With 3 types of cheese and a crispy breadcrumb topping, this Baked Mac and Cheese is a guaranteed family favorite! The perfect side for everything from chicken nuggets to steak and it’s ready in under 30 minutes.
The Best Homemade Mac and Cheese
We are pretty much experts when it comes to mac and cheese in this house. There have been countless recipes tried – not to mention that every brand of boxed mac and cheese has been tasted – and sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to come up with anything better.
But this Baked Mac and Cheese? Oh, this creamy, cheesy macaroni is better. I’d go as far as to say it rivals the baked mac and cheese you’d get as a side at a steak house, with a gooey sauce made with three different types of cheese. This is no basic cheddar mac and cheese recipe!
This side dish is started on the stovetop, where the cheese is melted to gooey perfection, and then finished off in the oven with a crunchy Panko breadcrumb topping. The combination of the creamy cheese soft with the crispy breadcrumbs is absolute perfection.
Ingredients You Will Need
Here’s all you’ll need to make this easy macaroni and cheese recipe.
- Macaroni – We used elbow macaroni but any short pasta works here.
- Butter – If you use salted butter reduce the salt to 1½ teaspoons.
- Olive Oil
- Flour – Thickens the cheese sauce.
- Half & Half – Makes the sauce extra creamy.
- Seasonings – Salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper flavor the dish. If desired, you can omit the cayenne pepper or use paprika instead.
- Cheese – Part of what makes this the best baked mac and cheese is the variety of cheese! This dish is loaded with cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan.
- Bread crumbs – Panko bread crumbs add a nice and crunchy topping.
How to Make Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese
This mac and cheese recipe begins with a cheese sauce made on the stovetop before being baked to cheesy perfection with a crisp breadcrumb topping.
- Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta to just under al dente, according to the box instructions.
- Prepare the cheese sauce. Melt the butter with olive oil and flour in a large skillet. Whisk for 3 minutes then add the half & half and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cheddar and mozzarella along with the seasonings, until the cheese is fully melted.
- Transfer to the casserole dish. Mix the cheese sauce into the pasta, then transfer it into a casserole dish.
- Add the topping. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the panko crumbs, toasting until browned. Add in the parmesan if desired. Sprinkle over the mac and cheese.
- Bake. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes then enjoy!
Can I Make This Recipe Without Baking It?
Yes, this creamy mac and cheese recipe can be left as stovetop mac and cheese. Follow the steps as normal then just serve and enjoy after combining the pasta and cheese sauce. Don’t add the topping as it won’t get crispy unless you bake it.
Tips for Success
Here are a few tips for the best homemade mac and cheese.
- Undercook the pasta just a bit. Since the dish will also be baked, it’s important to not overcook the pasta or it will end up mushy. Try to drain the pasta right before it becomes al dente or at least when it’s just al dente.
- Use freshly grated cheese. Instead of buying the pre-shredded bags of cheese, grab blocks and shred it yourself. It will melt much nicer and the flavor is better too.
- Season to your liking. Don’t be afraid to taste test the sauce and add more seasonings as desired.
What DOESN’T go with homemade macaroni and cheese? This cheesy side dish can be served with pretty much any protein – or you can even turn it into the main entree itself!
Kids love this with chicken nuggets and hot dogs but for a more refined meal, try it with some turkey breast, meatloaf, or garlic parmesan chicken. You can even serve it up with a nicely grilled steak, as this is pretty similar to the mac and cheese you’d find on the menu at a steakhouse!
How to Store & Reheat
Baked mac and cheese can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. Either cover the casserole dish tightly with foil or plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container.
The tastiest way to reheat macaroni and cheese is to add a splash of milk in the portion you are reheating (about half a tablespoon per cup of noodles), cover and heat in the oven on 350 for about 10-20 minutes.
You can also reheat in the microwave until hot. The topping just won’t be as crispy.
More Mac and Cheese Recipes:
- White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- Chili Mac and Cheese
- Seafood Macaroni and Cheese
- Crockpot Mac and Cheese
- Stovetop Mac and Cheese
Baked Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups half & half
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1¾ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese optional
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a medium casserole dish with nonstick spray; set aside.
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions for “al dente”, this should take about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain, place back in the pot, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil, butter, and flour in a large skillet until the butter has melted. Whisk the mixture over medium low heat for 3 minutes.
- Whisk in the half & half and bring to a simmer.
- Whisk in the cheddar and mozzarella cheeses as well as the salt, garlic powder, cayenne, and black pepper until the cheese is melted and the mixture is thick and gooey.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir until fully coated then transfer into the prepared casserole dish.
- In a small skillet, melt the salted butter and add in the Panko breadcrumbs and toast over medium heat until they begin to brown. Optional: Mix in 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese right at the end of toasting.
- Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the macaroni and cheese and bake for 10 minutes.