Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipe

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!

Yellow bowl filled with creamy mac and cheese.

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.

Bowl full of elbow macaroni being stirred into a creamy cheese sauce.

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

Wooden spoon scooping out creamy mac and cheese from a glass bowl.

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

Ingredients for mac and cheese in prep bowls--butter, shredded cheese, flour, butter, pasta, and milk.
  • 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!
  • PastaUse 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

Bechamel sauce in a silver pot with a whisk propped inside.

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!

Pan of cheese sauce being poured into a bowl full of macaroni noodles.

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!

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!

Wooden spoon with a big scoop of creamy mac and cheese against a dark blue background.

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!

Fork taking a bite out of a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.

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.

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.

Fork taking a bite out of a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipe

Yield: 5
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

This classic stove top homemade mac and cheese recipe is extra creamy and rich with a great cheddar flavor.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Heat the milk and half and half in the microwave or on the stove top until very hot but not boiling. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!

Notes

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.

    Nutrition Information:

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 704Total Fat: 41gSaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 161mgSodium: 624mgCarbohydrates: 56gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 29g

    Did you make this recipe?

    Leave a review, or head over to Instagram and share a photo! Tag your projects with #neighborfoodies!

    73 Comments

    1. I made this for my son because my husband and I were going out for dinner and wanted something for him to just eat. I cooked it as shown above (pasta cooked Al dente), but added a cup and a half of leftover taco meat from the night before then put in crockpot on low for one hour. We were able to go out for dinner and my son have a home-cooked meal ready to eat all the same time. Will definitely be making this again for family gatherings. Love that I can make an hour ahead, wash all the dishes and have it ready and hot. Can add a little milk if not loose enough when serving.

    2. Just found this and im glad I did! Was looking for something that added more cheese than my older recipe and I cant wait to taste this! Im serving it for Thanksgiving and I feel like the champion of the people. No more velveeta or roux that tastes more like biscuit gravy than a bechamel. I am coming to slay Mac n cheese this year Lol. Thanks!!

    3. Can you boil noodle in chicken broth/water or add chicken powder to your water? I Hope I am making sense!! Wonder if flavoring the water will give the noodles a better flavor!!!

    4. I just found your recipe and have one question regarding Mac & Cheese. Every recipe I’ve used in the past the cheese sauce is never creamy enough. Could you please explain what makes it creamy and what to do if cooking one wants a cheese sauce to be looser without becoming too milky?

      1. This sauce is rich and thick, but thin enough to thoroughly coat all the noodles. I use a higher ratio of sauce to noodles so there’s more sauce to coat everything. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by being looser without milky. If you’re looking for a thinner sauce, I would usually add milk.

    5. We love this Mac and cheese! My daughter is now gluten free so I tried it with small elbow gluten free pasta and I substituted the 1/3 cup flour with 2 1/2 Tbsp + 1/2 tsp corn starch to make the recipe gluten free. It is delicious with Co-jack and pepper jack cheeses. I only cooked the pasta for 4 minutes and you couldn’t even tell it was gluten free!

      1. Woohoo! So glad you liked it! If she makes any more of our recipes, tell her to share her photos on Instagram with #neighborfoodies
        We love connecting with other folks who love good food.

    6. Hi, we love this recipe and make it often! I have substituted an Italian 3-cheese blend for the Romano and it is amazing! What is the best way to make this ahead of time to bring and reheat at someone else’s house – I don’t want it to be dry? (I have never had any leftovers to reheat!). Thank you!

      1. I find mac and cheese is tough to make ahead of time! What I would probably do is make the sauce and pasta separately, then reheat the sauce at your friends house and toss the pasta in there. That way the noodles don’t have a chance to soak up all the creamy sauce!

    7. Bad recipe … sorry to whoever posted this, but first of all it is an incomplete recipe. If a person is not at least a decent cook, they would not know how to finish the dish. The second issue I have with it …. garlic in mac and cheese? Are you frickin’ kidding me? I questioned that as I was following this recipe and honestly, the garlic totally overpowers the whole dish. I want to taste cheese when I eat mac and cheese, not garlic. Ad I am a garlic lover. Ok, I’m done. Sorry honey ….. horrible recipe!

      1. So sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy it! Feel free to omit the garlic powder if you try it again. I’m a little confused what you mean about it being an incomplete recipe though. The instructions take you through adding the sauce to the cooked noodles, which is the completed dish.

    8. This is fantastic! It is our go to recipe now. We are constantly trying different combinations of cheeses. And have not been disappointed ever with any mix of cheeses.

    9. Thanks for this recipe! While I’ve made a few mac and cheese from scratch it was the tips (like heating the milk!) and proportions I really appreciated. A few changes I made – I had about 3/4 cup of hollandaise sauce in the fridge so I added that and the flavour was awesome. Also like others, I baked it with seasoned panko on top and added a bit of crunch.

    10. Way too many ads took forever for the page & recipe to load. It’s OK to have a few ads, but when hunting for a recipe time is important.

    11. This is my go to recipe for Mac n cheese! First time I made it followed recipe exactly as written and it was great! I did add a little bit more salt n pepper. The second time I added bacon! Soo good!! The possibilities are endless if you want to add extra things. Spicy sausage is great too! Thanks for a great recipe!

    12. Wondering the yield of this recipe? How many servings does one pot make, and can this be made the day before an event and reheated in the oven the next day??

      1. This will serve about 5, depending on if it’s being served as a main dish or side dish. For a side dish, you might be able to get by with 6. For a main with people with hearty appetites, I’d plan on 4. You can make this a day ahead and reheat in the oven, but I would actually recommend checking out my baked mac and cheese recipe if that’s what you’d like to do. It’s based off of this recipe, but has some more specific instructions for baking that keeps the pasta from getting too soggy or gummy. Here’s that post- https://neighborfoodblog.com/2018/09/creamy-baked-mac-and-cheese-with-panko-crumb-topping.html

    13. This is amazing! I made it today for the first time for a tailgate at our college aged son’s baseball game. I used 1-cup 2% mill and I-cup half and half (because it’s what I had in the fridge!) Also, the only cheese I had in the house was some fiesta blend shredded. Used it. Delicious!

    14. This is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever made. I have made a lot of mac and cheese recipes, and I’ve found one I stand by, but I started it wrong today and decided to look for a different recipe. I’m so glad I stumbled on this one! I learned the perfect bechamel method and got the absolute creamiest sauce with zero graininess. My one change next time might be to leave out a little of the garlic. Thank you!

    15. We just made this Mac and cheese. It’s absolutely perfect! Thank you so much for sharing this amazingly delicious recipe! I think we may add bacon next time for fun but I always make new recipes as written the first time! It’s also a great way to use up all the extra cheese in our refrigerator!

      1. Thanks so much for coming back here to let me know! I also love to put whatever odds and ends of cheese I have in the fridge in this mac, and of course, adding bacon is never a bad idea!

    16. I tried this recipe today and found it super easy to follow. The instructions were great. The final dish was creamy and tasty! So happy I tried this and would recommend to others. I used sharp Cheddar and the Gruyere.

    17. Hi. I’m from Adelaide Australia. Saw this recipe on Pinterest. I love Mac n cheese. Made it for lunch today. It’s delicious
      I’ve also adding onion powder aswell

    18. I made this tonight, very delicious! Will definitely use this recipe again. I used capavetti noodles. I would add more garlic and seasons next time.

    19. Fantastic! My family loves it!! I added some more aged cheddar, and a bit of Cabot American cheese (deli), and the smoked paprika suggested by another reader- and everyone LOVES it!! Thanks for the recipe!

      1. So glad you enjoyed this! Smoked paprika is almost always a good choice! Love that hint of smoky heat!

    20. Hi there,

      I tried your Mac and cheese recipe! It’s really good and easy to make! I have also been trying to find different Mac and cheese recipes. Ones that ar creamy like yours. Though mines came out too thick? I guess to make it thinner consistency is to keep adding milk? Or too much flour?

      I know I’ll be making your recipe again and again 🙂

      Thanks
      Kelly

      1. Kelly, I’m so glad you enjoyed this! if it seems a little too thick, you can definitely add a little more milk!

      2. Hey there Kelly, a trick I’ve learned is to save some of the pasta cooking water, to adjust thickness or moisture, it’s loaded with flavor. I’m enjoying all of the comments and find I need to try this recipe as well. Thanks Marla

    21. I was looking for a good homemade mac n cheese recipe. We are used to southern East TN homecookin’. This mac n cheese was definitely creamy but lacked in flavor. I’ll use my husband’s grandmother’s recipe next time. My family was not a fan of this and I followed the recipe exactly as it was written. It is definitely different from the “southern” version we are used to.

      1. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this Alana. If you liked the creaminess, I would recommend switching up the cheeses. Pepper jack is great if you like heat, American cheese will give you more of a classic yellow Mac and cheese flavor. Garlic powder or a pinch of red pepper flakes can really kick it up a notch too! Hope you find a recipe you love!

    22. I must thank you for sharing your recipe. Great news for my family. One pan without the breadcrumbs and one, my favorite with. Unable to photograph. It was gone in no time. There will be a next time.

    23. Sooo impressed with this recipe!! Simple and absolutely delicious! Took no time to whip up & served with naan bread heated up in the oven! Thank you for sharing 🤗

        1. I made a cheese rue. Great. Not what I wanted. What did I do wrong!? I wanted sauce that looked like yours tasted. Mine is gross 😩

    24. This turned out amazing, we didn’t even have leftovers! I used Tillamook extra sharp cheddar which turned out perfect. I’ll definitely put this in my recipe binder! Thank you so much for an amazing recipe.

    25. I want to make this recipe for Thanksgiving but was wondering, did you really mean 16 oz of macaroni? It says it calls for 2 cups so that’s what I am guessing! Also, is there any alternative to use for mustard powder?

      1. The amount on the box is by weight while measuring cups measure by volume. Another way to put it would be saying 1 lb of macaroni instead of 2 cups

      1. I made this recipe today and was tasting the sauce as I went. I thought it was a tad bland as well to be honest, but I added some garlic powder, and that really made a difference! If you just add some spices that you like, I’m sure it would bump it up a notch for you!

    26. I live in western pa with my 15 year old daughter. I’m a native Texan, so when I saw this post on the BBQ at Cedar Point I nearly lost my mind!! Lilly and I were planning to go to Cedar Point this summer, but I had know earlier about the BBQ!!! Lilly is a mac & cheese fanatic but I cant get her away from the boxed stuff! It’s the ONLY processed food in our house! I threw out all that junk in January and we have lost a combined 60 pounds!!

      1. Wow! Congratulations on all your weight loss. I think they’ll probably do the Brew and BBQ at Cedar Point every year, so definitely keep it in mind for next year, especially if you all are mac and cheese and BBQ fanatics!

      2. I just made cheese rue. I’m so upset! This is not what I wanted. I even added more milk to it to thin it out and I could have had to add another cup or two. Next time I will add less flour if there is a next time. At least my kids ate it. I used sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack since that’s what I had on hand. Where did I go wrong!?

      1. Really liked this, was better when I re-heated leftovers. So second time baked it in casserole for 15 min at 350 after making on stove top. Yum!!

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