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Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Enjoy the ultimate comfort food with my Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe. It’s a beloved standard where every spoonful is a creamy, cheesy delight that will leave your taste buds wanting more.

Finished macaroni and cheese in a baking dish.

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Oh, the joys of a classic recipe! But not just any classic; we’re talking about the classic baked macaroni and cheese.

It’s a dish that’s so familiar it really needs no introduction and one that I firmly believe deserves the title of the “best baked mac and cheese recipe.”

Whether it’s to satisfy a nostalgic craving or a quest for the perfect golden top, this recipe is the food equivalent of a cozy blanket on a chilly evening. Using just 8 oz of macaroni, it balances richness with cheesy goodness, making every forkful delicious.

❤️ Why You’ll Love This Recipe


  • It has a deliciously golden cheesy crust.
  • A cheesy sauce that envelops each piece of pasta with a creamy texture.
  • It’s an all-time favorite and a blank canvas for innovation.
  • Perfectly portioned with 8 oz of pasta, it’s a no-waste recipe that serves up to six.

🛒 Ingredient Notes


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  • Elbow macaroni: Elbows are the traditional pasta choice for mac and cheese, but other shapes are also great! Try corkscrews (cellentani), rotini, penne, or even wagon wheels (rotelle) for a change.
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese: The sharper the cheese, the better, in my opinion. I’ve always liked my mac and cheese with a distinctly tangy flavor. However, you may prefer a more mild, mellow taste. use whatever cheese you and your family like. 
  • Butter, all-purpose flour, and milk: These three simple ingredients combine to create first a roux and then a white sauce that becomes the base for the creamy cheese sauce. I recommend whole milk for flavor and texture (or even half and half for more richness). 
  • Cayenne pepper: A little extra zing for those who enjoy a touch of heat in the recipe. It’s perfectly fine to leave it out.

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

🥄 How to Make Classic Macaroni and Cheese


  1. Begin by cooking 8 ounces of elbow pasta according to the package instructions. Drain it and set it aside for now.
  2. Grate 10 ounces of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Set that aside, too.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  1. In a large skillet, over medium-low heat, melt the butter.
  2. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking until smooth. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for one minute.
  3. While the butter and flour (the roux) are cooking, microwave the milk on high for 1 ½ minutes. Gradually whisk the warm milk into the butter and flour mixture.
  4. Increase to medium heat, and cook the sauce while whisking for five minutes or until it becomes slightly thickened.
Adding final ingredients to the cheese sauce.
  1. Stir in the salt, black pepper, cayenne (if using), and 1 cup of the grated cheese. Mix well, and then add the well-drained cooked pasta. Stir to combine.
Mac and cheese mixture in a baking dish.
  1. Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased two-quart baking dish or casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheese.
  2. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Finished macaroni and cheese in a baking dish.

❗ Recipe Tips


  • Cheese Tip: Don’t use pre-shredded cheese; always grate the cheese from a block for best results. Packaged shredded cheese often has anti-caking agents that can affect the creaminess.
  • Buttery Breadcrumb Topping: For a little crunchiness, sprinkle a layer of seasoned bread crumbs on top before baking and drizzle with melted butter.
  • Lighten Up: For a lighter version, consider using low-fat milk and cheese, but keep in mind this will affect the creaminess.

⚠️ Troubleshooting Tips


  • If the sauce is too thick, gently whisk in a bit more milk until the desired consistency is reached.
  • If the top begins to brown too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.

🔀 Recipe Variations


You can use this basic recipe and add in whatever you like. Here are some suggestions for taking plain mac and cheese and making it so much more.

  • Add cooked, diced ham, pancetta, or bacon to the recipe.
  • A cupful of frozen peas or some fresh, blanched spinach are great additions.
  • Or how about adding some sun-dried tomatoes with pepper jack cheese and smoky bacon.
  • Change to a different cut of pasta, maybe some penne, and add in some shrimp or lobster.
  • Add a dash of smoked paprika for a subtle smoky background flavor.
  • For a little extra zing, add 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard and/or a touch of onion powder to the saucy cheese mixture.
  • Use different types of cheese. Maybe your family prefers American cheese. Go for that instead! Or try a combination of parmesan, asiago, and goat cheese. Or try a mixture of Gruyère, Parmesan, and sharp cheddar.
  • For a vegetarian option, mix in blanched broccoli florets or sautéed mushrooms.

🍽️ How to Serve


Serve this classic recipe fresh from the oven with a side of green beans or a crisp garden salad to balance the richness. Pair it with a glass of chilled white wine or apple cider for the adults or a big glass of milk for the kids. It serves as either a side dish with your choice of protein or can stand on its own as the main course.

🍚 How to Store


  • To Refrigerate: Keep it fresh by covering it tightly with plastic wrap or storing it in an airtight container. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Freeze: May be frozen for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

❓ Questions About Classic Mac and Cheese


Can I use different types of pasta?

Absolutely, feel free to explore with shapes like shells or penne that hold onto the cheese sauce well.

What’s the best way to reheat leftovers?

Oven reheating is best. Warm it covered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Can I make this recipe gluten-free?

cCertainly, swap in your preferred gluten-free flour and pasta to accommodate dietary needs.

Do I use salted or unsalted butter?

In the South, home cooks typically use salted butter for everything — even baking. Do whatever you like.

Lana Stuart.

More Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

📖 Recipe

Finished macaroni and cheese in a baking dish.

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Get ready for the best baked mac and cheese recipe! My Classic Macaroni and Cheese with 8 oz of pasta is cheesy perfection in every bite.
5 from 6 votes
Print It Rate It Save Text It
Course: Side Dishes
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 423kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni cooked
  • 10 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese grated
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper optional

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta in a large pot of water according to the package directions. Drain it and set it aside until needed.
  • Grate the cheese and set it aside as well.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a large skillet, over medium-low heat, melt the butter.
  • Sprinkle in the flour, whisking until smooth. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for one minute.
  • While the butter and flour are cooking, microwave the milk on high for 1 ½ minutes. Gradually whisk the warm milk into the butter and flour mixture.
  • Increase to medium heat, and cook the sauce while whisking for five minutes or until it becomes slightly thickened.
  • Stir in the salt, black pepper, cayenne (if using), and 1 cup of the grated cheese. Mix well, and then add the well-drained cooked pasta. Stir to combine.
  • Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased two-quart baking dish or casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheese.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Notes

  • To Refrigerate: Keep it fresh by covering it tightly with plastic wrap or storing it in an airtight container. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • To Freeze: May be frozen for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
  • For a gluten-free version, substitute your preferred gluten-free flour and pasta in the recipe.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 423kcal | Carbohydrates 35g | Protein 20g | Fat 23g | Saturated Fat 14g | Trans Fat 1g | Cholesterol 68mg | Sodium 558mg | Potassium 243mg | Fiber 1g | Sugar 5g | Vitamin A 729IU | Vitamin C 1mg | Calcium 443mg | Iron 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This recipe was originally published on November 8, 2011. It has been updated with additional information.

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36 Comments

  1. Hi Lana! I’m on here again looking up the recipe, since my 8 year old has requested this! :) Your macaroni and cheese recipe is sooo good – our whole family loved it!!! I’ve tried your South GA biscuits, and I love them, too! It now looks like I’ll be attempting to make my son’s birthday cake for his April birthday :) … Do you have a really easy chocolate cake recipe, like a one layer cake? (I don’t bake much, lol)

    Thanks & stay safe!

  2. Can you prep this the night before baking?

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      You can. Cover it tightly and place it in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before baking so it can come to room temperature.

  3. i do mac. petite diced tomatoes cheddar and sour cream. bake at 375 for 30 min. yummy. from Boston Museum of arts cookbook-1970’s

  4. Christine says:

    Hey Foodies, LanaAnn’s Pasta recipe has been selected by Knapkins to be in our Recipe Guessing Game. Can you guess the recipe?

  5. Zesty Cook says:

    I do agree–mac and cheese is like the little black dress of cooking, right?! It’s always a crowd pleaser :)

  6. Very nice – i grew up with macroni and ketchup and not macoroni and cheese but enjoy a good one. I prefer stronger cheese like gryere or bluecheese but this recipe looks fabulous and i am sure you can just change the cheese.

    1. We actually had macaroni and tomatoes much more often than mac and cheese when I was growing up. It was a delicious concoction of macaroni, chopped tomatoes, onion and bacon. Yum. I should make some tonight :-)

  7. Yum! There’s nothing more comforting than mac and cheese on a chilly day. I make mine much the same, with the exception of white pepper instead of black. I too love the fact any old cheese can be used as I often have bits of assorted cheese ends needing to be used up.
    Have to confess I cheat and make my sauce in the micro though. Tried it after reading the hint in the paper a few years ago, and haven’t made it stove top since!

    1. Making your sauce in the microwave isn’t cheating, Jocelyn! It’s just using another of your kitchen tools :-)

  8. Nancy@acommunaltable says:

    I have bookmarked this recipe since I did not grow up eating mac n’ cheese. In fact, my first experience with it was in college when my roomate made the “blue box” version – which I thought was vile and thus assumed I did not like Mac n’cheese. It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I discovered mac and cheese was pretty awesome – I know enjoy it (and enjoy making it) but I definitely need a good basic recipe for my collection!

    1. Hopefully this one will provide you for the basis of many interesting variations to come, Nancy.

  9. Nisrine M. says:

    This mac and cheese looks amazing. My daughter and I would totally love it.

  10. Maris (In Good Taste) says:

    It was a mistake to eat dinner and THEN read blogs. Now I’m hungry again and good mac and cheese is by far one of my favorites!

    1. It is hard to resist, isn’t it, Maris?

  11. Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet says:

    Oh gosh Lana. I seriously could eat this all day long. Looks gorgeous. Yum!!!

    xoxo
    Heather

  12. DessertForTwo says:

    Now I must have this for dinner!

  13. Rachel Willen@Foodfix says:

    A true american classic! You are so right…everyone should know how to make this homey comfort food from scratch. Those boxes with the neon orange powder that kids think is food make me crazy! Hooray for real food, real cheese, real milk! I posted a version of my own a while back with some tomatoes and breadcrumbs on top that even my teenage daughter approved of…

    1. I have to be honest and tell you that I’ve used those box mixes before. They do not in any way imaginable compare with this recipe! Make homemade mac and cheese once and you’ll never go back to the box type.

  14. My girls would eat this EVERY night! lovely photos and delicious mac and cheese :)
    Mary x

  15. Mac and cheese is always great! Even though it’s a basic recipe, you’d be surprised how many people ask me for just this sort of thing. Now I need to scrounge up some cheddar…

    1. I think lots of people appreciate a good basic recipe like this. You can build off of it to make so many different variations.

  16. Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says:

    You can never go wrong with mac n cheese, it’s such a classic and I don’t know a single person who doesn’t love it!

  17. Barbara | Creative Culinary says:

    Yum it is! One of my favorite mac and cheese recipes is totally stovetop with green chiles. But right now this has me craving the classic stuff; but I’m not kidding. I want to smoke it. Hickory smoked mac and cheese? I’m thinking yes.

    1. That sounds incredible, Barb. Who’d have thought of smoking mac and cheese but you!

  18. Priscilla - ShesCookin says:

    Yes, please! To the classic and to Lobster Mac & Cheese – you read my mind :)

  19. Bunkycooks says:

    Yes, this is definitely a classic and a perfect start for making all the great variations!

  20. DrDan at 101 Cooking for Two says:

    You can never have too many basic recipes. I was looking for this two days ago and ended up doing a more complicated one. Thanks

  21. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    You can never have too many recipes for mac and cheese!

    1. So true, Lydia. I don’t think ever met anyone, young or old, who didn’t like mac and cheese.

      1. Well Lana: You just met someone. I hate the Box Mac and Cheese. I have never had homemade before. Maybe that will change now that I have a basic Mac and Cheese Recipe.

  22. Perfect! Rich, creamy, cheesy, I love your version. But oh how I love all those alternative versions and ideas! Seafood? Yes, please! Great recipe and it has been way too many years since I made this! It never goes out of style!

    1. Thanks, Jamie. I love taking a classic, standard recipe like this and putting a twist on it. By the way, lobster in mac and cheese…fabulous!