Baked Mac and Cheese 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 Baked Mac and Cheese? Keep scrolling!
JUST TAKE ME TO THE BAKED MAC AND CHEESE ALREADY!
If you’d rather skip my (pretty darn helpful) tips and tricks, essential cooking info, and similar recipe ideas – and get straight to this deliciously easy creamy mac and cheese recipe, just scroll right on down to the bottom of the page where you can find the printable recipe card!
What is the Best Cheese to Use for Macaroni and Cheese?
This is usually a matter of taste, and depends on what flavors you’re aiming for. I used a combination of white and yellow sharp cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, and gouda in this recipe, but other cheese that are great for mac and cheese include:
- Monterey Jack
- Goat Cheese
- Cream Cheese
Can Mac and Cheese 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.
But whatever you do, don’t freeze it!
How Long Do I Bake Mac and Cheese?
This recipe takes between 20-25 minutes to bake. 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.
Can I Bake Mac and Cheese in a Casserole Dish Instead of a Skillet?
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.
Should I Bake Mac and Cheese 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.
What Can I Serve with Baked Mac and Cheese?
This 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 BBQ Chicken, Roasted Turkey, or Beef Short Ribs.
OK, I’m Ready…What’s the Secret to Make Creamy Mac and Cheese Without Velveeta?
The secret to the creamiest macaroni 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.
Second, 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.
LOOKING FOR MORE PASTA RECIPES?
- Instant Pot Mac & Cheese with Roasted Poblanos
- Five Cheese Butternut Squash Baked Ziti
- Cheesy Baked Ravioli Casserole
- Baked Spaghetti Pie
HELPFUL KITCHEN TOOLS FOR MAKING BAKED MAC AND CHEESE:
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Skillet Baked Mac and Cheese
- 12 ounces elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bread Crumb Topping
- 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Four Cheese Sauce
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 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
- 1/2 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.
PIN THIS HOMEMADE MACARONI AND CHEESE FOR LATER!