Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese

Our testers are calling this creamy baked mac and cheese the best they’ve ever tested. This comes as no surprise, given that the macaroni is smothered in a creamy sauce that’s made with four–count ’em!–types of cheese and BBQ seasoning. Here’s how to make it.

A scoop of creamy baked mac and cheese with crunchy topping being lifted from a casserole dish.

Adapted from Matt Horn | Horn Barbecue | Harvard Common Press, 2022

This homemade mac and cheese is gooey, melty, and incredibly addictive. Heavy cream, generous seasonings, and four types of cheese create comfort-food perfection. If you have time, add a layer of buttered breadcrumbs and bake to a gorgeous golden brown.–Matt Horn

Baked Mac and Cheese FAQs:

What should I use for a crispy topping?

Start with about 1 1/2 cups of panko or crushed crackers. Add 4 to 5 tablespoons of melted butter, a handful of parmesan, and a generous spoonful of that barbecue seasoning. Mix well and sprinkle it liberally over your macaroni and cheese, then bake as directed.

Can this dish be made in advance?

You can assemble this casserole without the panko or cracker topping, if using, and refrigerate it for up to two days before you’re ready to bake. Add the topping just before popping it into the oven. Macaroni and cheese is best when served fresh, so we don’t recommend pre-baking.

Can this recipe be halved?

Absolutely. If you don’t need ten servings of macaroni and cheese, simply cut the amount of each ingredient in half and use a smaller casserole dish for baking.

Can I use pre-shredded cheese?

We don’t recommend it. Pre-shredded cheese has preservatives added that prevent it from clumping in the bag, which also prevents it from melting properly when baked.

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese

A scoop of creamy baked mac and cheese with crunchy topping being lifted from a casserole dish.
This baked macaroni and cheese is smothered in a rich and ultra creamy four-cheese sauce that's seasoned with BBQ rub. It feeds a crowd, making it a perfect Southern holiday side dish.

Prep 45 mins
Cook 45 mins
Total 1 hr 30 mins
Entree
American
10 servings
570 kcal
5 from 1 vote
Print RecipeBuy the Horn Barbecue cookbook

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Ingredients 

  • Softened butter for the casserole dish
  • Table salt
  • 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded provolone cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon store-bought or homemade BBQ rub
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
  • Lightly grease a 4-quart (3.8-liter) casserole dish or Dutch oven with butter.
  • Fill a large pot about three-quarters full of water, generously season the water with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until just al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and transfer to the prepared casserole dish.
  • In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cream and milk. Heat just until boiling.
  • While the milk mixture heats, whisk the cornstarch and water into a slurry in a small bowl.
  • Turn the heat under the milk mixture to medium and whisk in the slurry until the sauce is thick and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the cheeses. Stir until the sauce is very smooth.
  • Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, the garlic powder, onion powder, rub, and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.

    TESTER TIP: If you want to add a layer of buttery bread crumbs here, mix up panko, bread crumbs, or crushed crackers with some butter (and a little extra BBQ rub, if you like), and sprinkle over the mac and cheese. (See the FAQ above.)

  • Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before devouring.
Print RecipeBuy the Horn Barbecue cookbook

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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 570kcal (29%)Carbohydrates: 42g (14%)Protein: 17g (34%)Fat: 37g (57%)Saturated Fat: 23g (144%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 117mg (39%)Sodium: 300mg (13%)Potassium: 269mg (8%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 5g (6%)Vitamin A: 1379IU (28%)Vitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 342mg (34%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

We loved the combination of cheeses, spices, and barbeque rub in this baked creamy mac and cheese. The recipe worked well in my 12-inch Lodge skillet.

A serving of mac and cheese on a plate with fried fish and collard greens.

We enjoyed it with fried fish, sauteed collards, and a bottle of Crystal hot sauce. (My partner adds: “and a can of Coke for a real Southern meal!”)

There are fanatics in the family for pretty much any kind of mac and cheese, and one of them felt that this is the very best mac and cheese she’s ever had.

The crunchy crumb layer was necessary to add extra seasoning and spice because the filling was a little bland. I added a teaspoon of the rub plus wafts of finely grated cheeses, salt, pepper, and olive oil to panko, and sprinkled an additional teaspoon of the rub on top.

The second time making this, I increased the onion, garlic, and rub powders to 1 teaspoon in the mixture and kept the crumb layer as noted with the addition of butter curls on top for extra crispiness and flavor.

We all really liked this creamy baked mac and cheese recipe. Homemade macaroni and cheese can’t be beat. We loved the flavor of the different cheeses. Will definitely make this again. A great kid-friendly dinner!

Mac and cheese has many variations, and this one is quite good. Lately, I’ve been throwing together a purely stovetop version when I’m in a rush, but I really do like these baked mac and cheese versions. The cheeses have a chance to meld together very well. The crunchy, contrasting crust works well with all mac and cheese casseroles.

This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe turned out very creamy and rich with a mild taste, flavored with BBQ rub. I don’t think a rub recipe with sugar in it was a good match to the flavors of the various cheeses. I suggest a stronger BBQ spice combination to be mixed in.

Originally published September 12, 2022

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