Best Baked Mac and Cheese

I’m not saying that this is the best baked mac and cheese…but I’m also not saying that it isn’t. Creamy, cheesy and decadent without being sickeningly rich, this easy mac and cheese recipe with have everyone fighting for seconds!

A bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese.

Try some other awesome macaroni recipes like Bacon Ranch Macaroni and Cheese, Tuna Macaroni Salad and Hamburger Goulash.

Best Baked Mac and Cheese

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Raise your hand if you like mac and cheese! Ugh, I love it so, so much! I went nuts over it as a kid (were you a Kraft kid? A Stouffers kid? I was totally a Stouffers kid!). But now that I’m an adult I prefer homemade baked mac and cheese, all hot and bubbly from the oven with a nice, crispy crust of cheese and bread crumbs on top!

I mean what can I say? It’s a recipe for macaroni and cheese and it’s seriously freakin’ delicious. Serve it as a cozy meatless main. Serve it as an awesome side dish. You really can’t go wrong!

A spoon in a pan of homemade mac and cheese.

Tips for making homemade macaroni and cheese

  • When cooking the pasta, cook it 2 minutes less than the al dente cooking time listed on the package to prevent your pasta from getting mushy.
  • You’ll melt the butter and make a roux with the butter and flour. This will thicken the cheese sauce.
  • Make sure you cook the sauce over medium heat because the milk will scald if the heat is too high.
  • When making the cheese sauce, make sure you’re stirring it continuously. I know it gets a little boring but it will also prevent the milk from scalding.
  • You’ll know the sauce is ready for the cheese because it will coat the back of a spoon. Then you’ll turn off the heat, add the shredded cheese and whisk until smooth.
  • I wrote this recipe so that it would have a nice, crispy crust on top. But if you’d rather have stretch melted cheese on top, just hold off from adding the cheese and panko topping until 5 minutes before the end of the total cooking time.

An overhead image of a pan of this recipe for baked macaroni and cheese.

Shredding cheese is a hassle, can I use pre shredded cheese?

Yes, that’s what I do every time!

What cheese should I use for my baked macaroni and cheese?

I like to keep it simple with sharp cheddar but if there are other cheeses you prefer, just sub them in.

What is the best pasta for mac and cheese?

For this recipe, I used shells (not the huge ones and not the tiny ones, I the medium/small-ish ones) because they hold the cheese sauce in the shell nicely.

Do you cover baked mac and cheese in the oven?

I don’t find it necessary to cover the mac and cheese because it’s already pretty warm when it goes in.

Can I make this macaroni and cheese ahead and bake it when I’m ready?

Yes, cool it to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before making and bring to room temperature. You’ll need to adjust the cooking time to make sure it cooks through to 145 degrees internal temperature. Start by adding 10 minutes. And covering for the first half of cooking can also help but isn’t necessary.

Can I freeze macaroni and cheese?

Yes, cover and wrap it well and defrost before baking. It should last for 3 months in the freezer.

Do I have to bake my macaroni and cheese?

I prefer to bake this recipe, but you can also serve it as stove top. If you’re doing this, then add an additional half cup of pasta.

A bowl of baked mac and cheese.

Ingredients for this Macaroni and Cheese recipe

  • Shell pasta
  • Salted butter
  • Flour
  • Whole milk
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Sharp cheddar cheese
  • Seasoned panko breadcrumbs

Ingredients to prep ahead:

  • Cook pasta as per recipe directions
  • Shred cheese

Helpful tools:

  1. Measuring spoons
  2. Measuring cups
  3. Whisk
  4. Saucepan
  5. 11″ x 7″ baking pan

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5 from 2 votes
I'm not saying that this is the best baked mac and cheese...but I'm also not saying that it isn't. Creamy, cheesy and decadent without being sickeningly rich, this easy home made mac and cheese recipe with have everyone fighting for seconds!
Best Baked Mac and Cheese.
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Total Time
45 mins

I'm not saying that this is the best baked mac and cheese...but I'm also not saying that it isn't. Creamy, cheesy and decadent without being sickeningly rich, this easy mac and cheese recipe with have everyone fighting for seconds!

Course: dinner, Main, Main Course, Main dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: best baked mac and cheese.
Author: Jessy Freimann, The Life Jolie
  • 3 cups shells pasta, cooked 2 minutes less than the al dente package time
  • 4 Tablespoons salted butter
  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/3 cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.

  3. Add flour and whisk until no lumps remain. Cook for 2 minutes stirring often.

  4. Whisk in milk, salt, pepper, garlic powder and nutmeg.

  5. Cook for 5-7 minutes stirring the entire time until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

  6. Turn off the heat and add 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese. Whisk until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.

  7. Mix well with cooked pasta and pour the pasta mixture into an 11" x 7" baking pan. Sprinkle the top with remaining cheddar cheese and panko bread crumbs.

  8. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes and serve immediately.

If you tried this recipe please comment and rate it 🙂 I love hearing your feedback and answering your questions!

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  • Reply
    Madeline B.
    December 14, 2020 at 11:28 pm Ok but like this honestly was the best Mac and cheese ever.... it didn’t last long in my house and I just made it for late lunch! Everyone craves it now and it’s so easy to make. I even add extra breadcrumbs because they are just the best topping! Totally recommend this stuff is absolutely delicious!
    • Reply
      Jessy Freimann
      December 17, 2020 at 9:38 pm Awwww thanks Madeline- this comment totally made my day! I'm so glad you and your family loved it <3 And great idea with the extra bread crumbs!
  • Reply
    December 31, 2020 at 11:39 am Was really good! I didn’t have nutmeg so used apple spice and I also added with the bread crumbs I crunched retz crackers veggie roasted. Super good Mac!
    • Reply
      Jessy Freimann
      January 3, 2021 at 9:46 pm OMG yum! I love the changes you made- so glad you loved it!
  • Reply
    February 26, 2021 at 12:32 pm Just made some. Only had 2 cups of noodles so just winged the rest of the measurements. Also added some sausage. My kids love Mac and cheese so they will love this.
  • Leave a Reply

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