Classic Homemade Mac and Cheese made with bite-size pasta, cheddar cheese, and a simple creamy sauce all baked to perfection in the oven.  This recipe includes tips, tricks, and photos for making PERFECT baked mac and cheese.

This mac and cheese recipe has many similarities to another of my favorites; One Pan Baked Ziti. They are both creamy, and dreamy, comfort food that gets baked to cheesy, bubbly perfection in the oven.

Mac and cheese in a white baking dish with a wooden spoon in it, ready to serve.

Mac and Cheese

I’m pretty sure that most adults love a great homemade macaroni and cheese recipe just as much as our kids do! My kids will enjoy a box of Kraft macaroni and day, but everyone gets especially excited when I make this homemade mac and cheese, and for good reason!

This recipe is incredibly easy, and your kids would probably love to help you make it! I let my littles help grate the cheese and measure the noodles.

For me, mac and cheese has to have a smooth and creamy cheese sauce, and I’ve had enough trial and error in this department to understand that there are a few simple things you can do to achieve that smooth sauce we all want in our macaroni!

How to AVOID grainy cheese sauce:

  • The type of cheddar makes a difference. High quality aged cheddar cheese will give you a stronger taste and smoother texture. More mild and inexpensive cheddar cheeses will have less flavor and almost a grittier taste.
  • Use fresh grated cheese. Pre-shredded store-bought cheese will not melt the same as freshly grated cheese, and grating the cheese helps it melt smoothly and evenly in the sauce.
  • Bring the cheese to room temperature. I like to grate the cheese very first, before moving forward with the recipe. That allows it to sit at room temperature while I prepare the white sauce.
  • Use low heat. In order for the cheese to melt properly and smoothly we want it to have gradual changes in temperature (like how we shredded it and allowed it to come to room temperature at the beginning of the recipe). When it’s time to add the cheese to the white sauce, remove the sauce from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. It only needs to be warm enough to melt the cheese.
  • Don’t over-stir the sauce once the cheese has melted. Add the noodles and quickly assemble in pan and put into the oven.

AVOID pre-shredded Cheese!

I know they are sooo convenient, but not only do pre-shedded cheeses just not taste as great, they are also mixed with various types of powder which prevent them from melting as well as freshly shredded cheese.  So while it’s not life or death, I highly recommend getting out your block grater and shredding fresh cheese for your homemade mac and cheese!  You won’t regret it!

8 Simple Ingredients is ALL you Need:

  • Elbow macaroni: It’s my favorite for this recipe, but any other bite-sized pasta will work.
  • Butter: salted or unsalted will work–just adjust the amount of salt you add, depending on the butter.
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Milk
  • Half and half
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese: the higher quality aged-cheddar, the better!

Perfect Mac and Cheese in 5 Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven. Preheat to 325 degrees and lightly grease a square baking dish.
  2. Cook the macaroni. Slightly undercook your noodles (about 1 minute under al-dente). Drain and set aside.
  3. Make the roux.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Blend in the flour, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add milk and cheese.  Stir in milk and half and half, slowly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup shredded cheese to the sauce and stir just until melted. Add the cooked macaroni noodles and toss to coat them in the sauce.
  5. Pour into baking dish.  Pour half or the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle ½ cup cheese over the top. Pour remaining pasta over it and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Three process photos for making mac and cheese in a skillet including melting butter, adding flour, cream and milk to make a roux, and then adding shredded cheddar cheese.

To bake or not to bake:

You don’t have to bake the mac and cheese in this recipe. Everything gets fully cooked and is essentially ready to eat after the cheese and noodles are added. However, I love the extra gooeyness that comes when the cheese is baked and I think baking it adds a level of sophistication you just don’t get without.

Overhead view of a skillet with homemade macaroni and cheese in it, ready to eat.

What Type of Cheese?

This classic mac and cheese recipe is made with cheddar cheese.  I particularly love medium or sharp cheddar cheese but any type will do.  If you want a more luxurious mac and cheese or you’re really trying to impress a crowd, you could use a combination of different cheeses.  Just be sure to select a type of cheese that is good for melting, like white cheddar, smoked gouda, gruyere, brie, goat cheese, mozzarella, or fontina.

Freezing and Storing:

This recipe freezes well.  Just like with my other freezer friendly meals, I love to prepare two and freeze one for another day.  You’ll want to freeze this dish prior to baking it in the oven!  Make sure to let the mac and cheese cool completely then pour it into a freezer friendly dish, cover it well and freeze if for up to 3 months.

A square white baking dish with mac and cheese and shredded cheese topping, ready to go in the oven.

To reheat:

  • From frozen: Bake from frozen at 350 degrees F for 70-80 minutes or until warm throughout.
  • From thawed: Cover the mac and cheese with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake it at 325ºF for 20 minutes.

Additional Add-in & Toppings:

If you want to take this classic Mac and cheese to the next level check out my Gourmet Mac and Cheese, or consider adding some of the following:

  • Extra cheese topping – Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan cheese on top before baking.
  • Breadcrumbs– combine about 1 cup of breadcrumbs and 3 tablespoons of melted butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over top of the macaroni and cheese just before baking.
  • Bacon Bits – Cook about 4-5 slices of bacon.  cut the cooked bacon into small bits and stir into the mac and cheese before pouring it into your baking dish.

A white bowl with homemade mac and cheese in it and a spoon.

 

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Recipe

Mac and cheese in a white baking dish with a spoon ready to serve.
Prep 15 mins
Cook 15 mins
Total 30 mins
Add to Meal Plan

Video

Ingredients
 
 

  • ½ lb uncooked elbow macaroni , about 1 ½ cups
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup milk , any kind
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese *

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a square baking dish.
  • Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Blend in the flour, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add the milk and half and half, stirring constantly, and cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes until the mixture is just barely thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup shredded cheese, stirring just until melted.
  • Add the cooked macaroni noodles and toss to coat. Pour half or the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle ½ cup cheese over the top. Add remaining pasta and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted on top.
  • Serve with your favorite vegetable or a side salad.

Notes

Tips for getting a smooth cheese sauce:
  • High quality aged cheddar cheese will give you a stronger taste and smoother texture. More mild and inexpensive cheddar cheeses will have less flavor and almost a grittier taste.
  • Use fresh grated cheese. Pre-shredded store-bought cheese will not melt the same as freshly grated cheese, and grating the cheese helps it melt smoothly and evenly in the sauce.
  • Bring the cheese to room temperature. I like to grate the cheese very first, before moving forward with the recipe. That allows it to sit at room temperature while I prepare the white sauce.
  • Use low heat. In order for the cheese to melt properly and smoothly we want it to have gradual changes in temperature (like how we shredded it and allowed it to come to room temperature at the beginning of the recipe). When it’s time to add the cheese to the white sauce, remove the sauce from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. It only needs to be warm enough to melt the cheese.
  • Don’t over-stir the sauce once the cheese has melted. Add the noodles and quickly assemble in pan and put into the oven.

Nutrition

Calories: 559kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 24gFat: 33gSaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 98mgSodium: 693mgPotassium: 300mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1023IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 540mgIron: 1mg

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Have you tried this recipe?!

RATE and COMMENT below! I would love to hear your experience.

 

I originally shared this recipe in July 2014. Updated August 2019. 

 

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About The Author

Lauren Allen

Welcome! I’m Lauren, a mom of four and lover of good food. Here you’ll find easy recipes and weeknight meal ideas made with real ingredients, with step-by-step photos and videos.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Like many commenters, I was shocked by how thin this sauce is. But behold, once baked this was the best macaroni ever!

  2. 5 stars
    So good! My very picky, mac and cheese loving daughter even approved. And said it was better than Annie’s! I did have to stir the milk/butter/flour mixture for more than a few minutes for it to be a little thick. And it seemed like it wasn’t going to be thick enough but it was! Will be making this over and over again! Thank you!

  3. 5 stars
    Easy and tasty, I only use milk not cream, I added garlic and onion powder and sometimes one chopped and quickly stewed tomato and a spoonful of regular cream cheese for extra tanginess. My family loves it.

  4. 4 stars
    This is a really great recipe! However, there are a few edits to it that really make the consistency and texture right:
    -Recommend doubling the recipe to make one pound of pasta. Who makes 1/2lb? haha
    -Use heavy cream instead of half and half and adjust the measurements to be: 2 cups of milk, 2 cups of heavy cream (this is for a doubled recipe)
    -For the last 5 minutes in the oven put it under the broiler so it gets a nice brown crust on the top.
    -Agree that additions make this really elevated, a few I do: green onions and sriracha (it’s like a baked potato); bread crumbs; peas and breadcrumbs; etc
    But overall a good recipe and roux!

  5. 5 stars
    I followed the instructions exactly, except I added Gruyere. I also added Panko and bacon. It was so good! I like the roux to brown a little, it adds a nutty flavor. I will be making this again😁
    Thank you!

  6. 5 stars
    This is the ONLY Mac and cheese recipe I use. It is so good. I get rave reviews every time I bring it to an event.

  7. 5 stars
    Great recipe!! I did top with breadcrumbs because my kids like it that way, but otherwise followed the directions exactly. It was wonderful and my husband declared it the best he had ever had! Don’t worry when the sauce looks thin before baking…it is perfect when done!

  8. 4 stars
    I made this tonight for family that came over for dinner. I doubled the recipe. Omg, everyone absolutely loved it. It was delicious. I will definitely start cooking this for holidays. Thank you so much for posting this amazing recipe ❤️♥️

  9. 5 stars
    The only recipe I use ! I grate half orange cheddar and half white. The white really elevates the flavor
    I make it a day ahead and it’s sooo good after marinating a night
    Thank you!

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