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The Best Baked Mac and Cheese

Rich, Decadent, and Creamy, this homemade mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. With a crunchy texture on the outside and full of creamy, cheesy goodness on the inside, this baked mac and cheese is sure to be a crowd pleaser, whether cooking for your friends, family, or just yourself!

the best baked mac and cheese feature image.

We use a roux (butter/flour mixture) that allows the sharp cheddar and gruyère cheese combo to create a thick, cheesy sauce that tastes luxurious. Topped with a crunchy Panko based crust, the end result is an easy mac and cheese that is sure to become your go-to recipe. This baked mac and cheese is perfect for holiday meals, family get togethers, dinner parties, or just because!

Why This Recipe Works?

  • The ultimate comfort food.
  • Creamy and decadent.
  • Amazing crunchy topping.
  • Relatively easy to prepare.
  • A definite crowd pleaser.
  • Kids school lunch option – just keep warm in thermos.
  • Perfect for holidays or get togethers.
  • Best Mac and Cheese Recipe ever!!!
baked mac and cheese second feature image.

Main Ingredients

This recipe uses super easy ingredients that can be purchased from a local grocery store if they are not already in your kitchen. Read the Recipe Card for the measurements.

  • Macaroni – Elbow macaroni is the perfect pasta to use for this recipe as they are small enough to eat and their hollow shape allows the creamy, cheese sauce to hold on to them. You can also use small shells.
  • Cheddar Cheese – We use sharp cheddar, as it has a stronger flavor. Cheddar cheese in general has a fairly low melting point, which means it melts at a lower temperature, making it ideal to use. We advise to buy cheddar cheese in a block and shred or grate it yourself, as the pre-shredded bags of cheese contains a starchy substance which inhibits the melting process.
  • Gruyère Cheese – We also use gruyère cheese as we love the creamy texture and nutty flavor that combines so well with the sharp cheddar. Gruyere also has a low melting point. Other cheeses that you can use include monterey jack, mozzarella, colby, havarti, or really any personal favorite!
  • Butter – Butter helps meld all the sauce ingredients together since it is mostly a fat.
  • Panko Bread Crumbs – Panko gives this mac and cheese that extra crispy topping without feeling super heavy. If Panko is not available, you can substitute regular bread crumbs.
  • Flour – We use all purpose flour as a thickening agent to help create the luxurious, creamy sauce.
  • Milk – We use whole milk, but you can use low fat as well. The milk also adds to the creaminess.
  • Garlic Powder/Oregano/Thyme – These spices add flavor and depth.
  • Cayenne Pepper – We like to add a little heat to many of our dishes, and this creamy mac and cheese is no exception. This is optional and you can leave it out if you prefer no heat at all.
ingredients picture for baked mac and cheese.

How To Make The Best Baked Mac and Cheese

Step 1: Prep It

  • Set an oven rack to the medium position and preheat to 375 degrees F. Butter or coat a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Step 2: The Topping

  • In a medium bowl, add all of the topping ingredients: Panko bread crumbs, garlic powder, oregano, thyme and melted butter. Mix well to combine and set aside.
making the crunchy topping for the mac and cheese.

Step 3: The Pasta

  • Fill a medium pot with water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Add elbow pasta and under cook by 3 minutes less than manufacturer’s directions (be sure to read the instructions on the box, each brand is slightly different). The pasta should be cooked to al dente – tender but still firm to the bite, as it will continue cooking in the oven.
  • Once done, rinse under cold running water and drain well; set aside.
prepare the pasta, undercook by 3 minutes.

Step 4: The Roux

  • In a medium saucepan (2.5 quart), set over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter bubbles, add the flour. Whisk the flour for 2 minutes to cook off any raw flour taste. Keep a constant eye on the pan as this will scorch easily.
  • While whisking slowly add the warm milk. Continue cooking and whisking constantly until the mixture becomes thick and smooth; about 3-5 minutes. 
prepare the roux, butter and flour mixture.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1-1/2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese, 3/4 cups gruyère and reserved elbow pasta. Mix well to incorporate and pour into the prepared baking dish.
add ingredients to the roux.

Step 5: Bake It

  • Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup gruyère cheeses. Top off with the reserved panko bread crumbs.
bake the mac and cheese for 30 minutes.
  • Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden brown on top. 
fully baked, crispy on top.
  • Let cool for 5 minutes and serve immediately. 
dish out the mac and cheese while warm.

Serve as the main dish or a side. Try with Honey BBQ Drumsticks or Baked and Juicy Turkey Meatballs

The Best Baked Mac and Cheese

The Best Baked Mac and Cheese

Yield: 6-8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Rich, Decadent, and Creamy, this homemade mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. With a crunchy texture on the outside and full of creamy, cheesy goodness on the inside, this baked mac and cheese is sure to be a crowd pleaser, whether cooking for your friends, family, or just yourself!

Ingredients

  • Topping:
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • Pasta:
  • 1/2 lb elbow macaroni, 8 oz
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed in microwave for 2 minutes
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt (plus more for pasta water)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 8 oz)
  • 1 cup gruyère cheese, grated (about 4 oz)

Instructions

  1. Set an oven rack to the medium position and preheat to 375 degrees F. Butter or coat a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Topping:
    In a medium bowl, add all of the topping ingredients: Panko bread crumbs, garlic powder, oregano, thyme and melted butter. Mix well to combine and set aside.
  3. Pasta:
    Fill a medium pot with water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Add elbow pasta and under cook by 3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions (be sure to read the instructions on the box, each brand is slightly different). The pasta should be cooked to al dente - tender but still firm to the bite, as it will continue cooking in the oven. Once done, rinse under cold running water and drain well; set aside.
  4. In a medium saucepan (2.5 quart), set over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter bubbles, add the flour. Whisk the flour for 2 minutes to cook off any raw flour taste. Keep a constant eye on the pan as this will scorch easily. While whisking slowly add the warm milk. Continue cooking and whisking constantly until the mixture becomes thick and smooth; about 3-5 minutes. 
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1-1/2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese, 3/4 cups gruyère and reserved elbow pasta. Mix well to incorporate and pour into the prepared baking dish.
  6. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup gruyère cheeses. Top off with the reserved panko bread crumbs.
  7. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden brown on top. 
  8. Let cool for 5 minutes and serve immediately. 
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