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Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese {New and Improved}

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This best baked macaroni and cheese recipe is the creamiest, cheesiest, homemade mac and cheese ever. No processed cheese! It is so good!

Having a go-to recipe for baked macaroni and cheese is the ultimate in culinary rock star status. This is the one!

Homemade From-Scratch Cheese Sauce

Like any good macaroni and cheese recipe, this one starts with a homemade white sauce.

A simple roux (flour + butter) forms the thickening foundation of the sauce.

Off the heat, add sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses a little at a time to the white sauce for the perfect creamy, cheesy sauce. Some of the cheese is reserved for assembly (important!), so read the recipe thoroughly to know how much to add to the sauce.

A few notes about milk and cheese:

  • Whole milk is preferred for this recipe for the ultimate creamy mac and cheese. Using a lower fat milk may work, but the sauce may be less creamy/slightly grainy
  • Monterey Jack can be subbed for the gruyere – it will impart a slightly different flavor, but can work in a pinch
  • Using freshly grated cheese is imperative in this recipe. Pre-grated cheese is often coated with a powdery substance that prevents it from clumping…this also prevents it from melting well. Taking a few extra minutes to grate your own cheese is a game changer!

Elbow Macaroni + Cheese Sauce

Cook elbow macaroni until al dente (it will cook a bit more in the oven, so don’t overcook it in the boiling water) and then stir the macaroni and cheese sauce together. It will be glorious.

No judging if at this point you want to just dig right in. No judging at all.

In fact, if you stir the macaroni and cheese together in the same pot the sauce was made in, you can pop it back on the stove over medium-low heat, and cook it for a couple minutes to heat through and serve out of the pot just like this for an ultra-creamy, non-baked version! (Per the recipe, you’ll have some cheese leftover, but you can serve it atop individual servings.)

Assembling Baked Macaroni and Cheese

To achieve ultimate cheesiness in a homemade baked macaroni and cheese recipe, reserve some of the shredded cheese and layer it between the creamy, cheesy, coated macaroni noodles.

It makes all the difference! And it means you’ll get some of those amazing cheese pull strands when dishing up the macaroni and cheese. I mean, what else is there to live for other than that??

In a baking dish, layer:

  1. Half of the macaroni and cheese
  2. Remaining shredded cheese
  3. Rest of the macaroni and cheese
  4. Buttery Parmesan bread crumb topping

Classic baked macaroni and cheese is usually topped with a bread crumb topping.

For this recipe, you can use homemade bread crumbs or Panko bread crumbs. In my recipe testing, I found that storebought bread crumbs don’t work quite as well (they are a bit too sandy in texture).

The punchy Parmesan flavors and buttery crumbs in this topping are amazing with the creamy baked macaroni and cheese!

FYI: The topping can be left off, if desired. You’ll be missing a bit of crunch and salty flavor, but it’s still an honorable choice. If doing so, the top “crust” of the macaroni and cheese will bubble and develop golden spots while baking. Just watch closely and moderate oven temp as needed.

Serving pan of baked macaroni and cheese with one serving removed.

Homemade mac and cheese has disappointed me many times in the past. Grainy, lacking in flavor, not nearly cheesy enough.

This version has changed all of that! It is my favorite homemade baked macaroni and cheese to date! I took it to numerous parties/potlucks over the holidays, and it was devoured every single time (with lots of requests for the recipe).

If you’re wondering how this compares to a very old classic macaroni and cheese recipe on my site, this recipe comes with a more streamlined prep and assembly approach, as well as a reinvented cheese sauce that is creamier and cheesier.

If you’ve always wanted to make the best macaroni and cheese at home, this recipe can get you there!

Fork taking bite of plated macaroni and cheese.

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Serving spoon with helping of creamy baked macaroni and cheese.

The Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 pound (454 g) elbow macaroni
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) butter
  • 6 tablespoons (53 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon dried mustard (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ½ cups whole milk
  • 16 ounces (454 g) freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese (see note!), about 4 cups
  • 6 ounces (170 g) freshly shredded grueyere or Monterey Jack cheese (see note!), about 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup (60 g) bread crumbs or Panko crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons (57 g) melted butter
  • ¼ cup (28 g) freshly finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  • Cook the pasta in lightly salted water (important!) until al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside (tossing once or twice to prevent clumping).

  • In the same pot (no need to wash, just wipe dry), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, mustard (if using) and salt, and whisk to combine. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking constantly.

  • Gradually add the milk about one cup at a time, whisking to fully combine before adding more. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of thick cream.

  • Off the heat, adding one handful at a time, whisk in 3 cups of the cheddar cheese and 1 cup of the gruyere cheese, mixing until the cheeses are fully melted and the sauce is creamy. (Reserve the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cheese for assembling in the baking dish.)

  • Add the cooked macaroni noodles to the cheese sauce and gently mix until thoroughly and evenly combined.

  • To assemble, spread half of the macaroni and cheese in a 9X13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Spread the rest of the macaroni evenly over the top.

  • In a small bowl, toss the bread crumbs and butter together until evenly mixed. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

  • Sprinkle the topping evenly over the macaroni. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the topping is golden and the macaroni and cheese is hot and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Cheese: for the creamiest macaroni and cheese, use freshly grated cheese (instead of using pre-grated cheese that is coated with a powdery substance to prevent it from clumping – this also prevents it from melting as well as freshly grated cheese). 
Make-ahead: to make this macaroni and cheese ahead of time, assemble the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish per the recipe instructions. Instead of adding the topping, place the topping in a bag and refrigerate. Cover the baking dish and refrigerate the macaroni and cheese. It can be refrigerated for up to 12 hours. Sprinkle with topping right before baking. You may need to add 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time if baking straight from the refrigerator. I have not tried freezing this macaroni and cheese. 

Serving: 1 serving, Calories: 640kcal, Carbohydrates: 48g, Protein: 27g, Fat: 37g, Saturated Fat: 22g, Cholesterol: 109mg, Sodium: 869mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 7g

Follow @MelsKitchenCafe on Instagram and show me the recipes you are making from my blog using the hashtag #melskitchencafe. I love seeing all the goodness you are whipping up in your kitchens!

Disclaimer: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.





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