Our creamy, cheesy, Baked Mac and Cheese recipe is the ultimate comfort food with a decadent cheese sauce and crispy breadcrumbs on top.
When my sister got married, my brother-in-law started bringing southern mac and cheese to our Thanksgiving dinner and now it is a must at everything holiday dinner! Baked macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes that everyone from adults to teens and kids to toddlers loves.
Here’s Everything You Need To Make Baked Mac and Cheese
Ingredients Needed To Make Baked Mac and Cheese
The ingredients need to make baked macaroni include cheese, pasta, milk, and seasonings. All of the ingredients are readily available and most are probably already stocked in your kitchen! You can even skip the seasonings if you want a simpler version or add more to punch up the flavor.
Cheese Sauce Ingredients
The cheese sauce for this baked mac and cheese recipe is really easy to make! This same sauce can also be used as a dip or as a sauce for other recipes.
- Roux: A simple roux is a combination of melted butter and all-purpose flour. The roux is the base of the cheese sauce and will thicken it.
- Milk: This recipe uses whole milk to thin the sauce. Although you can substitute whole milk with cream or skim milk, we suggest using whole milk for the best results.
- Cheeses: We used both processed American cheese and shredded sharp cheddar cheese in the sauce. The American cheese is smooth and creamy when it melts and gives the sauce the traditional mac and cheese flavor. The sharp cheddar cheese adds flavor.
Baked Mac and Cheese Seasonings
We used several seasonings in the sauce to add flavor. These seasonings are optional. You can skip them if you want a more basic recipe or you can add more or less of any of them depending on your family’s preferences.
- Garlic powder
- Ground mustard
- Coarse ground black pepper
- Onion powder
Baked Mac and Cheese Toppings
- Breadcrumbs: This recipe calls for panko breadcrumbs which are larger in size, crispier, and lighter than traditional breadcrumbs. You can also use plain or seasoned traditional breadcrumbs.
- Butter: The melted butter adds flavor and helps the panko turn golden and crispy.
How To Make Baked Mac and Cheese
Southern baked mac and cheese is simple to make with four easy steps: cook the pasta, prepare the cheese sauce and coat the noodles, add the toppings, and bake until golden brown and bubbly. You can prepare the recipe ahead of time, store the dish in the refrigerator, and bake it before serving.
- Pasta: Cook the elbow macaroni according to the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside.
- Cheese Sauce: Melt the butter in a large pot and whisk in the flour. Cook the mixture while stirring. Then, gradually add the milk while whisking constantly. Whisk in the salt and any additional seasonings you want to add. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then stir in the American cheese until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheddar cheese. Add the cooked elbow noodles and stir until evenly coated. Spread the macaroni and cheese in a greased casserole dish.
- Toppings: Stir the panko breadcrumbs and melted butter until evenly moistened. Sprinkle evenly over the pasta.
- Cook: Bake the mac and cheese until the cheese sauce is bubbly and it is golden brown on top.
Everyone loves classic baked mac but sometimes it is fun to get creative and make other variations! You can switch up the shape of the pasta you use, change the cheeses to other varieties, or add different toppings. Keep in mind that you may need to add less pasta to compensate for the amount of additional ingredients you add. Here are a few suggested variations:
- Meat Lovers: Stir your favorite cooked protein into the cheese sauce along with the pasta. Try chopped bacon, diced sausages, shrimp, ground beef, shredded pork, or diced ham.
- Veggie Lovers: Add cooked broccoli, diced tomatoes, cooked cauliflower, diced peppers, sliced mushrooms, peas, or spinach.
Leftovers and Storage
If you have leftover baked mac and cheese, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three to five days or in the freezer for one to two months. Thaw frozen macaroni and cheese in the refrigerator. Reheat it in the microwave or oven. You can add a little additional milk, if necessary. Or you can use the leftovers to make one of these recipes:
- Mac and Cheese Pizza: Use the macaroni and cheese as a pizza topping!
- Grilled Macaroni and Cheese Sandwich: Add baked mac n cheese to a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Mac ‘n Cheese Balls: Stuff leftover baked mac in refrigerated biscuit dough.
- Bacon Mac and Cheese Bites: This appetizer is the perfect combo of salty and cheesy.
Frequently Asked Questions
You have to add enough milk to the sauce to keep mac and cheese creamy even after baking.
The best choice is a combination of cheese for optimal flavor and creaminess. American cheese and cheddar cheese are classic choices. Gruyere, Gouda, Parmesan, and Monterey jack are also great options.
For more flavor, you can add additional spices, hot sauces, and more flavorful cheeses. If you want additional ingredients try adding cooked, diced meat or steamed vegetables. Or if you want a creamier version, make extra cheese sauce.
Want more side dish recipes? Try these next:
- Our cheesy Broccoli Casserole recipe features bite-sized broccoli in a creamy sauce topped with buttery Rits crackers.
- Classic Potatoes Au Gratin is a classic side dish with thin potato slices covered in a creamy cheese sauce and baked until golden brown on top.
- This Cream Corn recipe has tender sweet corn kernels coated in a creamy sauce. It is better than canned creamed corn and is ready in minutes!
- These Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows on top are like having dessert as a side dish!
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