Skillet Mac and Cheese baked in the oven is the ultimate comfort food that’s perfect in any dinner situation! Whether you’re serving up a dozen people at a holiday potluck or four at a summer cookout, this easy side dish is always a crowd pleaser.
Have you felt it yet?
That little piece of your soul that’s completely ready and crying for fall food?
To be fair, homemade mac and cheese is completely evergreen. I would, can, and do eat it all year long, and I’m sure I’m in the majority there.
There’s something to be said about how different it tastes on a cold day, in your warm socks, next to a slab of meatloaf or gravy-doused turkey. Such a warm, comforting, cheesy bite, with a hint of crunch from the bread crumbs…one to be repeated over and over again until the New Year naysayers tell you to cut back them carbs again.
Until then…let’s tear up some pasta, my friends.
Wanna know my secret for the creamiest, best skillet mac and cheese with crispy breadcrumbs? Keep scrolling!
This page includes step by step instructions, as well as tips and notes. If you’d like to skip all that, feel free to scroll down to the full, printable recipe card at the bottom of the post.
When I think of macaroni and cheese, crock pots come to mind for some reason.
However, I’ve been obsessed with skillet cooking for a while, so a cast iron skillet mac and cheese recipe made sense to me. But, in my experience, baking mac and cheese tends to take away a little of that super duper creaminess that I love about the dish.
I’m here to tell you – it doesn’t have to be that way, and the solution has nothing to do with Velveeta.
Get your shopping lists ready! To make this recipe, you’ll need to pick up the following ingredients:
- Blocks of your favorite cheeses – and not the pre-shredded kind! That stuff is a great hack for tacos, but is horrible for melting due to the anti-caking agents that keep it from molding in the store. Break out the cheese grater for this!
- Elbow macaroni – or other small pasta.
- Bread crumbs – either Panko or regular crumbs work well here.
- Milk – whole milk yields the creamiest mac, but you can use whatever you have on hand.
- Heavy whipping cream – can be substituted with more milk or half & half.
- Salt & pepper
Yeah – that’s it. Nothing but wholesome, unprocessed ingredients.
What’s the secret to make creamy mac and cheese without Velveeta?
The secret to the creamiest skillet mac and cheese isn’t even a secret! It is a process that requires a bit of patience, though, and will transform your cooking skills once mastered!
First, you start with a roux. A roux is a thickening agent made by stirring 1 part flour into 1 part warmed fat (oil, bacon fat, or – as in this case – melted butter) and cooking them for a short while until they form a paste. Rouxs are used to thicken various soups and sauces.
Then, you create a béchamel by tempering milk or cream into the roux, and cooking until it thickens. The béchamel is ready when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon – when you run a finger across the and the line you create holds. This white sauce is one of the five “mother sauces” of French cuisine, and serves as a base for many dishes like lasagna, scalloped potatoes, and pot pie.
Finally, you achieve a mornay sauce by stirring in your chosen cheeses. Slowly stir in the cheeses, making sure each addition is melted before adding more, for the smoothest, creamiest mornay sauce ever. Add the cheese too fast and you’ll be left with a lumpy, greasy mess. Mornay sauce can also be used in chicken cordon bleu and broccoli cheddar soup.
The end result is a dreamy, creamy baked mac and cheese with bread crumbs baked on top. Texture heaven!
So…what IS the best cheese to use for mac and cheese?
This is usually a matter of taste, and depends on what flavors you’re aiming for. I personally used a combination of white and yellow sharp cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, and gouda in this recipe, but other options that are great for creamy skillet mac and cheese include:
- Monterey Jack
- Goat Cheese
- Cream Cheese
Whatever you use, don’t use the pre-shredded bags of cheese!
They’re super convenient and great for some things, but those shreds are coated in an anti-caking preservative agent at the factory (the dusty stuff that clings to your fingers after you touch it) and will not melt as smoothly and completely as freshly shredded cheese. This is why I recommend buying whole cheese blocks and shredding it on a grater or using a food processor.
How to make skillet mac and cheese
You might be in love with the blue box stuff – at least from a nostalgia standpoint – but I promise you, the homemade stuff is infinitely better! It takes about 45 minutes to make this skillet mac and cheese from start to finish, but it will be the star of your dinner table!
- First, boil your pasta. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, salting to your tastes. Add the dried pasta and boil it for 1 minute less than the package directions state for al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with some butter.
- The standard is elbow macaroni, but you could use any kind of small pasta like shells or farfalle (the little bowties) you prefer or have on hand – even cavatappi (corkscrews) or rotini. Anything with crevices that the cheese sauce can really cling to are the best choices here.
- While the pasta boils, make the bread crumb topping. In a small bowl, add the bread crumbs (panko or regular are fine), melted butter, and salt. Stir everything together and set it aside.
- At this point, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- While the oven preheats, make your cheese sauce. Pour the milk and cream into a large measuring cup and whisk it to combine. Shred all the cheeses and set it aside, reserving 1/2 cup of cheddar separately for the top.
- Melt the remaining butter in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly.
- Slowly pour in 2 cups of the milk/cream mixture, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth. Slowly add the remaining milk/cream, continuously whisking, until the base is fully combined. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, whisking often, until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
- Now, add the shredded cheeses a handful at a time, whisking until it’s melted and combined. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste, and continue stirring until the sauce is smooth, 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the cheese sauce to the stockpot with the drained pasta and stir. Return the mixture to the skillet and spread it into an even layer. Top it all with the reserved shredded cheddar, then sprinkle on the bread crumb topping.
- Bake the mac and cheese for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling on the edges and bread crumbs are light golden brown.
- Keep the bake time on the lower end for super-duper creamy mac and cheese. If you prefer a bit more of a firm final product, give it the extra 5 minutes, until the bread crumbs are a toasty golden brown.
- Garnish the top with parsley before serving if you’d like.
What can I serve with baked mac and cheese?
This skillet mac and cheese recipe is a perfect side dish for any holiday meal, cookout, or potluck. Use it as the starch component of your meal, and serve it with something equally savory! Kids and adults alike will love pairing this side with easy air fryer keto chicken tenders or BBQ chicken. Roast turkey, beef short ribs, homemade meatloaf, or Instant Pot ribs are also tasty choices.
Can I make this mac and cheese in a casserole dish instead of cast iron?
Of course! If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, or if you’re making a double batch of mac and cheese, simply transfer it to your favorite casserole dish.
Can this be made ahead of time?
Mac and cheese can be made ahead, right up to the step where you add the bread crumbs. Follow the recipe to there, then cover the skillet with plastic wrap. It can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
When ready to bake, add the bread crumbs. Note that the bake time will be longer for mac and cheese that’s baked directly out of the fridge.
Whatever you do, don’t freeze it!
Should this mac and cheese be baked covered or uncovered?
This is a decision that’s totally up to you, but if you’re sprinkling the panko crumbs on top, I would suggest leaving it uncovered! That way, they get nice and crunchy and add extra texture.
If you’re not a fan of crunchy macaroni and cheese, just leave off the crumbs and sprinkle extra cheese on top before baking. The cheese on top will melt into a gooey golden layer of Instagrammable cheese-pull goodness.
You can also serve the mac and cheese as is after combining the noodles with the cheese sauce if you prefer it extra creamy. Baking will cause the cheese to congeal a bit as it cools.
LOOKING FOR MORE PASTA RECIPES?
If you love this recipe, please consider leaving a 5 STAR RATING! If you really love it, leave us a comment and let us know – we appreciate all forms of feedback!
Join in on the fun in our Facebook group! Feel free to share YOUR favorite recipes, ask questions, help out your fellow home cooks, and see what’s new with The Crumby Kitchen (so that you never miss a new recipe)! If you’d like to check it out, you can request to join HERE.
Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and tag #crumbykitchen so we can see all the wonderful recipes YOU recreate from this site!
You can also enjoy exclusive content before anyone else by subscribing to our weekly newsletter – and you’ll never miss a delicious recipe again!
Skillet Baked Mac and Cheese
- 12 ounces elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bread Crumb Topping
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Four Cheese Sauce
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup gruyere cheese shredded
- 1 cup gouda cheese shredded
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- 1 cup cheddar cheese shredded; divided
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, salting to your tastes. Add dried macaroni and cook 1 minute less than the package directions state for al dente. Drain, return pasta to pot, and toss with butter.
Bread Crumb Topping
- In a small bowl, add bread crumbs, melted butter, and salt. Stir to combine, then set aside.
Four Cheese Sauce
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour the milk and cream into a large measuring cup and whisk to combine. Shred all the cheeses and set aside, reserving 1/2 cup of cheddar separately for the top.
- Melt butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine, cooking for 1 minute, whisking constantly.
- Slowly pour in 2 cups of the milk/cream mixture, whisking constantly until smooth. Slowly add the remaining milk/cream, whisking constantly, until fully combined. Continue cooking, whisking often, until thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Add 1/2 of the cheeses, stirring until melted and combined. Stir in salt, pepper, and the remaining cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth, 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the cheese sauce to the stock pot with the drained pasta and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the skillet and spread into an even layer. Top with the reserved 1/2 cup of cheddar, then sprinkle on the bread crumb topping.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbling on the edges and bread crumbs are light golden brown. Garnish with parsley for color if desired.