Easy, Creamy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

How to make extra creamy macaroni and cheese with butter, flour, milk, and cheeses. Jump to the Easy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe or read on to see our tips for making it.

The Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Like many, my favorite food growing up was macaroni and cheese. I would take it anyway I could get it — out of a box or made from scratch by Mom. In fact, it’s one of the first things I learned to make as a child. Mounds of cheese melted into a velvety creamy sauce and tossed with pasta. It’s heavenly. Below, you’ll notice we share a bunch of tips from our experiences in our kitchen.

Easy Baked Ziti RecipeYOU MAY ALSO LIKE: With only about 15 minutes of hands-on time this Easy Baked Ziti with Spinach and Artichokes is perfect for a weekday.

How to Make the Best Macaroni and Cheese

One of my favorite parts of the last few weeks was testing, learning, and eating macaroni and cheese. Not a bad couple of weeks, right? After each try, we got a little closer to our favorite recipe and how to make it the best — every time.

How to make extra creamy macaroni and cheese with butter, flour, milk, and cheeses.

One note. There are two popular ways to make mac and cheese. The first uses a combination of butter and flour to make what’s called a “roux.” Milk is added and whisked into the butter and flour. Starches from the flour swell and thicken the milk and we’re left with a thick, creamy, glossy sauce.

The second is custard-based and uses egg yolks to thicken the sauce. For this recipe, we went with the first option (it’s how our Moms make it and, in our opinion, a little easier). There are definitely two camps. Here’s a great comparison of the two methods.

For our easy recipe, you will need butter, flour, milk and cheese. That’s all you really need to make our creamy macaroni and cheese. Here are a few tips so you can make it best — It’s the little things that make a big difference in the end.

The Pasta – Shape and Cooking It

We’re traditionalists when it comes to mac and cheese. We choose elbow macaroni and try to find a brand that adds little grooves to the sides of the pasta. The sauce sticks better. Other pastas like penne, cavatelli or spiral shapes work well.

It’s really important to undercook the pasta before tossing with the cheesy sauce. Whether you enjoy the mac and cheese as stovetop pasta or baked pasta, the pasta will continue to cook in the hot sauce. By undercooking slightly, you remove the risk of mushy pasta. We cook pasta 1 to 2 minutes under what the pasta package calls for.

The Milk

We use what we have in the fridge — that’s most likely 2 % reduced fat milk. Whole milk works wonders, too. In the past, we’ve used 1% and even skim milk, but they were never as creamy. It still tastes great, but you do loose some richness. The milk is added to our “roux” or butter-flour paste.

There’s a lot of talk about whether to use hot or cold milk when making macaroni and cheese. Julia Child says hot milk —  we’re not usually in the camp of disagreeing with Julia. With that said, there are quite a few arguments out there that pushes for cold milk. The theory on both sides are to prevent lumps in the final sauce.

We’ve made the sauce both ways and really haven’t been able to find a winner. So, here’s what we’ve concluded: use warm milk and, more importantly, while adding the milk to the butter-flour mixture, add slowly and constantly whisk.

The Cheese

There’s no room for mild cheeses, here. Our standby is sharp white cheddar cheese. It’s flavorful and melts beautifully. Depending on the cheese you buy, you risk graininess as they melt. Martha Stewart says yellow and extra sharp cheddars can become grainy — another win for sharp white cheddar cheese.

You could just stick with one cheese, but we love adding a little extra punch. Pecorino-Romano or Romano cheese works wonders for this. (Romano is the American and Canadian term for Pecorino-Romano cheese). Another common cheese used is Gruyere — we love it, but it’s expensive so we usually skip it.

One more note about cheese: If you can, grate the cheese yourself. Store-bought grated cheeses are drier (and a little more expensive). They don’t seem to melt as well as cheese you’ve hand grated. It is a little more effort, but we really think it’s worth it in the end.

How to Make Easy, Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Serve this homemade macaroni and cheese with our Strawberry Iceberg Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette, these Parmesan Basil Baked Zucchini Chips or this Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad.

For more from scratch pasta recipes, check out our Sausage Stuffed Shells with Spinach, our inspired Easy Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Recipe or this Healthier Spinach Lasagna Recipe with Mushrooms.

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, review it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #inspiredtaste on Instagram. Happy cooking!

Recipe updated, originally posted May 2013. Since posting this in 2013, we have tweaked the recipe to be more clear. – Adam and Joanne

Easy, Creamy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

  • PREP
  • COOK
  • TOTAL

We love most mac and cheese recipes, but this one is at the top of our list. It’s easy to make, can be served as stovetop mac and cheese or baked and it’s unbelievably cheesy and creamy. When choosing pasta for this, choose something that holds onto sauce nicely — elbow macaroni, shells, or spiral pasta works well. If you can, grate the cheese yourself, store-bought grated cheese does not melt as nicely. We really like using white cheddar cheese for this. It is usually much sharper than yellow cheddar and melts perfectly into the sauce. Many recipes like this call for Gruyere cheese instead of Romano. Gruyere is lovely in this recipe, so feel free to substitute it for the Romano.

Makes approximately 8 servings

You Will Need

1 pound pasta, such as elbow macaroni, shells, or spiral pasta

Salt, as needed

5 cups (1180 ml) milk, whole or 2% are best

1/2 cup (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (4 heaping cups)

5 ounces (140 grams) Pecorino-Romano cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)

Directions

  • Cook Pasta
  • If baking the macaroni and cheese, heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish or spray with non-stick cooking spray. If making stove-top mac and cheese, move on to the next step.

    Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta then follow package directions, but cook 1 minute less than the package calls for. Drain then rinse pasta with cold water.

    • Make Cheese Sauce
    • Add milk to a large microwave-safe measuring jug and microwave 1 to 3 minutes until warm. Alternatively, you can add milk to a large saucepan over medium heat then heat milk until warm.

      Melt the butter in a large, high-sided pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the flour. Cook, whisking constantly 2 to 3 minutes until butter smells fragrant and nutty — the color of the butter-flour mixture will be light brown.

      While whisking, slowly pour the warm milk into butter and flour mixture. Continue to cook, whisking constantly until the sauce bubbles and thickens.Macaroni-and-Cheese-Recipe-Step-1

      Remove pan from the heat. Stir in mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, 4 cups of cheddar and all of the Romano cheese. Stir until the heat from the sauce melts the cheese. Taste for seasoning, and then adjust with additional spices or salt.

      • To Finish
      • If the drained and rinsed pasta will fit into the pan, add it to the cheese sauce. If the pasta will not fit, add both the pasta and sauce to a separate large bowl and stir well. Serve as stovetop macaroni and cheese or continue to the next step for baked.Macaroni-and-Cheese-Recipe-Step-3

        Pour into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese. Bake, uncovered, until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Turn oven to broil then broil 3 to 5 minutes until top has blistered and become lightly browned. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Adam and Joanne's Tips

  • Make Ahead: Mac and Cheese can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.
  • Baked macaroni and cheese also freezes well. Let it cool completely on a rack before freezing, and then wrap it very well with foil (we use two layers). Defrost the frozen macaroni overnight in the refrigerator and then bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour.
  • Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA Supertracker recipe calculator to calculate approximate values.

If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #inspiredtaste — We love to see your creations on Instagram and Facebook! Find us: @inspiredtaste

Nutrition Per Serving: Calories 763 / Protein 35 g / Carbohydrate 63 g / Dietary Fiber 3 g / Total Sugars 9 g / Total Fat 41 g / Saturated Fat 25 g / Cholesterol 118 mg
AUTHOR: Adam and Joanne Gallagher

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31 comments… Leave a Comment
  • Jimbo October 2, 2014, 4:36 pm

    I would like to tank u very much for this great recipe a market just opened down the block from me they had great deals on fish so I was looking for something to go with it and ur Mac and cheese was the key to a perfect dinner my family and kids said thanks for the best creemist Mac and cheese they ever had so thanks god bless u

    Reply
  • Miral July 29, 2014, 4:28 pm

    I made it with the pineapple in it and also tasted it when I got it out of the oven and it was great BUT when we finally ate , after approximately two hours, the taste had gone to bitter rather then creamy and sweet! 🙁 so please guide me to improve it.

    Reply
    • Joanne August 7, 2014, 12:43 pm

      Hi there, we’ve never tried added pineapple before! We’re not really sure why the taste changed over time, maybe it has something to do with the acid in the pineapple? Sorry it didn’t work out for you!

      Reply
  • Geri March 9, 2014, 4:45 pm

    WHERE does a person find sharp white cheddar???? Actually, I couldn’t find any white cheddar. Also, would it be just as good to use the usual “orangeish” sharp cheddar,, (not sure what color to use to describe the typical cheddar cheese color found in any grocery store).

    Reply
    • Joanne March 17, 2014, 4:30 pm

      White cheddar is usually found in most cheese sections of grocery stores. If you cannot find it, yellow cheddar will do just fine.

      Reply
  • Bernadette Alicea January 13, 2014, 12:40 am

    I have a wedding that I need to cook 2 bug batches a head of time, if I make this the night before and bake it the next day what temp and for how long would you say??

    Reply
    • Joanne January 15, 2014, 3:07 pm

      You can definitely make this in advance. Keep it covered in the refrigerator then bake in a 375F oven until heated through. I’d guess about 1 hour of baking will do it.

      Reply
      • Crystal March 5, 2014, 11:17 pm

        I’ve always made my mac ‘n’ cheese the night before; the flavors seem to mesh a little better by the next day. This is my first time making this dish using a “roux” though, and I’ve added some smoked cheddar cheese (I heard this was tasty), so I’m anxious to see how I’ll fair. Can’t wait. No worries though, as I’ve followed several recipes from this site and have yet to be disappointed. Stay tuned!

        Reply
        • Joanne March 17, 2014, 4:57 pm

          Oh, yum … smoked cheddar would be awesome. Hope you love it!

          Reply
          • Kieran murray August 9, 2015, 7:38 pm

            Smoked cheese is a must ,in my cheese and Mac ,plus bacon

  • Heidi September 10, 2013, 11:24 am

    Hi,
    I was looking to make this for my daughter’s birthday party. Is it spicy or is it fine for kids to eat?

    Reply
    • Joanne September 16, 2013, 11:35 am

      No, it is not spicy. You can add as much or as little cayenne as you like. You can even omit it.

      Reply
  • Lindsay July 26, 2013, 11:26 am

    Can you make this a day ahead of time and then bake it when you are ready? I am looking for a good make-ahead mac & cheese dish and this looks perfect!

    Reply
    • Joanne July 26, 2013, 1:25 pm

      Yep, that shouldn’t be a problem at all.

      Reply
  • Deborah July 11, 2013, 10:30 am

    Thank you for a really fun website! Your recipes are great all-rounders, the instructions are clear and enhanced by the photo’s. I agree that it’s a real shame I could not have a spoonful of that mac and cheese throughout the computer screen!

    Reply
  • Nancy June 30, 2013, 6:56 pm

    All I have to say is bacon, bacon and more bacon.

    Reply
  • Gigi June 29, 2013, 6:59 pm

    So, this is the 3rd recipe that I have used or been inspired by you two so I decided to post a comment. The first was your Pho, I chose yours because of your very informative UTube video and it turned out wonderful, thank you very much! The second was your hummus. Mine always turned out like crunchy peanut better so I went to your recipe for some tips. Once again, thank you, my hummus and my husband are happier now. Currently I have MY version, being inspired by your facebook post, of your mac-n-cheese baking in my oven. I ALWAYS make changes to a recipe depending on what I have in my pantry/fridge. Today I substituted penne, added chevre, and asiago to make up for my lack enough sharp cheddar – it smell delicious! Thanks you two!

    Reply
  • Linda June 7, 2013, 7:28 am

    I haven’t made your recipe yet, sounds great, but thought I would let you know how I save time when I make my Mac & Cheese. I used to manage a meals on wheels program and to save mixing time instead of grating the cheeses I simlpy cut in small cubes add them to a blender with the warm milk mixture and blend on high for about a minute. You get velvetly creamy sauce everytime. I also add a few crushed corn flake crumbs on top before I bake it. Yummy, easy, and attractive to serve on your table.

    Reply
    • Joanne June 10, 2013, 10:12 am

      Great tip!

      Reply

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