Ooey, gooey and oh-so-cheesy! This creamy, easy baked mac and cheese is the best mac and cheese recipe that you'll ever taste. A made-from-scratch sauce with two different types of cheese creates the smoothest, richest, creamiest casserole. Kids and adults devour this old-fashioned, homemade side dish, which pairs nicely with everything from Thanksgiving turkey to Christmas ham, fried chicken, meatloaf, and pork chops.
How to Make Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese | 1-Minute Video
Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
There are as many different baked macaroni and cheese recipes as there are home cooks. In the South, baked mac and cheese is typically just a simple combination of pasta, eggs, butter, milk, and cheese. The eggs set up to create a firm casserole that you can slice into squares to serve. If you prefer that style dish, try my favorite Southern Baked Mac and Cheese recipe. This recipe, by contrast, uses a roux to make a creamy béchamel that coats the noodles in sauce. If you're looking for the ultimate creamy, easy baked mac and cheese recipe, then you've come to the right place!
How to Keep Mac and Cheese Creamy
I'm sharing a handful of tips to help keep your easy baked mac and cheese creamy, smooth, and saucy.
- First, no eggs. Unlike the Southern-style mac and cheese, this creamy version does not include eggs. The eggs help to "set" the casserole, giving it a firm, dry texture. Since that's not what we're going for here, you'll need to leave out the eggs.
- Next, lots of sauce. We're not skimping on cheese, milk, or cream in this dish. We'll make plenty of cheese sauce to coat the noodles. It looks like a lot of sauce, but you need that amount in order to keep the dish creamy in the oven.
- Velveeta cheese. That's right, I said it. Blasphemy?! Maybe! But trust me here: Velveeta (or "American cheese") melts smoothly into the sauce giving the mac and cheese a rich, creamy texture that you just can't quite replicate with other types of cheese.
- Baking Time. This casserole goes in the oven at a low temperature (325°F) for just 15 minutes. This short baking time is important because it's just long enough to melt the cheese on top and get the noodles hot inside, but it's not so long that it dries out the pasta and sauce. If you like a crispier crust on top, you can pop it under the broiler for a few minutes at the end.
The Best Cheeses for Baked Mac and Cheese
As I mentioned above, the secret to creamy baked mac and cheese is Velveeta cheese! This American cheese just melts smoother than other cheeses and gives the sauce that creamy mouthfeel that we're all looking for. I've found that an equal ratio of cheddar cheese and Velveeta cheese yields the best of both worlds -- a smooth, creamy mac and cheese with plenty of rich, sharp cheddar flavor.
If you like a combination of other cheeses, you can feel free to replace some of the cheddar (or even some of the Velveeta) with other good melting cheeses. Try Gruyere, Pepper Jack or Monterey Jack, gouda, smoked gouda, Swiss, or mozzarella. The options are endless, so pick your favorites!
Do you need to bake mac and cheese?
Creamy mac and cheese recipes that start with a roux-based sauce (like this one), do not need to be baked before serving. A creamy stovetop mac and cheese recipe is designed to go straight from the pot to the plate -- no oven necessary. You could also serve this mac and cheese without baking -- it will just be really saucy. By contrast, Southern-style mac and cheese recipes must be baked in order to cook the egg and help the dish set.
Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Ingredients
This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you'll need for a pan of our favorite baked mac and cheese. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.
- Elbow macaroni pasta: the "mac" that gives the dish its name! You can use other short pasta shapes such as rotini, penne, or medium shells, if you like.
- Butter: the base of the roux that thickens the bechamel sauce.
- All-purpose flour: thickens the sauce.
- Milk (whole or 2%) and half-and-half: to make the sauce creamy and rich. Do not substitute with skim milk or other lower-fat alternatives, since the flavor and texture of the sauce will not be as good.
- Worcestershire sauce: a touch of umami flavor that gives the dish depth.
- Velveeta cheese: for a smooth, creamy mouthfeel in the cheese sauce.
- Sharp cheddar cheese: gives the dish its sharp, rich, cheesy flavor. Use extra sharp cheddar or other types of flavorful cheese, if you like.
- Salt, dry mustard, black pepper, and nutmeg: for extra flavor.
How to Make a Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe Easy
This homemade mac and cheese is an ideal side dish that you can prep ahead for special holidays like Thanksgiving or for large family suppers. Assemble it in advance and keep it in the fridge for a couple of days! You can also serve the mac and cheese as a main course for dinner. Throw in some shredded chicken or diced ham, add veggies like steamed broccoli or frozen peas, and you've got a delicious and satisfying meal in one pan. The simple, old-fashioned combination of pasta and cheese is always crowd-pleasing!
- Boil Macaroni. Cook the noodles in salted boiling water just until barely al dente. Drain and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Make Cheese Sauce. While the pasta boils, make the roux in a Dutch oven or large saucepan with butter, flour, milk, and half-and-half. Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce, cheeses, and seasoning.
- Add Noodles to Sauce. Stir in the cooked pasta until all of the noodles are coated in the creamy sauce.
- Bake. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch (3-quart) baking dish. Sprinkle grated cheese on top. Bake in a 325°F oven for about 15 minutes. The dish is ready when the cheese is melted on top and the inside is hot and bubbly.
What to Serve with Easy Baked Mac and Cheese
Serve this easy oven baked mac and cheese as a lunch or main-dish dinner and your family will be thrilled. It's total comfort food! Just add a house salad, tomato salad, or Caesar salad, roasted broccoli, Southern-style green beans, or collard greens on the side. We also love a basket of flaky biscuits, blueberry muffins, apple bread, cornbread, or corn sticks on the table to round out the meal.
If you're serving the homemade mac and cheese as a side dish, here are some entrées that go well with the casserole:
- Classic Meatloaf, Mini Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf, or Southern Meatloaf
- Fried Chicken Cutlets and Country Gravy
- Dutch Oven Pork Roast or 5-Ingredient Pork Sirloin Roast
- Baked Baby Back Ribs
- Ham Steak with Brown Sugar Glaze
- Grilled New York Strip Steak
- Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy
- Fried Pork Chops
- Crispy Fried Chicken or Crispy Oven Baked Chicken Tenders
- Roast Chicken
- Dutch Oven Pot Roast or Mississippi Pot Roast
- Slow Cooker Turkey Breast or Oven Roasted Turkey
- Pineapple Glazed Ham or Crock Pot Ham with Cola Glaze
- Glazed Ham Steaks
- Crock Pot Pulled Pork, Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork, or Cider-Braised Pulled Pork
- Mississippi Roasted Pork Shoulder
- Grilled BBQ Pork Chops
- Grilled BBQ Chicken
- Dutch Oven BBQ Beef
- Oven Baked Pork Tenderloin or Mustard and Brown Sugar Baked Pork Tenderloin
- Crispy Southern Fried Catfish
To prep the easy mac and cheese ahead of time, assemble the dish as instructed, but do not bake. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 1-2 days. When ready to bake, allow the dish to come to room temperature on the counter for at least 30-60 minutes. Remove the cover and bake at 325°F for 20-30 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly.
Store leftover baked macaroni and cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. I do not recommend freezing this mac and cheese. The texture of the pasta will be mushy when thawed, and the milk-based sauce will separate or break.
Can you bake leftover mac and cheese?
Yes, you can reheat leftovers in the oven or in the microwave. Cover the dish loosely with foil and reheat in a 325°F oven just until warmed through. You can remove the foil cover during the final few minutes to allow the top to brown or the edges to get crispy.
To reheat individual servings, just cover loosely and microwave for about 30 seconds (or until warm).
- Use a combination of just about any flavorful melting cheeses that you prefer. For instance, try Colby or Colby Jack, Fontina, Gruyere, Pepper Jack or Monterey Jack, gouda, smoked gouda, Swiss, or mozzarella. The options are endless, so pick your favorites!
- Easy Baked Mac and Cheese with Bread Crumbs: For a crunchy topping, combine ¾ cup panko bread crumbs with 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Sprinkle on top of the dish before baking. Buttered Ritz cracker crumbs or buttered seasoned breadcrumbs would also work well.
- Bacon: add cooked, chopped bacon to the topping (or to the inside of the casserole).
- Add veggies (such as steamed broccoli or frozen peas) to make it a full meal. You can also stir in some cooked, chopped chicken or ham.
- Seasoning: Add a touch of paprika, some garlic powder, onion powder, or a dash of cayenne pepper for spicy kick!
Tips for the Best Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe
- Boil the noodles in very well-salted water. The salt in the water seasons the noodles, adding flavor to the dish.
- Cook the pasta just until it’s al dente — almost tender, but still firm to the bite. You don’t want to completely cook the noodles until they’re tender, because they will continue baking in the oven.
- Allow the cheese, milk, and half-and-half to come to room temperature before adding them to the recipe. They will blend together smoothly if they’re not cold.
- Start with blocks of cheddar cheese that you grate yourself at home, rather than using bags of pre-shredded cheese from the store. The pre-shredded cheese includes stabilizers and other ingredients to prevent the cheese from clumping, which inhibits its ability to melt smoothly into the dish.
- If you prefer a crispier, darker brown top on your mac and cheese, place the dish under the broiler during the final few minutes of baking. Just be sure to keep a close eye on it so that the top doesn’t burn.
- Cooking for a smaller family? Cut all of the ingredients in half and bake the casserole in an 8-inch square casserole dish.
More Homemade Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
- No-Boil Overnight Mac and Cheese
- Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Crock Pot Mac and Cheese
- Shells and Cheese
- Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb. dry elbow macaroni pasta
- ½ cup salted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, at room temperature (I use 2%, but whole milk will also work well)
- 2 cups half-and-half, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 12 ounces cubed Velveeta cheese, at room temperature
- 3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided (at room temperature)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta for 1 minute less than the package suggestion for al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking.
- While the pasta boils, melt butter in a large Dutch oven (about 6-7 quarts) over medium heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Very gradually, whisk in the milk and half-and-half. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat.
- Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce. Gradually add all of the Velveeta cheese and half of the cheddar cheese (1 ½ cups). Stir until the cheese is completely melted and smooth. Stir in the salt, dry mustard, pepper and nutmeg. Add cooked, drained pasta and stir to coat.
- Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 ½ cups of grated cheddar on top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted on top and the sauce is bubbly.
- For a crispier, browner top, pop the dish under the broiler for 2-5 minutes.