Best Homemade Macaroni And Cheese


In the South, mac and 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

This creamy homemade mac and cheese recipe beats out the rest and will be a family favorite for any gathering. In the South, we know that mac and cheese is always a winner at meals. With its creamy, velvety consistency and rich flavor thanks to the addition of different kinds of cheeses, homemade mac and cheese is the definition of comfort in a bowl.

Our best homemade 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.

Best Homemade Macaroni And Cheese

Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

How To Make Macaroni and Cheese

Making great homemade mac and cheese is really simple. Here is a quick overview of the steps before we dig into the full recipe.

  1. Boil the macaroni and drain. Some salt can be added to the macaroni and then cooked until al-dente or however you like your pasta cooked.
  2. Make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter, flour, and cream and bring the sauce to a simmer and then mix in the shredded cheese.
  3. Mix cheese with the pasta. Transfer the mac and cheese to a baking tray, and top with more cheese.
  4. Bake the mac and cheese. Make sure the top is golden brown and then it's ready to serve.

Cooking Tips for the Best Mac and Cheese

  • Boiling the perfect pasta: The pasta should be cooked in less time than expected since it will continue to cook in the oven. We recommend 4 to 5 minutes to avoid soggy pasta.
  • Shred your own cheese: Buying packets of shredded cheese may make prep easier, but packaged shredded cheese is often coated to prevent clumping and doesn't melt as cheese should. We recommend buying blocks of cheese and shredding it yourself at home for the perfect melty texture.
  • Gooey cheese pockets in every bite: 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.
  • A better melt: Keep the heat low when melting the cheese. High heat can cause burning, and the cheese will not melt evenly before it starts to boil, which could lead to dry macaroni and cheese.
  • A faster mix: Using room temperature milk and heavy cream will help the sauce thicken faster. Cold milks have to warm before they can fully mix with the flour mixture, but warmer liquids start that process more quickly.
stirring cheese into macaroni

Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

Mac and Cheese Variations

  • Cooking on the stovetop: Mac and cheese can also be easily replicated on the stovetop. Skip the baking step and eat stovetop macaroni and cheese right after all the cheese melts. (Just be sure to cook the pasta a bit longer since it won't have the time in the oven to fully tenderize.)
  • Add bacon: For bacon lovers out there, feel free to sprinkle some cooked bacon bits on top of the mac and cheese for that pop of crunch and savory taste. Adding ham also works as a great topping!
  • Bake longer for a crunchy crust: After baking, broil the mac and cheese for a few minutes to get an extra crunchy crust.
  • Use pimiento cheese: A Southern staple, pimiento cheese adds ultra creamy richness and a hint of peppery tang to mac and cheese. You can substitute a cup of pimiento cheese for one of the cheese in this recipe, or try our Pimiento Mac and Cheese.

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 homemade mac and cheese include:

  • Gruyere cheese: A type of Swiss cheese that has a rich nutty taste. Melts great for mac and cheese.
  • Mozzarella cheese: A classic mild tasting cheese known for its creamy texture. Perfect for those who like a more subtle cheese taste.
  • Swiss cheese: Wonderfully creamy with a hint of nutty taste. Would work well as a shredded topper as it melts and browns beautifully.
  • Pepper Jack cheese: Buttery cheese that's studded with bits of jalapeño peppers. It's sometimes blended with other cheeses to cut down on the spice.
  • Colby cheese: Colby is a common partner to pepper Jack. It isn't as sharp as Cheddar but has more bite than milder cheese like Swiss and mozzarella.
  • Gouda cheese: Beloved for its rich, nutty flavor that tastes almost sweet. When paired with savory foods, it takes on a umami-rich profile.

Macaroni and Cheese Ingredients

There are only 25 minutes of active prep time required, so you can whip this up as dinner is simmering or you're preparing appetizers. So long as you have the ingredients on hand.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dry mustard, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne: If you're looking to take your homemade mac and cheese to the next level, don't skip on the seasonings. Dry mustard, freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne all add a hefty dose of flavor that can be savored in each bite.
  • Onion: This may not be traditional for some mac and cheese recipes, but we've found this bit of onion adds loads of savory flavor—and it'll be virtually undetected.
  • 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.
  • Cheeses: 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.

How To Store Homemade Mac and Cheese

Any leftovers of homemade macaroni and cheese should be tightly wrapped or put in an airtight container and stored in the fridge for up to 4 days.

The best way to reheat leftover macaroni and cheese is on the stove. As the dish heats, add a dash of cream or milk while stirring to make the pasta creamy again. You can also reheat in the microwave, on high, for 30 seconds at a time until the serving is fully warmed through.

Editorial contributions by Christabel Lobo.

Mac and Cheese Recipe


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

  • 6 tablespoons salted butter

  • 1/3 cup grated yellow onion

  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 3 1/2 cups milk

  • 1 3/4 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


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F:

    While the oven is preheating, prepare the baking dish and pasta.

  2. Boil the pasta:

    Bring the water to a rolling boil and add salt to taste. Follow the instructions on the pasta packet. We are using elbow macaroni pasta for this recipe and boiled them to al dente.

  3. Make the béchamel sauce:

    Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, dry mustard, kosher salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

    cooking spices and onions

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    Add flour, and cook, stirring, until golden, 2 minutes.

    adding flour to spices and onions for bechamel sauce

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    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.

    bechamel sauce

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

  4. Add cheese:

    Remove saucepan from heat; stir in 3/4 cup each of shredded Cheddar cheeses until melted. (Reserve remaining 1/4 cup each of shredded cheeses.)

    adding cheese to bechamel sauce

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    Stir in pasta and diced cheeses; pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch (3-quart) baking dish.

    unbaked mac and cheese in casserole dish

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

  5. Bake macaroni and cheese:

    Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in preheated oven until bubbly and golden, 30 minutes.

    baked Best Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

    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.

    finished macaroni and cheese

    Stacy K. Allen; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley

What To Serve With Mac and Cheese

You'll need a great dinner to accompany this side. We recommend these Southern favorites:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I make macaroni and cheese in advance?

    Mac and cheese can be prepared up to one day in advance. Prepare the recipe through Step 4; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before proceeding with Step 5.

  • Can I freeze mac and cheese for later?

    You can freeze this mac and cheese without baking it. Before you pour the pasta into the baking dish, line the dish 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 zip-top plastic bag, and freeze again until ready to eat. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before you can bake it in the oven.

  • How do I keep mac and cheese creamy?

    You may dry out mac and cheese by using heat that is too high while melting the cheese. Keep the temperature at or below medium, and slowly add the cheese to the bechamél so it doesn't get too thick or turn hard.

    If your mac and cheese seems dry before it's baked, add more milk. If it's dry after it comes out of the oven, you can make more cheese sauce, and pour it over the pasta.

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