Homemade Mac and Cheese

This is the cheesiest, CREAMIEST Homemade Mac and Cheese you’ll ever make! The whole family will definitely approve!

Homemade Mac and Cheese is a quick and easy go-to for dinner – a favorite! The kids never complain, and they love it as much as our Creamy Penne Pasta and Fettuccine Alfredo.

Homemade Mac and Cheese on spoon in casserole dish.

no whining at the dinner table

Macaroni and Cheese is always a safe bet. The kids love having mac and cheese for dinner, which means we avoid dinner table whining (I know you know what I’m talking about). 😉

We wanted to share our homemade version, which has become a family favorite. It’s a baked pasta recipe that is easy, cheesy and so delicious!

This recipe makes for a great pasta dish for any time of the year, but we even use it frequently during the holidays – it’s a fantastic side dish at big family gatherings!

Homemade mac n cheese recipe in a red baking dish.

How to Make Mac and Cheese

This might take a little longer than boxed Mac and Cheese, but the extra time and effort are SO worth it. Plus, most of the ingredients are ones you already have on hand, and the steps are simple!

PASTA. Cook the pasta according to package directions, and set it aside.

SAUCE. In a large saucepan, melt ½ cup of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste.

Slowly pour in the milk, whisking until smooth. Heat the mixture to a low boil until thickened. Remove from heat.

ASSEMBLE. Add the hot pasta to a greased 9×13″ baking dish. Sprinkle 6 cups of shredded cheese over the pasta (you can use less if you want).

Pour the thickened cream sauce over the pasta and cheese. Let it sit until the cheese has melted and then stir together.

TOPPING. Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add in bread crumbs, stirring constantly until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Pour over the mac and cheese.

BAKE + ENJOY! Bake Mac and Cheese at 325°F for 14-15 minutes. Serve warm, and ENJOY!

CROCK POT VERSION

To make Mac and Cheese an even easier dish, make it in a crock pot. For our favorite crock pot mac and cheese CLICK HERE

To make this version in the slow cooker, follow the instructions through step 1, then add hot pasta to a greased crockpot. Sprinkle 6 cups shredded cheese over pasta. Pour the thickened cream sauce over the pasta and cheese. Let sit until the cheese has melted and stir together.

Cook on Low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Melt 2 TB butter over medium heat. Add in bread crumbs, stirring constantly until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Pour over the mac and cheese and let warm for 5 minutes before serving.

Cheesy Mac and Cheese sauce pouring in casserole dish.

Recipe variations

This cheesy Homemade Mac and Cheese is simply the best. Here are some variations to make it your own!

Cheese. Get creative with the cheeses by changing the cheddar for a different cheese, or blend 2-3 cheeses together. A popular blend is equal parts mozzarella, cheddar, and American.

Some other cheeses that are good to use in a Mac n Cheese recipe include Parmesan, White Cheddar, fontina, smoked Gouda, Gruyere, Colby Jack, and Gorgonzola.

Pasta. The classic noodles used for Mac and Cheese are elbow macaroni noodles. You can use other similarly sized noodles such as shell, cavatappi, penne, farfalle, fusilli, or rotini.

Toppings. Adding a topping gives the Mac and Cheese a simple finishing touch. If you don’t have breadcrumbs or want to try something different, you might like:

  • crushed ritz crackers
  • crushed Triscuits crackers
  • crushed corn flakes
  • sliced almonds.

Add-ins. To get adventurous, try adding some of these items to change things up:

  • spice: salsa, jalapenos, or chili flakes
  • meats: cooked bacon bits, diced ham, grilled chicken, or cooked hamburger
  • veggies: chopped spinach, broccoli, or roasted red peppers
  • seasoning: add a dash of flavor with garlic powder, dry mustard, onion powder, or paprika.
Best homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe in casserole dish.

Mac and cheese tips

The flour mixture. The technique for adding flour and butter to Mac and Cheese is called a roux. Roux is a thickening agent used for gravy, sauces, soups, and stews. Roux is always made first, then the other ingredients are added.

When the roux technique is added to Mac n Cheese, it not only thickens the dish but keeps the cheese from separating and/or clumping together.

Grainy cheese. To avoid a grainy texture, use high-quality cheese with natural ingredients. Grate the cheese yourself as opposed to buying pre-shredded cheese. Make sure you add the cheese AFTER the roux sauce has thickened. Do not overheat the cheese.

Thicken. The sauce should be creamy, not soupy. Keep in mind that the cheese sauce thickens as it melts the cheese in the casserole dish, and further as it bakes in the oven.

If you still feel it needs to be thicker there are a couple of things to try: 

  • Use whole milk for a creamier and thicker sauce
  • Add in more cheese to thicken the dish  
  • Cornstarch slurry: In a separate bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of COLD water with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Stir it into the Mac and Cheese and allow it to cook a bit more so the slurry can work its magic. 

Dry Mac and Cheese. Overbaking can cause the mac and cheese to dry out. It will also take on a dry texture when you store it for later.

Help smooth it out by adding 1 tablespoon of milk per cup of pasta. Stir in the milk as you heat up the dish. It will add moisture and creaminess back to the dish.

Storing info + SERVING IDEAS

STORE. Leftovers can be stored, covered in the fridge, for 2-3 days.

Make ahead of time. This can be really useful when you are planning for a larger holiday meal, family BBQ, or on a regular busy day.

  1. Prepare the Mac and Cheese according to the recipe.
  2. Before baking, cover the dish tightly and keep it in the fridge for 1-2 days.
  3. When you are ready to use, bake as per recipe directions.

FREEZE. If you plan to freeze the dish, make sure the pasta is cooked al dente. This pasta dish can be frozen for 2-3 months.

  • Thaw then bake. Thaw it in the refrigerator and bake according to the recipe directions.
  • Straight to the oven. Put it directly from the freezer into the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the foil-covered Mac and Cheese dish into the oven and bake until it’s hot in the center (about 1 hour).

what to serve with macaroni and cheese:

Spoonful of Homemade Mac and Cheese on a fork.

For more cheesy recipes, check out:

Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe

4.99 from 111 votes
This is the cheesiest, CREAMIEST Homemade Mac and Cheese you'll ever make! The whole family will definitely approve!
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 10
Calories 292 kcal
Author Lil’ Luna

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) package elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons salted butter divided
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 cups milk
  • 6 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Boil pasta according to package directions.
  • Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt ½ cup butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 2–3 minutes. Add garlic salt and pepper. Slowly pour in milk, whisking until smooth. Heat to a low boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 4–5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • Drain pasta and transfer to a lightly greased 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle shredded cheese over pasta. Pour thickened cream sauce over pasta and cheese. Let sit until the cheese has melted, then stir together.
  • Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 3–5 minutes. Sprinkle over the mac and cheese.
  • Bake for 14–15 minutes. Serve warm.

Video

Notes

Make Ahead: Prepare the mac and cheese as directed above, but do not add the buttered breadcrumbs. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Before baking, make breadcrumbs, sprinkle on top and bake per recipe directions.
Slow Cooker Directions: Follow Steps 2 and 3, then pour hot pasta into a greased slow cooker. Sprinkle shredded cheese over pasta, followed by thickened cream sauce, and stir together. Cook on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Make breadcrumbs as directed in Step 4 and pour over macaroni. Let warm for 5 minutes before serving.
Variations: Change up the cheese for extra flavor. A popular blend is equal parts mozzarella, cheddar and American. Other cheeses that are good to use in mac and cheese include Parmesan, sharp cheddar, white cheddar, Gruyère, Colby Jack and Gorgonzola.

Recipe adapted from That Which Nourishes

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About Kristyn

My name is Kristyn and I’m the mom of SIX stinkin’ cute kids and the wife to my smokin’ hot hubby, Lo. My mom’s maiden name is Luna, and I’m one of the many crafty “Lil’ Lunas” in the fam. On this site I like to share all things creative - from recipes to home decor to gifts and home decor ideas. Welcome!

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Comments:

  1. 5 stars
    I love every single recipe.My sis n law has diabetes and can’t eat much sugar.My email is wickedis63@gmail.com… I was wondering if you could send some tasty sugar free cookies and cakes ,candy and pies. I made her fudge from your site and she was so happy she had tears coming down her face. She goes by her Drs instructions so good. She’s my best friend and I love her so much.This year we drew names 1st time since my mother passed and that’s when she found out she had diabetes. It was another shocker and heart ache over and over. I had lung cancer and she took me and went in every time. So could you help me ,make this Christmas the best one since we lost Mama.(13 yrs ago). With pandemic n all the bad news and life being crazy on its own. So would you or could you if you have a minute Help Me Please. Thank you,Wanda Burt ,Thomaston Ga. God bless and keep you safe

    1. What a beautiful and sweet tribute to your sister! I imagine the shift in her dietary needs has been difficult. We have a few recipes I can think of that use Splenda Naturals Stevia in place of sugar. Here are a couple of those: https://lilluna.com/mini-chocolate-chip-cookies/ https://lilluna.com/homemade-applesauce/ https://lilluna.com/chocolate-mug-cake/. You can also take a recipe from our site that calls for sugar and replace it with a sugar free substitute. Best wishes and blessings to both you and your sister!

  2. 3 stars
    This Mac and Cheese had potential, but unfortunately, the flavor was overpowered by the tablespoon of garlic salt. After making this dish I thought that perhaps I’d read the instructions wrong. But that wasn’t the case. It calls for a TBS of garlic salt.

    All seven of us who had tried it all agreed that the garlic was overpowering. I honestly think if it had half or 1/4th of the garlic it would’ve been fantastic. I’m willing to give it another go but with less garlic — maybe none at all.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback! You can definitely play with the amount of garlic if the recipe has more than your family prefers. 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    The best Mac n cheese! Everyone loved it! I was afraid the roux wasn’t thickening up because I used almond milk instead of regular milk but it just took time to get the right consistency. I also prepared it the night before and the next day I baked it and it still came out wonderful. Thank you!

    1. 5 stars
      I have been making this Mac and cheese for every holiday for years— I love love love it. It always gets so many compliments!

  4. 5 stars
    This is our family’s favorite!!! I even make it with unsweetened almond milk & it was STILL awesome!!! 😉 SO. GOOD.

  5. 5 stars
    This mac and cheese is so cheesy and yummy! I love the flavor of the sharp cheddar cheese and the texture the panko bread crumbs add. A crowd pleaser for sure!

  6. 5 stars
    Wowza! Hands down best mac n cheese I’ve made for my family. I cut the recipe in half and it was perfect. Checked all the boxes, cheesy and creamy. I had a small chunk of Mexican Velveeta I threw in but the rest was sharp cheddar I shredded. My adult sons said it was the best I’ve made. That’s all I needed to hear. Thanks so much!

  7. 5 stars
    My kids loved this recipe. It made more than we could eat so I froze the other half of it. It reheated pretty well in the oven.

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