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.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Quick Glance
- 25 M
- 1 H
- Serves 4 to 6
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.
Tuxedo and T-Shirt Variations
While the classic is always welcome, try mixing things up on occasion…
- Smoky Green Chile Version
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
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.