year winter has to be New Zealand) and haven’t looked back. Love the cheesiness of the recipe and it’s easy to make. Delicious.
So glad it’s a keeper! 🙂
I made this for me and my hubby and my oh my, was it good. I doubled the recipe and added chopped ham and it was to die for. Next time, I am going to try chopped ham and jalapeños . I didn’t change a thing and it was so good. Fattening, only have it occasionally, but delicious and simple. Thank you!
I’m so glad it was a hit! Thanks Bev!
My family is very picky about their mac and cheese. I have tried a dozen or more recipes. This is our #1 favorite. There is no need to look further. I make this recipe at least twice a month and double it or I won’t have leftovers.
Can’t thank you enough for this recipe.
Woo hoo! Love to hear it. Thank you so much for coming back and leaving a rating. 🙂
I love mac and cheese and this mac and cheese is now my favorite adding the mustard really adds something new to this recipe. My family also loved this dish thank you so much for this amazing recipe.
Hi Nora! Thank you so much for the review. I’m glad you loved this one as much as we do!
Hi, is it possible to substitute all purpose flour with corn flour?
Hmm, I’ve not tried that one. If you try it please report back!
This recipe has been my absolute go to for M&C. As my fussy niece once proclaimed at a family potluck “Best GD mac and cheese in the whole wide world!”. I have made a couple of adjustments in the recipe which is in the flour/spice mixture. I literally tripled the amount of mustard powder and smoked paprika that I use and it lifts the flavour profile considerably.
Note: This recipe also freezes beautifully. Since there is only two of us in the house I will package up one half of the recipe into a baking dish/aluminum pan and freeze it. I take it straight from the freezer to the oven. Very handy.
Melty cheesy perfection. Would not change a thing. My kids loved it <3
Thank you so much, Brooke! ❤️
Thanks so much, Jess! I’m glad this was a winner for you. 🙂
I made this exactly according to the recipe and it was good, but not great. I resolve to make the following changes: 1. Add half a teaspoon of soy sauce; 2. Increase the salt by a quarter of a teaspoon (this is assuming unsalted butter); 3. add one and a half teaspoons of jarred minced garlic; 4. use American cheese. 5. double the dried mustard. My deli wouldn’t give me the American cheese in a block, so I chopped up the sliced cheese with a cleaver. Then I had a happy accident. I absentmindedly put ALL of the cheese into the bechamel sauce. So, for layering, I had to improvise. I used most of an 8 ounce package of “Mexican cheese blend” that I had on hand for taco topping. It was not spiced, just a medley of cheeses. The result of these changes was the best macaroni and cheese I ever ate.
Best ever is right. But I used one box of small shell pasta and double the rest of the ingredients . I use very sharp cheddar. 24 oz! Cheeses creamy and amazing!
As I write this, the house is starting to fill with the aroma of this mac and cheese wafting from my oven (yum!)
This delicious sauce may end up being my new go-to, when I don’t want to spend $25 on fancy cheeses for a single pan.
My only suggestion is to significantly up the amount of dry macaroni noodles needed in the recipe, as 1.75 cups (0.5 lbs) isn’t nearly enough. I upped mine to 2.25 cups and I could have definitely had a bit more than that.
Other than that, I can’t wait for dinner! Thanks for a great recipe!
No rave review here! I think I will stick with my old standby recipe that I have used for decades! I followed the recipe exactly…this was not at all creamy…in fact it was very dry…I cooked it for 25 minutes as per directions. It also did not look appetizing once dished out. I am so disappointed as I was really longing for a good comfort dish to eat on election night!
This is my fifth year using this recipe for Thanksgiving dinner. My sister and I took over the reign from my still living 95-year-old grandma in 2015, and ever since, my family has gone nuts for this recipe. I don’t tell them my secret of the savory ingredients from this site. They just figure I have mac-n-cheese super powers! Lol. My cousins call me a few weeks in advance every year to ensure that I’m showing up with the mac-n-cheese. My family members are really tough critics when it comes to soul food, so having their approval is a high achievement. Thank you!
Hi Victoria! This is my favorite comment in a long time. Thank you so much for sharing and for your review. I’m so glad this is a keeper! ❤️ Happiest of holidays to you!
Ma’am, thank you for your sweet, kind words!
Recently, I ordered a couple bags of conchiglie noodles online from Vitacost. I didn’t even know what they were and had never heard anyone mention them. I will be making some mac and cheese using these noodles. Can I use evaporated milk instead of whole? T
Any tips for reheating the next day? The mac is amazing the day of but too dry when reheated
I love making this recipe. It’s one of my faves that never disappoints. Was wondering if there was something I could do to this recipe to make it in my instant pot?
Do not add the spices when you add the flour!!! There will be no way to look for the browned color or smell the nitty flavor! Wait until the flour/butter is browned, then add the spices
I like the style, and I also just posted a new book on recipes!
Including yours!(pls dont mind)
Very granular and gritty. There was lots of sauce but it was NOT melty fabulous goodness. We used tillamook cheddar and a little mozzarella, and it was a waste of great cheese, time, and effort. The majority went into the trash. Not what I’m looking for in a Mac and cheese AT ALL
Hi, I LOVE this recipe. I’ve been using it for years. We are vegetarians and I actually add a few Veges which makes it a bit more of a substantial meal.
I steam about a couple of cups of cauliflower florets (chopped into mouth sized bits) until just starting to soften – don’t overcook – chop up a couple of medium tomato’s into chunks, and dice and blitz an onion in the microwave. I put all of these Veges into a large bowl then add the cooked pasta and the all of the sauce and combine well. . I follow the Mac and cheese recipe exactly though and we love this as it’s always perfect and a lovely warming meal.
That sounds delicious! 🙂
I can’t wait to back this Mac and cheese. This look absolutely delicious.
Not good at all, very gritty. I have made all versions of mac and cheese, but this was horrible.
I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you; that is not the typical experience! Did you happen to use extra cheese, or was it pre-shredded?
I like to add minced onion to my roux. I also added small cubes of cooked leftover ham to the cooked pasta. I used GF pasta and almond “milk”. Worked like a charm! My topping was homemade GF breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning and garlic powder. So difficult for the two of us not to eat this all in one sitting. Yum!
I made this exactly as printed. Wonderful and creamy and cheesey. My son called the next day asking for the recipe!!! Thank you for an easy way to make home made Mac and cheese.
I’m so glad it was a winner for you. 🙂 Thank you so much for coming back and leaving a review!
The recipe for the macaroni and cheese the person don’t even put in how much flour how much butter or milk to put in for the sauce
It’s all there, measurements and all – just look at the ingredients list for the recipe.
I am trying this recipe. Sounds great. I wrote it down and will keep it.
The best. I get rave reviews from this every time I make it. The ideal cheese combo in my opinion: 40% sharp cheddar, 40% smoked gouda, 20% Cabot habanero cheddar (or pepper jack if you want a touch less heat)
If yours turned out gritty, it’s because you cooked the sauce after adding the cheese. You must remove your thickened milk mixture from all heat before adding any cheese. This has never not once, in cooking it for 7 years, turned out gritty for me. It doesn’t need more pasta- it is supposed to look like macaroni soup before it’s baked. After baking it will be just right!
Yum! Love your cheese combo. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for your review!
Just finished making my 7,375,321st batch of this Mac and Cheese. The smoked paprika is an amazing touch. As for cheese blends, I’ve played with many – since I am always making AT LEAST a double batch – I use the pre shredded. I get a mix of cheddars, at least one bag of extra sharp and one bag of an American or the melty mozzarella to help round out any of the issues w pre shredded. If not baking immediately, I increase the sauce recipe to triple (for my double batch pasta) and that offsets any absorption issues. A signature recipe for me. Love it.
Hi Sheila! That’s a lot of batches! 🙂 Thanks so much for the review and for sharing about which pre-shredded cheese blends work for you – such a nice shortcut. And great idea about the extra sauce! Happy holidays to you!
I’m making this today for our Thanksgiving meal. I made it once before, but this time I am doubling the recipe. It was really helpful to be able to print out the one for 12 servings! I used whole milk the last time because that is all I had. I read the comment today that it would be dry if using whole and it was. I will add a little more milk and hope it helps. Everyone liked it, even a picky 10 year old that ate three servings!
So I made this recipe exactly as written and it turned out great! Everyone loved it and they were fighting over the last bites! The tip to not add extra pasta or cheese was spot on. Also you have to be patient when making the sauce and stir the for a while on a low heat. I think I stirred for about 20 minutes before I felt it was thick enough to add the cheese, but it was a labor of love and well worth it. The cheese sauce seems like too much for the amount of pasta, but after baking for 25 min it was perfect. This will be my new Mac and cheese recipe. Nephew approved! Oh and for reference I used 2 C sharp white cheddar and 1 C Colby jack with a little extra sprinkled on top. We had 6 people and I could have easily doubled the recipe for the requested seconds.
I’m so glad this was a winner for everyone! Thank you so much for the review. Your cheese combo sounds deeeeelicious.
This recipe is delicious as-is, but I’ve made a couple of modifications that work well too. For a more budget friendly option, I add a can of cheddar cheese soup to the milk instead of shredded cheese. Then use about a 1/2c to 1 c of cheese in between layers. And my favorite…I substitute Creole seasoning for the paprika and add a sprinkle of cayenne. 😍
I’m curious if this would work with cauliflower instead of pasta noodles?
I’ve made it with pasta many times and it’s delicious. I just want to try something different with it