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.
Note: This recipe was updated in 2021 with new photos, tips, and a recipe that’s EVEN MORE CREAMY. However, if you made and loved the original, we’ve still included it as well!
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.
Table of Contents
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.
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 alongside Air Fryer Hot Dogs and Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Sandwiches.
I’ve included all the tips from the Homeroom Restaurant (as well as a few of my own) below, so you can make amazing creamy mac and cheese at home!
Ingredients in Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Butter and Flour– These are the base of the roux, which is used to thicken the sauce.
- Milk and/or Half and Half– You can make this mac and cheese with all whole milk, all half and half, or a blend of the two. I usually use a blend of two.
- Seasonings– Keep it simple with salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder, and a hint of cayenne.
- Cheese– The most important part! I use a blend of cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Pecorino Romano cheese. Pick an aged cheddar for the most flavor. Of course, you can also experiment with your favorite cheeses. Try subbing some of the cheddar for American cheese for a more classic blue box style mac. Or try Gruyere, provolone or fontina!
- Pasta– Use hearty macaroni noodles (the kind with ridges for soaking up sauce), and cook them in salted water for the best flavor.
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. Bechamel sauce isn’t difficult to make, but it can be finicky. Follow these tips and you’ll have a smooth, creamy bechamel sauce in just 10 minutes!
- Warm the milk or cream so that is hot to the touch, but not boiling. Warmed milk incorporates into the roux much easier than cold milk.
- Stay focused and whisk often. I am almost always multitasking in the kitchen, but not when it comes to making a bechamel. You’ll want to stay close so you can keep whisking and adjust the heat if the sauce seems to be burning or thickening too much.
- Follow the “back of spoon” test– You’ll know the bechamel has thickened enough when it coats the back of a spoon, but still drips off easily. If your sauce thickens more than this and starts to get gloppy, don’t panic! Just add a few more splashes of warm milk until it is thinned out.
- Use freshly shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is often coated with additives that keep it from sticking together. Unfortunately, this can also prevent it from melting smoothly into sauces. Whenever I need to shred a large amount of cheese at once, I use my food processor.
Here you can see what the sauce should look like when it’s thickened, and then after the cheese has been added.
Once the bechamel is made, all you have to do is combine it with the cooked pasta and serve. You’ll notice I’ve included a range for the amount of pasta to cook in the recipe. We like our mac and cheese VERRRRY creamy and saucy, so we use less pasta for this amount of sauce. However, you can use all 3 cups of dried pasta if you prefer. I always recommend cooking the full amount the first time so you can learn just how you like it!
What Can I Add to Stove Top 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 to make a spicy mac.
- Substitute mozzarella for Monterey Jack 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.
- Stir in cooked peas or broccoli florets to up the veggie content. It would also be great with Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower.
- Top with breadcrumbs and bake to make this Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese with Panko Crumb Topping.
- Try adding shrimp and scallops for a fancy pants Seafood Mac and Cheese.
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 Do with Leftover Mac and Cheese
Despite being mac and cheese’s #1 fan, I’ve never really loved the leftovers. Heating it in the microwave always left it clumpy and dry–not my scene.
If you’re still hankering for a creamy mac, reheat the leftovers on the stove top, adding a few extra splashes of half and half as it warms up. This should keep the sauce from being dry.
You can also pan fry leftovers! Melt some butter in a skillet and add a big scoop of leftover mac and cheese. Flatten it a bit with your spatula and let it brown and crisp on the bottom a bit before flipping and browning the other side. I love this method for those crispy browned bits!
Finally, you can use leftovers to make Fried Mac and Cheese Balls, which are delightful as an appetizer or entree!
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 cup half and half
- 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
- 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 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 and half and half 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. Reduce the heat to low.
- Slowly start pouring in the milk and half and half, whisking constantly. The mixture will look very thick at first and will thin out as you whisk in the remainder of the milk.
- Increase the heat back to medium 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.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in the salt, garlic powder, ground mustard and cayenne (if desired). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- 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, reserving some cooked pasta. If the mac and cheese seems too saucy, add the remaining pasta. Otherwise, serve immediately!
NOTE: This recipe was updated in July 2021 to reflect changes we felt made this mac and cheese EVEN better and creamier. However, if you loved the original recipe and want to continue making that one, I've included the original ingredient amounts below. The instructions remain the same.
For the 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
1/2 cup shredded Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Creamy Mac and Cheese Variations:
I recommend using large elbows, cavatappi, or gemelli pasta for this recipe. I like my macaroni very creamy and saucy so I usually use about 2 cups of dry pasta (8 ounces), but you may want to use 3 cups (or 12 ounces).
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