Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe is the best and easy to make. The bread crumbs on top and creamy comfort food underneath are proof that homemade tastes infinitely better than that store-bought stuff in the blue box. Here’s how to make it.

A cast iron skillet filled with baked macaroni and cheese

With this baked macaroni and cheese that’s creamy and homemade and honest-to-goodness soul food, there’s no reason to eat the stuff in the blue box from Kraft. Not when the real deal is so easy to make from scratch. You’re going to want to use a Cheddar cheese with some character. You know, the sorta expensive, hauntingly sharp Cheddar from someplace where they know what they’re doing, like England or Vermont or Wisconsin. And you’re not going to want to forget those satiatingly buttery bread crumbs sprinkled on top. David Leite

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

  • Quick Glance
  • (19)
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 4 to 6
4.9/5 - 19 reviews
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Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Salt a large pot of water generously, so it tastes like the sea. Bring the water to a boil and then add the macaroni and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Still whisking vigorously, slowly pour in the milk. If the sauce gets lumpy, don’t worry; just keep whisking until it becomes smooth again. Lower the heat and simmer (yes, still whisking frequently!) until creamy and smooth, 7 to 8 minutes.

Add 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and the mustard and/or nutmeg, if using. Take the pan off the heat and add 2 1/2 cups Cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste and add more seasonings, if you like.

Drain the macaroni and return it to the pot. Dump the sauce on top of the macaroni and toss thoroughly to coat. Turn out the macaroni mixture into a large cast-iron skillet, a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, or another generously sized casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining Cheddar and Parmesan.

One last thing. Melt the remaining butter in a small skillet. (Use 2 tablespoons for uber-buttery bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon for swimsuit-season bread crumbs.) Drizzle the butter over the bread crumbs in a bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the macaroni.

Bake until the crumbs are browned and the macaroni is warmed through, 20 minutes if you’re in a hurry or, if you’re in no rush and prefer a creamier sauce, up to an hour or so. You will need to cover the dish after 15 minutes or so to prevent the crumbs from browning too much. 

Let the macaroni and cheese rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before scooping it out in heaping portions. Originally published May 10, 2011. 

Print RecipeBuy the Simple Comforts cookbook

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    Tuxedo and T-Shirt Variations

    • While the classic is always welcome, try mixing things up on occasion…

    • Smoky Green Chile Version
    • Tux variation

      Add a 4-ounce can diced mild green chiles, drained, to the macaroni mixture before turning it into the baking dish. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika to the buttered crumbs.

    • “Tuna Melt” Version
    • T-shirt variation

      Substitute 1 cup grated Havarti or Fontina cheese for 1 cup of the Cheddar when you make the sauce (you’ll still need a total of 3 cups cheese plus the 1/2 cup Parmesan or pecorino). Add two 5-ounce cans tuna, drained, and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest to the macaroni before turning it into the baking dish.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    This is, hands down, one of the best baked macaroni and cheese recipes I’ve ever made. The Parmesan cheese added a great smoky flavor and I’ll never make mac and cheese without it now. This is going into a weekly rotation in our lunch and dinner schedule. To make this into a one-pot meal, instead of just a side dish, I added some honeyed ham before baking—it turned out awesome!

    This baked macaroni and cheese recipe was fantastic. It’s so much better than the boxed mac and cheese and not that much more labor-intensive. The buttered bread crumbs on top really make this dish. It’s perfect comfort food.


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    1. Mmmmmmmmmmm…………always so good, but tonight it is being tossed with some left over pulled pork too. Browned butter bread crumbs……pulled pork….and this oh-so-wonderful mac and cheese. Dinner cannot get here soon enough!!!

    2. Thanks for sharing this recipe on the Leite’s Culinaria Facebook page, Sofia Reino! I made it for dinner tonight and am quite pleased with the results. It’s similar to, but even better than, the mac & cheese I’ve been making for years! Little things like freshly grated nutmeg, the addition of Parmesan Reggiano & baking it all in my favorite cast iron skillet made a big difference.

      1. Yes, thank you, Sofia, for sharing the mac and cheese love! And Brendalyn, thank you for taking the time to let us know you like it as much as we do. Greatly appreciate it!

    3. Great recipe! I used this recipe to cook mac and cheese for Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone loved it. I added about 5 slices of Trader Joe’s Applewood Smoked Bacon and it was delicious. Also, I used 2% milk and I thought it tasted just fine. It definitely added some extra flavor. Thanks for the recipe! I will definitely cook this dish again and possibly add some grilled jalapenos. 🙂

    4. I love homemade mac and cheese and cannot wait to try this version. I make browned butter once a week and find that toasting bread crumbs in the browned butter really adds a nice flavour to them. My browned butter bread crumbs will be atop this mac and cheese when I try it this week. Thank you Leite’s Culinaria for all of your wonderful recipes. Reading thru this weekly post whilst enjoying my Sunday morning coffee has become a ritual.

      1. Karen, I love your brown-butter bread crumbs. Do let me know how it turns out. And thank you kindly for your lovely words. We love being a part of our readers’ routines!

    5. Awesome recipe! I substituted smoked paprika for the nutmeg and used cheddar, parmesan and fontina cheese. Went great with the BBQ dinner I made tonight. I tripled the recipe to feed around 14 people and there are tons of leftovers. People can’t wait to eat more!! Highly recommend.

      1. Christina, that’s terrific to hear! Love the swap for the smoked paprika and the notion of serving it with BBQ. I am wondering if the leftovers may work, if you want, as wee little individual canapés that are finger food, just like in this recipe? Just muffin tins slicked with butter or oil and a hot oven? Just a thought. I’ve got nothing against big ole scoopfuls of macaroni and cheese on a plate!

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