This homemade mac and cheese is made with only real shredded cheese, nothing processed here and it tastes so much better then the boxed variety! It's easy to make and will be done in about 30 minutes.
This is the ultimate comfort food and something that the whole family loves! We don't like the boxed stuff here at all, but making homemade macaroni and cheese brings us all to the table.
Cheddar and colby Jack are the cheeses we enjoy, but you can change it up to add your favorites.
We recommend baking it to get the nice layer of cheese on top, but you do not have to. It makes it creamy with a layer of melted cheese on top. I have made mac and cheese many different ways here and this is the only way that the whole household likes.
You can put breadcrumbs on top as well if you like, but we don't. Not all of the family likes breadcrumbs on theirs.
Homemade mac and cheese doesn't take a lot of ingredients, but you will love the taste!
Pasta - I recommend using a smaller pasta like elbows or small shells. You can use any pasta for this, but I think the smaller is the best.
Heavy cream - You can use half and half in it's place, but heavy cream is best.
Milk - We use whole milk, but you can use your favorite. Whole milk will create a thicker mac and cheese sauce then if you use skim milk.
Flour - All purpose flour works here, you are using it to slightly thicken the milk and cream.
Butter - You can use unsalted or salted.
Cheese - Use your favorites! We use Colby Jack and cheddar, but most cheeses work great in it.
Garlic powder - The powder is recommended. Fresh garlic can be used, but the powder will result in a better and more even flavor because you are not sautéing the garlic.
Cayenne pepper - Optional, but recommended. It will not make your macaroni and cheese spicy, but it adds just a touch of flavor. You can add more if you want it spicy!
How do you make mac and cheese from scratch?
This is like most of my recipes where you can change them up pretty easily. You might prefer other cheeses or you might not want to bake it. It gets that nice layer on top if you bake it, but it tastes good made on the stove without baking as well.
First thing I do is start to prepare the noodles. You can use any noodles you like, but we do prefer either mini shells or elbows for this. I use the Instant Pot to cook mine, here is a post that I wrote as a guide to cook pasta in the Instant Pot. I use 1 less minute then normal tho here since I will be baking the mac and cheese. If you are boiling them, boil them for about 1 minute less too. If boiling, drain but don't rinse the noodles.
While the pasta is cooking, shred your cheeses. You definitely want to have a brick of cheese that you are shredding here. It is a big difference with melting, already shredded cheese seems to be more dry. If you are baking it, set aside about 1/3 of a cup of the cheese to put on top. Doesn't have to be exact here, you just want a nice layer on top.
Making the cheese sauce
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Keep stirring and you will cook this for about a minute, just until it thickens nicely:
Now slowly stir in the milk and heavy cream. You can use all milk if you rather, but we really do recommend using cream. I think it makes it a bit more of a creamy cheese sauce. Milk is good but not as thick. Be sure to keep stirring as you add in it so any lumps that form break up quickly. No worries, it won't be lumpy when done.
Cook this mixture for about 2 minutes while stirring to be sure it is heated through and mixed well. It needs to be hot but not boiling before pouring the cheese in, the shorter the cook time on the stove once the cheese is added the better it will be.
Now add in the shredded cheese a handful at a time and stir constantly. Turn off the heat once all the cheese is melted through.
Add the noodles and stir well.
Pour into a 2 quart baking dish and top with the cheese you had set aside. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it is nice and bubbly with a melted cheese "crust."
We enjoy this with cheesy potato baked chicken breasts as they both get baked at the same temperature, but we have also made this with pan fried parmesan chicken. It is homemade mac and cheese so really it goes well with just about everything!
What kind of cheese is best for homemade macaroni and cheese?
There are so many combinations here but colby jack and cheddar are great for mac and cheese. They blend smooth when freshly shredded and they are not stringy. I love mozzarella, but in mac and cheese it can get stringy.
Basically any cheese that you enjoy will work out great, but the smooth ones are the best. Cheddar, colby Jack, Monterey Jack, muenster and gouda are some great cheeses to choose.
We use mild cheddar here because we have a family member who doesn't like sharp cheddar, but sharp would be great in it as well! If you have somebody who is not big on cheddar, mild might work for them as well.
Frequently asked questions
No, it will be very creamy if you do not but baking is not required. Make the sauce the same but add all of the cheese instead of saving some for the top layer.
Cook the pasta all the way before adding to the sauce.
Yes you do if you want the perfect creamy texture. When you buy shredded cheese in the bag, it doesn't melt the same and it already started to dry out before you bought it.
Yes you can but I recommend you bake it at 350-400, unless you are baking it with a roast that is at 325. At 350, it will take a little longer to get that nice melted layer and lower then that might not get the nice browned melted layer on top.
Leftovers should last up to 4 days in the fridge.
Yes you can, just be sure to let it cool down all the way before freezing it in a freezer safe container to prevent excess moisture from forming. It should last up to 3 months in the freezer.
Some useful items for making mac and cheese
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- 2 and a half quart casserole dish - This is the one we used here but we don't use the lid. We also use our 2 quart Dutch oven sometimes, it just fits in 2 quarts.
- Cheese grater/shredder - This is perfect for shredding the cheese for the homemade macaroni and cheese.
- Saucepan - I like to use a 3 quart for mixing it together. If I am using our Dutch oven, I mix it in the Dutch oven but it is close to the top! 3 quart fits it nicely for mixing.
Easy Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
- 2½ quart casserole dish
- 8 ounces noodles elbows or mini shells recommended
- 8 ounces mild cheddar see notes
- 8 ounces colby jack see notes
- 1 cup milk whole milk is recommended
- 1 cup heavy cream recommended, but can substitute with more milk
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 3 Tablespoons butter unsalted
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder or more to taste
- 3 dashes cayenne pepper or more to taste
- Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit.
- Cook the noodles according to package but cook them until they are almost done not quite done. Drain but do not rinse.
- Shred the cheeses into a bowl and take about ⅓ cup out to put on top (doesn't have to be exact)
- Pour the milk and the heavy cream together in a measuring cup (or another container.)
- In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add in the flour. Stir constantly for about 1 minute, it will thicken up quickly.
- Slowly stir in the heavy cream/milk mix while stirring constantly. Add a little bit at a time until you have added it all.
- Add in the cayenne and garlic powder, continue stirring frequently. Cook on medium to medium low (stoves vary) for about 2 minutes, you want it to be heated through and hot but not boiling or simmering.
- Add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring constantly. Once it is fully melted and creamy, remove from heat and add the cooked noodles. Stir well.
- Pour into a 2-2½ quart baking dish and top with the cheese you set aside.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, until it is bubbly and the layer of cheese on top just starts turning brown or to desired amount of browning.