Step away from the boxed stuff. That powdery cheese has no place on our Southern tables. But what if we told you that this famous and delicious dish–loved and requested by both kids and adults alike–can come together in under one hour and in three easy-to-follow steps? Sounds almost too good to be true. The secret to this comfort food is selecting the key ingredients. Let’s start with the sauce, which gets its smooth and creaminess from the combination of butter, flour, and two cups of milk. Then it’s time to bring together the seasoning, which is just-the-right sprinkling of salt, red pepper, and black pepper. (Add spice with caution.) The superstar ingredient is, of course, the cheese, and after the Southern Living Test Kitchen tasted, tested, and retested, they found their winner: Cracker Barrel’s extra sharp Cheddar cheese. We’re sure you know it well. The final step in mastering–or messing up–this recipe is the pasta. In fact, one of the easiest mistakes when making macaroni and cheese is using the wrong kind of pasta. We suggest steering clear of long, thin, perfect-for-twirling varieties like spaghetti, fettuccini, and linguini. Choose a pasta with a good shape and plenty of nooks for capturing pockets of cheese like shells, cavatappi, or our no-fail elbow macaroni.
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.
Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.
Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
We tested with Cracker Barrel Extra-Sharp Cheddar.