Avocado Toast with Eggs

Crazy Good Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

How to make extra creamy macaroni and cheese with butter, flour, milk, and cheeses. Easy and delicious! 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 any way I could get it — out of a box or made from scratch by Mom. 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 RecipeWith 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.

For our easy recipe, you will need butter, flour, milk, and cheese. That’s all you 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 prefer to use elbow macaroni and try to find a brand that adds little grooves to the sides of the pasta — the sauce sticks better. Other pasta like penne, cavatelli or spiral shapes works well.

It’s 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 the suggested time on the package directions.

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 lose 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 for preventing lumps in the final sauce.

We’ve made the sauce both ways and 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 continuously whisk. (We use warm milk primarilly to speeds up the sauce making process. Since it’s already warm, the sauce takes less time to come to a simmer.)

Here’s another easy macaroni and cheese recipe made on the stovetop!

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 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 popular 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 more effort, but we think it’s worth it in the end.

How to Make Easy, Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Making Macaroni and Cheese Ahead of Time

Like most baked pasta dished, mac and cheese is perfect for making ahead of time. Here are a few tips:

  • The sauce can be made ahead and stored, covered in the refrigerator, for two days. Warm the sauce before mixing with cooked pasta.
  • Mac and cheese can be made ahead, spooned into a baking dish and stored, covered in the refrigerator, for two days. Cold macaroni and cheese may take a little longer than 30 minutes in the oven to be fully heated and cooked through.
  • You can also freeze stovetop or baked mac and cheese for up to two months. To reheat, defrost overnight and bake or warm on the stove until heated through. Or bake from frozen. It will take about 1 hour.

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

Crazy Good Creamy Baked Mac 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 8 to 10 servings

You Will Need

1 pound dried pasta like elbow macaroni, shells or penne

Salt, to taste

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

5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter

5 tablespoons (45 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (4 heaping cups), plus more if baking (about 1/2 cup)

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

Directions

  • Cook Pasta
  • For baked macaroni and cheese, heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 3-quart casserole dish or spray with non-stick cooking spray. For 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 recommended cook time. 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, constantly whisking until the butter smells fragrant and nutty — the color of the butter-flour mixture will be light brown; 2 to 3 minutes.

      While whisking, slowly pour the warm milk into butter and flour mixture. Continue to cook, constantly whisking until the sauce bubbles and thickens.

      Remove pan from the heat. Stir in mustard, black pepper, 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 (we usually start with 1/2 teaspoon of fine salt and go from there).

      • 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 the baked version.

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

Adam and Joanne's Tips

  • Make Ahead: Mac and Cheese can be made two days 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. We calculated using 2% milk and 10 servings.

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: Serving Size 1/10 of the dish / Calories 578 / Total Fat 28.1g / Saturated Fat 16.4g / Cholesterol 87.2mg / Sodium 728.9mg / Carbohydrate 51.1g / Dietary Fiber 1.7g / Total Sugars 14g / Protein 29.6g
AUTHOR: Adam and Joanne Gallagher

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51 comments… Leave a Comment
  • Gary December 23, 2018, 6:20 am

    Add 5mm wide strips of 2 minute pan fried red, yellow & green peppers to the mix. Trust me, it really adds further depth & flavour to the experience. Thanks guys from the UK, a brilliant recipe. Happy holidays

    Reply
  • rachel December 18, 2018, 12:00 pm

    what other cheese can I use if I can’t find pecorino-romano cheese?

    Reply
    • Joanne December 18, 2018, 2:13 pm

      Parmesan cheese would work nicely.

      Reply
  • Chris December 11, 2018, 2:24 pm

    Can I put it in my crockpot on warm setting instead of stovetop? I’m doing it for a buffet

    Reply
    • Joanne December 12, 2018, 2:05 pm

      That’s a great idea!

      Reply
  • Tilli November 24, 2018, 10:06 am

    This looks great! If I make it ahead, do I bake it on the first day, then warm it up the next day to eat? If so, at what temperature and for how long should it be warmed up? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joanne December 12, 2018, 2:44 pm

      Hi Tilli, You can do either! We just added some more tips to the article about making ahead of time (this is a popular question).

      Reply
  • Breen Harlan November 23, 2018, 5:35 pm

    Really good recipe. The only thing I would disagree with is the serving size. It’s says 8 servings, I would say it serves 10-12 adults or 16-18 kids EASY.

    Reply
  • Laura November 20, 2018, 1:12 pm

    Hi! I’m very excited to try to your Mac! If I wanted to make it a day ahead and then heat it the next day for dinner, how would I do that? Do I wait to put the cheese on top to bake it the day off or can I just bake the whole thing and then reheat it uncovered or covered? Let me know! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joanne December 12, 2018, 2:43 pm

      Hi Laura, We just added some more make-ahead tips to the article. You can definitely make it a day in advance. I like freshly baked mac and cheese, so yes, I’d add the extra cheese the day you want to serve and then bake until bubbly.

      Reply
  • Stephanie October 18, 2018, 11:25 am

    Hello! I’d like to make the baked version of this the day before a party. Do you recommend cooking, then pouring into a a baking dish and refrigerating BEFORE baking? Then, baking the day-of serving? Or, fully make and bake the dish, then reheat before the party?
    Thank you! Excited to try the recipe!

    Reply
    • Joanne December 12, 2018, 2:42 pm

      Both of your suggestions will work. I really like freshly baked mac and cheese (because of the crusty cheesy top). I’d make the sauce and toss with pasta the day before, and then bake the day of the party.

      Reply
  • Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) July 11, 2018, 6:28 pm

    I plan on making this soon! If I cook the noodles and sauce, and then mix those, can I just put it straight into the fridge for a few hours, and then bake it at supper time? I’m hoping it will still be creamy 🙂 (I don’t really want to bake it twice, like you mention in the freezer method, so I’m just checking if you’d recommend that for the fridge).

    Reply
    • Joanne December 12, 2018, 2:40 pm

      Yes, definitely!

      Reply
  • Jeanette July 9, 2018, 5:20 pm

    This was soooooo delicious! This is a keeper for I have tried many recipes and this was 😋

    Reply
  • Melinda May 9, 2018, 3:37 pm

    This is the best Mac and Cheese recipe I’ve tried! Consistently good and very easy! I have also made this with my instapot and it is great! The only difference to make it in the instapot is I make the cheese sauce in the instapot (melt butter on keep warm and then bring to a boil on saute mode). Then I mix the macaroni into the sauce right in the instapot…best thing about this is I can leave it on ‘keep warm low” while I go out and by the time I get back with the kids it is still warm and delicious and ready to eat! Perfect for making while the littles nap and then enjoying when we get home after an afternoon at the park!

    Reply
  • Adenny March 4, 2018, 1:13 pm

    Great recipe! Followed exactly. Came out perfect.

    Reply
  • Evelyn February 8, 2018, 8:12 am

    Hi there, came across this site about a week ago. I love cooking and baking but just not that good. So far everything I tried here has been a success! I’m just delighted and have been telling all my pals. I know it would be a big amount of work for you but I’d there any way you could be more specific on measurements? I’m Irish and we don’t measure in cups, as there are so many different sizes and each site I google gives a different measurement. Even some where on your site if you could have a table showing what the equivalent is? I go so far looking at recipes that don’t include cups on this site, but would just love to be able make a lot of your dishes. Honestly I think you both are totally fabulous, and am delighted to have come across this site🙂

    Reply
  • Ally April 10, 2017, 10:00 am

    How far in advance can this be made? Can it be made and then frozen?

    Reply
    • Adam April 10, 2017, 11:48 am

      You can make it and refrigerate overnight or bake and let it cool completely on a rack before freezing, and then wrap it very well with foil (we use two layers). You can do this up to a month in advance. When ready to serve, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and then bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour.

      Reply
      • Barb Conroy September 17, 2018, 9:59 am

        Does baking, freezing and baking cause this dressing to be very thick?

        Reply
        • Joanne December 12, 2018, 2:41 pm

          Hi Barb, the sauce does thicken over time, but you can still make it in advance and expect great results.

          Reply
  • skip hamilton February 18, 2017, 2:21 pm

    One mistake here, you NEVER rinse pasta after cooking… Also you can add 4-5 strips of crisp bacon crushed to the cheese sauce and stir.

    Reply
    • KATE March 12, 2017, 8:10 pm

      This is preference. I know the rule of thumb is to drain and not rinse because the pasta “loses it’s ability to stick” to sauces etc. However I think it tastes downright disgusting when it’s not rinsed. I have rinsed my pasta as long as I can remember and my sauce still sticks. They also say to add a decent amount of salt to your water and no oil, I’m just backwards I guess because my pasta never has salt but plenty of oil and granulated garlic in the water. I only ever salt my potatoes. Thanks for the recipe!!

      Reply
  • stefania.me@gmail.com January 29, 2017, 3:37 pm

    Looking for a good mac and cheese recipe to serve at a party of 20-25 people. How many people does this feed? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joanne February 6, 2017, 1:28 pm

      This makes 8 generous servings.

      Reply
  • Angela November 24, 2016, 7:18 pm

    I made this for Thanksgiving and it was fantastic. I made it ahead of time, and it worked out perfectly.

    Reply
  • Ann April 2, 2016, 10:26 pm

    Hi there! I made this recipe today, and the flavour was great! But, I didn’t know how long to keep stirring the milk/butter/flour mixture before adding the cheese. The instructions said until “thickened”, but how thick? I did it for a long while (at least 10 mins), and the final product (I did stovetop version), was super thick and kinda goopy. Did I thicken it too much? What is the right consistency of this dish? Please help… I’ve never been able to master mac n cheese.

    Reply
    • Joanne May 19, 2016, 1:03 pm

      Hi Ann, We cook our mixture until it coats the back of a spoon. You should be able to swipe your finger through the sauce and a line will stay. I will make sure this is more clear in the recipe above. Sorry for any confusion.

      Reply
  • Jim December 24, 2015, 2:07 pm

    Good stuff.,,,made two batches, one according to recipe, and the other”adult style”!( the addition of sliced pickled jalapeño)…Awesome!!!

    Reply
  • Juanita Holloway-Walters June 17, 2015, 3:10 pm

    Almost identical to mine. New daughter in law asked for mac and cheese with bacon so i was perusing recipes. I know this will be good. Everyone should use a little mad money for the Gruyere. I am going to use half Gruyere and half Pecorino Romano to the same amount your recipe calls for P Romano. I am fortunate to live on the Texas Gulf Coast, and shop at HEB that always carries what my heart desires – as in the white cheddar. Will chop 1/2 lb. bacon and fry it in a tall sauce pan for no mess of splatters to make the bacon bits I will put on the M And C for the last 5 minutes. It will be heavenly.

    Reply
  • Michelle Wagner November 12, 2014, 1:00 pm

    My family LOVED the mac and cheese, they only asked to add bacon next time! Thanks so much!!!!

    Reply
  • 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

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