How to Make the Best Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe

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Making homemade macaroni and cheese may seem a tad overwhelming. Not only does a quick online search for recipes yield millions of results, but everyone seems to have their spin on the dish. And if you’ve ever watched anyone make mac and cheese, it happens so swiftly that it’s a blur.

Sure, it’s easy to grab the boxed stuff and get on with it, especially if you’re craving comfort food after a long day. But once you learn how to make homemade macaroni and cheese, you’ll not only be craving it constantly, but you’ll most likely be making it all the time, too. 

First things first: There’s no incorrect way of making macaroni and cheese. 

If you’re looking for a recipe for macaroni and cheese that’s easy and uses common ingredients, you’re in the right place. All it takes is a smidge more time than the boxed stuff and seven straightforward steps. 

In this article, we’ll share a no-fail recipe, as well as some suggestions for cheese types, some simple variations, and some answers to macaroni and cheese FAQs.

Simple macaroni and cheese recipe

This recipe makes six servings, takes five minutes to prepare, and 15 minutes to cook, with a total time of 20 minutes.

Ingredients 

16 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked al dente using the package instructions

1/4 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups whole milk, warmed

1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter completely.
  2. Stir the ground mustard into the butter.
  3. Add the flour and salt and stir until the flour dissolves. This will form a roux.
  4. Cook the roux for one minute before whisking in the milk gradually. 
  5. Paying close attention, bring the mixture to a boil and cook it until it thickens. This should take only a few minutes. This creates what’s called a Béchamel.
  6. Add the cheese a bit at a time, stirring between additions to ensure an even melt.
  7. Remove it from the heat immediately and stir in the cooked macaroni until you coat the noodles thoroughly.

Nutritional values per serving

Calories: 447

Fat: 26 grams

Saturated fat: 15 grams

Trans fat: 1 gram

Unsaturated fat: 8 grams

Cholesterol: 74 milligrams

Sodium: 783 milligrams

Carbohydrates: 34 grams 

Fiber: 1 gram

Sugar: 1 gram

Original recipe: Lisa’s Dinnertime Dish

What kind of cheese should I use?

  • Cheddar is macaroni’s classic companion, especially sharp cheddar, thanks to its strong flavor. However, mild and medium cheddar are perfect for making this dish as well.
  • Colby offers a milder flavor than cheddar and is extra creamy. Like cheddar, this cheese melts and mixes with other cheeses easily.
  • Monetary Jack is similar to Colby in that it’s mild in flavor and excellent for melting. It’s slightly sweet, but you can also use Pepper Jack, a version seasoned with chili peppers and dried herbs.
  • Gruyère gives your macaroni and cheese a velvety texture when melted and leaves the dish with a slightly earthy taste.
  • Swiss cheese is slightly sweet and a tad nutty. While that may sound like a description of your best friend, it’s a delicious cheese that will increase the creaminess of your dish.

Note: Avoid pre-shredded cheese, as the preservatives they contain prevent clumping. Using it will create a sauce with a less desirable texture.

What can I add to macaroni and cheese?

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  • Bacon macaroni and cheese: You can add a few crumbles or load it in. Simply cook some bacon slices, cut them into bite-sized pieces, and stir them in.
  • Baked macaroni and cheese: Once you combine your macaroni noodles and cheese sauce, pour the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle it with half a cup of panko bread crumbs, six pieces of chopped bacon, and two cups of shredded cheese. Feel free to use a combination of cheeses for added flavor.
  • Jalapeño macaroni and cheese: To add some bite to your macaroni and cheese, stir in some diced pickled or fresh jalapeños to taste.
  • Mozzarella macaroni and cheese: This is an exceptional variation, especially if mozzarella is the only cheese in your fridge or you want to try something different. Swap out all the cheese in this recipe with mozzarella and follow the same cooking directions.

Tips for the perfect macaroni and cheese

  • Pay close attention as you cook the cheese sauce, as the ingredients can burn quickly.
  • Be sure to cook the roux after mixing the butter and flour, so the flour taste disappears. 
  • Whole milk will give your cheese sauce the ultimate texture and appearance.
  • As tempting as it may be, dumping in all your cheese at once may make the sauce separate. 
  • Salt the water you use to cook your pasta.
  • Cook your pasta just until it’s al dente for the ideal texture.
  • If you’d like to change things up, use different pasta noodles such as rotini, fusilli, shells, or penne.
  • Try adding different ingredients to spice up your macaroni and cheese, but avoid overcomplicating it or taking it too seriously. This is comfort food, after all, plain and simple.

Macaroni and cheese FAQs

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What cheese makes the best macaroni and cheese?

Sharp cheddar is the classic contender for this dish. It’s easy to work with, it’s affordable in comparison to other cheeses, and it’s part of what makes macaroni and cheese nostalgic, American comfort food.

Can you make macaroni and cheese without milk?

You certainly can. If you’re out of milk, you can find many recipes that simply increase the amount of butter and add water, or they use cream cheese. However, you can also order from Gopuff and have some delivered right to your door in a matter of minutes.

What is Southern macaroni and cheese?

Southern macaroni and cheese is an entirely different recipe that takes comfort food to the next level. It typically consists of cubed American cheese, shredded cheddar, and other ingredients such as cream cheese and sour cream that you mix in and spread on top before baking it in the oven. This makes it creamier than other mac and cheese recipes. 

Is a serving of macaroni and cheese healthy?

The calorie and sodium content in a serving of macaroni and cheese is typically high. Still, you can enjoy it in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

Easy and cheesy

If you’re looking for simple comfort food that can be on your table in less than 30 minutes, this macaroni and cheese recipe has your back. You can serve it as a side dish alongside one of these tasty chicken thigh recipes, or you can check out these creative and delicious ways to dress it up, too.

And since you may be here looking for comfort food recipes, here’s a list of ideas on how to relax after a tough work week.

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