Nothing in the world is better than a warm cheesy bowl of baked macaroni and cheese casserole. Kids and adults everywhere will tell you that this is the ultimate comfort food side dish, but can also be a meal all by itself. This simple old-fashioned dish is loaded with cheesy goodness in every bite. It’s easy to make and perfect for a simple and delicious meal at home.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
This southern-style baked macaroni and cheese dish is creamy and made with only six ingredients. It’s prepped in 10 minutes and ready to eat in just 30 minutes. These ingredients are probably already in your pantry which means you can throw this meal together at the last minute when you don’t have anything planned. This casserole can be eaten as a side or as the main course any night of the week.
Below are the basic ingredients needed to make this tasty and classic pasta dish. While I recommend using salt and pepper to taste, most often I start with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper then taste and add additional seasoning if needed.
- 1 1⁄2 cup elbow pasta: This curved pasta holds the cheese sauce in the middle and is perfect for this dish.
- 4 tablespoon butter: Use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt added.
- 3 tablespoon flour: Use all-purpose flour for this recipe.
- 2 cups milk: Whole milk is best since it thickens better than less-fat milk.
- 1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg: A little nutmeg adds depth to the dish and is an unexpected but welcome addition.
- 2 cups cheese: Use high-quality cheddar cheese since it’s the star of the dish.
- salt and pepper to taste: A little seasoning is needed to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.
Kitchen Tools Used
- Large stockpot
- Non-stick skillet
- Wooden spoon
- Measuring cups and spoons
- 8" round baking dish
How to make baked macaroni and cheese casserole:
Before you begin making the casserole, spray a baking dish with non-stick spray to make cleanup easier. You can also grease it with butter if that is available. I recommend at least an 8" round baking dish, but you could use up to a 10" oval if desired.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
2. Cook elbow pasta half of the time that is mentioned on the box.
3. Melt butter over medium heat and cook the flour in it for 1 minute.
4. Pour in milk and whisk until combined. Cook the sauce until it gets thick (5-7 minutes), and whisk in 1 cup of cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
5. Mix the sauce with pasta and transfer it into the baking dish.
6. Top the baked macaroni and cheese casserole with leftover cheese and bake for 20 minutes.
Save time and cleanup by preparing this all-in-one dish. A Dutch oven can be used to par-cook the pasta, then rinsed out and used to prepare the sauce. Toss the pasta into it, stir well, then top with added cheese and put it right into the oven!
If you want more recipes like this that are great for your Dutch Oven, then check out my book, The Complete Dutch Oven Cookbook for 105 recipes that are ideal for this versatile kitchen tool.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type of Cheese is Good for Baked Mac & Cheese?
The most traditional choice for baked macaroni and cheese casserole is to use cheddar. That is what we have used in this recipe. However, there are several options when making this that work wonderfully.
Choose different flavors of cheddar including, mild, sharp, white cheddar, garlic cheddar, or jalapeno cheddar for a unique spin on the basic. Other options that work well in mac and cheese include Gruyere, Swiss, Havarti, and of course the classic melting cheese, mozzarella.
Should You Cover Macaroni and Cheese While Baking?
This depends upon your preferences and how long you will be baking the casserole. For this particular recipe, it is not necessary to cover the top as it is in the oven only long enough to heat through and melt the cheese.
Other options that cook for a longer period of time may need to be covered to prevent the top from burning. Follow the individual recipe directions for the best results.
How Do You keep Mac and Cheese From Drying Out?
The important thing to remember when baking macaroni and cheese is that you make sure you have the right ratio of pasta with sauce. To keep it from drying out while baking, you'll want to have enough sauce to coat the pasta well with some extra. Adding cheese on top also gives a nice layer to keep the top bits of pasta from getting dry when cooking.
Tips For Making Baked Macaroni and Cheese:
Here are a few tips for success and variations you can try to make this the best baked macaroni casserole you've ever had.
- Season with your heart. While this recipe uses the basics of salt, black pepper, and nutmeg, you can add other seasonings to the mix. A bit of paprika, chili flakes, or even garlic salt or garlic powder can really amp up the flavor.
- Mix up the cheeses you use each time for a different flavor profile and more creaminess.
- Add in some diced ham, cooked bacon, or even shredded barbecue chicken or pork for extra flavor.
- Make sure to only cook the pasta for half the recommended time so it doesn't get too mushy when baking.
Can I Add Vegetables to Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
Absolutely! If you want to add a bit more to this baked macaroni and cheese and make it filling or more of an all-in-one meal, definitely mix in some veggies. I recommend things like broccoli, cauliflower, or artichokes. Tomatoes are a nice accent on top, and of course, onions and bell peppers are often popular additions to pasta in the sauce.
How to store:
Store any leftover casserole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Reheat it in the microwave with 30-second increments until it’s hot all the way through. If it seems dry when reheating, add a tablespoon of milk and stir well then heat. This adds creaminess back to the dish.
To freeze the entire casserole, wrap it in aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Label it with what it is, how to cook, and the date. Labeling will help you remember later.
Remember that if you cook it from frozen, it will take longer to cook in the oven without thawing first. Keep the foil on until the last 30 minutes of cooking so the top can brown. It is safe in the freezer for up to 3 months.
More Easy Side Dish Recipes
If you need more variety in your meal plan, we have you covered. While macaroni and cheese is a personal favorite of ours, you may want to add some more variety. Below are some of our favorite vegetable side dishes that add nutrients and flavor easily to your menu. Make sure that you bookmark these, print out the recipes, or pin them to Pinterest to make soon!
- Green Bean Casserole
- Asparagus Casserole
- Cheesy Corn Casserole
- Cauliflower Casserole
- Scalloped Potato Casserole
- String Bean and Mushroom Casserole
- Spinach Casserole
- 1 1⁄2 cup elbow macaroni (150g)
- 4 tablespoon butter (57g)
- 3 tablespoon flour (23g)
- 2 cups milk (500ml)
- 1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg (.55g)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (470g)
- 1 teaspoon salt (6g)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper (1.25g)
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
- Cook elbow pasta half of the time that is mentioned on the box.
- Melt butter over medium heat and cook the flour in it for 1 minute.
- Pour in milk and whisk until combined. Cook the sauce until it gets thick (5-7 minutes), and whisk in 1 cup of cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
- Mix the sauce with pasta and transfer it into the baking dish.
- Top the casserole with leftover cheese and bake for 20 minutes.
Use 1 cup sharp cheddar and 1 cup mild cheddar for better flavor.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 389Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 77mgSodium: 838mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 16g