There are few dishes more comforting than classic macaroni and cheese. A casserole dish full of gooey macaroni and cheese finds its way into all sorts of Southern gatherings. It’s the perfect companion to juicy pulled pork, a welcome side to classic fried chicken, and the most popular dish on the potluck table. Southerners have such a reverence for mac and cheese that it’s even found its way onto the ‘vegetable’ list at our favorite local restaurants. If you’ve tried out a homemade recipe for this icon Southern dish, you’ll never want to go back to the boxed, store-bought kind. Although homemade mac and cheese takes a little more time to pull together, the soft noodles and rich, creamy sauce are certainly worth the wait. Baked Smokin’ Mac and Cheese is a crowd-favorite that gets its name from smoky Gouda and juicy cubed ham. Adults and kids alike will rave over this hearty main dish recipe, and you won’t have many leftovers. Although it sounds decadent, you can easily swap in lower-calorie ingredients – like reduced-fat Cheddar, milk, and cream cheese – for all of the flavor without the guilt. We used corkscrew pasta in this recipe, but you’re welcome to sub in whatever pasta you’ve got available in the pantry. Adding ham to your macaroni and cheese also brings some protein to the meal, so you can round out your weeknight menu with a simple, leafy salad.

We’ve also added some depth of flavor to Baked Smokin’ Mac and Cheese with the addition of ground red pepper in both the recipe and the cornflake topping. This underrated spice brings out the smokiness of the ham and Gouda by balancing it with a little heat. One of the selling points of this reader favorite is the crispy cornflake topping. Although it may seem a bit unconventional to top your macaroni and cheese with cornflakes, the buttery topping gives the dish a crunchy crust. This provides some extra texture to the recipe.

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