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Grandma’s Baked Mac and Cheese

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Baked Mac and Cheese is a classic recipe with pasta shells and a creamy white cheddar cheese sauce, topped with a crunchy breadcrumb topping. This homemade mac and cheese can be served as a side dish or the main course and is always a hit with everyone at the table.

Angled view of a white bowl of baked macaroni and cheese

The Best Baked Mac and Cheese

This Baked Mac and Cheese recipe is one that has been passed down through the family, directly from my Nana’s recipe box. Growing up, I remember her making this with elbow noodles and sharp cheddar cheese. As soon as I had my own apartment, I asked for the recipe and eventually switched a few ingredients to make it my own.

My version of this homemade mac and cheese uses shell pasta and lots of sharp white cheddar cheese. My preference is Cabot cheese, of course, since I’m from Vermont, but you can use any brand and type of cheese you want.

As much as I love the cheesy sauce, my favorite part of this baked macaroni and cheese (and any baked pasta) is the crispy top part. I added some buttery breadcrumbs to the top of this dish for that exact reason. I could scrape the whole top layer off and eat it myself!

What You’ll Need

  • Uncooked shell pasta
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Milk
  • Sharp white cheddar cheese – Cut into cubes so that it melts easier.
  • Salt & pepper
  • Panko bread crumbs
Creamy baked mac and cheese ingredients

What’s The Best Cheese for Homemade Mac and Cheese?

I personally prefer sharp white cheddar but you can use any cheese you enjoy or a variety of cheese. Some good cheese options that melt well are Gruyere, mozzarella, Colby jack or pepper jack, Swiss, Emmental and any combination of the above. It really all depends on your preferred flavor!

I like to use cheese with a “bite” to it, since the mac and cheese is so rich and creamy. Or keep it classic with regular cheddar. A softer cheese like Gruyere works well when paired with mozzarella or another cheese as well. If you want it super creamy, you can even use Velveeta.

Whatever cheese you decide to use, I strongly suggest buying a brick of it and cutting it into cubes yourself. Packaged shredded (or cubed) cheese does not melt the same as a brick of cheese.

What Pasta Should I Use?

Any pasta you want! I prefer to use shells as I like a bigger pasta but traditional elbow macaroni works great too. You could even use rotini or any other short pasta. I don’t recommend using spaghetti, linguine, or similar varieties to make mac and cheese.

How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese

This creamy homemade mac and cheese begins with cooking the pasta and making the roux, before it’s all baked into warm, cheesy goodness!

  • Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  • Make the roux. Melt the butter, then sprinkle the flour on top. Whisk and continue cooking until it thins.
  • Add the remaining ingredients. Slowly whisk in the milk until thick and bubbly. Then add the salt and pepper and cubes of cheese. Stir until all the cheese is melted.
  • Bake. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta. Combine the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
A wooden spoon mixing cheese sauce and pasta shells

Tips & Variations

While I love this classic baked mac and cheese, if you want to get creative here are a few ideas to get you started. Plus tips on how to make the absolute BEST baked macaroni and cheese.

  • Don’t overcook the pasta. You want the pasta to be cooked just to al dente when you drain it. Overcooked pasta may become mushy when baked.
  • Stir the sauce constantly. During all stages of making the roux, you should whisk it constantly to prevent any clumps from forming.
  • Add some seasonings. I kept this recipe simple with just salt and pepper for seasoning, as I find the sharp white cheddar has plenty of flavor. However, feel free to add garlic or garlic powder, onion powder, powder powder, dried herbs, chili flakes, or any other desired seasonings.
  • Add in protein. If you want to turn this into a heartier main course, stir in some cooked chicken, ham, or sausage before baking.
  • Add some veggies. You can also add bell peppers, onions, or other cooked veggies as well.

What To Serve with Homemade Mac and Cheese

This baked macaroni and cheese can be served as the main course or as a side dish.

As the main course, I recommend serving it with a bright green salad or some vegetables. Roasted broccoli makes a great side to macaroni. Choose something light to balance out the richness of the mac and cheese.

Baked mac and cheese also makes a great side dish to pretty much any main course. Grilled or baked chicken, pork, steak, or even the holiday ham and Thanksgiving turkey. The only thing I would avoid serving this mac and cheese with is a heavy main dish with lots of cream or cheese.

A wooden spoonful of baked mac and cheese

Can I Make This Ahead Of Time?

If desired, you can prepare this baked macaroni and cheese ahead of time by following all of the steps, assembling the casserole, and then popping it into the fridge instead of baking it. Be sure to cover it with aluminum foil.

When you’re ready to bake it, set it on the counter for 30 minutes to reach room temperature.

Note that the mixture may lose some of its creaminess by sitting in the fridge first. It will still taste amazing, it just may not be as creamy as when baked immediately.

How to Store & Reheat Leftovers

  • How to store leftovers. Leftover mac and cheese should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container or covered with foil. Leftovers will last for up to 3 days.
  • How to reheat leftovers. Depending on the amount of leftovers, you can either reheat them in the microwave or pop them back into the oven. If reheating in the oven, cover the pan with foil to prevent the topping from burning. You may want to add a splash of milk as well to prevent the dish from drying out.

More Dinner Ideas:

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A white bowl of baked macaroni and cheese

Grandma’s Baked Mac and Cheese

  • Author: Julianne Dell
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 6-8 servings

Description

Baked Mac and Cheese is a classic recipe with pasta shells and a creamy white cheddar cheese sauce, topped with a crunchy breadcrumb topping. This homemade mac and cheese can be served as a side dish or the main course and is always a hit with everyone at the table.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups uncooked shell pasta
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 12 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

For the topping:

  • 2/3 cup panko bread crumb
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch square pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Boil 3 cups of water in a large pot over high heat. Once boiling, add the uncooked pasta and cook until al dente, approximately 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  3. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, sprinkle the flour over top and whisk to combine. The mixture will be thick.
  4. Continue cooking over medium heat until the roux thins out. Next, slowly whisk in the milk, continuing to whisk until smooth. Boil until thick and bubbly.
  5. Finally whisk in the salt & pepper and start adding the cubes of cheese, whisking into the roux. Continue stirring until all the cheese is melted.
  6. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to combine. Pour the pasta in a 9-inch square pan.
  7. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs with melted butter and stir until combined. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over top of the pasta.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve warm.

Notes

How to store leftovers. Leftover mac and cheese should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container or covered with foil. Leftovers will last for up to 3 days.

How to reheat leftovers. Depending on the amount of leftovers, you can either reheat them in the microwave or pop them back into the oven. If reheating in the oven, cover the pan with foil to prevent the topping from burning. You may want to add a splash of milk as well to prevent the dish from drying out.

Nutrition Information:
1
389
4.5 g
662.5 mg
22.3 g
30.4 g
1.3 g
16.4 g
62.4 mg
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: baked macaroni and cheese, homemade mac and cheese, creamy baked mac and cheese

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6 Responses
  1. Charlee

    Gave this a test drive, and it was AMAZING! 🙂 Threw in some Jalapenos as well, which added a little kick. I did organic, sliced, left the seeds in to completely rock the world. My wife and I definitely loved on this – perfect comfort food here in Utah during the cold snap. Thanks so much J!

  2. Liz

    Long time cook but this was the first time my scratch mac & cheese tasted good.
    Thanks for an easy to follow recipe with helpful hints. I used Vermont Super Sharp Cheddar cheese. Then added cubed ham and peas when I added it to the baking dish. I also topped it with 4 slices of American cheese before
    placing the casserole in the oven. After the slices melted I added buttery panko crumbs for 5 more minutes to toast up. Delicious! Thanks again.

  3. Shelby Hall

    Loved this recipe! It turned out super delicious. I had never made a rue before, so I was a little nervous, but I was surprised that it was way easier than expected. I had no trouble at all. The topping also adds a lot to the recipe – it tasted amazing. I’d definitely recommend this recipe if you’re looking for delicious, creamy mac n cheese. Tasted like fancy restaurant mac and cheese!

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