This baked mac and cheese is a blend of tender noodles in a rich and creamy cheese sauce, topped off with more cheese and baked to perfection. The ultimate macaroni and cheese recipe that always gets rave reviews!

My kids are big fans of mac and cheese, they’re always requesting slow cooker mac and cheese, stovetop mac and cheese and this ultra decadent baked version. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with mac and cheese!

Baked mac and cheese with a serving spoon lifting up a portion.

Macaroni and cheese is a timeless recipe for a reason – it’s incredibly delicious! This baked mac and cheese is the ultimate version of this popular comfort food dish. It features hearty corkscrew pasta in a super smooth and creamy sauce, with plenty of melted cheese for good measure. It’s the best mac and cheese you’ll ever taste. Serve this side dish recipe with other comfort food classics such as slow cooker short ribs, spiral ham or roasted cornish hen.

Baked Mac And Cheese Ingredients

To make this homemade mac and cheese, you will need butter, flour, water, milk, pasta, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, black pepper, cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese.

How Do You Make Baked Mac And Cheese?

Start by making a roux with butter and flour, then whisk in milk and water. Add pasta and spices to the milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. No need to drain the noodles, as they will cook in the sauce. When the noodles are tender or al dente, stir in two types of shredded cheese. The final step is to transfer your mac and cheese to a casserole dish, top it with more cheese, then bake everything to gooey and melted perfection.

Uncooked pasta and spices with milk in a pan.

Tips for Baked Mac and Cheese

  • I use corkscrew pasta in this recipe, it’s sometimes called cavatappi or cellentani. These noodles are heartier than standard elbow macaroni noodles and don’t get mushy as they bake. If you want to use elbow macaroni or a different type of short pasta, that will also work just fine. If you use elbow macaroni, you may need to reduce the cook time.
  • I recommend using freshly grated cheese for this recipe. The bagged pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-caking agents and just don’t melt as smoothly.
  • I find that whole milk works best for the creamiest sauce. That being said, you can make this recipe with other types of milk with good results. For a richer dish, use part milk and part heavy cream.
  • You can assemble this dish ahead of time. Simply transfer the cooked pasta in cheese sauce to the baking dish, add the cheese on top, then cover it and store it in the fridge for up to 6 hours. The pasta will continue to absorb the sauce as it sits in the fridge, so the end result will not be quite as saucy as mac and cheese that is freshly baked.

Quick Tip

This is a thick and cheesy dish! If you prefer a thinner sauce, you can stir in a little extra milk at the end to get to your desired consistency.

Noodles topped with two types of shredded cheese.

Recipe FAQs

What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese?

Cheddar cheese is my favorite choice for macaroni and cheese. It’s flavorful, melts great and gives the mac and cheese its traditional orange color. That being said, make sure you’re using a regular mild, medium or sharp cheddar cheese and not a cheddar cheese that’s extra sharp or aged. The aged cheeses can separate when melted and you won’t get a smooth and silky sauce. I often add in small amounts of other types of cheese for extra flavor, like parmesan, jack cheese or mozzarella. For this recipe, I’ve added some mozzarella because I love the creamy flavor it adds to this dish. Feel free to experiment with other types of cheese that melt well such as fontina, gouda, pepper jack, colby jack or gruyere.

What spices go well with baked mac and cheese?

Spices are a great way to accentuate the flavor of the cheese sauce. I typically add salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and smoked paprika to my macaroni and cheese. You could also use regular paprika, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic salt, or chili powder.

Is it better to bake mac and cheese covered or uncovered?

I bake my mac and cheese uncovered. This recipe calls for a shorter baking time, which means the pasta won’t have time to get dry, and baking it uncovered produces a better crust of melted cheese over the top of the dish. If you’re planning to bake your mac and cheese for an extended period of time, I would cover it, then uncover during the last 15 minutes.

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Baked mac and cheese in a blue casserole dish.

Flavor Variations

I am a purist, and I love my mac and cheese simply with the noodles and cheese sauce, sometimes with a little parsley for garnish. But there are countless ways to dress up your macaroni and cheese. Some suggestions are:

A bowl of baked macaroni and cheese.

I typically serve this baked mac and cheese as a side dish, but my kids often eat it as a main course! Here are some entree and side dish suggestions to go with your mac and cheese.

Pair Your Mac & Cheese With

This is a must-make recipe in my house, and I hope your family loves it as much as mine does!

Baked Mac and Cheese Video

Love This Recipe?

Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments section further down the page.

5 from 42 votes

Baked Mac and Cheese

AuthorSara Welch
Baked mac and cheese with a serving spoon lifting up a portion.
This baked mac and cheese is a blend of tender noodles in a rich and creamy cheese sauce, topped off with more cheese and baked to perfection. The ultimate macaroni and cheese recipe that always gets rave reviews!
Time
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Course Side
Cuisine American
Serves 10

Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 4 cups milk I use whole milk
  • 1 pound corkscrew pasta uncooked, such as cavatappi or cellentani
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 cups cheddar cheese shredded, divided use
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
  • cooking spray

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 3-4 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour, then whisk until combined, about 30 seconds.
  • Pour in the water and whisk until smooth and just thickened. 
  • Add the milk and whisk until combined. 
  • Stir in the pasta, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and pepper, then bring the mixture to a simmer.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender.
  • Turn the heat to low, then stir in 4 cups of cheddar cheese and the mozzarella. Keep stirring until the sauce is smooth. 
  • Spread the pasta mixture into an even layer in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheddar cheese over the top.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and pasta is bubbling. Serve immediately.

Notes

  1. I use corkscrew pasta in this recipe, it’s sometimes called cavatappi or cellentani. These noodles are heartier than standard elbow macaroni and don’t get mushy as they bake. If you want to use elbow macaroni or a different type of short pasta, that will also work just fine. If you use elbow macaroni, you may need to reduce the cook time.
  2. I recommend using freshly grated cheese for this recipe. The bagged pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-caking agents and just don’t melt as smoothly.

Nutrition

Calories: 485kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 83mg | Sodium: 663mg | Potassium: 293mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 920IU | Calcium: 585mg | Iron: 1.2mg

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This Baked Mac and Cheese look so fantastic! It looks so cheesy and delicious! Thank you so much for the recipe

  2. 5 stars
    This pasta is amazing!! Super cheesy and delicious. Love the corkscrew pasta choice too. Thanks!!

  3. 5 stars
    We absolutely love your slow cooker mac and cheese, so I decided to give this recipe a go too! And I am so glad I did. It’s delicious! Easy to put together and super cheesy!

  4. 5 stars
    This is easily the best mac and cheese I have ever made. My family goes crazy for it and it is the first thing they request! However, I can never get the flour, butter, and water mixture to thicken, I have stirred it for at least 20 minutes before. Am I doing something wrong

    1. It really just needs to be slightly thickened since you’re adding more thickener in the form of the starch of the pasta that releases as it cooks.

  5. I just wanted to say that I basically messed up this entire recipe and it still came out wonderfully. I used pre-shredded cheese (Wegmans brand) and I also accidentally added the cheese before cooking the pasta in the milk & water solution. It took about five – seven minutes longer to cook but it still came out perfectly. The fact you cook the pasta in the same pot as the sauce makes a busy parent’s life that much easier. My kids loved it! Thank you!

  6. 5 stars
    Yummy! My son was all over this! He loves mac and cheese! Definitely a big hit here! I will be making this recipe again soon!