The absolute best Baked Macaroni and Cheese is made with tender cooked elbow macaroni pasta in a luscious and creamy homemade cheese sauce. It’s so easy to make at home, everyone will love this comforting classic!
Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
Despite the countless versions of macaroni and cheese on the internet and around the world, I always find myself making the same baked mac and cheese recipe whenever the craving hits. Almost as easy to make as boxed macaroni and cheese, this baked version tastes a million times better and is made with real, simple ingredients like elbow macaroni, four different types of cheeses, butter, milk, half-and-half, and flour.
Of course, even this simple recipe can be jazzed up a bit with a crunchy, buttery, breadcrumb topping or a little bit of bacon! So don’t hesitate to use this delicious baked mac and cheese recipe as a base for your own version of cheesy macaroni and cheese perfection.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and coat a large (9×13 inch) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Cook the pasta 1-2 minutes less than the recommended package instructions. Drain, coat with a little olive oil, and set aside.
- Grate the cheese (preshredded cheese is not recommended). Set aside 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 a cup of shredded mozzaella cheese in a separate bowl.
- Whisk together the melted butter and the flour over medium heat until no lumps remain. This is your roux.
- Slowly add the milk and half-and-half, whisking continuously. Continue to heat and whisk until smooth and thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- Stir in the grated cheese (except for the cheese set aside for topping) and remove from heat.
- Combine the cooked pasta with the cheese sauce. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
- Transfer the mac and cheese to the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining shredded cheese.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
Tips for the Best Baked Mac and Cheese
- Shred your own cheese. I know it’s so much easier to buy pre-shredded cheese, but it’s actually coated in an anti-caking substance which messes with how nicely it melts.
- Do not overcook the pasta. In fact, it’s best to slightly undercook the pasta by about a minute. Also, allow the pasta to cool slightly before mixing with the bubbly cheese sauce.
- Time permitting, allow the milk and half-and-half to come to room temperature (but please do not leave them out all afternoon) before very slowly whisking into the roux.
- Use your favorite cheese. I used classics like mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, and Gruyere. Pepper Jack cheese, crumbled feta, or even dollops of goat cheese would taste fantastic.
- Macaroni and cheese is traditionally made with elbow macaroni, but any short pasta will work.
Can You Make Mac and Cheese Ahead of Time
To make baked mac and cheese ahead of time, prepare the recipe as instructed up until it comes time to bake in the oven. Cover the baking dish with foil, cool slightly, and transfer to the refrigerator until the time of baking. Bake at 350°F until heated through (cooking times will vary but expect the cooking time to be longer since it is being heated from cold).
What to Serve with Baked Macaroni and Cheese
I usually serve this macaroni and cheese on its own but sometimes I’ll add a side of yummy meatballs and a small salad to make it a complete meal.
Have you tried making this Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe?
Tell me about it in the comments below! I always love to hear your thoughts. And tag me #theforkedspoon on Instagram if you’ve made any of my recipes, I always love to see what you’re cooking in the kitchen.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- ¾ cup butter
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 3½ cups whole milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 4 cups aged mild cheddar cheese - shredded, divided
- 2 cups Gruyere cheese - shredded
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese - shredded, divided
- ½ cup parmesan cheese - shredded
- 1½ teaspoon salt - plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper - plus more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder - optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a large (9×13") baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Cook the elbow macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente- about 1-2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain the macaroni in a large colander and drizzle with olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, grate the cheese. Set aside 2 cups of grated cheddar cheese and ½ a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese in a separate bowl (to be used as the cheese topping. Combine the remaining cheese and set it aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Whisking continuously, sprinkle the flour in with the melted butter. Continue to whisk until smooth and no dry patches of flour remain- about 1 minute.
- Slowly whisk in the milk with the butter/flour until smooth and fully incorporated. Add the half-and-half and continue to whisk over medium heat until thickened (do not allow the mixture to boil).
- Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, and garlic powder (optional). Stir in the grated cheese (except for the cheese that is reserved for topping). Stir until combined.
- Add the cooked elbow macaroni to the cheese sauce if the saucepot you used to prepare the cheese sauce is large enough, otherwise, combine the macaroni pasta and the cheese sauce in a separate larger bowl. Mix well and season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
- Transfer the macaroni and cheese to your prepared baking dish. Top with the set aside shredded cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese.
- Transfer to your preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the cheese is warm and bubbly.
- It is not required that you bake the macaroni and cheese as everything will already be cooked. However, the melty cheese topping is well worth the extra step.
- For best results, grate your own cheese directly from blocks of cheese.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)