Best-Ever Macaroni and Cheese

4.4
(5)

In the South, mac 'n cheese is like everyone's favorite aunt—and this best-ever recipe beats out the rest.

Active Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 10 mins
Yield:
10 serves

In the South, we know that mac and cheese is worthy of the Thanksgiving table, much like every other creamy casserole and hearty carb-packed dish. Velvety—thanks to the addition of different kinds of cheeses—rich and bursting with flavor, homemade mac and cheese is the definition of comfort in a bowl.

Our best-ever version beats out the rest of the competition. Don't be surprised if you find yourself serving it at church potlucks, Sunday suppers, and weeknight dinners all year long.

Mac and Cheese Ingredients

Add some Southern flair to your Thanksgiving spread with this baked mac and cheese recipe. There are only 25 minutes of active prep time required, so you can whip this up as the turkey is roasting. Then, while the turkey cools, slide this Thanksgiving mac and cheese into the oven so it's hot and bubbly when it hits the table.

Pasta
While elbow macaroni is the most traditional form of pasta used in macaroni and cheese, you can easily swap it out for other short pasta varieties like cavatappi, penne, or farfalle. If you're serving this at Thanksgiving, the upgrade to the pasta will be appreciated.

Butter and Flour
The addition of butter and flour to macaroni and cheese makes a roux, a thickening agent for the cheese sauce that is spread over the pasta before it bakes.

Seasonings
If you're looking to take your homemade mac and cheese to the next level, don't skip on the seasonings. Dry mustard, yellow onion, freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne all add a hefty dose of flavor that can be savored in each bite.

Milk and Heavy Cream
Adding milk and heavy cream to the roux transforms the gravy into a hearty béchamel sauce.

Worcestershire Sauce
This Southern pantry staple adds the right amount of umami to each bite of this baked macaroni and cheese.

Cheese
The secret to a gooey mac and cheese is putting in cubes of cheddar cheese—they melt as the pasta bakes, creating pockets of velvety goodness in every bite.

The Best Cheeses to Use for Mac and Cheese

While this recipe calls for extra-sharp yellow Cheddar cheese and sharp white Cheddar, you can use whatever cheese you have on hand. The key is picking a cheese that melts well. Or, take things up a notch and experiment with aged and flavored cheeses.

Some commonly used types of cheese in baked mac and cheese include:

– Gruyere cheese
– Mozzarella cheese
– Swiss cheese
– Pepper Jack cheese
– Colby cheese
– Gouda cheese

Learn more: 10 Easy Ways to Make Boxed Mac and Cheese Better

How to Make the Best-Ever Macaroni and Cheese

With enough to feed 10 guests, this baked macaroni and cheese is perfect for your next holiday dinner, fitting in seamlessly wherever it goes.

Step 1. Make the béchamel sauce

Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add in the diced onion, flour, and seasonings and whisk until the roux is golden in color. Slowly whisk in the milk and cream, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about five minutes or until the sauce has slightly thickened.

Step 2. Add in the cheese

Remove the saucepan from the stove, and stir in 3/4 cup of extra-sharp yellow Cheddar cheese and sharp white Cheddar until melted.

Step 3. Assemble and bake

Add in the cooked pasta and remaining cubed Cheddar cheeses. Stir to evenly combine and pour into a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Bake according to instructions. Sprinkle reserved shredded cheese on top of the dish, and broil for another 2 minutes until melted and a crispy, golden-brown layer has formed on top.

How to Serve Macaroni and Cheese

Mac and cheese may be a popular part of Thanksgiving spreads across the South, but this recipe is so good that it can—and should—be made year-round.

Here's what we recommend serving alongside this hearty dish:

The Best Side Salad Recipes
Collard Green Salad with Oranges and Port-Soaked Cherries
The Easiest 3-Ingredient Side Dish Recipes To Complete Any Dinner
Roast Chicken Recipes for Every Night of the Week

How to Store Homemade Mac and Cheese

Any leftovers of this baked mac and cheese should be tightly wrapped or put in an airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. When reheating leftovers, add a dash of cream or milk while stirring to make the dish creamy again.

Can I Make This Dish in Advance?

We're all for a make-ahead Thanksgiving recipe, and this one is no different, so don't leave it off your holiday dinner menu.

This baked mac and cheese recipe can be made through Step 2 up to one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until you're ready to bake it the next day. Bring the dish to room temperature, for approximately 30 minutes, before proceeding with Step 3.

Can I Freeze This Dish for Later?

Casseroles like this mac and cheese can easily be frozen without baking them prior. Before you can pour the mac and cheese into the baking dish, line it with aluminum foil that has enough overhang on all sides. Assemble the macaroni and cheese, tightly cover in foil, and freeze overnight.

Lift it out of the pan when frozen solid, label and put it in a ziplock bag, and freeze again until ready to eat. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before you can bake it in the oven.

Learn more: Should You Freeze a Casserole Before or After You Bake It?

Tips for the Best-Ever Macaroni and Cheese

– Our Test Kitchen's secret to an incredible macaroni and cheese is cubes of Cheddar cheese that melt as the pasta bakes, creating pockets of gooey goodness in every bite.

– While this recipe calls for a 13- x 9-inch baking dish, you can also use two 8- x 8-inch dishes—just freeze one for an easy dinner later in the week.

– Buying packets of shredded cheese may make prep easier, but if you want a mac and cheese that's gooey and melty, skip it. Shredded cheese is often coated and doesn't melt as cheese should. We recommend buying blocks of cheese and shredding it yourself at home.

Editorial contributions by Christabel Lobo.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces uncooked large elbow macaroni, large shells, or cavatappi pasta

  • 6 tablespoons salted butter

  • cup grated yellow onion

  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

  • teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 3 ½ cups milk

  • 1 ¾ cups heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 4 ounces extra-sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup), plus 4 oz. diced (about 1 cup), divided

  • 4 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded, (about 1 cup), plus 4 oz. diced (about 1 cup), divided

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare pasta according to package directions for al dente.

  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium. Add next 6 ingredients; cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until golden, 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, whisking, until slightly thickened, 5 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat; stir in 3/4 cup each of shredded Cheddar cheeses until melted. (Reserve remaining 1/4 cup each of shredded cheeses.) Stir in pasta and diced cheeses; pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch (3-quart) baking dish.

  3. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in preheated oven until bubbly and golden, 30 minutes. Remove from oven; increase oven temperature to broil. Sprinkle with reserved shredded cheeses; broil 6 inches from heat until cheeses are melted and golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from oven; cool slightly on a wire rack, about 15 minutes.

    Roasted Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese
    Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Tips

Make It Ahead: Prepare through Step 2 up to 1 day in advance; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before proceeding with Step 3.

Related Articles