Baked macaroni and cheese is the perfect comfort food for when you want to feel cozy. It’s a dish that everyone loves, but people think it can be difficult to make. With this recipe, you don’t have to worry about any of that! The best part? It is easy to change up this ooey-gooey cheesy dish to make it exactly what you are craving.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
There is nothing I love more in the world than a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. It is definitely my go-to comfort food meal and is sure to please everyone at our dinner table. It’s easy to make, warm, cheesy, and tastes fantastic. Plus it can be customized for any taste preference with different cheeses or spices. It also reheats well so you can even make it ahead of time and then just put it in the oven until heated through and enjoy!
This recipe is a great starting point, but feel free to experiment with your own combinations of flavors and ingredients. While I may use certain cheeses and spices, you can mix them up with equal measurements as listed below to customize for your taste preferences. We especially love serving this as a side to brown sugar meatloaf or these delicious balsamic glazed chicken thighs. So tasty and easy to pair with this pasta.
Does This Mac and Cheese Use a Roux Sauce Base?
This is a classic recipe and it’s made with a roux-based sauce. The roux is basically flour and butter (or other cooking fat) that has been whisked together until smooth, then milk is added to the pan to create a thick creamy sauce. This gives baked macaroni and cheese its signature taste and creaminess. It’s a bit more complex than just adding cheese to noodles, but it’s totally worth it.
A roux also makes sure you never have dry noodles in your macaroni and cheese. The sauce coats the pasta leaving you with a great creaminess that doesn't disappear when you bake the pasta for that extra brown cheese on top.
Do I Have to Use Elbow Macaroni?
You do not need to use elbow macaroni. Most people think that there is no other noodle that they can use because you only ever hear "macaroni" and cheese. But any type of short noodle with work. I like to use noodles that have a hole or tunnel in them because I like the way the cheese sauce gets inside. Spiral or bow ties or just about any other noodle will work. If you don't have elbow macaroni on hand, feel free to use whatever you have.
What is the Best Cheese Combination for Mac and Cheese?
The best cheese combination is a good flavorful cheddar mixed with something that will give the dish some color and creaminess. I like to use a combination of cheddar cheese and Monterey jack because it gives the macaroni and cheese great color and melts beautifully. Of course, it doesn't hurt any that it packs in so much flavor.
With different styles of cheddar cheese, each one will change the flavor slightly. You can also add in some other cheeses for more flavors. Below are a few that I have used in this recipe with great results. Mix and match, or choose a singular cheese you have on hand and enjoy!
- Smoked cheddar or gouda
- White cheddar
- American cheese
- Goat cheese/chevre
- Pepper jack
Just remember that what you want is a good cheese that will melt into the sauce of this recipe. While parmesan isn't on the list, it can be an excellent accent flavor in this dish as well.
Should I Cover My Macaroni and Cheese When Baking?
Covering the dish with foil is not necessary. Baking the macaroni and cheese will allow the cheese sauce to thicken up even more, but you can just as easily spoon it over your noodles. If there are any exposed noodles, they may get a little crispy in spots that some people love and others don’t enjoy. The sauce will cover the noodles perfectly when you are ready to serve, so you can always just mix it all together for a cheesy gooey dish.
You can, of course, cover it if you prefer to keep those top noodles from getting crispy. Either method works great for making this tasty and creamy.
How Long is Macaroni and Cheese Good For?
This macaroni and cheese dish will last in the fridge for about 5 days, so it is perfect to make on the weekend or on a day when you have some free time. You can also freeze this dish if you want to save some for another casserole night. Just be sure to wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap before putting it in the freezer to prevent any ice crystals from forming.
If you do not want to store the pan in the freezer when freezing this as a freezer meal, you can scoop it into an airtight container or use a freezer bag. If using a container, I always recommend placing a layer of plastic wrap over the food. This helps to prevent freezer burn. If you are using a freezer bag, be sure to remove all of the air out of the bag.
- Elbow macaroni
- All-purpose flour
- Black pepper
- Cheddar cheese
Handy Kitchen Tools
TIP: I like making this in my Dutch oven so I can mix it together and bake it all in the same pan and save myself some dishes later!
How to Make Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9" x 9" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or grease well with butter and set aside.
Fill a large stockpot ¾ of the way full with water. Add a generous amount of salt to a rolling boil over medium heat. Add the pasta, and cook for 2 minutes less than the package suggests. Drain and set aside.
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat.
Once the butter has melted, add in the flour, whisking to combine.
When the butter and flour mixture has combined, cook for an additional 2 minutes to lightly brown the mixture, making sure you stir it regularly.
Once browned, gradually pour in the milk, whisking to remove any lumps.
Add the salt and pepper, and once the mixture has begun boiling, let it cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until it has thickened.
Stir in the shredded cheese and whisk until the cheese has all melted and combined with the roux.
Next, stir in the pasta and pour it into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the top is browned and bubbling.
More Comfort Food Recipes
If you are looking for more tasty comfort food recipes to add to your menu, below are some of our favorites. Whether you want a side dish or entree, you'll find tasty options below that are sure to please everyone at your dinner table.
- Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese Recipe
- Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells
- Chicken and Stuffing Casserole
- Meatloaf Cupcakes Recipe
- Spinach Mashed Potatoes Recipe
- 1 ½ cups dry elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9" x 9" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or grease well with butter and set aside.
- Fill a large stockpot ¾ of the way full with water. Add a generous amount of salt to a rolling boil over medium heat. Add the pasta, and cook for 2 minutes less than the package suggests. Drain and set aside.
- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Once the butter has melted, add in the flour, whisking to combine.
- When the butter and flour mixture has combined, cook for an additional 2 minutes to lightly brown the mixture, making sure you stir it regularly.
- Once browned, gradually pour in the milk, whisking to remove any lumps.
- Add the salt and pepper, and once the mixture has begun boiling, let it cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until it has thickened.
- Stir in the shredded cheese and whisk until the cheese has all melted and combined with the roux.
- Next, stir in the pasta and pour it into the prepared baking dish.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the top is browned and bubbling.
Add ¼ teaspoon nutmeg and dry mustard to season the roux for a little bit different flavor profile.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 311Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 61mgSodium: 458mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 13g