A recipe like creamy, homemade Baked Mac and Cheese doesn’t come along every day, even though you wish it did. Thank goodness it’s so easy to make, right down to the garlic butter breadcrumbs.

Baked mac and cheese in a green baking dish and a white plate.

Here’s a phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe that you can make a hundred different ways by changing up the cheeses, choosing the noodles, and adding an extra ingredient or two.

Every forkful is amazing, so the whole casserole usually disappears by the end of dinner, or the next morning at the latest.

Ingredient notes:

  • Macaroni: Any bite-size pasta is fine. Pick a favorite shape; something that will cling to the cheese sauce and deliver it right into your mouth.
  • Milk: Any fat percentage of milk you like. To make it even more indulgent, switch out some of the milk in the recipe for evaporated milk.
  • Cheese: I write the recipe using equal amounts of shredded cheddar and gruyère for creaminess and cheese-forward flavor. But you can go in any direction, and use white cheddar, goat cheese, pepper jack, Velveeta, mozzarella, smoked cheddar, fontina, even blue cheese. Pick a couple of cheeses for more depth of flavor.

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Bring a large pot (at least 4 quarts) of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta until just al dente. Make sure you don’t overcook the noodles. When ready, simply drain off the water—there’s no need to rinse.
  2. Place the empty pot back on the stove and melt the butter until foaming. Then whisk in the flour and cook until bubbling, about a minute.
    Butter and milk in a saucepan being whisked.
  3. Next, pour in the milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Then remove the pot from the heat and add in the cheese. Stir this around until the cheese melts.
    Cheese added to the butter and milk combination in. a saucepan. 
  4. Fold in the cooked macaroni until it’s coated in the cheese sauce. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce if you like. Do not skip this step or your casserole may be bland! Pour the noodles into a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole, or divide it up into smaller, oven-safe ramekins for individual servings (if baking small portions, use a sheet tray for easier handling).
    Mac and cheese in a baking dish before being topped with crumbs.
  5. To make the garlic breadcrumbs, melt the butter (in a microwave or on a stove) and stir in the grated garlic. Mix in the bread crumbs and make sure that everything is well combined, then scatter everything over the top of the macaroni.
    Baked mac and cheese in a baking dish before being placed in the oven.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden and toasty-looking. Depending on the size of the casserole you’re using, macaroni and cheese should be ready in 30 to 40 minutes.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Season at every step: I like to salt and pepper at several stages, just to layer the seasoning and make the flavors really pop. If you don’t season the sauce, the sauce will be bland.
  • Spices and herbs: A little sprinkle of onion powder, garlic powder, or chopped herbs. A dash of smoked paprika adds smokiness without the heat
  • Green chilies: Canned chopped green chilies add texture, acidity, and mild heat.
  • Broccoli: Blanched or roasted broccoli are fabulous added right in or served alongside to balance everything out.
  • Chili: Chili plus a little mac? Ladies and gentlemen, we have Chili Mac.
  • Add a meat: Leftover rotisserie chicken is a great way to add extra protein. Crumbled cooked bacon mixed into the noodles, or sprinkled on top along with the breadcrumbs, definitely takes it up a notch.
  • Make ahead: Make it, but don’t bake it. Wait to spread on the breadcrumbs and bake it until you’re ready to serve. Wrap the unbaked casserole up in foil and store it in the refrigerator for a day or two until you’re ready.
  • Storage: Store leftovers in the refrigerator and eat within 4 days.
  • Freezing: You can freeze the casserole before or after baking, but it stays creamier if you freeze it before the final bake; that way it isn’t heated up twice. Wrap tightly in plastic and foil, label, date, and freeze. Thaw overnight in the fridge before baking.

Baked mac and cheese in a green baking dish.

More comfort food recipes:

 

Baked mac and cheese in a green baking dish and a white plate.

Baked Mac and Cheese

Take a break from the blue box mac. Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese is the epitome of comfort food! The irresistible garlic butter breadcrumb-topped casserole is a surprisingly easy dinner recipe, calling for just 10 minutes of prep time.
5 from 13 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 10 mins
Servings 9 (1-cup) servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 667

Ingredients 

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (see note 1)
  • ½ cup butter divided, plus extra for buttering the dish
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk hot (see note 2)
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese shredded (2 cups, see note 3)
  • 8 ounces Gruyere cheese shredded (2 cups)
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 cup bread crumbs

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 ½ quart or larger casserole dish. Bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a rolling boil. Add macaroni and cook until just al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain well. Do not overcook and do not rinse macaroni.
  • Return pot to stovetop. Over medium heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter until foaming. Whisk in flour and cook until bubbling but not browned, about 1 minute. Whisk in milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses until melted.
  • Fold in macaroni and stir until uniformly combined. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce, if desired. Pour into prepared casserole dish.
  • In a medium bowl, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in microwave. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add breadcrumbs and toss until evenly coated.
  • Pour breadcrumbs over macaroni. Bake until sauce is bubbling and breadcrumbs have browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Macaroni: Any bite-size pasta is fine. Pick a favorite shape; something that will cling to the cheese sauce and deliver it right into your mouth. Cavatappi, farfalle, rotini, penne, rigatoni, ziti, orecchiette would also work wonderfully.
  2. Milk: Any fat percentage of milk you like. To make it even more indulgent, replace some of the milk in the recipe with evaporated milk.
  3. Cheese: My version of Baked Mac and Cheese calls for equal parts shredded cheddar and gruyère for creaminess and cheese-forward results. But feel free to mix things up with white cheddar, goat cheese, pepper jack, Velveeta, mozzarella, smoked cheddar, fontina, or even blue cheese. For depth of flavor, choose at least two. (Twist my arm!)
  4. Yield: This Baked Mac and Cheese makes nine 1-cup servings, ideal for dinner and complete round of leftovers for a small family.
  5. Storage: Transfer leftovers to an airtight container or cover the casserole with foil or plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  6. Make ahead: Make it, just don't bake it. Follow this Baked Mac and Cheese recipe through Step 4, then wait to add the breadcrumbs and bake. Cover the prepared casserole in foil and store it in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Bake covered (still at 350 degrees) for 20 minutes or until heated through, then add the breadcrumbs and finish in the oven for 20 minutes.
  7. Freezer: You can freeze the casserole before or after baking, but it stays creamier if you freeze it before the final bake; that way it isn't heated up twice. Wrap tightly in plastic and foil, label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before baking.

Nutrition

Calories: 667kcalCarbohydrates: 60gProtein: 28gFat: 35gSaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 514mgPotassium: 324mgFiber: 3gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 1056IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 634mgIron: 2mg
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Meggan Hill

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Comments

  1. Hi Meghan, looking forward to making this tonight! I plan on using the cheddar gruyere by Trader Joe’s. What other cheese would you suggest for the other 2 cups?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Yolanda! It’s totally up to you! I love the combination of Gruyere and cheddar! I would suggest maybe some swiss and some grated Parmesan. – Meggan

  2. Hi! This looks terrific, but wondering if you have a conversion to use an instant pot. Many thanks! Your recipes are top notch.
    Diane

  3. Made this last night using 2 cups mild cheddar and 2 cups Monterey Jack, because that is what I had on hand. When I added the pasta it seemed really thick, but I went ahead and turned it out into the casserole. I used panko bread crumbs, again because it was what I had on hand. This recipe is exactly how we like our mac. Perfection. Every one of your recipes have been perfect, especially your Chipotle recipes. Keep them coming!!!5 stars

    1. Hi Barbara, thank you so much! Really. I spend a lot of time testing recipes and trying to make sure they are great, so it’s nice when other people agree. :) You’ve made my day. Thanks again! If you need anything, just shoot me an email. -Meggan

  4. I use 3x to 4x the amount of cheese I use the recommended amount then I coat the pan with both cheese then pour half the noodles in then I repeat and then add more sharp cheddar then add the rest off the noodles then repeat with more cheese 2x more cheddar then mozzarella

  5. Trader Joe’s sells a cheese that is a blend of white cheddar and Gruyere. It is heavenly in mac and cheese and also in grilled cheese sandwiches. Try it!

  6. This can be made gluten-free using the exact same method shown here. Just make suer your pasta is rice based and your bread crumbs also gluten-free. When using cheddar, I mix it up a little with an equal part of sharp or extra sharp. Gives it a super cheesey note. Like this recipe, it also stores and reheats very well.

    Oh, there’s no such thing as too much cheese. I don’t even measure mine. The ultimate comfort food. lol5 stars

  7. Is it possible to use Gouda and MJ cheese ? I am Making this dish tonight for tomorrow :) I will also more than likely use the spiral pasta, hopefully it doesn’t effect the recipe ! 

    1. You will be fine with all of your changes! Different noodles, different cheeses, same tasty result! Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you!

  8. Hi Megan I have another question…how can you get 1/2 pound of Gouda when they only sell them in thin slices..lol how did you buy it..thank you have a blessed day

    1. Hi Jessica! I have never even seen Gouda in thin slices, I have only seen it in the blocks. Have you checked the “fancy cheese” area? In my store it’s near the deli. That’s where they have a lot of crazy imported cheeses and stuff. You can find Gouda there. What store are you shopping at? Buying a half pound of gouda isn’t a problem if it’s in slices, but you won’t be able to shred it so THAT’S your biggest problem here. :) Please let me know where you are shopping and I’ll offer some better advice on getting Gouda. Or just ask at your store. But I’d still love to know! XOXO

    1. Hey Jessica! I think Gouda and alpine-style is THE BEST. I should probably just take those other options off. I’m going to make it again with the cheddar and MJ and test it again and decide if they should stay on the list or be removed. Good question. Too many options on cheese is confusing.

    1. Hi Kathy, I think it would work just fine to make everything through Step 6 ahead of time. I’d hold off on baking it until the day you want to eat it. Then just add the breadcrumbs and bake! Thanks.

    1. Yes ma’am. That’s how I made it. You could always cut back if that seems excessive to you! :)

  9. I make this every year for Thanksgiving! It’s super easy and even gets a thumbs up from my picky middle school aged nephews who normally won’t touch macaroni that doesn’t come from a box!5 stars

    1. It’s THE BEST! It’s always nice to make food that people love, no matter how old they are. :) Good for you! Thanks for your comment!

  10. This sounds delicioso!  I’ll definitely use the cheeses you suggestand and top with garlic breadcrumbs next time I make this. :-))5 stars