After years of searching, I finally found the best creamy mac and cheese recipe around. Super cheddary, rich, and easily made on the stove top in under 30 minutes; This is going to be making many more appearances on our family table.
If you’ve got a pulse, I assume you love creamy mac and cheese. The question of ‘Why we love it’ is a real nature vs nurture debate.
The Nature side says that all people are born with an instinctual drive to consume melted cheese, the highest form being (of course) Creamy Homemade Mac and Cheese.
While the Nurture side would argue that this
love addiction is likely inherited from our parents pushing boxed mac and cheese on us like street peddlers from the time that we could hold a fork. To their credit, we loved every bite.
Experimenting with Homemade Mac and Cheese
For me, boxed mac was the gateway drug that led to years of experimentation. Steps on my journey included:
- Adding different real cheeses to boxed mac (which I still recommend).
- Toying with the ratio of milk, butter, cream, and salt in my own early recipes.
- And while my fellow teens were having a “goth” phase, I was having a “Velveeta” phase.
I’m glad those days are history, because now that we’re grown-ups, we don’t ever have to settle for anything less than the Creamiest Mac and Cheese ever again.
Make Creamy Mac and Cheese Like a Pro
Your loved ones shouldn’t have to settle for less either. At least from you. Because this BBQ/Potluck season, you’re NOT going to be that guy who brings a crock-pot full of easy mac to the gathering.
I’ve done the homework for you on this one; learning about different types of cheese, the construction of the perfect bechamel, and what type of noodle to use. After much debate, I finally decided to try a recipe from the ladies behind Homeroom restaurant, an Oakland, CA eatery devoted entirely to macaroni and cheese. I've included their tips (as well as a few of my own), below!
How to Make the Creamiest Mac and Cheese
- The best macaroni and cheese recipes start with a rich bechamel sauce made with whole milk and plenty of butter. Warming the milk before adding it to the flour and butter mixture helps prevent it from clumping or breaking.
- Use hearty macaroni noodles (the kind with ridges for soaking up sauce), and just slightly undercook them since they'll continue to cook a bit in the warm cheese sauce.
- Use a combination of super flavorful cheese--I love aged sharp cheddar and a dry Pecorino Romano. But, if you prefer a more classic, mild mac and cheese flavor, you can substitute in some American cheese or experiment with your favorite cheeses.
This is quite simply the best macaroni and cheese recipe I've ever made. It is so full of supremely creamy, rich, cheddary noodles that it is sure to be your go-to mac and cheese recipe. This is the recipe I take to family reunions, the one I make on cold nights when I'm craving comfort food, and the one I serve up at cookouts alongside BBQ spare ribs.
What Can I Add to Creamy Mac and Cheese?
Of course, there's still plenty of room for customization here. That's the fun part!
- Try pepper jack or chipotle cheese for a nice kick.
- Substitute some Monterey Jack or mozzarella for a milder flavor (and more stretchy cheese strings!)
- Add blue cheese, Ranch, and buffalo sauce to make this Creamy Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese.
- Top with breadcrumbs and bake to make this Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese with Panko Crumb Topping
The possibilities are endless, so if you're looking for an awesome base recipe that you can make for any occasion, this is the one!
What to Serve with Homemade Mac and Cheese
We regularly eat this mac and cheese as a main course, but it's also a great side dish for cookouts and goes well with a variety of meats. Here are a few of our favorite meats and side dishes to serve with mac and cheese.
- Air Fryer Chicken Thighs
- The Best Hot Dogs
- Cajun Burgers
- Cast Iron Ribeye Steak
- Air Fryer Pork Chops
- Fresh Garden Salad
- Easy Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipe Reviews
Update: This homemade mac and cheese recipe has taken off on Pinterest! Folks really do think it is one of the best macaroni and cheese recipes they’ve tried. For more real-life reviews and pictures, check out this pin! Reviews like:
- "Very yummy as is! I like to put the dish in the oven with breadcrumbs and more cheese (because cheese) and let it form a crispy top. Also note I used everything gluten free (pasta was barilla gf) and it was delish."
- "I made this for a cookout and everyone loved it. I used 1/2 & 1/2 instead of milk for some extra creaminess and added 1/2 t smoked paprika. Good stuff!"
- "This was so delicious! Creamy, flavourful, and really simple. Our favorite mac and cheese recipe yet!"
- "Made for dinner last night, and it really was the creamiest mac and cheese! The only thing I changed was using American cheese, instead of cheddar..."
If you loved this creamy mac and cheese recipe, please leave a comment below. Let me know if you added your own flair, and feel free to humble-brag.
- 8-12 ounces (2-3 cups) sturdy macaroni noodles *see note
For the bechamel sauce:
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups packed sharp aged cheddar cheese *see note
- 1/2 cup shredded Pecorino Romano cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cook the macaroni noodles in a large pot of salted water according to package directions, draining them a minute before the "al dente" cooking time.
- Heat the milk in the microwave or on the stove top until very hot but not boiling.
- In a heavy bottomed sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns a light brown color, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Slowly start pouring in the milk, whisking constantly. The mixture will look very thick at first and will thin out as you whisk in the remainder of the milk.
- Return the pot to the heat and cook the mixture, whisking continuously, another 3-5 minutes or until thickened. The sauce should coat the back of the spoon. If you put a little bit on a spoon and run your finger through it, the line from your finger should remain. Stir in the salt, garlic powder, ground mustard and cayenne (if desired). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Return the remaining sauce to the stove. Over low heat, add the cheeses, stirring to melt. If you're unable to melt in all the cheese, add a bit more milk, a Tablespoon at a time, until the cheese is melted completely. Stir the sauce into the pasta until your desired level of creaminess is reached. I find I use all of the sauce sometimes and sometimes I have a little leftover. Serve the pasta hot with a sprinkle of parsley if desired.
I recommend using large elbows, cavatappi, wagon wheels, or gemelli pasta for this recipe. I like my macaroni very creamy and saucy so I usually use about 2 cups of dry pasta, but you may want to use 3 cups (or 12 ounces).
For the cheddar cheese, look for a good quality aged cheddar, preferably aged over 9 months. I recommend Tillamook.
Creamy Mac and Cheese Variations:
For a milder, classic flavor and more yellow color, substitute 1/2 cup of the cheddar for 1/2 cup of yellow American cheese.
For a bit of a kick, try subbing the Pecorino Romano for hatch chile or pepper jack cheese.
You can also try Gruyere in place of the Pecorino Romano.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 704Total Fat: 41gSaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 161mgSodium: 624mgCarbohydrates: 56gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 29g